Joe Root's future is under close scrutiny after England's humiliating Ashes capitulation and the captain accepts wholesale changes are needed to rejuvenate the Test side.
England imploded on the third morning in Melbourne to hand Australia victory by an innings and 14 runs as well as a decisive 3-0 series lead, turning in their worst batting display yet in a trip littered with awful performances.
They were knocked over for a humiliating 68 all out, their lowest total on Australian soil since 1904, as debutant seamer Scott Boland tore through their line-up to finish with outstanding figures of six for seven.
The result capped a dreadful run of results for the Test team under Root, who have become the first England side to lose nine games in year. Having kicked off 2021 with three successive wins in Sri Lanka and India, they have now triumphed just once in their last 12 Tests.
Root now sits level with predecessor Sir Alastair Cook with the most matches as England captain, 59, and it would be no surprise if he comes to the conclusion that he has come to the end of the road.
But with two more games to go, in Sydney and Hobart, he is focused on lifting his side.
“I can’t be selfish and start thinking about myself,” he said when quizzed about his future.
“I’m in the middle of a very important series. My energy has to be all about trying to win the next game. The series isn’t over yet: we’ve got two very big games and, more than anything, it would be wrong to look past that. That’s all we have to focus on and that applies to me as well, as captain of this team.
“We need to put some pride back into the badge, to give people back home something to to celebrate from this tour. It’s bitterly disappointing to be a 3-0 down but with two Test matches to go we have to come away from this tour with a couple of wins.”
Root was England’s top scorer once again, albeit with a meagre 28, and became just the third player in history to break 1,700 Test runs in a calendar year.
Sitting behind Sir Viv Richards and record holder Mohammad Yousuf is a proud achievement for a player in career-best form, but the downside of leading a team who cannot match his level mean he cannot enjoy the moment.
“I’m absolutely gutted, bitterly disappointed to find ourselves in this position,” he said.
“You turn up today, you walk out with Ben Stokes and you feel like anything’s possible. To find ourself in this position, everyone in this dressing room is gutted, it’s as simple as that. I can’t really add any more.”
Root did touch on the debate about the quality of player that is being promoted from the county game. The quality of batting, in particular, has come under scrutiny this year with Root’s nearest challenger on the run charts, Rory Burns, sitting 1,178 adrift.
He accepted that players were arriving at England level ill-equipped for the challenge of Test cricket.
“I think that that is a long conversation that should probably be had at another time, but I would say I think that the best 18 players from the county game are definitely on this tour,” he said.
“With where the game is at in our country right now, the only place you can really learn is in the hardest environment, with what is quite a young batting group. They’re having to learn out here in the harshest environments.”
In contrast, Test debutant Boland became an instant hero in Australia cricket with his astonishing figures of 6-7 in four overs.
Dismissing opener Haseeb Hameed (7) and nightwatchman Jack Leach in his first over late on day two, Boland returned on Tuesday to trap Jonny Bairstow lbw for five in his second over.
His third over produced the prized wicket of England skipper Joe Root (28), with his fourth accounting for tailenders Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson, each going for ducks before a celebrating MCG stadium.
"I’ve never had a crowd behind me like that,” said Boland, who slotted into the side after injuries to pacemen Josh Hazlewood and Jhye Richardson.
"I tried to soak it up when I was down at fine leg. I really enjoyed it. It felt like they were pushing me on when I was running in to bowl.
"I was just hoping I was going to be good enough."