For England, this must be just the beginning; for Australia, the next generation must take the stage
Melbourne, fourth Test, day 4: Australia 98 and 258 (Haddin 55*; Bresnan 4-50) lost to England 513 by an innings and 157 runs; England lead the series 2-1 and retain the Ashes
ENGLAND wrapped up victory before lunch on the fourth day of the fourth Test to complete a crushing win over Australia and retain the Ashes for the first time in 24 years.
Tim Bresnan, England’s fifth choice seamer at the start of the tour, wrapped up victory with the wicket of Ben Hilfenhaus, caught behind for a duck after Brad Haddin, with an unbeaten half century, and Peter Siddle, out slogging for 20, had shown some belated resolve and stuck around for one-and-a-half hours.
England will now look to win the series by winning or drawing in Sydney, with Australia, possibly much-changed, possibly with a new captain, desparate to avoid what would be only a second home series defeat in 18 years, and a second in three years.
For Australia, the questions asked in the wake of that defeat to South Africa will rear their head, those of humiliation, lack of pride, lack of fight, talent, and will - and a seeming inability to replace the golden generation of Warne, Waugh (both of them), Gilchrist, McGrath, Hayden, Langer and co. who swept all before them.
To the future, too, must look England; in the wake of their 1986/7 win down under, it took them two-and-a-half years to win their next full series, while their 2005 Ashes success was followed by just two Test wins in their next ten, five in their next 18 - cumlinating in the 5-0 whitewash on the last Ashes tour.
While the champagne flows, the plaudits rain down and the Ashes-only fairweather fans shriek their delight, England will know that the job is only half done: this is only the start. A series win in a must, followed by a repeat of the remarkable one day win four years ago, and a decent World Cup.
In Tests, the objective must be to seize the world number one spot - which India and South Africa are going head-to-head for in Durban at the moment - by beating those two teams in the next two home summers. The first XI looks good enough for this task (with only Paul Collingwood failing to contribute); so, too, the back-up players.
For the last word, then, let us hear from Ricky Ponting, whose last Test this may be:
“It’s pretty hard to accept... We haven’t deserved it, that’s the bottom line, haven’t played well enough. It was tough, but wasn’t a 98 all out wicket. They showed us how to bat.
“We can still level the series, which has got to be the motivation for us. Get to Sydney and salvage some pride. We’ve let ourselves down and our supporters down.”
While there’s still fight, and there still is, the Aussies will be a threat - though a win for this mediocre crop of Baggy Greens, many of whom simply aren’t Test-class, a drawn series - especially one in which the same failures conjure up a win - will only delay the inevitable, the need for wholesale change and the handing over of the baton to the next generation.
Not only for their own good (as outlined above) but for the good of their opponents, and for the good of the game, England must administer the coup de grâce and put the once mighty Aussies out of their misery.
• Cricinfo: England seal Ashes with crushing win
• BBC Sport: England clean up tail to retain urn