England have won the Ashes. Amid scenes of unbridled joy, they prised loose Australia's reluctant hands from the great prize in the early evening yesterday.
The end, when it arrived, was swift, dramatic and clean. The margin of victory was 197 runs, hugely emphatic in a series of mind-boggling reversals of fortune.
Not, until the final passage of play, however, with the sun shining at its brightest, was it ever easy. Australia, because they are Australians, refused to go down without a hell of a fight. Mike Hussey, who has not been able to buy a run all series, made 121, the highest score of the match and was supremely defiant for close on six hours.
He was the last man to fall, prodding the off-spinner Graeme Swann to short leg, where Alastair Cook took the catch. The players engulfed each other, relief and elation intermingled. In their heart of hearts they can hardly have expected this when Australia drew level at 1-1 a fortnight earlier and were beginning to look impregnable.
But England were propelled by the thought that frequently before this team had come back from failure. This match, the decisive contest to decide the Ashes, embodied that. England won the series 2-1 after being outplayed in Cardiff, winning at Lord's for the first time in 75 years, almost snatching a victory in Birmingham and suffering one of their most embarrassing defeats in Leeds.
On what proved to be the final day, Swann bowled 35.2 overs in five spells from both ends, and if he was as tight as a Dickensian miser in the early stages he managed to sustain pressure on the Australians.
He ended with four wickets and there were three late in the afternoon for Stephen Harmison who summoned up some of his old terror and was, by the end, as happy as Larry for it. The man of the match, quite rightly, was Stuart Broad who had changed the course of the rubber and maybe of cricketing history in the first innings with a remarkably incisive spell.
But it was not the bowling, or not the bowling alone, which allowed England to claim their triumph. It was two pieces of fielding. Perhaps the seminal moment was provided by the retiring Andrew Flintoff who lifted his colleagues and excited an English Test crowd one last time. How his stunning intervention was needed when it came.
The day was beginning to go away from England. It had started well enough when Swann, with a beautifully drifting arm ball, and Broad, less certainly, won lbw appeals. Australia still needed 456 to win and had eight wickets left but anybody supposing that this would see them off was living in a kind of parallel universe where Aussies are soft and think that it is written in the script that they lose occasionally.
In this period, Hussey suddenly began to look proficient and assured once more, his shots as clean as whistles. Ricky Ponting, his mouth swollen after it was hit by a drive the previous day, was worryingly businesslike. He was going nowhere.
The third-wicket pair had reached 217, their partnership was worth 127, they were looking comfortable, maybe England were beginning to think the unthinkable: nothing is certain in cricket except that nothing is certain.
Australia's grip on the Ashes might have been slackened but, like the man clutching desperately on to a ledge with a 100ft drop below, somehow they were clinging on for dear life. A couple of chances, albeit sharp ones, had been put down by Paul Collingwood at slip. Gradually, it was becoming clear that no supporter of England's cause was taking anything for granted until they could hear the screams from the abyss.
It was 2.34pm when Simon Katich pushed the ball on to the on side and called Ponting for a single. Perhaps he assessed that the fielder, Andrew Flintoff, would be impeded by his dodgy knee. If so, he was wrong. Flintoff swooped, picked and threw down the stumps at the batting end. It looked as though he hit all three, Ponting was out by a foot.
The relief was palpable. Hardly had they settled than in the next over Michael Clarke flicked a ball off his legs which actually trickled to slip. Andrew Strauss flicked the ball back to the stumps and Clarke, who had been taken out of his ground, failed to get back. It was close but it was out all right.
It was not quite a matter of time. But there was a sense that Australia's resolve would dissipate. Marcus North was smartly stumped by Matt Prior before Brad Haddin and Hussey engaged in one final act of resistance.
Haddin clipped Swann to mid-wicket where Strauss, running back, judged the catch calmly as he had judged so many things calmly in the preceding seven weeks.
It all came in a rush thereafter. The Aussies' goose was cooked. Harmison had Mitchell Johnson caught at slip and might have finished the match with a hat-trick when Peter Siddle's leading edge went to his pal Flintoff and Stuart Clark nicked one to Cook at short leg.
But the final act was left to Swann with the second ball of the 103rd over of the innings. The scenes were a joy to behold as the players left the field. Flintoff was naturally and rightly made a fuss of, and the crowd spent half an hour calling his name because they knew they might not see his like again. "Freddie, Freddie," they roared. Broad, it was noticeable, had not yet become "Stuey, Stuey" but it cannot be long.
Strauss and Ponting were both models of decorum afterwards and if Ponting still wondered how the series had got away when so many individuals had scored more runs and taken more wickets, then he will have done well to remember that cricket remains a team game.
It is how England won in the end. Captain Strauss was man of the series and he lifted the Ashes to the most rapturous of receptions.
Turning points: How the drama unfolded
*11.16am: Vital breakthrough
England take their first wicket when Simon Katich misjudges a ball from Graeme Swann. The feeling that England are on their way is unmistakable.
*11.23pm: Watson's woe
Shane Watson is beaten by Stuart Broad's off cutter. He patently disagrees with the decision but is sent on his way and replays show that his disgruntlement is not wholly justified.
*2.34pm: Ever ready Freddie
Spectators are becoming frazzled. The heat isn't helping but neither is Ricky Ponting's determination. But Mike Hussey nudges on the leg side and calls the sort of single to be taken only when one run is needed to win off the final ball. To enormous jubilation, Andrew Flintoff hurls down the stumps.
