finish off their oldest adversaries and the Australians will have left Trent Bridge last night realising that they will now have to win the fifth Test at The Oval if they are to keep hold of cricket's most prized possession.
The bowling of Hoggard, Harmison and Simon Jones caused joyous scenes at Trent Bridge, and chants of "easy, easy" along with "the Ashes are coming home" came from the terraces as another Australian batsman made his way back to the pavilion. But the day was set up by Flintoff, who scored a brilliant maiden century against the Australians. Flintoff batted beautifully during his chanceless 102, an innings that enabled England to post a formidable first innings total of 477.
England were helped by several poor umpiring decisions, with two of the Australian batsmen being given out leg before when they had hit the ball onto their pads. But these were the type of errors that have gone against England in previous Ashes contests, and they should not take anything away from the contagious and dynamic cricket Vaughan's team are playing.
Australia require a further 179 runs to avoid being asked to follow-on. Whether England decide to enforce it will depend on how they view an indifferent weather forecast, but it is 17 years since Australia were last asked by an opposing captain to bat again.
If Australia are to avoid the ignominy of following on much will depend on Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist. Both have had a disappointing series to date but cricket has learnt to accept that anything is possible while Gilchrist is at the crease. He remains the player England most want to get out, and if they can dismiss him cheaply this morning another huge stride towards Ashes glory will have been taken.
Matthew Hayden was the first Australian to depart yesterday when Hoggard trapped him in front with a beautiful inswinger. The shiny new ball had offered Hoggard little movement but swing became more exaggerated once the pitch had scraped the lacquer off it. Hayden's inside edge prevented him from falling to the previous delivery, but the umpire Aleem Dar had no option but to raise his finger when the third ball of the 10th over thudded into his right pad.
In the following over Simon Jones dismissed Ricky Ponting. The Australian captain looked down the wicket in amazement when Steve Bucknor raised his finger. And he had every right to. The ball had hit the inside edge of his bat before touching pad. One poor decision is often all it takes to knock the resistance out of a team, so one can only imagine how disspirited the Australian dressing-room was when when Damien Martyn fell in identical fashion in Hoggard's next over.
These three wickets reduced Australia to 22 for 3, and it became 58 for4 when Justin Langer edged another inswinger on to his thigh and the ball lobbed up to Ian Bell at short-leg.
Flintoff made an inglorious England debut here at Trent Bridge in 1998, but yesterday's innings confirmed his position as one of the greats of the modern game. Geraint Jones, England's much -maligned wicketkeeper, also highlighted why England's selectors have continued to tolerate his untidy glovework when he scored a stylish 85. The pair shared a sixth-wicket partnership of 177, and it enabled England to win the opening session and take firm control.
Flintoff's reputation as a batsman has been made through flogging mediocre attacks, but yesterday's innings was controlled and precise. It was the innings of a man who is totally at ease with himself. There were plenty of trademark drives when the bowlers overpitched, and Warne was slogged into the Fox Road stand for a huge six, but there was a reassuring calmness about the way he compiled his runs.
Flintoff and Jones were helped by Ponting's tactics and it was difficult to work out what Australia were trying to achieve during the morning session, especially after Brett Lee had removed Kevin Pietersen with a fullish delivery in the fifth over. At the time Flintoff was not looking threatening, Jones was yet to get off the mark, and the game was there for the taking, but Ponting persisted with four boundary fielders.
To see Australia, the most fearless and destructive team in cricket, acting in such a cautious way highlighted the hold England have over them. Ponting was basically setting a field for bad bowling.
Flintoff's wonderful display ended 12 minutes after he had reached three figures when he attempted to hoist Tait over the leg-side boundary. Flintoff looked disappointed as he walked off but he had no reason to be. His innings killed any hopes Australia had of winning this match.
Jones soon followed when he edged a clip on to his pad and gave the persevering Michael Kasprowicz a return catch. England's tail tried their luck but each fell to Warne, who gained his reward for once again leading Australia's attack.
