Their defeat in the second Test in Adelaide yesterday – the one ground where conditions were most suited to English seam and swing – left them 2-0 down with three Tests to play.
England have never previously recovered from such a deficit to draw or win the Ashes.
They must now win at least two of the last three Tests – and not lose the other – to retain the urn as current holders.
In addition, not one of England’s batsmen has made a hundred in the series.
Alastair Cook is averaging 15, James Vince 25, Moeen Ali 26, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow 27, Mark Stoneman 33 and Joe Root 35.
The bowling – too reliant on James Anderson – has lacked the combined threat of Australia’s pace attack, while Moeen has been out-bowled by rival spinner Nathan Lyon.
There is no Ben Stokes – the one man who could have given England the edge – and a number of bowlers have succumbed to injury.
Under the circumstances, typical odds of 1-25 with most bookmakers on Australia going on to take the series look generous in the extreme.
Under the circumstances too, Root’s contention that England are still “massively in this series” looks like the type of spin that would not disgrace Donald Trump’s PR machine.
“What the president really meant to say was…”
But Root was deadly serious when he contended that England can defy history, and he vehemently denied that they are on course – as many now fear – for a repeat of their 5-0 whitewash Down Under four years ago.
“I think we are playing better cricket this time around and I don’t think we (the teams) are as unevenly matched as we were last time around,” he said.
“The two games have ebbed and flowed and we have been in control for periods of them, which wasn’t the case last time.”
He might have added too, were he not so diplomatic, that there is no Mitchell Johnson in the opposition ranks, with Johnson destroying England in 2013-14 with some of the most devastating pace bowling that the game has seen.
Granted, there is still the decidedly brisk Mitchell Starc this time, plus Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
But Root is right when he says that England have shown during both Tests that they can out-perform Australia, the problem being that they have not yet done so for the full five days, which is “going to be our challenge”.
Some challenge, you might think, but for all the disappointment of the 10-wicket defeat in Brisbane, where England were on top at one stage, and the shattered hopes of Adelaide as the tourists subsided from 176-4 to 233 all-out yesterday in pursuit of 354, it would perhaps be premature to write off Root’s side.
They may well end up losing the series – perhaps even 5-0 – but this Australian team are not the world-beaters of yore and perhaps the sides are a good deal more evenly-matched than the scoreline would suggest.
Hitherto, Australia have managed to win the key moments and pull away, if not quite from out-and-out danger, then at least from the threat of peril.
They would not have slept soundly before yesterday’s final day in Adelaide (captain Steve Smith even confessed to taking a sleeping tablet to calm his nerves after his decision not to enforce the follow-on allowed England a route back into the match), only for the tourists to lose quick wickets – including the vital one of Root – to effectively end their hopes.
Improving their efforts with the bat is England’s biggest imperative if they are going to hit back in Perth, where the action starts on December 14, and in the later fixtures in Melbourne and Sydney. The aforementioned averages of the top-order batsmen are not going to win too many Tests, and it is incumbent on the likes of Root to start converting half-centuries into big hundreds and for those such as Cook, Vince and Malan to stand up and be counted.
Trevor Bayliss, the England head coach, has already suggested that there will be no team changes for the game at the WACA, with Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance the only alternative batting option.
Ballance should be in the side in my opinion, along with his county colleague Adil Rashid, who is not even on the tour, but the bottom line is that England must play better – it really is that simple.
England went down in Brisbane because they were poor in the second half of the match and they then lost in Adelaide because they were poor in the first half.
Rather like a football team that only turns up for the first half or the second, the need to string together cricket’s equivalent of a 90-minute performance is obvious.
So now England fly to Perth where they have not won a Test match for almost 40 years.
Some believe that it could get messy, but captain Root is adamant that the fightback starts now.