England won the Ashes series today when they completed an extraordinary victory over Australia by an innings and 83 runs. It was an unprecedented triumph in a country which has been traditionally unwelcoming for all tourists for two decades and was hardly a cakewalk before that.
Never had England prevailed against Australia by an innings in three matches in the same series. Before this tour, indeed, they had won only three Tests in the country in five series.
It took 113 minutes with a rain interruption on the final morning of the Fifth Test to confirm their historic 3-1 series victory. Throughout they had the fervent support of England fans who packed the ground and made their presence felt. The reversal of fortune has been remarkable and complete and each of the 13 players who represented England in the series has played a significant role. Six of the top seven batsmen scored hundreds – they scored nine in all – and all the bowlers took wickets at turning points in matches.
The tourists arrived at the SCG knowing that victory was a formality after scything through Australia's insipid resistance on the fourth afternoon. They were delayed awhile by an unlikely eighth-wicket stand between Steve Smith, who had been out of his depth hitherto, and Peter Siddle, one of the few Australians to behave like an Australian cricketer should in the whole contest.
But eventually Andrew Strauss set a trap for Siddle – as he has set so many traps in the past seven weeks and is only their third England captain to win the Ashes home and away after Len Hutton and Mike Brearley – into which he fell by launching a slog sweep against Graeme Swann to be caught in the deep by Jimmy Anderson. It was Anderson who struck next with the second new ball when he bowled a delicious away swinger to Ben Hilfenhaus which took the edge and gave Matt Prior his fifth catch of the innings.
It was left to Chris Tremlett to complete victory when he bowled Michael Clarke off his pads. Mission was accomplished – but already England were scheming their future. It was announced before play that their Australia bowling coach, david Saker, had signed a three year contract extension which will take him beyond the next Ashes in 2013.
In keeping with the meticulous planning which has been a hallmark of the present coaching regime, Anderson, the series' leading wicket taker with 24, will fly home for 10 days for a break. He will miss the two Twenty20 matches and the first three matches of seven in the one-day series before returning.
Australian cricket is in crisis and mourning and the sould-searching of the next few years will be only too familiar to their opponents. But nothing should detract from England's wonderful victory. They pushed for it unerringly on the fourth day when Prior became their sixth centurion of the series in scintillating style. It was the last thing Australia wanted and propelled England to their highest total in Australia of 644.
Prior was irrepressible. It was the fastest hundred by an England batsman against Australia since Ian Botham's legendary innings at Old Trafford in 1981, only the third by an England wicketkeeper in Australia, and probably the first by one sporting a beard. Prior now has four Test hundreds and on this showing there is no reason he could not challenge Les Ames's longstanding record of eight by an England keeper.
He was irrepressible yesterday, carving merrily away at some aberrant Australian bowling as England added 148 from 35 overs in the morning session. The eighth-wicket stand with Tim Bresnan was worth 102 and Graeme Swann rubbed salt in to Australia's wounds, which have become deeper, wider and nastier by the day, with a maverick's unbeaten 36.
England came into this series needing to score big first-innings runs to win the series. They have succeeded beyond measure – 620 for 5 at Adelaide, 513 at Melbourne, the record yesterday – and Australia have been powerless to respond. Their bowling has lacked firepower, variety and other rudimentary qualities such as accuracy and movement. It has turned two decades of history on its head and nobody in Australia can quite take it in.
The pitch had flattened out. A huge fourth-day crowd might at least see Australia begin to repel a few borders. Setting out with points to prove, they took the fight to England as Australians should. But it all went horribly wrong all too soon as England's rigorously accurate attack skewered them and, boy, were they willing victims.
There was a brief burst of dissent as Shane Watson boomed a few drives but the fall of the first wicket epitomised all Australia's frailties. Philip Hughes nudged Swann to the leg side. There might or might not have been two runs, but only Watson, who never looked at his companion, went for them. Hughes seemed content to be off strike and the pair were at the same end when the bails were removed at the other.
Hughes was put out of his misery soon after, knowing not whether to stick or twist and was trumped by Bresnan. The ball soon began reverse swinging and Australia were done for. Usman Khawaja was subjugated by Swann and terminated by Jimmy Anderson.
