It was more Groundhog Day than Boxing Day, a feeling not so much of a sporting event as a public execution, as the English media mercilessly savaged England’s 185 as its most spineless batting performance of the series so far.
There was little place to hide in the cavernous MCG for Joe Root’s men nor from their trenchant critics high up in the press box as England capitulated yet again in this most lopsided of Ashes series.
“This is a batting line-up that rots from the head,” scowled The Telegraph’s Oliver Brown.
“Root is incapable of rescuing a ship already holed below the waterline. On a day when a half-century took him to 1,680 runs for 2021, third in the all-time standings for runs in a calendar year, he was a study in quiet desperation as his team-mates’ composure dissolved.”
Much had been said in the leadup to the showpiece Boxing Day Test on the Australian cricket calendar that England would bounce back from their wretched losses in Brisbane and Adelaide, but the proof was in the Christmas pudding.
“Just when you think England can’t disappoint their supporters any further, they produce a performance to take the Christmas biscuit,” lamented the Daily Mail’s Lawrence Booth.
“Boxing Day, and the start of the third Test at the MCG, was supposed to represent a fresh start, a chance to prove that Brisbane and Adelaide were the exceptions, not the rule.
“Instead, they batted with barrel-scraping ineptitude to be dismissed for 185 – all but gift-wrapping the urn for Australia, complete with a decorative green and gold bow.”
“It was a shellacking to rank with any, and by the close the MCG had long since begun to empty. Even some of the home fans may be beginning to tire of the one-way traffic.”
The latest surrender came on a day England cricket mourned the loss of former England Test skipper Ray Illingworth after a long illness.
“The players wore black armbands in memory of Raymond Illingworth and it is not hard to imagine what he would have thought – and said to the players – about some of the shots played,” upbraided Nick Hoult in The Telegraph.
“This is the last Test of a long year for England of ducks and defeats. English Test match batting has disintegrated, the careless attitude towards first-class cricket catching up with the national team who are on the way to losing a ninth match of 2021 which would be their most in a calendar year.
“There has only been one worse year since 1950 in terms of average runs per wicket. It dropped to 24.8 in this match, the lowest since 1999, and the 50th duck was scored by an England batsman – Haseeb Hameed bringing up an inglorious landmark. They were dismissed for under 200 for the 12th time this year, all out an hour after tea in 65.1 overs of ineptitude.
“Joe Root called for a reaction from his players to their defeat in Adelaide and they responded by serving up an even worse performance on a desperate first day of the third Test.”
Former England captain Nasser Hussain bemoaned in the Daily Mail: “For England supporters this was more Groundhog Day than Boxing Day. It was the same woeful batting performance we have become accustomed to throughout this year.
“England tried shuffling the pack and brought in two new batters in Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow but that could only have a limited affect. The problem has been endemic in their batting for a long while.
“The biggest concern was the mixture of poor technique and poor shots, especially from the senior players.”
The Sun’s John Etheridge fumed: “Wickets were tossed away in an embarrassing catalogue of self-destruction.
“And England’s four most senior batsmen – Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow – were to blame the most.
“They gifted their wickets to the Aussies with all the seasonal generosity of cricketing Father Christmases.
“They might as well have had wrapping paper and a bow around their bats.”
Simon Wilde, in The Times, grimly compared Boxing Day at the festive MCG to more like the scene for a “public execution.”
“At the end of the opening day at the MCG, the tenth day of the series, there was absolutely no sense of this group of England cricketers having made any progress towards breaking this depressing cycle of failure,” Wilde observed.
“As so often when England tour here, there is a feeling that this is not so much a sporting event as a public execution, staged to satisfy Australian egos.
“There are two teams playing two different versions of cricket; the one Australia play is suited to the conditions and the one England play is not — two nations divided by a common pastime.
“Test cricket as it is played in Australia is fundamentally alien to the rank-and-file of English professional players.
“There is no mystery as to what the problems are. The pace of the pitches is faster, the bounce of the pitches is higher, and the Kookaburra balls are less responsive to seam and swing. The climate is harsher and the people brasher.”
The Guardian’s Ali Martin said England had their “pants pulled down” at the MCG.
“The debrief in Adelaide was meant to represent a fresh start for England but was instead followed by pants being pulled down in Melbourne.
“Their batting on Boxing Day was so utterly dysfunctional that even the script writers for EastEnders might have deemed the storyline a bit too depressing for their annual dose of festive humbug,” he scorned.
Former England skipper Mike Atherton, in The Times, took aim at Jos Buttler over his “egregious” dismissal.
“The most egregious dismissal belonged to the most senior of lieutenants, Jos Buttler, who hoisted Nathan Lyon to the one fielder in the deep in the last over before tea. and no sooner had the shot been played than Buttler hung his head in the knowledge of the outcome.
“Trying to hit over long-on, he succeeded only in dragging the ball to deep mid-wicket instead.”