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England saved their worst for last as they signed off a calamitous Ashes series with their most shambolic collapse of a tour littered with contenders, slumping to a 146-run defeat and a 4-0 scoreline.
Asked to chase down 271 in the day/night clash in Hobart, they produced a horror show on the third evening, careering off the rails from 68 without loss to 124 all out.
They lost all 10 wickets for just 56 runs, queueing up to throw away their wickets in a blitz of hapless dismissals in the space of 22.4 overs. It was an embarrassment that will take some getting over and only increase the call for change in a set-up that has not only forgotten how to win but how to compete.
Last week’s nail-biting draw in Sydney means Joe Root’s side will not go down in the history books with their whitewashed predecessors from 2006-07 and 2013-14, but few would disagree that this has been a less competitive and less accomplished campaign.
The closing chapter was as grim as anything that came in the first three Tests, when the urn was surrendered in 12 demoralising days, as the outside chance of a face-saving win gave way to yet another weak-willed, soft-centred collapse.
Early in the piece it had seemed as though a face-saving victory might be on the cards, not enough to paper over the cracks but something that would have at least soothed some of the pain of the past few weeks, for fans and players alike.
Mark Wood did everything in his power to put a win on the table, charging in with fire in his belly to claim five wickets on the day and finish with career-best figures of 6-37.
He has been poorly served by unflattering returns for much of the series but has won the respect of Australia along the way for his pace, persistence and personality.
Here he was able to convert all of that into performance, doing the heavy lifting as Australia were topped for 188 – their lowest total of the series.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 16, 2022
Wood hammered out a hostile short length that left the batters scrambling, taking three for 12 in his first spell, with Scott Boland, Travis Head and Steve Smith all roundly beaten, then returning to finish up the innings.
As he walked off the field to generous applause with the pink Kookaburra held aloft, it seemed as though he might have paved the way for a memorable pursuit.
But in its current guise, this England team does not have the stomach to deliver. Their top order has been found wanting too short, too frequently with technical fissures and a clear lack of resolve.
Few have suffered more of late than Rory Burns – cleaned up by the first ball of the series, dropped after two Tests, recalled in the early stages of shift in technique and run out for a duck in his first innings back.
Against that backdrop the biggest opening stand of the series – 68 with the flighty Zak Crawley – represented a cause for genuine optimism.
On his way to 28, he edged through the vacant fourth slip region, survived an lbw shout that would have been upheld had Australia referred and deflected Mitchell Starc desperately close to his stumps.
— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) January 16, 2022
But he came within a whisker of reaching the end of the second session, dismissed in the last over when a late decision to leave Cameron Green from round the wicket saw his stumps splayed.
The 6ft 7in all-rounder has been a breakout star for the Australians and, at just 22, he looks destined to cause England nightmares for years to come. He decided the future could wait, though, and charged back in to turn his timely breakthrough into a game-changing spell after tea.
He struck Dawid Malan on flush on the side of the helmet with a springy bouncer shortly after the restart and then persuaded the left-hander to chop on as he exploited the angles expertly.
It was a tame end to the series, but the news that his wife had given birth to their first child in Harrogate overnight at least put his situation in perspective.
England desperately needed another solid stand to shut things down but instead, Crawley made his way to the departure lounge, turning in another cameo of sweetly-struck boundaries but insufficient substance.
He hit the ropes seven times in his 36 but let himself down as he aimed Green towards mid-wicket but instead sprayed a catch the wicketkeeper. That left a huge burden on the skipper and his right-hand man, but any hope that Root and Ben Stokes would summon a big response was obliterated.
Stokes had just five when he sprang exactly the same kind of trap England had been setting up for Wood earlier in the day, heaving Starc out to deep square leg for a mind-numbing exit.
Root was at least less culpable for his departure on 11, losing his off pole to a shin-high shooter from Scott Boland.
The next five wickets fell for a combined 23 as any pretence of a fightback was thrown into the wind.
Scott Boland gets Joe Root for the fourth time in the series! 👌🏻
This one stays a touch low and Root is cleaned up.
England need 170 runs to win with five wickets in hand 👀
Watch the Ashes live on https://t.co/CPDKNxoJ9v (in select regions)#AUSvENG | #WTC23 pic.twitter.com/mcOG2FKkiD
— ICC (@ICC) January 16, 2022
Sam Billings chipped Boland to mid-on, Ollie Pope was bowled round his legs like a rank novice and Chris Woakes’s wild heave was well caught by Alex Carey.
Wood and Robinson were in no mood to hang about, with the LED “Zing” bails lighting up twice in a row as Australia skipper Cummins rearranged their woodwork to usher his side to a famous win.