Barmy Army invades Melbourne as England claim historic victory

Australia's most venerable sporting venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), was a little piece of England yesterday as Andrew Strauss's team finally retained the Ashes.

Home fans had already suffered enough; yesterday, they stayed away in droves, not wishing to watch Australia in its final death throes. With the ground less than one-quarter full, most of the spectators were England supporters – including a deliriously happy Barmy Army.

Last night, England fans packed the numerous bars for which Melbourne is renowned, celebrating the first time in 24 years that the country has retained the Ashes. In Sydney, too, fans gathering for next week's final Test were toasting the historic victory. Dave Higson, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, said: "They [the Australians] are terrible losers, which makes it all the sweeter for us being out here."

Back home, David Cameron called the win "a late great Christmas present for the country". Congratulating Strauss and his men on "a brilliant performance down under", Mr Cameron said: "Retaining the Ashes for the first time in a quarter of a century marks a very special end to the year for sports fans... I look forward to welcoming them [the team] to Downing Street when they return."

Among Australians, meanwhile, the gloom was palpable – even though defeat had been an almost foregone conclusion since Ricky Ponting's team crumbled on the first day of the Boxing Day Test. "Australian cricket is in tatters," lamented the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph.

One of the paper's columnists, Andrew Webster, wrote: "Watching Australia throw away the Ashes at the MCG... was like visiting a dear friend with a terminal illness. For all your affection for the old fella, you could only look on helplessly. There was nothing you could do."

Australians have now turned their attention to the man they once idolised: captain Ricky Ponting. "A master and commander no more... a dead man walking," the domestic media called him yesterday. The Daily Telegraph's cricket commentator Malcolm Conn wrote: "The only question that remained was whether the captain would go down with his ship."

The England fans care little about such soul-searching, or about the struggle of a once-seemingly invincible sporting nation to come to terms with failure. Joe Long, from Bristol, arrived in Australia with his family on Christmas Eve, a week later than planned, because of delays at Heathrow. He said: "After that brilliant cricket, we feel like we've won twice.

"Our Christmas survived intact and, most importantly of all, we got to that Boxing Day Test. It was my first Test match and I don't think I'll ever see a better one."

The Barmy Army, meanwhile, who have made so many fruitless trips across the globe, were richly rewarded for their dedication this time. At the MCG yesterday, they belted out their chants as their trumpeter, Billy Cooper, unleashed the theme from the movie Rocky.

England's Graeme Swann described the show of support as "incredible", telling Channel Nine television: "The noise they were making when they were singing, it was like 75,000 people inside St James' Park."

Kevin Pietersen also paid tribute to the travelling England supporters, saying: "We have the best fans in the whole of the world. They follow us around the world... and for us to do this for them today is absolutely amazing."

One Australian cricket writer observed, rather more acidly: "You can't begrudge England its fun. Can't begrudge those diehard fans who have suffered years of pain on Ashes tours down under, suffering from sunburn, having to anaesthetise themselves against the agony of another poor performance by injecting extraordinary amounts of cheap beer."

Some believe the Ashes defeat will have wide repercussions for Australian cricket. As one commentator wrote this week: "Australians expect success, and a successful Test cricket team is our birthright. We've got glorious beaches, cold beer, meat pies and a world-beating Test cricket team. But people stop going to pubs when the beer goes flat. People will stop following Australian cricket if the wins dry up."

The Aussie press reaction

"Hung out to dry" (The Age)

"Australia's brave new world bore a stark resemblance to the bad old world. Far from rejuvenating a flagging campaign, the newcomers flopped and within hours the team's position had become dire." Peter Roebuck

"Ricky Ponting all out of defiance" (Herald Sun)

"His bullet-proof vest was gone and nothing could hide the sorry fact he was bleeding." Will Swanton

"Ashes horribilis" (The Australian)

"Previous generations made ugly hundreds at tough times. Now Australia is just plain ugly as yet another Ashes series slips away." Malcolm Conn

Resourceful Englishmen force Australia's failure (Sydney Morning Herald)

"England deserve enormous credit for their sustained excellence. Watching them has given pleasure to all save the most one-eyed observer." Peter Roebuck

The Barmy Army songbook

Throughout the series Australian grounds have echoed to the sound of England's fervent travelling support. Here are some of their best numbers...

