At Sydney, January 3-5, 2014. Australia won by 281 runs. Toss: England. Test debuts: G. S. Ballance, S. G. Borthwick, W. B. Rankin.
The film Groundhog Day tells the story of a man who is forced to relive the same routine until he finally learns the error of his ways. This series was cricket's own version - but for England there was no atonement. To the end, Cook's team kept repeating the same mistakes; Australia seized on them, and burst through like stampeding kangaroos.
And so, once more, England created opportunities which might have put them on the road to victory; once more, through a combination of their own negligence and meekness, and Australia's powerhouse strategy, they were repelled and crushed. There had been many disappointments for England in the preceding seven weeks, but nothing was quite as weak and woeful as the conclusion to the Fifth Test. More than an hour before the scheduled close on the third day, they had been bowled out in their second innings inside 32 overs, losing their last seven wickets in 64 balls after tea while, bizarrely, adding 79 runs. It was their second-shortest completed Ashes innings since 1903-04.
The game was a triumph for an array of Australia players. Rogers scored his second century in two games, while Harris took the match award for some enviably intelligent and controlled fast bowling. As at Perth, Smith made a crucial and jaunty century after his team had been up against it. And, inevitably, two men whose career had been down the drain a year earlier rallied to the cause, as they had throughout.
Haddin scored the kind of belligerent half-century, his fifth in five Tests to go with a hundred at Adelaide, which was designed to squeeze the will out of opponents. Johnson, Man of the Series and the embodiment of redemption, was yet again irresistible in patches, and provided his own sense of theatre. Six wickets brought his total for the Ashes to 37, the most by an Australian fast bowler in a five-match series, equalling fellow left-arm seamer Bill Whitty at home to South Africa in 1910-11.
Bestriding it all was Clarke. Three years earlier he had been jeered by home fans in Brisbane when he walked out to bat in a one-day international. Now he was king of all he surveyed. It was entirely appropriate that he performed the last act, a bobby-dazzler of a slip catch high above his head to end England's non-resistance.
It had looked so different on the first afternoon - but then it usually did. England won the toss for the first time in the series. They picked three debutants: Gary Ballance, Boyd Rankin and, perhaps most surprisingly, Scott Borthwick, the leg-spinning all-rounder from Sunderland who had been called into the party only after Graeme Swann's retirement. Heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Zimbabwean? They all made their first Test appearance in the same match for the same team.
Ballance replaced the out-of-touch Joe Root, who was dropped for the first time, while Rankin came in for Tim Bresnan, and Borthwick for Monty Panesar, who had been revealingly underbowled at Melbourne. It meant England had used 18 players in the series, more than in any away from home, and matched as a touring side only by West Indies in South Africa 15 years previously. Perhaps it was also further evidence of a globalised world: Borthwick had been playing for Haddin's Sydney club side, Northern District, before his unexpected summons. Their line-up contained eight left-handed batsmen, including the three newcomers - to equal the Test record, set by West Indies against Pakistan at Georgetown in 1999-2000.
By contrast, Australia were unchanged for the fifth consecutive match, for the first time in a full series. It said much about the state of the sides. Harris was in doubt because his much put-upon body was feeling the strain, and Bailey's place was in jeopardy because of poor form. But it mattered a great deal to Clarke and Darren Lehmann that Australia saw it through with the same men - their men.
England's decision to field looked to have paid off handsomely just after lunch, when Australia subsided to 97 for five. If it was a slightly fortunate advantage - England still bowled too many four-balls - it seemed to justify Cook's call on a pitch with a green tinge under overcast skies. The fall of Bailey brought Haddin to the wicket. He seemed to cast a spell over England's seam bowlers which compelled them to bowl short and wide, and he took full toll. In both the circumstances and the conditions, it was breathtaking indiscipline. Smith, at least respectfully defending the better balls, played good cop to Haddin's nasty one, but his contribution was significant, and their sixth-wicket partnership was worth 128 by the time Haddin, after clattering 75 from 90 balls, drove to slip to give Stokes the third of his six wickets. Not since Botham or Flintoff had an England all-rounder scored a century and taken a five-for in the same series - and Stokes had done it at the first time of asking.
But it seemed scant consolation, especially with Rankin pulling up with cramp after the first ball of two new spells. Australia's last four wickets now added 101, with Smith enjoying himself hugely. He always seemed to give the bowler a chance, but his assertive stroke play offered a striking counterpoint. This was his third hundred against England in six matches. He was last out, again to Stokes, after an innings spanning only 154 balls.
England's response was all that it should not have been: insipid and error-strewn. By the close of the first day, with Johnson in his rapid pomp, they had lost Carberry, who played and missed repeatedly before flicking to leg slip, the equivalent of falling for the three-card trick. By lunch on the second, four more wickets had gone, the most poignant that of Cook to the day's second ball, when he inexplicably padded up to Harris. It was the reaction of a mind scrambled by weeks of torment. Only Stokes, once more refusing to take a step back, offered a modicum of resistance. Broad, too, while still the man the Aussies loved to hate, provided some desperate aggression at the end to ensure that the follow-on target of 127 was passed, but with only No. 11 Rankin at the crease.
With a lead of 171, and more than three days remaining, Australia could do pretty much as they wished. There was no fight left in England and, though Anderson took two early wickets as a reminder that he could still be potent with the new ball, it was too little, too late. On the previous Ashes tour, Anderson had taken 24 wickets and been the master of reverse swing; now he was struggling to move the ball off the straight, and picking up wickets at nearly 44 each.
Rogers assembled a craftsman's century. He had gone into the Fourth Test unsure of his place, but a second-innings hundred there had kept the selectors at bay. His 119, containing its full share of cuts and pulls, but also showing an increasing willingness to drive, made him the leading scorer across the two Ashes series of 2013-14. Drifting in the field, their spirits wilting, England were left a nominal 448 to win. With 236 overs remaining, time was both on their side and against them: there was plenty in which to make the runs - but no way they were capable of batting that long. Cook lasted 12 balls, and for the seventh time in the series was the first England wicket to fall. Johnson and his partner-in-chief Harris were rampant again, and the suspicion when Johnson was steaming in that an England batsman or two were running for cover - or rather square leg - could not be confidently dispelled. Harris completed his fourth five-for against England in only 12 Tests.
The end was as merciful as it was abject. Batsman after batsman surrendered, none more lamely than the senior men: Bell cut loosely to gully, Pietersen prodded casually to short leg (a month later England decided they could do without him). Only Stokes, who took 20 off a Lyon over amid the mayhem, and Broad stood up with their jaws jutting; Broad's four sixes took the series tally from both sides to 65, a full 14 clear of the previous Test record, set during the 2005 Ashes. At 4.23 on the third afternoon, England had lost 5-0 in an Ashes for the third time - but the second in the last three contests away from home. The great victory in 2010-11 was, in this moment, forgotten.
Australia broke with tradition by delivering their match-winning rendition of Under the Southern Cross out in the middle, rather than in the confines of the dressing-room. This was orchestrated by Lyon, the eighth and perhaps least illustrious cricketer to lead them in its singing. After he took over the role from Mike Hussey, Australia had gone nine matches without winning (in three of which he did not play), and Lyon must have thought he would
never start. As the strains belted out of the team huddle on the SCG, he might have felt as if he would never stop.
Man of the Match: R. J. Harris. Attendance: 131,713.
Man of the Series (Compton-Miller Medal): M. G. Johnson.