You know you are in trouble when your most bitter rivals replace years of barbed insults with unsolicited sweet-talk.
Australia, fresh from sealing their seventh successive Ashes triumph over England since 1986/87, have been on a charm offensive weeks for weeks.
It continued on Saturday.
“So many times we get asked: ‘Is the Ashes still what it used to be and is it still the number one thing?'” vice-captain Adam Gilchrist said after the team’s victory at Trent Bridge, which gave the Australians a 3-0 lead in the five-match series.
“I’m not sure what the number one thing in test cricket is but this is really, really special.”
Twelve years of statistics, however, suggest that the oldest rivalry in test cricket has become extremely one-sided, so much so that it borders on unwarranted cruelty.
Since Australia began their winning run in 1989 they have won 23 tests to England’s five.
Worse still, four of those England wins came in ‘dead games’, when the outcome of the series had been decided and the Australians had already doused each other with liberal quantities of champagne.
Only once have England led a series during their losing era, when winning the first test at Edgbaston in June 1997. That advantage had disappeared by the end of the month, never to reappear.
What the statistics really show, however, is how heavily England have been beaten, time after time and series after series.
Five of Australia’s victories during their winning sequence have been by more than an innings, one of them by more than 300 runs, a further three by over 250 and two more by over 200.
Their narrowest win, in wicket terms, came at Lord’s in 1989, when they won by six. Their tightest victory in runs terms came when they won by 98 in Sydney in January 1999.
England, who last won an Ashes series under the captaincy of Mike Gatting 14 years ago, can justifiably argue that they have had more than their fair share of misfortune this summer, losing captain Nasser Hussain, leading batsman Graham Thorpe and number three Michael Vaughan to injury.
They are a competent enough side, justifiably ranked third in the world after fine victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
But Australian flattery — issued in pity, perhaps, or as an unconscious attempt to emphasise their own achievements? — cannot mask the gaping chasm that has opened up between the teams over the past decade.
“All the test matches this year have been closer than the results suggested,” Gilchrist argued after Trent Bridge. “England put us under pressure in the other tests and probably more in this test.”
The facts, however, show that the first test at Edgbaston, won by Australia by an innings and 118 runs, would not have got into a fourth day had it not been for rain.
Similarly, Lord’s — where Australia won by eight wickets — would have lasted just over two and a half days. Trent Bridge, meanwhile, would have been even shorter but for the weather.
England have passed 250 just once in six innings while not managing to bat out a full day against the world’s best side.
After the previous series in 1998/99, won 3-1 by Australia, some observers had dared suggest that England had become so enfeebled that they might no longer be worthy of a five-test series.
Those suggestions may become reality, with the International Cricket Council’s new world test championship raising the prospect of all series being cut back to three or four tests in order to fit in with a packed cricketing diary.