At Adelaide, December 5-9, 2013. Australia won by 218 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debut: B. A. Stokes.
If the First Test had been a rude awakening for England, what followed was even harder for them to bear. Australia's most docile surface, much in keeping with the lifeless pitches on which England had won at home a few months earlier, offered the tourists an opportunity to restate their qualities after their hounding at the Gabba. Instead, they lost heavily once more, with the fearsome pace of Johnson again the decisive factor. As they succumbed to a 218-run defeat early on the fifth day, they looked weary and short of answers. They left South Australia to cocksure predictions that Australia's regaining of the Ashes would be a formality in Perth, and with the assumption growing that England faced an awkward period of transition.
They had drawn much comfort in the hiatus between Tests from memories of recovering from 1-0 down in India a year earlier. There were many textbook pronouncements about how dressing-room pride, experience and honesty would sustain them. But none of that mattered when they were sandblasted by Johnson on a sunny Adelaide Saturday. His vaudeville moustache adding to the melodrama, Johnson was simply too quick for England's lower order as he helped himself to six wickets for 16 runs in 26 balls. His eventual analysis of seven for 40 was the best return by an Ashes fast bowler in Adelaide, and gave him 16 wickets in the series at nine runs apiece. Derided by England supporters, he had suddenly justified the assertion of Dennis Lillee that he was a once-in-a-generation bowler.
Johnson, who in the modern trend had grown his facial hair for "Movember" to publicise the threat of prostate cancer, certainly had mo-mentum. And, while nobody could be sure it would last the series, it was lasting long enough to swing it in Australia's favour. Adelaide Oval had become a multi-sports stadium. It was difficult to take for those who cherished the glorious red roofs of old, but it was enlightened enough as stadium builds go, with the protected Moreton Bay figs still visible behind the old scoreboard; you could even see St Peter's Cathedral from the right seat. But England's gaze was locked upon 22 yards of South Australian soil.
A groundshare with the Australian Football League had come hand in hand with Adelaide's first drop-in Test pitch, and two recent stalemates in the Sheffield Shield persuaded curator Damian Hough to keep the surface markedly dry. It encouraged England to field two spinners - Swann and Panesar, who replaced Chris Tremlett - for the first time in a Test in Australia since 1990-91, when Phil Tufnell and Eddie Hemmings combined at Sydney. Ben Stokes, the Durham all-rounder, won a Test debut at No. 6 to fulfil the third seamer's role and become only the fifth New Zealand-born cricketer to play Tests for another country, after Tom Groube, Clarrie Grimmett, Brendon Julian (all Australia) and Andrew Caddick (England). With Jonathan Trott back home, Root moved to No. 3, his third different position in three Tests.
Hough's courage was rewarded, as an otherwise lifeless pitch deteriorated in characteristic Adelaide fashion - but not quite as quickly as England. The choice of two spinners was a logical call, but England lost an important toss, and Australia met Panesar and Swann with a conviction India had never mustered. They declared late on the second day at 570 for nine, guided by hundreds from Clarke, his second in a row, and Haddin, who had narrowly missed out at the Gabba. From then on, the match bowed to Johnson.
And yet England had achieved parity on a keenly contested opening day as Australia closed at 273 for five. They made good use of an on-off morning - restricted to 14.2 overs as squally showers forced three stoppages - by dismissing Warner, who looked eager to repeat his rapid hundred here against South Africa a year earlier before he mis-hit Broad to Carberry at backward point. An obdurate stand of 121 between Rogers and Watson edged Australia towards supremacy at 155 for one, but the afternoon session finished with England back in it.
Watson fell for a typically unfulfilled 51 to a lithe return catch by Anderson; Rogers followed in the next over, out to Swann for the seventh time in Tests; and Smith succumbed to the last ball before tea, as Panesar got one to straighten. Three wickets had been lost for 19, with English hope abounding that their selection would bear fruit. But Australia recovered as Bailey achieved his first Test fifty, attacking the spinners with verve, before Broad dismissed him with the second new ball. Swann's wonderful diving grab at square leg, however, could not entirely offset three dropped catches in the final session. The most culpable was a simple miss at backward point when Haddin, on five, cut Panesar - the culprit, Carberry, again evincing a strange mix of athletic fielder but unreliable catcher. Tougher opportunities with the old ball also went astray: Panesar spilled a quick return catch from Bailey, on ten; and Root sprang to his right at short midwicket, with Clarke on 18, but a demanding chance off Swann went to ground.
