At Trafalgar, a nation salutes its cricketing heroes

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The Independent Online

Swigging from a consolatory can of lager, Warne said: "I'll have to say it makes you choke up a bit when you see so many people excited about a game of cricket. It's like you've just won a war - not beaten 11 blokes from Convict Island."

Shane, a 23-year-old tourist from Sydney, who shares a name and a haircut with his cricketing compatriot, was one of a sprinkling of Australians who found themselves immersed in very English triumphalism - complete with sunshine, polite applause, patriotic favourites and, in one notable case, too much booze.

Before a crowd of middle-aged men in striped blazers, naked-chested youths shouting "Ingerland" and young families, the nation's newest sporting heroes brought the curtain down on the Summer of 2005 in an event where Last Night of the Proms met Triumph of the Poms.

From the moment the open-topped bus carrying the cricket team which wrested the four-inch Ashes urn from Australia's grip nosed its way into Trafalgar Square, the strains of Hubert Parry's hymn turned the space around Nelson's Column into a blur of red-and-white St George flags.

Either that or it was the cards of the same colours bearing the name of the team sponsor, Vodafone, bearing testimony to the fact that every victory brings with it a marketing opportunity.

But beyond the corporate glad-handing and chest-beating of the Barmy Army, a broad coalition of supporters - some of them cricket converts of the past 24 hours - had emerged to salute the victors.

Oblivious to the September sunshine despite the heavy weight of his pearly king costume, Harry Mayhead said: "I'm not a cricket fan but I feel inspired by this lot. They played with real guts. I felt I had to come and join in the sing-along."

Standing near by, in a hijab, Naseema Khan, 25, from Wembley, north-west London, had left her office to stand before the screens showing shots of Australian batsmen being walloped by English bowlers to the heavy bass of The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony".

"My dad always supports Pakistan but I was encouraged to support England when I was growing up," she said. "I was glued to the telly yesterday - it was great to see England doing so well and feeling part of it. Cricket makes you feel included in a way that football does not."

Earlier, a crowd of 1,000 had gathered outside the Grange City Hotel, where the team, led by Andrew Flintoff, had been drinking until the small hours - and in his case, into breakfast and beyond. The latest Freeman of Preston said: "I'm struggling. I've not been to bed yet and the eyes behind these glasses tell a thousand stories. It's an emotional roller-coaster we've been through."