*3.02pm: Clarke is beaten
The batsman of the series, Michael Clarke, is narrowly run out by a piece of quick thinking by Strauss at slip. Australia cannot get back from this. Or can they?
*3.20pm: England wrap it up
The 2009 Ashes end. Swann bowls to Hussey who has made 121 but now knows that the game is up. He prods to short leg, Alastair Cook takes the catch and England win 2-1. The crowd, as they say, goes wild, almost as wild as the players. Flintoff is given a rousing reception as the players cavort on the outfield. He has not done much today but what he did was decisive.
The Oval Scoreboard
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 332 (Strauss 55, Bell 72; Siddle 4-75).
AUSTRALIA First Innings 160 (Katich 50; Swann 4-38, Broad 5-37).
England Second innings
Overnight Friday: 58-3
*A J Strauss c Clarke b North: 75
191 balls, 8 fours
I J L Trott c North b Clark: 119
193 balls, 12 fours
M J Prior run out (Katich): 4
9 balls, 1 four
A Flintoff c Siddle b North: 22
18 balls, 4 fours
S C J Broad c Ponting b North: 29
35 balls, 5 fours
G P Swann c Haddin b Hilfenhaus: 63
55 balls, 9 fours
J M Anderson not out: 15
29 balls, 2 fours
Extras (b 1, lb 15, w 7, nb 9): 32
Total (9 wkts dec, 407 min, 95 overs): 373
Fall (cont): 4-157 (Strauss), 5-168 (Prior), 6-200 (Flintoff), 7-243 (Broad), 8-333 (Swann), 9-373 (Trott).
Bowling: Hilfenhaus 11-1-58-1 (nb4) (5-1-9-0 2-0-15-0 4-0-34-1), Siddle 17-3-69-0 (w4) (6-1-15-0 5-1-14-0 4-1-19-0 2-0-21-0), North 30-4-98-4 (w1) (9-2-15-1 4-1-12-0 17-1-71-3), Johnson 17-1-60-2 (nb5,w2) (4-0-12-2 2-0-6-0 9-1-38-0 2-0-4-0), Katich 5-2-9-0 (4-2-6-0 1-0-3-0), Clark 12-2-43-1 (8-2-19-0 4-0-24-1), Clarke 3-0-20-0 (one spell).
Progress: Second day: 50 in 93 mins, 22 overs. Close 58-3 (Strauss 32, Trott 8) 28 overs. Third day: 100 in 180 mins, 43 overs. 150 in 222 mins, 53.1 overs. Lunch 157-4 (Trott 50, Prior 0) 55 overs. 200 in 262 mins, 63.1 overs. 250 in 323 mins, 77 overs. Tea 290-7 (Trott 83, Swann 34) 83 overs. New ball taken immediately after tea. 300 in 357 mins, 84.3 overs. 350 in 385 mins, 90.3 overs. Innings closed 4.58pm. Strauss 50: 177 mins, 154 balls, 4 fours. Trott 50: 148 mins, 89 balls, 5 fours. 100: 306 mins, 182 balls, 9 fours. Swann 50: 50 mins, 44 balls, 7 fours.
AUSTRALIA Second Innings
S Watson lbw b Broad: 40
81 balls 6 fours
S Katich lbw b Swann: 43
68 balls 7 fours
*R Ponting run out (Flintoff): 66
103 balls 10 fours
M Hussey c Cook b Swann: 121
263 balls 14 fours
M Clarke run out (Strauss): 0
4 balls 0 fours
M North st Prior b Swann: 10
24 balls 2 fours
†B Haddin c Strauss b Swann: 34
49 balls 6 fours
M Johnson c Collingwood b Harmison: 0
5 balls 0 fours
P Siddle c Flintoff b Harmison:10
14 balls 1 four
S Clark c Cook b Harmison: 0
1 balls 0 fours
B Hilfenhaus not out: 4
8 balls 1 four
Extras (b 5, lb 9, nb 6): 20
Total (102.2 overs): 348
Fall: 1-86 (Katich), 2-90 (Watson), 3-217 (Ponting), 4-220 (Clarke), 5-236 (North), 6-327 (Haddin), 7-327 (Johnson), 8-343 (Siddle), 9-343 (Clark), 10-348 (Hussey).
Bowling: Anderson 12-2-46-0 (nb1) (4-1-13-0 4-1-8-0 1-0-5-0 3-0-20-0), Flintoff 11-1-42-0 (nb1) (3-0-14-0 4-0-13-0 4-1-15-0), Harmison 16-5-54-3 (nb4) (5-1-24-0 5-3-7-0 6-1-23-3), Swann 40.2-8-120-4 (3-0-11-0 13-5-32-1 3-1-11-0 4-1-14-0 10-0-30-1 2-0-8-0 5.2-1-14-2), Broad 22-4-71-1 (11-2-34-1 5-0-20-0 6-2-17-0), Collingwood 1-0-1-0.
Progress Fourth day 100 in 27.0 overs, 150 in 45.2 overs, Lunch 171-2 50.0 overs (Ponting 44, Hussey 31), 200 in 58.2 overs, 250 in 75.5 overs, Tea 265-5 79.0 overs, 300 in 88.2 overs. Ponting 50: 76 balls, 8 fours, Hussey 50: 123 balls, 6 fours, 100: 219 balls, 11 fours.
Umpires: Asad Rauf & B F Bowden
TV replay umpire : P J Hartley
Match referee: R S Madugalle
England win the Ashes.