Chris Rogers and David Warner had shown them the pathway but they were unable to light it up sufficiently for others to follow.
Rogers is on a personal mission to show that age should be no barrier to international sport providing you have the skills, temperament and fitness, and he has batted with admirable tenacity. And Warner, alongside Ian Bell and to an extent Shane Watson in the first innings, was one of the few players to play so competently almost to paint a false picture of what were testing conditions. Both were dismissed by excellent deliveries, Rogers by Graeme Swann and Warner by Tim Bresnan, who more than justified his selection as the sort of England cricketer who might do an advert for Wickes.
Subsequently Michael Clarke received what the coach Darren Lehmann called a "ripper", expecting the short ball perhaps, and reluctant to go forward, although experience should have told him that such obvious set-ups are rarely without the double bluff element (fast bowlers who try to triple-bluff invariably confuse no one but themselves). No Test bowler has dismissed Clarke more times than the seven by Stuart Broad, nor has the bowler taken any other wicket more times. But beyond that Broad, adrenaline pumping, found complicit batsmen, technically inadequate to cope with his aggression and momentum.
The tea-time talk, with England bowling their way to a loss by the looks of it, would have been a humdinger. David Saker does not do nice in those circumstances, but tells fortunes instead so an informed guess would be that the conversation involved less "come on fellows we can do this" than "unless you pitch the ball up I WILL PERSONALLY RIP YOUR EFFING THROATS OUT". As such, that is not to be found in the coaching manual but the post-tea length, just a hint of sideways movement from reverse swing despite the lush outfield, and a bit of cross-wind was all it needed.
Almost a decade ago, the England and Wales Cricket Board published a strategic plan for the four years to 2009, and called it Building Partnerships, a sentiment that has a resonance with batting and bowling. Bowlers do tend to operate better when pairs complement one another, and part of the art of captaincy is finding the combination that works on a given day. On this occasion, Alastair Cook (and his lieutenants, for although the captain is executive, many decisions are consultative) saw the Broad-Bresnan alliance click. Once again it left Jimmy Anderson out in the cold, although there was a sense of natural justice, given his herculean labours early in the series, that it was he who took the Ashes winning catch.
Together Broad and Anderson provide a partnership, one that can now boast well in excess of 500 Test wickets. In this series they have similar figures, although arrived at by different routes. Each has taken 17 wickets although, at 25.67, Broad's are almost six runs per wicket cheaper. But Broad has gathered momentum from Trent Bridge, where he was nursing a sore shoulder having been hit on it and consequently off the pace, to his remarkable spell at the Riverside.
His bowling partner, by contrast, was outstanding in the first Test, almost single-handedly bowling his side to victory, since when he has tailed off significantly. Indeed since he dismissed Brad Haddin to end the first Test he has taken seven wickets in three matches, at 53 runs each, which includes Peter Siddle three times; Haddin, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon once each; and Shane Watson. In other words, only one batsman in the Australia top six, which for a new-ball bowler of his calibre represents significant underperformance.
So what to make of it? There is a theory that his efforts during Trent Bridge, especially his 14-over spell that drove England over the line, so depleted his energy resources that he has never fully recovered. This would not stack up either with his phenomenal level of bowling fitness, nor the empirical evidence that the management team possess. He, and all the bowlers, are carefully monitored and rested accordingly. Any doubts about his fitness to perform would have been addressed.
Sometimes, though, when famine follows feast in bowling terms there can be a tendency to look for reasons beyond the simple one, that these things happen. Consider Broad here. The first three Tests brought him six wickets at 52 runs apiece and then suddenly it turns round. When he is on song, Anderson has remarkable rhythm. He does not force the pace, is mentally in control and commands the ball. Deprive him of wickets and he will be looking to make things happen, to force the ball to bend to his will rather than have it naturally subservient. Soon the ball will find the edge again, and he will be away.
The argument will be on whether, given what has happened, he should play at The Oval next week. That in part would be determined by England's attitude to the match now that the Ashes are won and it is a dead game. Some might say there is a chance to look at fresh faces, but the most natural replacement, Graham Onions, has broken a finger and is out of action. What is more likely is that England will want to finish the series on a top note, to try and make it 4-0, and maintain the high ground for when they go to Australia for the return bout in a few months time.
Anderson is said to be fit, firing and not a little deprived. Time enough for rest after the series. He should play.
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