The Ashes are there for the taking. So complete was England's performance in the second Test, so dominant their exhibition of all the cricketing skills – can bat, can bowl and boy can they field – that the journey back for Australia must seem as daunting as the fateful pioneering trek that Burke and Wills made across this country a century and a half ago.
From the first over of the second Test to the mere 90 minutes of the fifth day that it took to confirm victory, England were superior. It was in so many ways a mirror image of what has been happening between these sides in this country for a generation. England were eager, prepared, skilful and ruthless, Australia were not.
With three matches to play it is possible that Australia can come back and regain the Ashes by winning two of them, but that would almost certainly require the taking somewhere along the line of 40 of their opponents' wickets. Since they have managed a total of 16 in the two matches so far and England in their last two innings stand at 1137 for 6, the improvement needed would be of the sort to transform an illiterate peasant into Shakespeare.
In his typically candid way, Ricky Ponting, the captain of Australia, freely acknowledged his side's shortcomings. But he was not minded quite to concede that England were simply the better team. "There's no doubt that they're playing well, but a week ago people were saying the teams were evenly matched and Australia were favourites," he said. "I don't think they've improved that much since or we've gone that far backwards. I know the scoreboards probably look that way but the skills in our team are definitely there."
As everyone knows because Harold Wilson said so, a week is a long time in politics but it is still the blink of an eye compared to a week in cricket. That was then but this is now. So much has changed. Australia picked 17 players in their squad for the first Test in Brisbane, eventually settled on an XI, changed two players for the second Test and will assuredly amend it again for the third match in Perth which begins a week tomorrow.
Not that Andrew Strauss, the England captain was about to crow or count his chickens, a mixing of bird species which can prove fatal in sport. "If you look at the way we started the game, bowling them out for 245 on a flat wicket was a great effort. Then we did not take our foot off the pedal, the way the batters went about it – Cookie and Kevin in particular were outstanding – and we never gave them a look-in in the game. We are very pleased with what we have done this week and we have some great momentum in this series now.
"But we know the game of cricket and it has a horrible habit of biting you if you start patting yourself on the back too much. We need to savour this, it was a special victory and in some way it exorcises some of the demons here from four years ago, but it is back to square one again and it is important we don't let Australia back in the series."
In Adelaide in 2006 England threw away a winning position, accepted that they would have to settle for a draw and lost. There was no way back for them in the series after that catastrophe and 2-0 became 5-0. A similar plight seems to await Australia now, not because they lost a match that was unloseable as it was for England but because they lost one that they were always losing. Of the 13 sessions in the match, they won only one on the fourth afternoon.
The fifth morning was as wonderful for England as it was cataclysmic for Australia. Far from making the tourists fight until their dying breath, or at least until the predicted torrential rain came soon after lunch, the home side capsized in 90 minutes. Had they managed 90 more they would have saved the match as the pitch resembled the River Torrens next door. But they were incapable. Without Stuart Broad, who will soon be home after suffering a torn abdominal muscle, England might have been expected to struggle. But Steve Finn, Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann were more than enough.
Finn made the crucial incision when he removed the adhesive Mike Hussey with the second new ball. What a happy way of taking wickets Finn has. Anderson, persuading the ball to swing again, and Swann, making it turn viciously, did the rest. Anderson has now taken 48 Test wickets this year and Swann 60. Another eight in the next two Test matches and Swann will have taken more wickets than any England bowler in a calendar year.
The off spinner was delightfully lethal yesterday, yet again showing what a seriously smart, cunning and competitive cricketer lurks behind the jack-the-lad persona. He had Marcus North lbw and bowled both Xavier Doherty and Peter Siddle through wide gates.
But it was Kevin Pietersen who received the man-of-the-match award for his innings of 227, an exhibition of atonement for recent lapses which perhaps only he could have supplied. His humility afterwards and his observation that this was a more united team than the one which lost four years ago was a reminder not only of the problems then under Andrew Flintoff and Duncan Fletcher, but of how much team membership has come to mean in the era of Strauss and the coach, Andy Flower. By getting Pietersen to subscribe to the team ethic, it makes it much easier to enlist everybody else to the cause.
Strauss said of the coach: "He has been absolutely fundamental to all of it. His experience out here before is important but a lot of it stems back to last summer and the thinking about what we might need to do to win here, the type of players we might need.
"He is a very calm and well thought out influence on the dressing room, he makes sure we keep our feet on the ground and had the absolute respect of all the players and it is crucial to have someone like that around."
If Pietersen deserved the individual award, it was a team victory. They imposed their will on Australia from the start, unworried by losing a good toss, they scored at four an over and they never took their eye off a well-executed strategy. A couple of catches went begging but generally England's fielding defined their whole robust, well organised approach to the game. They will miss Broad but they have the strength of mind to overcome the loss, while Australia less easily deal with the absence of their opening batsman Simon Katich.
"Nothing England have done has surprised us," Ponting said. "We knew they'd be well-prepared, they'd play well. They've batted exceptionally well. It's up to us to lift our standards. How we react to the pressure we're under has been the difference. We have to make sure that's right and the players keep believing what they're doing is right. Until you get that, you'll be second-guessing yourself. Second-guess yourself in this game, it's all over for you."
It is not quite all over for Australia. But it may not be long.
Biggest England wins Down Under:
* Innings and 230 runs March 1892, Adelaide
* Innings and 225 runs February 1912, Melbourne
* Innings and 124 runs December 1901, Sydney
* 675 runs November 1928, Brisbane
Adelaide (Final day of five): England beat Australia by an innings and 71 runs
Australia won toss
Australia First Innings 245 (Hussey 93, Haddin 56, Watson 51, Anderson 4-51)
England First Innings 620-5 dec (Pietersen 227, Cook 148, Trott 78, Bell 68no)
Australia Second Innings
Overnight: 238-4 (Clarke 80, Watson 57)
M Hussey c Anderson b Finn; 52
107 balls 5 fours 1 six
M North lbw b Swann; 22
35 balls 3 fours
†B Haddin c Prior b Anderson;12
21 balls 2 fours
R Harris lbw b Anderson;0
X Doherty b Swann;5
9 balls 1 four
P Siddle b Swann;6
22 balls 1 four
D Bollinger not out;7
16 balls 1 four
Extras (b 5, lb 1, w 5);11
Total (99.1 overs);304
Fall: 1-84 (Katich), 2-98 (Ponting), 3-134 (Watson), 4-238 (Clarke), 5-261 (Hussey), 6-286 (Haddin), 7-286 (Harris), 8-286 (North), 9-295 (Doherty), 10-304 (Siddle).
Bowling: J Anderson 22-4-92-2 (5-1-35-0, 5-2-9-0, 5-0-26-0, 7-1-22-2), S Broad 11-3-32-0 (4-1-9-0, 4-2-2-0, 3-0-21-0), G Swann 41.1-12-91-5 (34-10-72-2, 2-1-5-0, 5.1-1-14-3), S Finn 18-2-60-2 (w1) (4-1-17-0, 7-1-17-1, 3-0-7-0, 3-0-15-1, 1-0-4-0), P Collingwood 4-0-13-0 (one spell), K Pietersen 3-0-10-1 (one spell).
Progress Last day: 250 in 83.1 overs, 300 in 97.5 overs. Hussey 50: 98 balls, 5 fours.
Umpires: M Erasmus & A L Hill
TV replay umpire : B R Doctrove
Match referee: J J CroweReuse content