In the small hours of the morning in Britain, before lunch on the other side of the world, it was all euphoria among England fans and all despair among Australians. Where England were raising their champagne glasses, the Aussies were crying into their cups. Retaining, as opposed to simply winning, the Ashes is a feat achieved once in a generation. For the fortunate few, this was a moment to savour. Andrew Strauss and his team deserved their rapturous celebrations.
Whether their victory deserves to be lauded as the event of the sporting season or, as still more flattering assessments might have it, as inscribing this England team in history, is less certain. This Test series is not over, nor has it yet been won. All that can be said as of now is that it has not been lost and that its first mission, from the England point of view, has been accomplished. Their next task is to win the series, if possible, as convincingly as they won this last match. At least they should know, from the third Test, the risks of taking victory for granted.
The other point is that England's victories, as indeed Australia's defeats, have gone with the form book. England are ranked third in the world, Australia fourth. By this standard, it is the Aussies' decisive third Test victory that is the greater achievement; the one that defied the odds. In all sports, team success tends to go in cycles. England are at present on an upswing; they have new blood, a sense of purpose, and the sort of confidence that breeds confidence. Australia – though who would predict the result of the final Test? – are on a long-drawn-out downswing. The scale of their defeats should prompt the start of the renewal that is so patently needed.
It has to be added that when England and Australia play cricket, the significance of victory and defeat is always exaggerated, so enormous is the emotional and national investment on both sides. When the Test series is on, it is as though these are the only two cricketing countries in the world. We know, or should know, that this is no longer true, if it ever was. India and South Africa hold the top ICC Test rankings, and the start of the World Cup is only two months away.