To the tune of "Lord of the Dance"

Sing, sing, wherever you may be

We are the famous Barmy Army

And we'll cheer England on wherever they may be

And we'll sing them on to another victory

Kevin Pietersen (to the tune of "Just a Little")

Hook! Just a little bit/ Pull! Just a little bit/ Drive! Just a little bit/ Score just a little bit more/KP score a little bit more

Ricky Ponting (to the tune of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer")

Ricky the red-faced captain/ Leads a side in trouble and strife/ Both he and Ryan Harris/ Couldn't score to save their life

To the tune of "Love Will Tear Us Apart"

Swann, Swann will tear you apart, again (repeat)

To the tune of "Yellow Submarine"

"You all live in a convict colony, a convict colony, a convict colony"

Meanwhile, the Australians have one song ("Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, Oi, Oi"), to which the Barmy Army responds: "You've only got one song."

My Ashes all-nighter: 'Nothing would have dragged me away from the television...'

The enthralling Test series that will see England return from Down Under with the famous Ashes urn for the first time since 1986 has been played out while most of us were tucked up in bed. But for these diehards, the chance to watch history being made was too hard to resist...

Dominic Lawson, columnist

There is something rather splendid about watching something live at half past one in the morning and seeing it live. I can't pretend that if it had run on any later I would have stayed awake but nothing would have dragged me from my position in front of the television.

I have a slight cold so sustained myself with honey and lemon – I'll leave the alcohol to the barmy army.

It was about time – we'd waited long enough but it seemed almost anti-climactic to win by so much. It was so crushing as to be one-sided. On paper there was no real difference but our team's parts added up to more than the whole.

Iain Dale, political blogger

This series has rekindled my love for cricket after not bothering for about 15 years. I've woken up three or four times during each Test to check the scores and stayed up to watch the victory to the very end.

For the first time in 20 years the Australians have shown a weakness and apart from the French they are the country we most want to see beaten. It's really captured my imagination. With England you always worry about being let down at the last minute. It was a team effort.

John Kettley, weatherman

I'm not going to say it's as good as having your first baby or anything like that but it's very important. I followed it on the radio. I'm delighted by all the hard work put in by all the people playing.

It was not by any means a foregone conclusion when we went out there – I think they've raised the bar, raised their game. The other lot are regrouping; they've lost too many good players in the past two years and it was impossible for them to perform as they used to do.

I thought England would certainly draw in the series but to have won already two-one, and I think they've still got a good chance of winning three-one, that's brilliant.

Ian Gillan, singer with Deep Purple

Apart from "Waaa!" All I can say is brilliant. Particularly after the Perth knock-back, but that was part of the education for this developing side.

There's a good structure now; since Andy Flower's appointment things are looking solid behind the scenes. I've changed my viewing position from behind the sofa to a front row seat.

Hugh Cornwell, musician and amateur cricketer

I managed to watch a few of the morning sessions – Perth was just a little too late for me. I felt it was almost a shame our victories were so immense

I do like a nail-biter myself, because they're more entertaining and gripping.

I think it bodes very well for next summer when India come here. Now that will be a fantastic contest! I cannot remember the last time England had such a wealth of talented players to pick from.

24 years is a long time

1986 Back when England last retained the Ashes, an achievement sealed on 28 December after victory in the Fourth Test at Melbourne, Margaret Thatcher congratulated captain Mike Gatting's men from No 10 (where she remained as Prime Minister for two more years). "Reet Petite" by Jackie Wilson was at No. 1 in the charts, a pint of milk cost about 25p, and a 20-year-old Mike Tyson had just been crowned heavyweight champion of the world.

2010 Politics may have come full circle – David Cameron was quick to praise Andrew Strauss and his team yesterday – but the the music charts are unrecognisable. X Factor winner Matt Cardle is in his second week at No 1 with "When We Collide", while a pint of milk costs about 45p. Mike Tyson, now 44, spends his time caring for his 2,500 pigeons.

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