The wheels come off
Ricky Ponting probably feels as if he's copped enough punishment in the first two days of the fourth Test - his side bowled out for 98, England sticking on 444-5 in reply for a virtually unassailable lead of 346 and climbing, his own form collapsing and the Ashes slipping ever further from his grasp.
And now this - fined 40% of his match fee after a prolonged remonstration with the umpires. Midway through the afternoon, Australia's captain lost first a referral against Kevin Pietersen and then his temper, berating both umpires for several minutes as team-mates gathered at his shoulder to lend their support.
Ponting has never been slow to eject toys from his stroller. Combative, aggressive and stubborn with a bat in his hand, he can deal with defeat and disappointment in a laudably honest, up-front fashion. At other times, particularly when he is under extreme pressure in the field, those same characteristics can get out of control.
The delivery that triggered it all initially looked relatively innocuous - a little swinger from Ryan Harris that came back enough to pass between Pietersen's bat and front pad. Neither Harris nor first slip Shane Watson bothered appealing.
Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin was the first to go up. Others then joined in. Aleem Dar, standing in his 62nd Test, shook his head. Pietersen stayed motionless.
Haddin, convinced, ran down the track making the 'T'-shaped request for a television referral. Ponting, at mid-off rather than second slip to protect his injured finger, jogged in to join him.
Up in the stands, TV umpire Marais Erasmus scrolled through the replays. There was no edge visible on either slow-motion or Hotspot from any of the angles offered. That, you thought, was that. The Barmy Army cheered and Dar signalled that the referral had been lost.
Ponting was furious. To his eyes, the replay on the giant screen in the MCG indicated the faintest white mark on the bottom of Pietersen's bat. Trouble was, it was nowhere near the flight of the ball. It was also so vague as to be almost imaginary.
For Punter, it was enough. He had also seen Pietersen winking at him happily, examining the edge of his bat with calculated enjoyment.
Striding towards Dar, he stood with hands on hips and gave full vent to his feelings. When Dar walked away to be in position for the next over, he switched his attention to Pietersen, standing mid-pitch with Jonathan Trott, and then the other umpire Tony Hill as he came in from square leg. None were for moving.
More was to follow. With Australia enjoying a rare period of ascendancy just before tea, Matthew Prior edged Mitchell Johnson to Haddin and began to walk off, only to be halted by Umpire Dar.
Glancing down at Johnson's footmark, Dar thought he may have missed a no-ball, and asked Erasmus to check. Sure enough, the left-armer had over-stepped the crease. Prior, on just five, was reprieved while Ponting went puce. By the close he had added another 70 runs in an unbroken stand of 158.
Pressure can do strange things to all of us. Pietersen's body language made several experienced watchers think he'd got the tiniest edge. The Snickometer which later showed no sound as ball passed bat is not 100% foolproof. But is any of that a defence for Ponting's actions?
Former Australian skipper Ian Chappell, who led his side in four Ashes series and is now an expert summariser for Test Match Special, was vehement in his condemnation.
"To argue over a judgement call for something like eight minutes with both umpires, and then to have words with one of the opposing batsmen is ridiculous," he told me.
"You also saw other Australian players come in to get involved. As a captain you do get hot under the collar. But you hope that one of your team-mates will grab you by the arm and say, 'Mate, just calm down for a second,' - try to ease you out of the way and give you a chance to calm down.
"If I was an adjudicator I'd find it a suspendable offence. It's not like it's the first thing that has happened with him - that's the thing.
"I don't look at it from the point of view of Ponting being a role model, I look at it as there are certain things you can do and certain things you can't.
"It's quite clear that you can discuss a point of law with an umpire, but you can't discuss a judgement call. Nor should you be allowed to.
"I think the ICC are to blame in part - they're not to blame for him arguing, but they're to blame for not stopping him. If you stop a captain he understands, 'Right, I'm not supposed to do that. Even if I'm hot under the collar, I'm not supposed to do that.' But if you let him do it and get away with it, he thinks he can do it."
It's not the first time a leading Australian player has torn into Dar. Four years ago, in a VB Series match against South Africa, Adam Gilchrist was fined 40% of his match fee after pleading guilty to dissent, having berated Dar for not referring a run-out appeal against Boeta Dippenaar.
But if Gilchrist's outburst was somewhat out of character, Ponting has piles of previous.
He has been found guilty of breaching the ICC Code of Conduct six times in his Test career - four of those for showing dissent - and been forced to pay more than Aus $25,000 in fines for bad behaviour. Under his leadership, the Australian team has been hit with 18 separate code-of-conduct breaches.
Neither does he appear to be mellowing or learning with age.
"International cricket matches are passionate affairs, but as the captain of the Australian cricket team I understand it is my responsibility to uphold the spirit of the game and I know that through my actions I let myself and my team down."
That quote is from September 2006, when Ponting was fined his entire match fee for haranguing Asad Rauf about a wide he called in a DLF Cup match against the West Indies.
When Ponting blew his top at Trent Bridge in 2005, having been run out by substitute fielder Gary Pratt, it came to be seen as seminal moment in the series, the moment England knew they were truly in the ascendancy. His strop here on Monday, his team falling apart round his ears, has an equally definitive air.
That the row overshadowed another remorseless Trott century, his third in five Ashes Tests, will bother England not one bit.
Trott now averages over 90 against Australia. Together with Prior he snuffed out any last sparks of hope Ponting and his team may have had of salvaging something from the wreckage of that disastrous Boxing Day performance.
With all the patience, concentration and application that the Australian top order lacked, he played entirely to his strengths, scoring almost two-thirds of his 141 runs through the leg side and failing to offer a single chance.
Ponting found himself unable to applaud his century, just as no Australian fielder had moved when Trott lay motionless on the ground after being struck on the inside of his knee by Ben Hilfenhaus. Neither did Ponting bother to congratulate Prior on his first half-century of the series.
"Losing hurts," James Sutherland, CEO of Cricket Australia, had admitted on TMS during the tea interval when discussing the path of the series so far. We would all agree with that. It's how you react to it that counts.