Joe Root’s side arrived at Headingley on the second morning of the third Test with a huge chance to play their way into a series-levelling position after toppling Australia for 179 but turned in a sorry, insipid display.
They were sunk inside 28 overs for England’s third-lowest Ashes score on home turf and the eighth worst overall. Australia responded by reaching 171 for six at stumps, a lead of 283 that positions the holders to go 2-0 ahead with two to play.
The tourists deserve considerable credit for a fine bowling performance, not least Josh Hazlewood’s highly-skilled five for 30, but the horror collapse has become a frustratingly frequent flaw.
This was the fourth time since the start of 2018 that England have been blasted out in double figures – with three of those in the past seven Tests – and it increasingly looks like a structural problem that requires serious and immediate attention.
England will never forget the joy of winning its first World Cup earlier this summer but that cherished moment, and the prolonged period of white-ball emphasis that preceded it, might have come at a price.
Meanwhile, Jofra Archer briefly left the field with suspected cramp late in the day, a worrying hint that the rising star of English cricket might already be shouldering too much of the burden, leaving Ben Stokes to hold down a mammoth workload with ball in hand.
When play began under blue skies Jason Roy gave a tantalisingly brief glimpse of what might have been, helping himself to a couple of firmly hit boundaries to set the day in motion.
The serenity lasted just under four overs, Roy following a Hazlewood delivery he might otherwise have left and feeding David Warner the first of his four catches at first slip.
Roy had made just nine, his exact average after six disappointing outings at opener – an experiment that looks increasingly close to its conclusion.
The next blow was even more grievous, Root lasting just two balls before Hazlewood fizzed one into the channel outside off and Warner tumbled to his left to take the edge. Root has now scored back-to-back ducks for the first time in his career, the worst possible advert for his recent move to number three.
It was 20 for three when Rory Burns gloved a Pat Cummins bouncer through to the wicketkeeper but the worst shot of the bunch was still to come.
Stokes, fresh from an unbeaten century last week and promoted to five, had just eight to his name when James Pattinson tossed down a harmless wide. Inexplicably Stokes dropped to one knee and stretched himself in pursuit, succeeding only in steering another chance to the welcoming hands of Warner.
Somehow Joe Denly was still there. He was beaten seven times before getting off the mark, edging one, overturning an lbw decision and playing and missing on five occasions.
Things barely improved, almost chopping on twice and surviving another lbw shout, before he finally edged one from Pattinson to end a tortured stay. Remarkably he would end up as top-scorer with 12, the lowest number ever to earn that distinction in an England innings.
Hazlewood and Warner combined once more before lunch, Jonny Bairstow the latest victim, leaving England 54 for six.
Australia wasted no time in ramming home their advantage in the afternoon, pocketing the last four wickets for 13 runs. Cummins’ short ball did for Woakes and Archer with Hazlewood claiming the last recognised batsman, Jos Buttler picking out the perfectly-positioned short cover, and cleaning up last man Jack Leach.
England’s long-suffering bowlers did their best to keep up the pretence of a fight as Australia lost three for 82 before tea.
Stuart Broad’s domination of Warner continued, the left-hander lbw for duck, Leach’s first ball of the match spun sharply to castle Marcus Harris through the gate and Woakes removed Usman Khawaja for 23.
England needed things to happen in a hurry in the evening but Australia added another 89 for three in a punishing final session for Stokes.
He held down one end for 15.2 overs, interrupted only by four Archer deliveries ending in the cramp, and pounded away tirelessly for the scalps of Travis Head and Matthew Wade.
It could easily have been more, Marnus Labuschagne dropped by Root on 15, Bairstow on 42 and reprieved by Stokes’ no-ball in between. Broad removed Tim Paine for nought before the end but the visiting captain will already be visualising becoming an Ashes-winning captain.