Australia required a session and six overs on the third day at Headingley to wrap up a thumping innings-and-80-run victory against England, and so draw level at 1-1 in the Ashes with just the fifth Test at The Oval to come in a fortnight's time. Mitchell Johnson had the honour of sewing up the contest with his fifth wicket of a resurgent performance, when he bowled Graham Onions for a duck to confirm his return to his best and most hostile form, and underline the fact that Australia have suddenly emerged as firm favourites to complete their 10th Ashes victory in their last 11 contests.
It was not, however, a day that went entirely to plan for Australia, who were frustrated - not for the first time in the series - by England's tail, not least Stuart Broad, who added a boundary-laden 61 from 49 balls to his earlier six-wicket haul, as he became the first England cricketer to achieve such an Ashes double since Darren Gough at Sydney in 1994-95.
On Saturday evening, Board had promised to provide late-innings resistance for England's beleaguered cricketers, and he was true to his word as he and Graeme Swann compiled a spirited and thrilling eighth-wicket stand of 108 in just 12.3 overs. The tempo of the stand, at more than eight-and-a-half runs per over, was the second fastest for any partnership over 100 in Test cricket, behind Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns at Christchurch in 2001-02, and then as now, it was glorious in its futility. It could not save England from a hefty defeat, but it might just preserve a modicum of their self-respect.
Such a prospect didn't seem to be remotely on the cards when James Anderson fell meekly to the third ball of the morning, immediately after cutting Hilfenhaus to the boundary, thus extending his "duckless" streak to 54 Test innings. Anderson hung out his bat limply to a shorter delivery and edged to Ricky Ponting at second slip. Head down, shoulders slumped, and reeking of the bad body language for which Justin Langer has taken him to task in today's leaked dossier, Anderson took an eternity to trudge from the playing surface. It was an image that summed up England's match.
Matt Prior did what he could to stem the tide, slashing Mitchell Johnson behind square three times in two overs to rattle along at the run-a-ball tempo that makes him most comfortable. But no sooner had Broad nudged a leg-bye to take England past their heaviest home defeat of all time (an innings and 226 runs against West Indies in 1973), Hilfenhaus lured Prior with a perfectly pitched outswinger, which Brad Haddin scooped one-handed in front of first slip, to leave his team just three wickets from victory.
That, however, was the cue for England to raise their game, somewhat belatedly given the match situation. Initially Swann endured a torrid time at the crease, inside-edging Hilfenhaus millimetres past his leg stump, then wearing a Peter Siddle bouncer on the point of his elbow before pulling him inelegantly, and with eyes wide shut, through midwicket for another chancy boundary. But at the other end, Broad grew into his role of chief resistor, and four fours in a single over from Stuart Clark - three intended, one fortuitous - saved England from another unwanted notch in the record books, their heaviest home Ashes defeat, an innings and 180 runs at Trent Bridge in 1989.
Siddle responded to Clark's indignity with a hot-headed over that went for 17, including back-to-back bouncers that soared away for five wides each, and was concluded with a larruped four straight back down the ground, as Broad - who by now had exceeded his father's highest score in a home Ashes Test (37 on this very ground in 1989) - motored towards his second half-century in consecutive matches.
Now it was Swann's turn to get properly stuck into the action. For the second over running, Clark was clobbered for 16 in an over with three more fours, including a perfect pull shot that bisected the field at midwicket. A flat-batted smear off Siddle followed three balls later, whereupon Broad climbed into the biggest and most extravagant thwack of the day, a full-blooded swing that climbed high and handsomely towards Johnson on the long-off boundary, who could only parry a tough chance over the ropes for four.
Six balls later, and Broad once again took the aerial route, straight through the fielder's hands, as he connected with a pull off Clark and left Simon Katich sprawling as he sprinted round to intercept at backward square leg. But the fun could not last forever, and Siddle was the man to make the breakthrough, as Broad failed to get on top of another energetic swipe, and Shane Watson clung on gratefully at deep midwicket. He departed to a standing ovation from a newly invigorated Barmy Army, who had been understandably subdued for much of the morning, but found their voice as the run-rate climbed.
With the duck-happy Steve Harmison now joining him at the crease, Swann decided it was not the time to stand on ceremony, and an effortlessly timed pull through backward square sailed all the way for six to bring up a richly deserved half-century, from only 53 balls. Harmison chimed in with a slashed four over the slip cordon to get his innings up and running, as England went to the break still trailing by 98 runs, but with their morale lifted for the first time in the game.
After the resumption, however, the end came swiftly. Swann's uncompromising performance came to an end when he swished outside off to Johnson and was adjudged caught-behind for 62 from 72 balls, whereupon Onions - on a king pair after his first-innings extraction - was struck on the gloves first-up by a ball that very nearly dribbled onto his stumps. In the event, he survived just seven deliveries as Johnson nipped one off the seam to peg back his off stump, and Australia march south to London with their morale sky-high.