England retained the Ashes with a crushing innings and 157-run win in the fourth Test yesterday, breaking a 24-year away drought in the series and leaving Australian captain Ricky Ponting’s future in doubt.
The holders’ biggest win over Australia since 1956 put them an unbeatable 2-1 up with one to play, almost a quarter of a century after Mike Gatting’s team claimed the series 2-1 in 1986-1987 in England’s last triumph in Australia.
Australia’s humiliation was complete when Ben Hilfenhaus was the last man out before lunch on the fourth morning at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), caught behind off Tim Bresnan for a duck after Ryan Harris was unable to bat because of an ankle injury.
“Winning the Ashes in Australia has always been a bit of a Holy Grail for English sides,” skipper Andrew Strauss said. “We haven’t won the Ashes yet, but we obviously retain the urn which has been one of our primary goals and the guys deserve everything they get because the players stood up and performed when it mattered.”
There was only going to be one outcome after Australia were routed for a miserable ground record low of 98 on Sunday’s opening day after Strauss had won the toss and put the Australians in to bat on a greenish wicket.
The English responded with a towering 513 to hold a match-winning 415-run innings lead, which Australia found totally beyond them.
“The really important thing we need to do is pay credit to England and the way they played for the whole tour,” Ponting said. “Apart from the third Perth Test, they’ve played a really high level of cricket the whole way through, not only this series, but the tour games as well. Credit to them for the way they prepared.”
The crushing loss will heap further pressure on embattled Ponting. It was the Australian skipper’s third failure to win an Ashes series following his earlier defeats in England in 2005 and last year.
Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin was left unbeaten with a defiant 55 including four fours and a six in Australia’s second innings of 258 for nine.
Bresnan finished as England’s best bowler with 4 for 50 off 21.4 overs, while England No. 3 Jonathan Trott was named man of the match for his unbeaten 168.
In 1986, England won the series and the Ashes after an innings and 14-run victory at the MCG.
Australia can still level the series if they can fight back and win next week’s fifth Sydney Test, but the Ashes are gone.
“Our objective was to come out here and win the series, so we haven’t achieved that yet,” Strauss said. “It’s very reassuring to know that the Ashes are going to remain in England for the next couple of years, but it would leave a very sour taste in the mouth if we weren’t able to go on and convert our position into a series win in Sydney.”
The heavy defeat was only Australia’s second in their past 12 MCG Tests, the previous coming two years ago against South Africa by nine wickets.
It was England’s 20th win in 54 Ashes Tests at the MCG.
A small crowd, dominated by the celebrating Barmy Army and other English supporters, witnessed the final rites with the Australian fans giving up on a lost cause.
Australia lost Mitchell Johnson in the second over of the final day, bowled by Chris Tremlett for six.
Haddin and Peter Siddle stalled England’s victory push with some lusty hitting in a 86-run partnership with both clubbing sixes off spinner Graeme Swann.