JUST how have England managed to go from heroes to zeroes in 18 months?
And who is to blame - the management, coach, captain, the players or even the umpires?
It's probably a bit of all those combined, really, with a mixture of circumstances conspiring against Andrew Flintoff's side, although nothing should be taken from Australia, who are clearly the best Test side in the world.
England certainly went into the series under-prepared, with just a couple of short friendlies as practice after the ICC event in India.
That can be chalked up to the management, as can the choice of Flintoff as captain, which was too great an expectation to place on the team's talisman.
He should have been focused on his own batting and bowling and not what everyone else was or wasn't doing.
Monty Panesar should have been selected from the off, instead of opting for a safety-first policy which backfired, and Geraint Jones proved he wasn't up to taking the gloves of Chris Read, which everyone except the selectors suspected anyway.
Flintoff, who, I would suggest, is still not 100% fit, tried to lead from the front with his bowling, but he does not have Michael Vaughan's inspirational qualities as skipper.
Vaughan's loss to injury, along with that of swing bowler Simon Jones, and the off-field problems robbing the team of Marcus Trescothick, have been massive factors in England's fall from grace, while some questionable umpiring decisions haven't helped (although you could hardly argue they've tipped the scales).
And so to the players:
Andrew Strauss started with three appalling dismissals to strokes straight out of the Evening League manual, but then had three promising knocks cut short by disappointing umpiring decisions, which looked bad enough in quick time let alone in slo-mo.
Alistair Cook is clearly one for the future, as his four centuries so far suggest, but the jury remains out on Ian Bell when it comes to taking on the best.
Paul Collingwood has proved a success with a splendid double century to go alongside his previous 96 and he's shown grit throughout.
While Kevin Pietersen tops the averages, he remains guilty of getting out irresponsibly at times when his team need him to dig in, and Flintoff has disappointed with the bat - along with Jones, Sajid Mahmood and the rest of the tail end.
England desperately need Vaughan back as quickly as possible and, while the fifth Test in Sydney is only a few days away, the planning for the home Ashes series in 2009 has to start now.
COACH Duncan Fletcher has insisted England's surprise decision to promote Kevin Pietersen up the batting order midway through the fourth Test was not a panic measure.
Pietersen has been England's most consistent batsman during the one-sided Ashes series and was believed to be comfortable batting at number five despite calls from astute judges like former Australian captain Ian Chappell for him to bat one place higher.
But as England began their failed attempt for survival at the MCG, which they lost by an innings and 99 runs, Pietersen was dramatically promoted to number four while Paul Collingwood dropped down a place.
It was a move which prompted many critics to believe England were panicking but coach Fletcher insisted they wanted Pietersen in that role all along.
"Kevin came to us and said he was batting with the tail a lot so he wanted to bat at number four," explained Fletcher.
"We had a discussion and he said he'd rather move up than be caught with the tail that we've got at the moment so we've decided Kevin will bat at number four through to the end of the Sydney Test.
"We discussed it with Paul Collingwood and he said he would do what is best for the team. He appreciates Kevin is a better batter than him and he said it does seem wrong that he's batting with the tail and we're not using Kevin to his full potential.
"We've always wanted him to bat at number four where the top batter should bat. He didn't want to be batting with the tail all the time so he thought if he went to four he would have better batters batting behind him."
Fletcher confirmed Pietersen had been hesitant about moving back to No4, so England dropped the idea until he took it upon himself to approach the management team over the last few days in Melbourne to suggest the idea himself.
"He was a little bit reluctant initially to bat there and in any team anywhere in the world, if you man-manage people it's wrong to make people play or do things they don't want to do in tight situations," explained Fletcher.
"You make these decisions before the tour but during the tour you have to change them.
"I don't believe you can stick to plans and just stick with them all the time, you're changing all the time."
As it turned out the experiment to promote him in the order, which is set to continue for the final Test at Sydney, lasted only eight balls before he was bowled by seamer Stuart Clark for one as England slumped to 161 all out. But Fletcher stressed: "I don't think you can fault his batting.
"He's batted exceptionally well, he's shown he's a classy player and he's the type of player when he's playing like that you don't want to interfere with at this stage.
"It's very important that with your main player you put him into positions he is comfortable with. We thought it was best on a tour like this that if he wanted to bat number five and he felt comfortable there he should bat number five."
England will transfer to Sydney tomorrow before starting their build-up for the next Test at the SCG starting on January 2.
They will be aiming to avoid becoming only the second side in history to suffer an Ashes whitewash.