Michael Clarke, the captain, played some robust strokes and it seemed at last that Australia would be led from the front with a final act of defiance. Not so, for Clarke perished chasing one from Anderson moving away to present Prior with his third catch of the innings, his 21st of the series.
When Mike Hussey, who has carried the batting throughout two months of torture, slashed to gully, Australia's consolation was that they had recently reduced the deficit to under 200. There was time for Brad Haddin to be caught behind giving Prior his fourth catch of the innings and Mitchell Johnson to be bowled, feet planted to the crease, in successive balls from Chris Tremlett.
Tumbling records: How England have set new standards Down Under
188 Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook's opening partnership in the second innings of the first Test was an England record at Brisbane.
517-1 England's second-innings total in the first Test is their highest total for the loss of one wicket.
329 Cook and Jonathan Trott's second-innings partnership at The Gabba is the best for a wicket in Australia.
60 Australia's start of 2 for 3 in the second Test was the hosts' worst beginning to a Test in 60 years.
500 England passed the 500-run mark in successive Ashes innings for the first time during the third Test.
2 Australia's heavy defeat in Melbourne last week made it the first time the hosts had lost two Tests in a home series by an innings.
109 Matt Prior's fifth Test century was the fastest by an Englishman since Ian Botham in 1981.
644 England's first-innings score at Sydney is the highest ever total by them in Australia
5,000 During the first innings in Sydney, Cook became the second youngest player to reach 5,000 career Test runs, behind only Sachin Tendulkar.
9 Prior's century was the ninth by an Englishman in this series, a record.
Sydney (Final day of five): England win by an innings and 83 runs
Australia: First Innings 280
England: First Innings 644 (Cook 189, Bell 115, Prior 118)
Australia: Second Innings Overnight 213-7
S P D Smith not out 24, 40 balls 4 fours
M G Johnson b Tremlett 0, 1 ball
P M Siddle c Anderson b Swann 43, 28 balls 3 fours
B W Hilfenhaus c †Prior b Anderson 7, 11 balls 1 four
M A Beer b Tremlett xx, 9 balls
Extras (b11, lb4, w3, nb2) 19
Total (84.4 overs) 281
Fall 1-46, 2-52, 3-117, 4-124, 5-161, 6-171, 7-171, 8-257, 9-267 10-281.
Bowling J M Anderson 18-5-61-3, C T Tremlett 20.4-4-79-3 (2nb), G P Swann 28-8-75-1, T T Bresnan 18-6-51-2 (1w).
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and B F Bowden (NZ).
Man of the match/series Alastair Cook
England's successful Ashes captains down under since the war, by Alexander Penny
Sir Len Hutton (1954-55) 3-1
Prolific opener Hutton became the first England captain to retain the Ashes after victories in 1953 and 1954-55. Despite a poor series with the bat that yielded only 220 runs, the Yorkshireman won England their first Ashes series Down under since Douglas Jardine’s victorious tour of 1932-33.
Ray Illingworth (1970-71) 2-0
Illingworth is the only captain to have led a touring Ashes side to a series without defeat, and that came in the closely fought encounter where two victories came from seven Tests. Four draws and one abandonment saw the Yorkshireman’s side write themselves in to Wisden’s history books.
Mike Brearley (1978-79) 5-1
A one-sided affair saw England trounce the hosts with five resounding victories to back up the 3-0 success in the summer of 1977. What Brearley lacked in the batting department, a score of 53 his highest knock from 12 innings, he made up for as one of England’s finest Ashes captains.
Mike Gatting (1986-87) 2-1
Gatting marked his first overseas tour with a memorable victory over Australia. The right-hander followed up England’s 3-1 victory in 1985 with big wins in Brisbane and Melbourne, the latter by an innings. He scored 393 runs at an average of 43.66.
Andrew Strauss (2010-11) 3-1
Andrew Strauss picked up his second Ashes crown after regaining the coveted urn in 2009. The 33-year-old averaged 43.85 with one hundred and three half-centuries while inflicting a first innings defeat at home for Australia in 17 years with victory in Adelaide.