England fans sense change as Aussies are trounced
Adelaide, South Australia
Just after lunchtime on Tuesday, an enormous tropical storm grabbed Adelaide between its teeth and didn't let go for the next five hours.
Thunder rattled windows. Lightning stabbed down. Rain came in so hard that you could barely see across the road.
If you could, it wouldn't have been a surprise to spot the England team dancing through the puddles like Gene Kelly. Two hours earlier, under a bright blue sky, they had taken the last six Australian wickets for 66 runs to complete an innings victory with the sort of down under dominance that many England cricket supporters thought had died with Wally Hammond.
In the preceding 55 years, England had won just two Tests at the Adelaide Oval. It has been a quarter of a century since they last won a match in a live Ashes series in Australia, and eight years since they won any Test here at all.
Australia had not lost at home by an innings since the great West Indian side of 1993 punished them in Perth. They have only ever once lost by a bigger margin in Adelaide in Test history. They must now win at least two of the remaining three matches to have any chance of regaining an urn they used to almost own.
But this was about something more than just statistics, remarkable though they were.
Since their last successful Ashes campaign away from home 24 years ago, England have grown accustomed to defeat after demoralising defeat to Australian teams that were fitter, faster, angrier and plain old better at batting and bowling.
In that time they have been thrashed, humiliated, laughed at and patronised. There have been false dawns, dog-day afternoons and long dark nights of the soul, none worse than the mortifying 5-0 whitewash of four years ago.
To be present when the roles finally switched was like watching the world turned upside down.
Australia were eight wickets down and waiting to be put out of their misery when I received the following text from a cricket-loving mate sitting in front of the television in his lounge in Solihull in the west Midlands.
"For years I have dreaded turning on the TV in the morning to see yet again that the Aussies have hammered us into the ground. This is a reversal of the very sweetest kind."
Across Britain, thousands of people were staying up late or waking up with exactly the same sentiment.
At the ground itself, there was an air of exultant incredulity as England completed their transformation into Australia and Australia morphed meekly into England of old.
Mike Hussey succumbed to the sort of suicidal shot that was once the classic calling-card of a dispirited English batsman. Brad Haddin wafted disconsolately and was caught behind. A succession of tail-enders trooped to the middle and then trudged back with stooped shoulders a few minutes later.
Around the Oval, Australian fans stayed away as they did not want to witness the trouncing. Instead a ring of waving St George's flags and cavorting tourists celebrated the win. In the middle, as the top of Peter Siddle's middle stump pinged back from a Graeme Swann corker to end the procession, 11 men in white shirts and navy caps, frozen for one tiny moment with arms stretched out and mouths wide open.
There are three matches in this series still to come. The wounds from Ashes history are so deep that any form of celebration or eulogising triggers a fearful reflex - this can't last, it's too soon, it'll come back to bite us on the behind.
It could of course still all go wrong. But something about this tour feels different. As the same friend texted me again with sleepy disbelief, "We were brilliant and they were outclassed in every department."
It wasn't bleary-eyed boasting; in his news conference half an hour later, Australia captain Ricky Ponting said almost exactly the same: "They've out-batted us, they've out-bowled us and they've out-fielded us this entire game."
This was an England performance where everything possible had gone right, from the moment Jonathan Trott brilliantly ran out Simon Katich in the very first over of the match through James Anderson's dismissal of Ponting for a golden duck and Kevin Pietersen's imperious double-century to Alastair Cook's diving catch to snatch the key wicket of Michael Clarke on the penultimate evening.
On an outfield that a few hours later would be doing a decent impression of a boating lake, it was fitting that even the denouement was timed to perfection.
For Australia the opposite was true. The batsmen failed. The bowlers toiled. The fielders first dropped catches and then stopped even calling and running for them.
You almost (almost) felt sorry for them. England, feeling sorry for Australia?
That the fall of wickets on the final day was 6-66 was a suitable reflection of the hellish nature of Australia's display.
The week they have before the next Test in Perth won't feel like long to come up with some answers. Simon Katich has already been ruled out with injury, meaning Phil Hughes, dropped on the last Ashes tour after England successfully exploited his weakness to the short ball, will almost certainly have to be recalled.
Xavier Doherty can surely not be picked again, while Marcus North and Doug Bollinger are also perilously close to the chop. Ben Hilfenhaus, one match after being dropped, could find himself back in favour by default.
There's even a chance Mitchell Johnson might somehow find his way back into the team.
England too have lost a stalwart to injury, Stuart Broad's abdominal strain ruling him out of the rest of the series. But in Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad and Tim Bresnan they have more comforting reserves in waiting than Ponting and Australia.
Those three will now have an unofficial bowl-off in the three-day tour match against Victoria in Melbourne, which starts on Friday. Before then, England will enjoy this victory and the deluge that followed.
"It's either a fitness session or a few beers," said Strauss, when asked about England's evening plans. "I think it's the latter."