How England rued those drops, as both Clarke and Haddin reached centuries on the second day, batting until almost an hour after lunch to extend their stand to 200 in 50 overs, a Test record for the sixth wicket at Adelaide. Captain and vice-captain stood side by side: an image to warm Australia. Clarke might have fallen to his first ball of the day, but a sliced drive against Panesar dropped safely. He was otherwise unflustered as he made 148, his sixth hundred in nine Adelaide Tests, before becoming Stokes's first Test victim, chipping to short midwicket.
Haddin's punchy 118 was another forceful intervention, although a fielder better than Panesar might have intervened at long leg when Haddin, on 30, hooked Anderson. He was also caught behind off Stokes when 51, only for replays to reveal a no-ball. Haddin's thoughts on the matter were not well received, and the umpires had to step in. Some praised Stokes's obvious affection for a scrap; others discerned fraying English tempers. Johnson laid down a marker on the second evening, with his first ten balls all clocked at 148kph (nearly 92mph) or more. The tenth ripped out Cook, his off stump removed by one that shaped to swing towards leg but straightened late. Johnson's post-lunch spell on the third day bore comparison with the great fast-bowling spells of the modern age; in no time at all, a bewildered England had conceded a first-innings lead of 398. He was twice on a hat-trick - a feat not achieved in an Ashes innings since Keith Miller at Brisbane in 1946-47 - with the lower order utterly unable to cope with his potent slingers.
His second over after lunch did the most damage. Stokes had time to steal his first Test run before the ball thundered tellingly into his pad, and Prior was caught at the wicket after enduring a horrific three deliveries. But the real theatre involved Broad, who spent seven minutes fussing about glare from the sightscreen. Boos rained down and, when Johnson ripped out his leg stump, first ball, they became even more resounding. Amid the carnage, Bell's unbeaten 72 was assembled with not a hair out of place.
But if Johnson had created havoc, it was the errors of England's top order which had invited the opportunity. Root, eagerly slog-sweeping his first ball of the day from Lyon, and falling well short of a boundary restricted by building works to 53 metres, and Pietersen, nonsensically manufacturing a leg-side shot against his nemesis Siddle with two short midwickets lying in wait, both gave it away. Pietersen's machismo was justifiable if the statistics supported him; thanks largely to the nagging Siddle, they no longer did.
Carberry's maiden Test fifty, crisply assembled, was long forgotten. Australia did not enforce the follow-on and, by the close of the third day, Warner's untroubled 83 not out had extended their advantage to 530. Their determination to allow England no leeway was emphasised when they did not declare until 15 minutes before play was due to begin next morning. There was some unsettled weather about - Adelaide had been unusually cool, another factor which might have favoured England - but the timing had more to do with unsettling their opponents.
A year earlier, South Africa had batted out 148 overs here to salvage a draw. England would have had to surpass even that. As they had not amassed 531 in three goes, let alone one, defeat looked inevitable. But there was good reason to keep Australia's bowling in the field as long as possible, especially with the Third Test following on only a few days later. If they could knock the edge off Johnson, at least the game would become 11-a-side again.
As it was, only Root and Pietersen managed any sort of response. Both, in their own way, were hair-shirt performances. Root had been strangely skittish in the first innings. But, second time round, he did much to justify his promotion to No. 3, playing Johnson with equilibrium until Lyon dismissed him for the second time in the match, for 87, via an unlucky deflection off bat and thigh which Haddin ran round to grab. Pietersen, who can make even self-restraint look indulgent, reached 53 before Siddle got him again, bowled off an inside edge. Stokes resisted for two hours, although his combative nature almost got the better of him after a mid-pitch collision with Johnson led to an eyeball-to-eyeball discussion. Both were fortunate that referee Jeff Crowe ruled the contact was not deliberate, and decided against a possible one-Test ban.
Elsewhere, England's bad dismissals kept coming. Cook, a captain attempting to set an example by imposing himself on Johnson, hooked to long leg in his first over; Bell contrived to toe-end a low full toss from Smith's leg-spin to mid-on. On a demoralising final morning, the last four wickets then fell within 12 overs against short-pitched bowling, Prior seeking redemption of sorts with a desperate counter-attack. This was not the England - of carefully planned, percentage cricket - to which we had become accustomed.
Man of the Match: M. G. Johnson. Attendance: 153,530.