The shadow from the floodlight behind the Warner stand had already stretched out well beyond the pitch as Graeme Swann ran in to bowl the third ball of the final over of the fourth day.
England had taken the extra eight overs allotted to try to ensure a finish but so obdurately had the final Australia pair batted for more than an hour that the game seemed destined to go into the final day, something that, with refunds as well, was likely to cost MCC half a million pounds just to open the ground irrespective of refunds.
It may have been one of the most valuable deliveries Swann has produced. Pitching on the line of the stumps to the left-handed James Pattinson, it straightened and caught him right in front. Marais Erasmus thought for a moment and then responded to the vehement appeal. England had won the second Ashes Test by 347 runs and lead by 2-0 with three Tests to go, the first time they have won the opening two matches of an Ashes series at home.
It is a trouncing of such proportion that it all but rendered redundant their own second innings, with Joe Root's momentous 180. Only once, in Brisbane in 1928-29, the match in which Donald Bradman made his debut and saw his side defeated by a barely comprehensible 675 runs, has Australia lost as heavily as this in terms of runs. It represents their sixth successive defeat and the prospect looms of them equalling the worst run of losses, seven, a record that goes back to 1888, and even exceeding it.
The Ashes are all but safe for England.Australia, for all their apparent buoyancy having come tantalisingly close to winning the first Test, stand as much chance of getting back into this series now as Shane Watson has of entering into a civil partnership with his captain, Michael Clarke.
Such a turnaround has been known only once between the two countries. In 1936-37 England, under Gubby Allen, won the first two Tests, in Brisbane and Sydney. Then at the MCG they were caught on a sticky dog of a pitch, Australia reversed their batting order, Bradman made 270 at No7 and England lost by 365. He then made 212 in a 148-run Australian victory in Adelaide, and completed it with 169 back at the MCG when they wrapped up the series by an innings and 200 runs. Australia have one of the world's finest batsmen in Clarke but he is not quite Bradman.
Now they must go first to Hove, to lick their wounds against Sussex, then to Old Trafford for the third Test in 10 days' time where they might expect conditions not dissimilar to those in which Monty Panesar and Steve Harmison have been prolific in the past. It does not bode well for them.
There were excellent half-centuries from Clarke, 51, and Usman Khawaja, 54, with a fourth-wicket partnership of 98 but beyond that, until the last rites, the remains of the batting was abject once more, clueless as the ball spat and turned out of the rough first for Swann, who added four for 78 to his first innings figures to finish with match figures of nine for 122, and then Root, who claimed Clarke and Khuwaja at a bargain price, demonstrating that he will be a significant all-rounder for England in the future.
Tim Bresnan chipped in with a couple of wickets and there were two for Jimmy Anderson as well, beginning with Watson, who biffed his usual 20 or so at the start before getting his pad in the way yet again, the 10th time he has been lbw in 18 dismissals by England. Not even he, the great compulsive DRS gambler, had the gall to put his shirt on this one. For the fourth time in this series it took England longer to end Australia's innings than they would have liked, as Pattinson, 35, and Ryan Harris added 43 for the final wicket, the second highest partnership of their innings. Such things tend to put to shame what went before but it has already become a familiar story. Pattinson looks an accomplished player and Harris got in behind and battled it out rather as he had done with the ball.
The crowd became edgy, as if this was the final session of the match. The England bowlers strained for the coup de grace. Anderson came and went – a modest game by his monumental standards – while first Broad and then Bresnan gave it a new-ball burst. Bats were dead, the ball was hitting the middle sweetly. Occasionally one ripped past the outside edge to groans, oohs and aahs. It was dramatic in its way but it was concocted drama.
When play began, Root stood within 22 runs of emulating Walter Hammond, the only English batsman to make an Ashes double hundred at Lord's. Australia set out to make it, if not tough, then tedious, setting fields back so he was able to take a leisurely single and then bringing them in again to keep him off strike, all in the knowledge that the later Cook's declaration,, almost certainly when he had reached 200, the better for them.
Jonny Bairstow went to Harris and then, 20 minutes into the day, so did Root. He is an astounding young man, not least temperamentally. When he approached his hundred, shortly after tea on Saturday, he was the calmest person in the ground. Here, to get things shifting, he decided to switch codes. So he flick-ramped Harris, armed now with the new ball, over the top of his own head, but not behind the keeper Brad Haddin as he intended. Instead it somehow went high to third man where Steve Smith took the catch. This is a very modern young cricketer: a ramp, in a Test match at Lord's, against Australia, and approaching a double hundred. It is doubtful if Hammond tried that.
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image: © Graham Dean