It was exactly the finish Australia would have dreamed about. Jimmy Anderson, their tormentor in so many recent battles and England’s chief sledger, was caught by George Bailey at short leg off Mitchell Johnson and, with that, the Ashes returned to Australia.
Australia have needed only 14 days’ cricket in this series to win back a prize that England had held since August 23, 2009. Despite a better performance from the tourists in their second innings here, nothing could disguise the extent to which they had been outplayed, both here and in the previous two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide.
It was 1.45pm local time when Bailey took his chance and England had to relinquish the urn but in truth, the die was cast in the First Test. There was some comfort today for England, however, as Ben Stokes made a marvellous 120 in only his second Test. This kind of innings, on a pitch showing wide cracks and against a hungry bowling attack, suggests England have an all-rounder good enough to be a gem in their team in the future.
The margin of victory was 150 runs but for a little while, England gave Australia some jitters. Resuming on 251 for five, Stokes and Matt Prior accumulated steadily, resisting the Australian attack and reaching the second new ball with their wickets still intact.
Michael Clarke took it immediately and, after five fruitless overs, Australia took the wicket they needed. There were still 45 minutes remaining until lunch when Prior, who had moved to 26, was tempted to drive at a full, wide delivery from Johnson and was caught behind.
At that moment, Australia sensed the win before lunch but England played stoutly. If only they could have batted with such resolve in Brisbane and Adelaide, when their first-innings displays ruined their chances.
Stokes showed supreme composure in the nineties, when Ryan Harris gave him scant scoring opportunities. And when he thought he had reached his century with a straight drive off Mitchell Johnson, the bowler inadvertently flicked the ball into umpire Marais Erasmus and no run was possible.
No matter. One ball later, Stokes aimed a pull at a short delivery from Johnson and the ball sped to the fine leg boundary. His celebration was relatively muted, perhaps in recognition that despite his effort, his team were still likely to lose the contest.
Stokes and Tim Bresnan guided England to lunch 172 runs adrift of their target, with Australia still confident but perhaps a little edgy. They need not have worried.
Stokes, who had reached 120, was finally removed when he tried to sweep the off-spin of Nathan Lyon and Brad Haddin did very well to take the bottom edge. For four hours and 27 minutes, Stokes had earned the respect of the Australians – who all applauded when he reached his century – and had arrived as an international cricketer.
As comforting as this is for the future, the present is far more painful. Graeme Swann was next to go, caught at short-leg off Lyon. Stuart Broad, his bruised foot heavily strapped, hobbled to the crease to join Bresnan, who was undone by a slower delivery from Johnson and Chris Rogers took a fine diving catch at mid-off.
The WACA was barely half-full but nobody could take this moment away from Australia. In a bad-tempered series, home supporters would have thought it appropriate that Anderson and Broad were at the crease.
When Anderson was caught, he and Broad stood dejected, barely able to move, as their opponents leapt about in delight. Both Englishmen shook hands with all their conquerors afterwards, helpless to deny a side whose ruthless, attacking cricket has left England on the canvas. How many of these players will be able to rise again?