Joe Root fumbled then tried in vain to grab the straight-forward chance that had somehow evaded his grasp. It was not quite the moment the England captain dropped the Ashes but it was the piece of calamitous cricket that epitomised his side’s sorry demise.
By the time Root, his brain surely scrambled by England’s ineptitude, handed the fortunate Marnus Labuschagne that reprieve at slip off an exasperated Ben Stokes, Australia were already 200 ahead and the captain’s ship had long since sailed.
They had extended that lead to 283 by the close of a decisive second day of this third Test and, with four wickets left, can progress with confidence in the Headingley sunshine on Saturday towards a victory that would give them an unassailable 2-0 Ashes lead.
Joe Root's side were bowled out for 67 and now face losing the chance of reclaiming the Ashes after calamitous cricket
Jason Roy walks off the pitch after Josh Hazlewood managed to get the England opener out in a poor display from the hosts
Only a miracle in the form of a proper display of first-class batting can possibly save England now and, quite frankly, any sort of discipline and application looks beyond this sorry, impatient collection of frenetic hitters masquerading as Test match batsmen.
And the whole sorry mess was summed up by the sight of Jofra Archer, the man with the talent to lift England to what should be the brightest of futures, limping off with cramp towards the close, overworked and in danger of being broken in his second Test.
This was nothing short of an abject surrender of the Ashes. This was as crushingly deflating as the World Cup was thrillingly inspiring. This came as close as it is possible to get to taking the gloss off that glorious day at Lord’s little more than a month ago.
England were pathetic on Friday. And gutless. There is no other way to describe the way they hurtled to 67 all out – yes, 67 – in perfect batting conditions when they had a golden opportunity to wrest total control of this third Test and quite possibly the series.
And it was a surrender that leaves the unlikely figure of Tim Paine with one hand on the precious urn and Root having to face up to the ramifications of becoming the first England captain to lose the Ashes at home since the bad old days of Aussie dominance.
There can be no excuses. No mitigating circumstances by giving credit to what is a mightily impressive Australian bowling line-up. Every roll of the dice since Edgbaston has gone England’s way and they have tossed every advantage they have had away.
Ben Stokes tried to salvage some pride for England as he took the wicket of Matthew Wade and looked exhausted on Friday
It was easy to fall for it. Easy to think England really were back in the Ashes hunt when they grabbed the momentum at Lord’s and then came up against an Australian side here without the man who had been the difference between the sides in Steve Smith.
And easy to believe England were well on top when they bowled Australia out for 179 under gloomy Headingley skies on the