Ashes joy

Strauss's men secure place in history with thumping win

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Australia 98 & 258 England 513 (England win by an innings and 157 runs): Admirable team ethic holds to the last as Australians are thrashed in their stronghold.

A whole generation of cricketers has come and gone without this. Most of them, not to mention the people who suffered watching them, thought it would never happen again, that an unbridgeable gap had been created, that a time machine would be required before seeing it.

But after 83 minutes on the fourth morning of the fourth Test, England retained the Ashes in Australia. An inside edge from the last batsman, Ben Hilfenhaus and a smart diving catch by the wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, gave the tourists victory by an innings and 157 runs. They lead the series 2-1 with one match to play. They will want to win the series now to confirm their clear superiority.

Nominally, England needed four wickets on the fourth morning, but in reality that was three. Ryan Harris, the Australian fast bowler, was unable to bat after suffering a stress fracture in his left ankle.

It took a mere 11 balls for the first of that historic trio to fall when Mitchell Johnson was bowled by Chris Tremlett playing forward without conviction to one that swung in and bowled him off inside edge and pads.

There was a resigned air to Australia's batting at first which was hardly surprising since the prospect of batting for two full days with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky was negligible. They were batting, but it was only to prolong the inevitable.

The conditions were far removed from the overcast, gloomy first morning on Boxing Day which had, so to speak, cooked their goose. But gradually they took the attack to England in a defiant, typically Australian way.

Brad Haddin, who has had a outstanding series, and Peter Siddle, who has had a wonderful match, shared a bright, breezy eighth wicket partnership of 86 from 99 balls. They had their moments of fortune but they were at times irrepressible.

Both struck Graeme Swann for sixes but it was in going for a second of his own that Siddle perished to a solidly taken running catch by Kevin Pietersen. That it was the improbable figure of Tim Bresnan who took the wicket that won the Ashes merely reflected the belief in the England camp that the entire squad has a part to play.

England emerged to a rousing reception from a crowd which consisted almost entirely of their supporters. If they had effectively won the match on the first day, they had confirmed their form by uprooting Australia's second innings on the third afternoon, when Bresnan had removed the cream of their order with three wickets in 18 balls. It happened to be Bresnan's day but England's quartet of bowlers have learned how to function as a proper unit.

After the new ball had been seen off they settled into their rhythm, with Graeme Swann operating at one end and the three seamers working with him at the other. Perhaps they got a lucky break with the first wicket when Shane Watson set off for a single that was not there and Trott's throw was met with perfect timing by Matt Prior for poor Phillip Hughes to be out by centimetres. Hughes had looked the part at last, but the best that can be said about his return to Test cricket is that he has kept improving, with scores of 2, 12, 16 and 23.

That was the breakthrough that England sought after an opening stand of 53 and they sensed, their supporters sensed, that Australian walls could now come tumbling down. After tea they did so. Bresnan, who came on after splendid spells from Jimmy Anderson and Chris Tremlett, was forcing the batsmen to play; they were trying to leave in the name of survival.

Watson perished leg before and Ponting, cussed and vigilant, followed four runs later. Ponting had already lost 40 per cent of his match fee for his extravagant discussions with the umpires the previous day after a decision went against Australia. The contrition he showed in interviews before the start of play on the third day was admirable and said much about the man and how difficult he will be to replace as Australia's captain.

When he came out to bat there was some perfunctory booing, perhaps of the pantomime villain sort that tended to greet his appearances in England last year. But as he neared the middle this was outshone by the cheers. They stood to applaud a great batsman.

For 101 minutes, Ponting gritted his teeth. Was this at last to be his time in this series? Could he really survive for another two days. The answer came two days quicker than he would have preferred and that was all but that for Australia.

With just two runs added their batsman of the series, Michael Hussey, flirted with a swinging ball going across him and Ian Bell made the catch look a cinch, which it was not, another measure of this new England.

Australia's vice-captain, Michael Clarke, stayed for 81 minutes, each one more uncomfortable than its predecessor. If anything, despite his marginally superior figures, his series has been worse than Ponting's. If the selectors wish to replace Ponting as captain, it is impossible for them to hand the job to Clarke, the stipulated heir apparent. He has neither the runs nor the natural instincts of leadership.

Five balls after Swann switched to bowling round the wicket, Clarke was put out of what must have been misery when he pushed a catch into the hands of Andrew Strauss at second slip. There was time for the tyro Steve Smith to chop on an ill-conceived pull shot against Anderson.

The destiny of the Ashes was all but certain by then. Only once before had England led Australia more on first innings, at The Oval in 1938 when Len Hutton's 364 took them to 903 for 7 and an unfeasible lead of 702. But then the Ashes were already lost. Now they were staying where all Englishmen and no Australians feel they belong.



Destiny Down Under: England's route to retaining ashes

First Test, Brisbane Draw

Andrew Strauss won the toss and batted, but Peter Siddle took a hat-trick on his way to figures of 6 for 54 and England were bowled out for 260. Australia then accumulated a mountainous total in response, built around a 307-run stand between Mike Hussey (195) and Brad Haddin (136). The hosts were bowled out with a first-innings lead of 221. England bravely batted time to save the game: Strauss hit 110, while Alastair Cook made an unbeaten 235, his highest score in Test cricket, and England finished on an implausible 517 for 1 declared.