England won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings
(Overnight: 229 for 4)
K P Pietersen c Gilchrist b Lee 45
131 min, 108 balls, 6 fours
A Flintoff lbw b Tait 102
200 min, 132 balls, 14 fours , 1 six
ÝG O Jones c and b Kasprowicz 85
204 min, 149 balls, 8 fours
A F Giles lbw b Warne 15
44 min, 35 balls, 3 fours
M J Hoggard c Gilchrist b Warne 10
46 min, 28 balls, 1 four
S J Harmison st Gilchrist b Warne 2
9 min, 6 balls
S P Jones not out 15
32 min, 27 balls, 3 fours
Extras (b1 lb15 w1 nb25) 42
Total (536 min, 123.1 overs) 477
Fall: 1-105 (Strauss) 2-137 (Trescothick) 3-146 (Bell) 4-213 (Vaughan) 5-241 (Pietersen) 6-418 (Flintoff) 7-450 (G Jones) 8-450 (Giles) 9-454 (Harmison) 10-477 (Hoggard).
Bowling: Lee 32-2-131-1 (nb8) (5-1-16-0, 4-0-28-0, 7-0-31-0, 5-0-23-1, 8-0-31-0, 3-1-2-0); Kasprowicz 32-3-122-1 (nb13) (8-1-37-0, 10-1-19-0, 5-0-21-0, 4-1-20-0, 5-0-25-1); Tait 24-4-97-3 (nb4) (5-0-26-0, 6-1-23-2, 3-0-13-0, 3-0-21-0, 7-3-14-1); Warne 29.1-4-102-4 (5-1-22-1, 11-0-40-0, 7-1-22-0, 6.1-2-18-3); Ponting 6-2-9-1 (w1) (one spell).
Progress: Second day (min 98 overs): 250: 292 min, 65.5 overs. 300: 339 min, 77.4 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 313-5. Lunch: 344-5 (Flintoff 73, G Jones 34) 89 overs. 350: 390 min, 89.4 overs. 400: 420 min, 96.4 overs. 450 in 489 min, 112.4 overs. Innings closed 3.39pm, delayed tea taken.
Trescothick's 50: 93 min, 77 balls, 6 fours, 1 six. Vaughan's 50: 119 min, 77 balls, 9 fours. Flintoff's 50: 102 min, 69 balls, 7 fours, 1 six. 100: 188 min, 121 balls, 14 fours, 1 six. G Jones 50: 124 min, 93 balls, 4 fours.
AUSTRALIA - First Innings
J L Langer c Bell b Hoggard 27
95 min, 59 balls, 5 fours
M L Hayden lbw b Hoggard 7
41 min, 27 balls, 1 four
*R T Ponting lbw b S Jones 1
6 min, 6 balls
D R Martyn lbw b Hoggard 1
4 min, 3 balls
M J Clarke lbw b Harmison 36
92 min, 53 balls, 5 fours
S M Katich not out 20
51 min, 41 balls, 2 fours
Extras (b0 lb1 w0 nb6) 7
Total (for 5, 147 min, 30.3 overs) 99
Fall: 1-20 (Hayden) 2-21 (Ponting) 3-22 (Martyn) 4-58 (Langer) 5-99 (Clarke).
To bat: ÝA C Gilchrist, S K Warne, B Lee, S W Tait, M S Kasprowicz.
Bowling: Harmison 5.3-1-25-1 (nb2) (3-1-13-0, 2.3-0-12-1); Hoggard 11-3-32-3 (nb1) (one spell); S Jones 9-3-22-1 (5-1-12-1, 4-2-10-0); Flinto ff 5-0-19-0 (nb3) (one spell).
Progress: Second day: 50: 87 min, 17.5 overs.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S A Bucknor (WI).
TV replay umpire: M R Benson.
Match referee: R S Madugalle.