THE Ashes are all but gone. So too, it appears, are the last vestiges of Australia as a Test force after England's imposing second Test victory in Adelaide.
Captain Ricky Ponting readily admits he is facing one of the greatest challenges of his long and distinguished career to revive his battered team and his own form after failing twice in the match.
Australia was so comprehensively outplayed, to lose by innings and 71 runs yesterday, it is impossible to see how the home side can win two of the remaining three Tests, while preventing another England victory, to regain the famous urn.
The figures are as damning as the history is worrying.
It was Australia's first innings loss to England since Melbourne during 1986-87, when England last won an Ashes series in Australia.
The last time Australia had a worse run than losing four Tests out of five without a victory was 26 years ago, when the once-mighty West Indies hammered Australia in six successive Tests during 1984.
Oh dear. Australians are generally cock-a-hoop when things are going well, and when they are ruling the roost, as they have done for so many years. However Father Time is fast catching up with the Australian cricketers. Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist have gone, and Ponting, Hussey and Katich are all 35. Katich has quite possible played his last test match; Achilles tendon injuries are notoriously difficult to recover fully from.
Australia's biggest problem though is its dearth of bowlers. Whereas the English have taken 31 wickets in the series so far, the Australian bowlers have taken a mere 16, ten of which were on the first day of the Brisbane test. Australia lacks penetration with its quick bowlers, and whilst Shane Warne is irreplaceable, the lack of a quality spin bowler is hurting them. Although the next test will be played on the bounciest pitch in cricket at the WACA in Perth, we doubt that the English batsmen will be quaking in their boots.
And surely, if Australia cannot pull out a miracle, this will be Ponting's swansong as captain. Losing the Ashes to England in 2005 was barely forgiveable. Losing them again last year was really pushing things to the limit. Surely the Australian public, selectors and media will not allow Ponting to survive a third Ashes defeat; that would be decidely unAustralian!