Photo by: Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber
It was a haunted house. A derelict mental institution. An ancient tomb. An abandoned playground. A castle on a stormy night. There were bats. Monsters. Zombies. Flesh-eating slugs. There was a handprint of blood on the mirror. A hoofprint near the bed. Something dark in the corner.
They ran up the stairs. They ran into the woods. They tripped. They batted first.
That’s if it can be called batting, batting is an endeavour that takes time, that requires hand-eye coordination, control, reflexes and patience. It can be done for days. When done properly, it often feels like weeks.
Australia didn’t last a session. Sorry. Australia didn’t last a slightly shortened session. Australia didn’t bat. They slashed their Ashes away in a 93-minute video nasty.
There is always a monster, a force or a reason for death in a horror film. But the victims are often the cause of their own demise. Look in the back seat, don’t go into that cabin in the woods, and don’t hitchhike.
Batting is taking on a monster by making a series of important decisions based on all the available information in front of you. You read the bowler, the pitch, the conditions and the ball. And then you make what you hope is the correct split-second decision. That’s batting.
That’s not what Australia did.
That’s not even what it looked like they attempted to do. They didn’t read that Stuart Broad was pitching up, or that he was bowling outside off. They didn’t realise the pitch needed late play and soft hands. They didn’t adjust or play for the swinging conditions. And they played the wrong shots to the wrong balls. Every time.
Even to the balls they didn’t get dismissed on (which was roughly seven) there were one-handed back-foot cover drives, nonsensical wafts, fidgety pulls, sliced drives and noncommittal crease-bound hard-handed prods of nothingness. It wasn’t batting; it wasn’t even a semi-decent imitation of batting. It was self-immolation with bats.
The first batsman to leave the ball well was Mitchell Johnson, their number eight. The worst leaver of a cricket ball in international cricket. A man who in the last Test left a ball that he thought was missing off stump, and it ended up hitting his pads outside leg stump. That was the first person who left the ball well. Or often, or virtually at all.
Had the rest not played any shots, at all, it’s hard to believe they would have made less than 60. Had they not taken their bats out, come to the ground, got on the plane in the first place, they could have beaten 60. Had Cricket Australia taken a last-minute choice to replace the entire team with plush toy platypuses, they still could have scored 60. And probably almost made it to lunch.
Anyone with an Australia passport in the ground had this defeated painful face. Every couple of minutes, when the latest moment of idiocy led to the next occasion of calamity, that face. That combination of disbelief, not at the ineptitude, but at the magnitude of the ineptitude. This was their grand final, and it wasn’t grand, it was gratuitous.
They didn’t lose the Ashes, they murdered them. They hacked them into tiny little pieces. They then dipped those pieces into poison, and force fed them into the shocked, gaping mouths of the next batsman. They were fast-moving zombies who were eating each other. Intent on their own destruction, as quickly as possible.
It was gornography, a hardcore slasher grindhouse bloodfest. Ninety-three minutes of humiliating decisions and self-harm pretending to be an Ashes innings. They might as well have just walked the ball over to slips rapped in a gold bow. They should have offered to carry Broad into the crease, sing him a lullaby, buy him a boat and then placed each one of their heads on a platter made of gold. He was as brilliant as they were terrible, but they were terrible.
They tied themselves to the train tracks. They started the chainsaw. They handed Broad the rusty knife and handcuffed themselves to a radiator.
The only good news is that it was over so quick: 111 balls, 93 minutes, 60 runs. Of horror. Of misery.
But even once it was over, Sky kept showing the slow motion of Michael Clarke in pain. It was the same look as every other Australia batsman had already shown. This time it was just slowed down for effect, repeated for torture and will be etched into his Ashes tombstone. The whole shot was behind the dressing room glass, he looked ghostly. He was ghostly.
Clarke is the ghost in the haunted house who looks out the window reliving the gory final moments of their life. Haunting and haunted.