Second Test, Adelaide England win by an innings and 71 runs

Australia were thrillingly reduced to 2 for 3 in the opening moments of the match, and were bowled out for 245. England's top order dominated again, though, putting on century stands for the second, third, fourth and fifth wickets. Kevin Pietersen top-scored with 227, while Cook made 148. Strauss declared at 620 for 5, leaving more than five sessions to win the game. Graeme Swann was the star, taking 5 for 91, including the final three wickets of Marcus North, Xavier Doherty and Peter Siddle, who was bowled through the gate to seal a famous win.



Third Test, Perth Australia win by 267 runs

Chris Tremlett replaced the injured Stuart Broad and took three wickets as the hosts were out for 268. But England could not cope with a destructive spell from Mitchell Johnson, back in the side, on the bouncy Waca pitch. He took 6 for 38 and England collapsed from 78 without loss to 187 all out. Mike Hussey's 116 helped Australia to set England a difficult target of 391, which they never looked like reaching. Ryan Harris took six wickets and England were bowled out for 123, less than one third of the way to the total.

Fourth Test, Melbourne England win by an innings and 157 runs

A perfectly executed team performance from England bowled out Australia for 98 on the first day: their lowest total at home to England since 1936. Trott's unbeaten 168 guided England to a lead of 415, and Australia were put in an impossible situation from which the visitors could pick them off to retain the Ashes.

...and now on to sydney can england match gatting's men?

If England are victorious in the final Test of the series, starting on 3 January, they will become the 14th English side to win an Ashes series Down Under. England last won a series in Australia 24 years ago, when Mike Gatting's side had it sewn up by the fourth Test. Before that you have to go back to Mike Brearley's side in 1979, who emphatically won the series 5-1.



Melbourne scoreboard

Fourth Ashes Test, the MCG (third day of five): England win by an innings and 157 runs

England won toss

Australia First Innings 98 (Tremlett 4-26, Anderson 4-44)

England First Innings

Overnight 444-5 (Cook 82, Strauss 69, Pietersen 51)

I J L Trott not out;168/ 345 balls / 14 fours

†M J Prior c Ponting b Siddle; 85/ 119 balls / 11 fours

T T Bresnan c Haddin b Siddle; 4/ 17 balls

G P Swann c Haddin b Hilfenhaus; 22/ 28 balls / 3 fours

C T Tremlett b Hilfenhaus;4/ 7 balls

J M Anderson b Siddle;1/ 6 balls

Extras (b10 lb2 w3 nb3);18

Total (159.1 overs);513

Fall: 1-159, 2-170, 3-262, 4-281, 5-286, 6-459, 7-465, 8-508, 9-512, 10-513.

Bowling: B W Hilfenhaus 37-13-83-2 (3-0-6-0, 6-3-20-0, 10-5-14-0, 3-0-11-0, 7-1-21-0, 8-4-11-2), R J Harris 28.4-9-91-0 (2-1-8-0, 4-0-9-0, 4-2-13-0, 4-1-9-0, 5-0-22-0, 6-3-22-0, 3.4-2-8-0), M G Johnson 29-2-134-2 (3-0-18-0, 4-0-24-0, 5-1-15-0, 8-1-27-2, 5-0-19-0, 4-0-31-0), P M Siddle 33.1-10-75-6 (6-2-9-0, 11-4-22-2, 5-1-10-1, 4-1-17-0, 5-1-12-2, 2.1-1-5-1), S R Watson 10-1-34-0 (5-1-14-0, 2-0-10-0, 3-0-10-0), S P D Smith 18-3-71-0 (6-0-22-0, 5-2-17-0, 7-1-32-0), M J Clarke 3.2-0-13-0 (3-0-12-0, 0.2-0-1-0).

Progress: Third day: 450 in 139.1 overs, 500 in 153.1 overs, Lunch 513 all out (Trott 168) 159.1 overs. Trott: 150 306 balls, 12 fours.

Australia Second Innings

S R Watson lbw b Bresnan;54/ 102 balls / 7 fours

P J Hughes run out;23/ 30 balls / 2 fours

*R T Ponting b Bresnan;20/ 73 balls/2 fours

M J Clarke c Strauss b Swann;13/ 66 balls

M E K Hussey c Bell b Bresnan;0/ 7 balls

S P D Smith b Anderson;38/ 67 balls / 6 fours

†B J Haddin not out;55/ 93 balls /4 fours /1 six

M G Johnson b Tremlett;6/ 22 balls

PM Siddle c Pietersen b Swann;40/ 50 balls /4 fours /1 six

BW Hilfenhaus c Prior b Bresnan;0/ 4 balls

R J Harris absent hurt;0

Extras (b1 lb2 w1);4

Total (85.4 overs);258

Fall: 1-53, 2-99, 3-102, 4-104, 5-134, 6-158, 7-172, 8-258, 9-258.

Bowling: J M Anderson 20-1-71-1, C T Tremlett 17-3-71-1, G P Swann 27-11-59-2, T T Bresnan 21.4-8-50-4.

Progress: Third day: 50 in 9.5 overs, Tea 95-1 (Watson 50, Ponting 19) 30.0 overs, 100 in 34 overs, 150 in 59 overs, Close of play 169-6 (Haddin 11, Johnson 6) 66 overs. Watson: 50 95 balls, 5 fours.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and A L Hill (NZ).

Match referee: R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka).

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