London - England's goal of retaining the Ashes and going on to top the Test cricket rankings looked a touch ambitious on Sunday after a Perth capitulation that raised memories of too many previous false dawns.
England's batsmen, so dominant in setting up a 1-0 lead after the first two Tests, wilted in the face of some old-fashioned aggression from an Australian pace attack stung into action by sustained criticism of their ability and attitude.
As happened against Australia at Headingly in 2009 and South Africa in Johannesburg in January 2010, England's confidence has been rocked by their inability to deal with a hard, bouncy pitch, and their serene progress towards their ambitious twin targets has stopped short with a jolt by a 267-run defeat.
Now, with Australia reported to have switched the strip at Melbourne to a bouncier one than first planned for the fourth Test starting on December 26, England need to prove to themselves, their opponents, their fans and a twitchy, uncertain media, that they are the real deal.
Former skipper David Gower suggested England had been exposed as "flat-track bullies" and were not that good on a pitch with pace and bounce.
"I hope they have learned something from Perth," Gowar wrote in a Sunday Times column. "Because the chances are the home side will be trying to prepare a fast pitch in Melbourne. It is the only way they can tilt the odds in their favour and they would be mad not to try."
There was always something that did not sit quite right with England's triumphalism after the second-test win in Adelaide.
Mild-mannered seamer James Anderson re-invented himself as a snarling sledger and Jonathan Trott positively revelled in annoying the Australians with his snail-paced approach.
Even captain Andrew Strauss, a contender for the nicest man in sport, seemed happy to join in the general euphoria of the long-bullied victim finally getting his own back.
Four decades' worth of former England captains were also quick to put the boot in to an Australian team who, in fairness, were mauled even more savagely by their own media.
Geoffrey Boycott, who has the pedigree of Ashes series success under his belt, could not hide his glee at what he described as the "shambles" of Australia's selection policy for the third Test.
"There is no clear thinking from the selectors," he said. "I think somebody needs to drop the selectors, not the players."
Other former captains such as Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton, whose teams were routinely and swiftly put to the sword by the Australians, were also happy to weigh in on the overall weakness of the current Australian side.
Their mood was still buoyant early on the second day at Perth when, having dismissed Australia for 268, England reached 78 without loss in reply. Three days later the series was level after a crushing Australian win.
The "shambles" of recalling Mitchell Johnson, having told him not to play a State match, but instead work on his technique, had suddenly become a masterstroke as he took nine wickets in a man-of-the-match performance.
Former coach David Lloyd had to eat his words having said after the first test that Australia's attack "simply isn't up to scratch" and that all England's back-up bowlers would get into their team.
Another former captain, Michael Vaughan, who did much to develop England's self-belief en route to their 2005 Ashes series win under his command, suggested though there was no need for a kneejerk reaction.
"I don't think they will panic. I don't think there will be changes," he told BBC Radio 5-Live.
"I'm sure England will come back. It just depends on the pitch. I think England will have to win at the MCG (Melbourne) because I do think the Sydney ground will have some pace in it."
Vaughan also suggested that Graeme Swann, barely a factor in Perth, could be vital to England's chances. "He bowled nine overs (in the second innings), the number one spin bowler in the world," he said.
"With the four-man attack, Graeme Swann is the key."