THEY arrived in Australia as the Big Four, the quartet of bankers for England who were sure to provide runs and wickets.
Well, Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad and James Anderson have been a huge disappointment in this Ashes series.
Cook and Broad have flopped more catastrophically than the other two but the overall lack of positive impact from England’s four most senior players is a big factor in the little urn changing hands.
They have an aggregate of 457 Test appearances and yet it is inexperienced players such as Dawid Malan, Mark Stoneman and James Vince who have made a smarter impression.
It is almost incredible to conceive that Pat Cummins, Australia’s No9, has more runs in the first three Tests than Cook and is only 38 behind Root in two fewer innings.
Root has been completely outbatted by Steve Smith and his funky plans to stop his opposite number’s flow of runs have singularly failed.
And Root’s dismissal in the second innings of the Third Test here betrayed the emotional vacuum and frazzled brain of a leader knowing the series will be lost.
To Nathan Lyon’s very first delivery, Root chased a wide ball, edged and it ricocheted of Tim Paine’s gloves and plopped into the hands of Smith at slips.
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Cook was caught and bowled for just 14 – admittedly it was a brilliant grab by Josh Hazlewood – and he has 83 runs in six innings. His future as England’s opener is clouded in doubt.
Cook now has a sequence of ten successive Test innings without a half-century for the first time and his rhythm, form and confidence appears to be ebbing away with every visit to the middle.
He says he is working harder than ever but, after such a long career and having given up the captaincy, one wonders if his well is running dry.
Vince remains convinced England’s two top batsmen will play significant innings before the series has finished.
The Hampshire batsman made a stylish fifty in England’s second innings before being undone by an unplayable ball from Mitchell Starc that deviated off a crack.
He said: “You look at those two guys and, if they don’t score runs, you expect them to do so in their next innings.
“They’ve shown over their careers that they don’t often have long periods without scoring runs. They are both mentally strong and capable so I’d expect them to make a big contribution at some point.
“Joe is a world-class player. He might be a little disappointed with his shot but we leave him to do what he does and generally he is one of the best in the world.”
Aussie quickie Hazlewood knows the value of keeping Root and Cook quiet.
He insisted: “If we can get them cheaply, it applies more pressure to the inexperienced guys in England’s middle-order. We’ve stuck to our plans against Root and Cook and they have been working but we know they are quality players.”
Broad was one of five bowlers to concede more than 100 runs as the Aussies piled up 662-9 declared, the highest Ashes total ever made by either side in Australia.
His figures of 35-3-142-0 were the worst of his career and, since his incredible 8-15 at Trent Bridge in 2015, his Ashes return is 5-363. He has no five-for in Tests since his magnificent spell against South Africa in Johannesburg 23 months ago.
They are worrying statistics. And Broad is carrying a twinge in his knee, too, which necessitated a scan.
An England team spokesman said: “Stuart has a long-standing niggle in his left knee. It is not affecting his bowling or his ongoing workload. He did have a precautionary scan when we arrived in Perth but it is fine. Like all bowlers, he is carrying niggles all the time.”
It would be ridiculous to say Anderson has endured a shocking series because his four-for in Australia’s first innings took his tally to 12 wickets at 25 apiece and he has operated at a miserly economy-rate.
But he was at the centre of the Ben Duckett drink-throwing incident and, as vice-captain, criticised the coaches for failing to advise him and Broad which length to bowl in Adelaide. He should have been able to work that out for himself.
Root was surprised and disappointed to hear such comments from his stand-in vice-captain.
The delivery which removed Vince was a contender for Ball of the Ashes. From around the wicket, Starc aimed at the crevice running down the pitch, hit it bang on and the ball deviated sharply and re-arranged Vince’s stumps.
Vince added: “It’s always frustrating to get out but a bit easier to take than dismissals where you’re at fault. If I faced that ball another 20-30 times, I think it would get me out every time.”