Ashes 2015 report: England win the Ashes - taking three quick wickets to complete Fourth Test thrashing of Australia

The tourists put up little resistance on day three of the Fourth Test as England take unassailable 3-1 lead in the series

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The Independent Online

England have reclaimed the Ashes. Five hundred and ninety-nine days after surrendering them so meekly in Australia they repaid the compliment with a panache and assurance that defied the imagination.

It took only 40 minutes of the third day in the Fourth Investec Test for the team led by Alastair Cook to secure victory by an innings and 78 runs and take an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series. England have now won four successive Ashes contests at home since 2005 and Cook becomes only the third captain, following WG Grace and Mike Brearley, to win two at home.

That is august company to keep and Cook who has known more than his fair share of travails in the past 18 months thoroughly deserves it. His leadership and the manner in which he has gone about it has changed immeasurably before our eyes. It has been as if he has thrown off the cares of the office and steeled himself to enjoy it. His team have responded magnificently against opponents who have failed miserably to come to terms with alien conditions and may as well have been playing on Venus as in England.

“From the team’s point of view to win like we’ve done is just beyond belief,” said Cook. “I didn’t think we were quite ready to win the Ashes at the beginning because I thought you needed a group of players who were match-hardened.

“But the guys have surprised me. We have won really critical moments and the players have really stepped up which shouldn’t surprise me but it has.”

 

The execution on Saturday, for that is what it amounted to, was completed by two younger members of the team, the Durham pairing of Ben Stokes and Mark Wood. Operating in tandem at high pace with appreciable movement, it took a little more than 10 overs to dislodge the remaining three Australian wickets.

In truth, they looked like taking wickets with almost every other ball such was the appreciable bounce and swing they garnered. Stuart Broad was rightly man of the match for his unforgettable 8 for 15 on  the opening morning. All this was heartening stuff for a team that, in early May, were being written off as abject no-hopers. They had just drawn a Test series in West Indies in a wretchedly uneven performance after enduring a grotesque World Cup.

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Stuart Broad of England is handed a replica ashes urn to sign

 

It was impossible for any rational judge to harbour optimistic thoughts about winning the 69th Ashes series. But then something changed. A new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, moved decisively in removing Peter Moores as coach. If it was ruthless, it was also timely.

In the next few weeks the mood changed, led initially by Paul Farbrace, the assistant coach who did the job temporarily until Trevor Bayliss, the Australian who was Strauss’s specifically chosen candidate. The arrival on these shores of New Zealand also had a profound effect.

Here were a team determined to play all forms of the game in constantly attacking and entertaining manner, as if, forsooth, they were enjoying it. England seemed to understand. The rest followed and Australia, a team heavily reliant on experience but without much of it in England, found their swagger checked.

They are now in some disarray. Michael Clarke, their captain, confirmed after the match that he will retire from cricket at the end of this series. His form has been miserable this summer. Perhaps he deserved a better epitaph but he realised that it was time to go. England’s selectors appear to have understood the correct balance. They kept faith with a group of core players but realised that they needed youth and vigour as well. In Joe Root, who has scored two hundreds already in this rubber and has an average of 74, and Stokes,they might have unearthed two players for the ages.

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Ben Stokes of England celebrates after winning the Fourth Test

 

Root is seriously accomplished, a batsman with time and unerring placement. Stokes is a Bobby Dazzler of a player. His bowling on Friday and Saturday to finish with 6 for 36 was out of the top drawer. His batting is already extremely accomplished and the slip catch he took on the first day here when he dived and arched his body backwards was so breathtaking that it will be shown again and again.

Allied to the renaissance of Steve Finn, the continuing excellence of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, the rich depth of talent and desire still possessed by Cook and Ian Bell and there are now reasons to believe that this team can achieve things beyond these Ashes. But no one can or should ever forget that it is the Ashes which define English Test cricketers, the Ashes for which they will always be remembered.

Bell has now appeared in five Ashes winning teams, equalling Sir Ian Botham’s modern record and that of Wilfred Rhodes, who needed 23 years to win his five from 1903 to 1926. By his own standards, Bell has not quite achieved what he might have done against Australia and it would be welcome if he could finish off the series in style at The Oval.

Not everything in the garden is rosy. Adam Lyth has not settled into the role as Cook’s opening partner, and while Moeen Ali might be the most formidable No 8 batsman in the business his primary role is supposed to be that of the side’s spinner, and at present he is badly wanting. These are areas which have to be examined before England’s next two away series later this year against Pakistan and South Africa.

For now, however, it is a time of jubilation. England were in no mood to hang around on Saturday. Stokes removed Mitchell Starc with a late away swinger, and Wood, joyously, bowled out the tail with fastballs of full length. He could not have imagined even two months ago being the man who would seal this triumph. That is the measure of England’s transformation.

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