In another timeline, Alastair Cook just pushed a single to get Jonathan Trott on strike. Then Trott tickled a leg-side ball from Jon Holland around the corner, taking another one, as England won the series 3-1. Michael Clarke looks lost. Shane Watson is not there.
On this timeline, Watson burped a ball to deep square from Monty Panesar to move Australia ever closer to 5-0. Watson and Clarke embrace like brothers. Cook looks lost. Trott is not there.
It might seem completely inconceivable right now that Australia could have ever lost this series but, considering how much has gone right for them this series, it is not exactly science fiction.
Things have consistently not gone wrong for Australia.
For instance, they might not have picked Mitchell Johnson. Despite good white-ball form, and even with Kevin Pietersen and Trott flinching in the UK, Johnson might not have played had Mitchell Starc or James Pattinson been fit. Johnson was suspended on the Test tour of India earlier in the year, didn’t fit Australia’s plan of pressure through subtle movement. His batting is handy, but Australia’s tail did okay without him. So, had there been other options, or if Australia decided to move on, Johnson wouldn’t have played at the Gabba.
Without Johnson, Australia would not be 4-0.
Brad Haddin also could have been dropped. While he kept well in the UK, he also averaged 22. He is 36, it was his first real series back in the team, and he struggled to make an impact. The major reason he was brought back was to calm relations in the team but Darren Lehmann handled that quite well himself. Australia could have looked at it and decided that, with Wade averaging roughly the same and a better conversion rate for hundreds, it was time to bring him back in and let him take more of a leadership role.
Without Haddin, Australia would not be 4-0.
David Warner has made a lot of runs in second-innings knocks with little pressure. Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris have been good but have not really been tested in fifth and sixth spells. Nathan Lyon has been serviceable, but that’s easier to do with Johnson decapitating people at the other end. Watson has only passed 22 once in the first innings. George Bailey has barely played a proper Test innings yet and Chris Rogers would have been in far more pressure coming into this Test had it not been for the scoreline.
And none of that even takes into account the possibility of an injury befalling Harris, or Watson, or even Clarke.
Instead Trott went home. Graeme Swann retired. Matt Prior was dropped. And Cook looks under pressure.
James Anderson looks tired and beaten. Stuart Broad hasn’t bowled another great spell since the Gabba. Ian Bell has lost the magic he had in the home Ashes. Pietersen can’t seem to please anyone. Michael Carberry hasn’t gone on to make any real impact on the series despite looking okay most of the time. Joe Root’s constant travels around the batting order and his propensity to waft have had him in trouble. Tim Bresnan is not the same bowler he was three years ago.
And whether real or imagined, it seemed like every single decision that Alastair Cook made in this Test went against him. Whereas Michael Clarke probably made a mistake at the toss, ended up with a 51-run deficit, and still won by eight wickets.
In another timeline Prior takes the first catch, Cook takes the second and England win comfortably. But that never ever looked possible today. Just like all series, if something could go right for England, they made a mistake to ensure it didn’t.
And Australia have ridden the many gift horses into the sunset.