By David Brett
PERTH (Reuters) - The clouds drifting over the WACA on Tuesday produced an apt setting for the gloom that settled on English cricket as the tourists surrendered the Ashes at their earliest opportunity at a sweltering Perth.
Visiting captain Alastair Cook had demanded introspection from his team mates ahead of the third test but it was too late and Australia went on to dish out what they were subjected to in the 2010-11 series which England won 3-1.
England's fourth innings run chase at the WACA was the third time in succession that the tourists were asked to chase a 500-plus victory target which no team has achieved so far.
The tourists' main problem, and one of many, remains that they could not get on top of Australia's excellent bowling attack exploiting every bit of their home advantage.
England's run-rate in this series lumbers around 2.7, compared to close to four per over they achieved in their last Ashes series in Australia.
The slow batting means there is no safety net for the lower order batsmen with the bottom half of the batting line-up coming to the crease often having to face the new ball.
Since landing in Australia, too many senior players have underperformed for England.
Against the pace of Mitchell Johnson and skills of Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, the likes of Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior have been way below their best.
"Unfortunately when we needed people to be in form and playing well, we haven't done that, and that's why we lost," Cook said after his side's 150-run defeat in Perth, which gave Australia an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Ashes.
Far too many times England's top order batsmen have thrown their wickets away and fallen into well-laid traps.
Pietersen was culpable in both innings at Perth, allowing hubris to get the better of him and holing out in the deep twice when set the challenge by Michael Clarke.
Cook's salad days of 2010/11 must seem like a long time ago as his average in this series slumped to around 25, well below his career average of 47.
He got a gem of a delivery from Harris to be bowled for a golden duck in the second innings at Perth but had fallen tamely to off-spinner Nathan Lyon in the first after grinding out early pressure.
Cook has been one of many victims snaffled by Lyon as a result of Australia's quick bowlers squeezing the life out of England's best batsmen.
Amid their swift subsidence in three tests at Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, there could still be signs of life for this England side.
Ben Stokes without doubt stole the show with his knock of 120 in the second innings of only his second test match which had even the rival captain sweating.
"No doubt we were nervous," Clarke said. "Ben Stokes deserves a lot of credit for the way he played. That was a hard-fought hundred and he deserves a lot of credit."
Playing with a straight bat for most of his innings, the all-rounder offered few chances, punished loose deliveries and overcame gaping cracks on the WACA pitch to score at a strike rate of 61.25.
"I know as a batter that when you see the cracks there and how big they are - to be able to put them out of the mind like he (Stokes) did with the shots he played, I thought was outstanding," Cook said.
"For him to be able to deliver that in an Ashes test match in his second test match, under that kind of pressure, bodes well."
Unfortunately for Cook, his bowlers have also been taken apart by the Australians.
Senior bowlers James Anderson and Graeme Swann in particular have been targeted for some harsh punishment, leaving Cook's main strike pair averaging 58.42 and 80 with the ball respectively in this series.
"The simple fact of the matter is we haven't had enough players in form with either bat or ball," Cook said.
Top order bat Jonathan Trott's abrupt exit to deal with his stress-related illness and paceman Stuart Broad's foot injury further complicated Cook's problems.
Prior is neither delivering with the bat nor keeping well in this series. At 31, his time will come again but there is no harm in giving the gloves to Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow, who has already played a number of times for England.
The rest of the top order may need to be left unchanged. Gary Ballance is their only alternative but would be more suited to the number six position, which is currently occupied by Stokes.
In the bowling department Swann is likely to stay on as bringing in Monty Panesar would weaken the fielding and batting.
Providing Broad is fit, England may like to bring in Steve Finn for either an off-colour Anderson or Tim Bresnan.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)