The Oval has staged a wonderful Test match and produced a worthy victor. Everyone has played their part. Afterwards, one camp was delirious and the other despondent but these emotions will pass.
Four years ago the fifth Test was thrilling but tarnished by an undercurrent of zealotry. Spectators were urged to join in renditions of patriotic songs, hysteria could be detected in local faces as bad light intervened early on Sunday afternoon. Certainly the cricket was unforgettable, especially the confrontation between Kevin Pietersen and Brett Lee. But victory ought to promote joy not ecstasy. England did not handle it well and thereafter suffered the consequences.
Now a far more hospitable atmosphere prevailed in the ground. Naturally, most observers wanted England to win. They cheered wickets and did their best to urge on their champions. Mostly, though, a large crowd basked in the sunshine and appreciated the cricket. At no stage did they forget themselves. The reception given to Ricky Ponting as he walked to the crease to begin his last Test innings in this country told the tale. He was accorded the sort of recognition reserved for great players making their final appearance.
Previously, Ponting had played his part by shaking hands with Andrew Flintoff when the Lancastrian began his last Test knock. Although not as iconic, it brought to mind Flintoff's own gesture in 2005 when he found time in the heady moment of victory to comfort Brett Lee. Ironically, Flintoff, otherwise muted, produced the brilliant intervention that undid Australia's best batsman.
Even the pitch behaved itself. Far from becoming treacherous it remained exacting. The struggle between bat and ball was compelling from the first ball to the last. Nothing has been more impressive in the series than the fortitude and skill shown by Ponting and Mike Hussey as they built their partnership. Both stunned the snorters with the utmost skill and pounced on anything wayward with such aplomb that England began to fret. Hussey remained unbeaten almost to the end in a masterly display that revived his career. Supposing Ponting had not been run out! Anything seemed possible.
But it was England's day and the Ashes belong to them. Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower provided astute and calm leadership and the selectors comprehensively outplayed their counterparts. A week ago the hosts were in such dire straits that a recall for WG Grace appeared imminent. Instead, they plumped for Jonathon Trott and the newcomer responded with two impressive displays.
Despite the valiant performances of the senior Australians batsmen, England deserved to win. Strauss out-thought his rival. On the final day he kept Stephen Harmison fresh all morning and afterwards the speedster unleashed a hostile spell, Graeme Swann wheeled away gamely and Stuart Broad confirmed his emergence as a talented and resourceful all-rounder. Nor should Matt Prior's alert keeping be forgotten.
England's conduct in the moment of victory also told a tale. Naturally they celebrated but within a few seconds their thoughts turned to their duties whereupon they shook hands with umpires and opponents. Evidently the team is in good hands. It was no small thing to survive in Cardiff, no small thing to produce an effort of this sort straight after a potentially devastating loss, no small thing to remain respectful in triumph.