Ashes series in Australia make or break players. That is their beauty, and their cruelty. It is the same with any five-Test series, though this surpasses the understanding of the modern administrator. As England's captain, Alastair Cook currently finds he has more broken cricketers than those who have made it in this series.
Stuart Broad as a bowler, Michael Carberry and Ian Bell as batsmen: he is captain of a ship with three sound planks, while the rest of his team have been chopped into matchwood by Mitchell Johnson. It is therefore an old story with a new twist. For all the skill of Shane Warne as the greatest spinner, Test series in Australia have been won by fast bowlers - whether Harold Larwood, Frank Tyson or John Snow for England, or Ray Lindwall, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson or Glenn McGrath for Australia. But none was a fast left-armer like Johnson, and none so dominating, for he is more than twice the bowler of anybody else out there.
Operating at 150kph (93mph), and from the novel angle that fires his rocket-launchers up the right-hander's left armpit, Johnson had 16 wickets at 8.9 runs each by the end of England's third innings in this series. His is the pace which rises above any pitch's slowness and upsets all the calculations of a batsman, because his brain has not been programmed to face such speed at a formative age. It is as if England's victorious tour of 2010-11 had never been.
A crowd of more than 30,000 baying for a hat-trick, Johnson pounding in, the Australian media ready to ridicule: no wonder the vast majority of England cricketers have been broken in Australia, and those who have made it have been an exceptional few. What is unusual about this series is that England have disintegrated so soon. The Gabba is normally a write-off but Adelaide, with its lower bounce, has been the venue where English batsmen have rehabilitated. Not this time, owing to the awe-inspiring hostility of Johnson, who has taken a rightful place among Australia's top 10 all-time wicket-takers.
England on day three needed their overnight batsmen to see off the newish ball, and pave the way for another of Kevin Pietersen's Adelaide masterpieces: 158 or 227, either would do. But so intense was Johnson's opening assault that Joe Root succumbed to the first poor decision-making of his England career - assuming that had not been his high-risk single on the second evening which almost ran out Carberry - when he finally faced a spinner. If Root had to attack his first ball of the day from Lyon, a drive over mid-on would have been an option. Instead he dragged a slog-sweep from outside off stump and skied to deep square.
Brad Haddin, too, had failed to middle several slog-sweeps but his bottom hand had muscled them over the rope. Pietersen, like Root, gave his wicket away on the basis of what had gone before. In Root's case it was Johnson's barrage. In Pietersen's it was the previous ball from Peter Siddle, which had cut back on a surface that was loosening on day three. Pietersen's response was to come down the pitch to Siddle, which was fine, as it reduced the amount of potential seam movement.
What was far from fine was to flick the ball leg side because, first, it was early in his innings and, second, Australia had two fielders at short midwicket for exactly this shot. Any more such inappropriate responses when England are in these dire circumstances and Pietersen risks being marked down from a great batsman to a batsman who has played great innings. At this point England were 66 for three in the 35th over and the little momentum had come from Carberry. He had not played booming straight drives but he had scored neatly in other areas, not least against Lyon's off-spin.
Had Nick Compton kept his place, he might not have reached 41 off 106 balls in this brewing crisis. Whereas all the other England batsmen were overwhelmed by Johnson, Carberry and Ian Bell coped by being calm and compact. Carberry indeed batted more like Cook than Cook did. He has the composure of Cook on the previous tour here, before the cares of captaincy clouded his shot selection.
Anybody would have looked good as Australia's captain with Johnson to unleash, but Michael Clarke's planning was still exceptional. Carberry had moved up a gear after reaching his maiden Test fifty, while Bell went after Lyon and twice drove him for six, reaching 20 off only 13 balls. Clarke put a spanner in these works by bringing on Shane Watson. Maidens bring wickets, and it was the last ball of five consecutive maidens that Carberry pulled, and pulled down, but David Warner dived to his left at forward square leg. Seeing the ball so well, it was no surprise Warner cruised to 83 by the close to extend Australia's lead to 530. England lunched at 116 for four.
A few minutes later - no aid to digestion - they were 117 for seven. Six balls from Johnson were sufficient to dismiss Ben Stokes, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad, and not just dismiss them but dispatch them, stamped with 'express delivery'. Prior was struck on the left shoulder by Johnson's second ball, while his third ball - a bouncer - was faster still. Prior fished at the fourth, edging to Haddin, his ever more successful counterpart. At least Prior's wicketkeeping has held up so far, which is a basis on which to rebuild his confidence.
But a total of four runs - from one high-risk shot - in three innings is not sustainable. He has not reached 30 since the Oval Test in August, nor 50 since the Auckland Test in March. Stokes, in his debut Test innings, shaped well enough for his 11 balls from Lyon, but one from Johnson was enough, as it was for Broad, who walked a long way across his stumps. When Johnson and Ryan Harris blew away England last time at Perth, Bell had gone down with all hands, but here his new mental strength enabled him to salvage splinters of respect from the wreckage.
He took Harris for 18 in an over, hit four sixes, and some of his driving has never been more imperious. For balm, James Anderson took two new-ball wickets from airy drives, and Monty Panesar - having added 37 gallantly with Bell - removed Clarke with a ripper that hit the top of off stump. It was lost in the wash, however, as Australia were more than 450 ahead at the time, England reeling against the ropes, and the urn slipping from their fingers.