Deep in the bowels of the MCG the pursuit was for beer. A few in the posh seats sat down to lunch around midday, a fairly liquid one it seemed, and they were still there at their table at 4pm and they might well argue that they had not missed much. For those in the cheaper seats the queues for the amber nectar snaked around the upper reaches of this modern Colosseum for miles.
A world record crowd of 91,092 were hardly treated to the most scintillating cricket: 64-2 in the afternoon represented the second slowest session in the series – though nowhere near as eventful as England's 39-6 throughout an afternoon of the Brisbane Test. On Channel Nine the viewers were asked to respond to a question, as is often tediously the case: "Should Michael Clarke have batted first?" A clear majority said that he should have done.
However this was probably not a criticism of Clarke's tactics, although the Australia captain was openly ambivalent about what to do after he won the toss. It was just that they reckoned the cricket would have been far more entertaining if Australia were batting. In this the viewers were almost certainly right.
Australia's batsmen, often aided by first use of the wicket, which means that they are undaunted by an opponent's huge score, have been consistently aggressive throughout the series, an approach that has led to some massive scores and one retirement. England have never quite known how to play. In recent times England have seldom scored so slowly as in this series. All the Australian bowlers, except Steve Smith, are yielding runs at less than three per over; all the England bowlers have been going for more than three per over. There is an obvious reason for England's slow progress with the bat that the diehards are often reluctant to concede. The Australian bowlers, particularly their three (and a half) pacemen have been routinely outstanding.
Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle (and Shane Watson) have been as mean as Scrooge and a tad more athletic. Meanwhile Mitchell Johnson has been on hand to propel howitzers at Clarke's bidding, usually at the soft underbelly of the line-up. Against England's Nos 8-11 Johnson has taken 11-42 in the series. This is not to diminish his achievements, for the ability to polish off the tail is a crucial component of a match-winning team. Moreover there have been 14 other victims for Johnson higher up the order.
But there are other reasons for England's sluggish run-rate in this series. Confidence has rapidly drained away; batsmen have become ever more reluctant to trust themselves to attack. And legitimate questions about their batting outlook and order resurface. A nasty pattern is emerging. The batsmen achieve what is generally regarded as the hardest part of their trade. They bed in; they survive the first half hour, when the challenge is to acclimatise and adjust, surprisingly well. And then, with the hard yakka done, they get out.
Michael Carberry epitomises the problem. He has impressed against the new ball. He dodges the bouncers as easily as any; he looks to have time. But it now transpires that in his nine Test innings (there were two in Bangladesh), he has been out on six occasions between 30 and 43. He has the quality to stay in but those starts are squandered.
This is rarely because Carberry becomes too cavalier in approach. Instead he reins himself in too much. Twice in this Ashes series he has been bowled when set while leaving the ball. He becomes more passive as his innings proceeds and as the field starts to spread. Gradually there appear to be no run-scoring opportunities. This deceleration often proves fatal.
The same applies to Joe Root, who has the slowest strike rate (32) of any batsman in the series. Again he looks the part with a sound technique and a battling temperament. But often in this series he has been becalmed and then dismissed. Again the quality of the bowling and that shortage of wayward deliveries has been critical. Moreover it is a fact of cricketing life that bowlers, even Test bowlers, who know that the opposing batsmen are going to adopt a passive approach find their confidence burgeoning. They are unthreatened; they relax; and they bowl better.
The promotion of Root to No3 after Jonathan Trott's exit was predictable and understandable. It was, however, based on the cautious premise that Ian Bell should stay at five because he has been so successful there. Now that seems a less convincing strategy.
England have been incapable of seizing the initiative with the bat in this series. Perhaps Bell at his best, with added responsibility, might have been able to do that from No3. That would have been the bold option. Currently Bell has been coming in with the innings becalmed and he has rarely been able to discover any fresh wind. Nor has Kevin Pietersen, who demonstrated, if nothing else, that he retains his hunger for the fray. On a dour first day his unbeaten 67 was not a thing of beauty but it was impressively bloody-minded.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk