Huge crowds pay tribute to Ashes heroes

Cheering crowds packed streets throughout the city to hail captain Michael Vaughan and his team as they toured in an open-topped bus.

The victory route from east London to Trafalgar Square was choked with ecstatic supporters - many of whom had abandoned work for the day - as a nation starved of sporting success finally lauded a team of world beaters.

Fans' favourite Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff, who was named man of the series, was greeted with special adulation as he appeared on the double decker looking worse for wear after a night of celebration. With him on the bus was his glamorous wife Rachael and their daughter, Holly.

Vaughan, tired after a long night toasting the team's success, held aloft a replica of the famous Ashes urn between finger and thumb while his team-mates slugged glasses of champagne and waved to the adoring crowds.

His voice still hoarse, Vaughan said: "It's great for the country and great that we have made so many people happy.

"It's been a privilege to captain 10 and 11 players who have worked so hard."

The captain told Sky News: "To see a turn-out like this for cricket shows what this summer has been all about.

"We have been trying to win back the Ashes for a very long time and this team has managed to do it through a lot of hard work and a lot of talent."

Some onlookers estimated 100,000 fans had crammed into Trafalgar Square - scores clambering into the fountains to secure a place.

The crowd broke into wild chants and screams as the team arrived, evoking memories of the rapturous receptions given to the England's 1966 World Cup Winners and 2003 Rugby World Cup victors.

As the players were presented to the vast crowd, Vaughan said: "This is incredible."

Flintoff, shielding his eyes with shades and looking happily dishevelled, said: "It's been a great series."

The all-rounder then admitted: "To be honest with you I'm struggling, I've not been to bed yet and the eyes behind these glasses tell a thousand stories.

"It's been a marathon for the last five weeks, a mammoth series and an emotional roller-coaster we've been through. We've come out on top and we're enjoying it."

Spin bowler Ashley Giles said: "We've seen the rugby boys do this and the footballers, now it's our turn and we deserve it."

Dressed in identical dark blue suits and striped ties, the players were accompanied by their wives, partners and children on their parade.

Vice captain Marcus Trescothick refused to bask in the adulation, revealing the determination which has driven the team to success.

He said: "We have to work very hard now or things will come crashing down next time we go out."

Asked if England could claim to be the best side in the world, he added: "I wouldn't say that right now. There are some good teams out there, we just have to keep working hard."

Vaughan became the first Englishman to hold aloft the 4in high terracotta urn in 18 years after his side's 2-1 series win over their fiercest rivals.

It was sealed with a draw yesterday, after a fittingly dramatic day - which saw individual brilliance from batsman Kevin Pietersen.

With a skunk-like peroxide streak through his dark hair, the player dazzled with the bat yesterday - smashing 158 crucial runs and a record seven sixes in an innings - and with his ears adorned with £50,000 jewels fashioned in the shape of cricket balls.

On the double-decker parade bus, he said: "I think the boys have just got to celebrate this today. It's been a long time since we've had the Ashes and it's hats off to everyone who was involved."

The Queen hailed the team's "magnificent achievement" and Prime Minister Tony Blair told the players they "lit up the whole summer".

Engineer Simon Carlyon, 30, had travelled from Colchester in Essex to welcome the team in Trafalgar Square.

He said: "Unlike the footballers, they showed real heart - more spirit than anyone. They played for England and not for the money."

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