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Australia congratulate England

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Shane Warne and his Australia employers have extended their congratulations to England on winning the Ashes for the first time in 18 years - but cricket’s greatest ever bowler still claims his team remain the best in the world.

Warne acknowledged the significance of England’s success in claiming a 2-1 series victory, after Kevin Pietersen’s maiden Test century had carried the hosts to a hard-fought and rain-affected draw in the final npower Test at The Brit Oval.

Cricket Australia chairman Bob Merriman joined him in acclaiming England for their achievement against the team still ranked by the International Cricket Council as the outstanding global force in their sport.

Warne - whose 12 wickets in the match took him to an astounding 40 in the series - concurred with ICC thinking.

“I think we’re still probably the best side in the world, because we’ve done it over a period of time both home and away against every opposition and in all the conditions that have been put up against us,” said the master leg-spinner, whose 36th birthday was set to coincide with England’s open-top bus victory parade through the streets of London.

Andrew Flintoff/Shane Warne

Warne does not, however, rule out further England improvement to challenge Australia at the top of the world rankings.

“There’s no reason England can’t do that - if they play like they have through this series they could be the best side in the world once they’ve played everybody home and away in a few years’ time,” he reasoned.

Warne was magnanimous in his appraisal of the cricket the Ashes hosts have played this summer.

“I think England deserved to win, and they outplayed us for the last four Test matches,” conceded the record-breaking wicket-taker, who completed his last Test in this country.

“We can say we should have done this and we should have done that, but at the end of the day I just think England deserved to win - we didn’t really deserve to win.”

Like his Hampshire team-mate Pietersen, whose 158 runs helped England to a second-innings 335 all out which left Australia no feasible time in which to mount an increasingly improbable run chase to level the series and therefore retain the Ashes, Warne was full of praise for the way both sides have conducted themselves in this high-profile summer.

“It’s been a fantastic series, and the spirit it’s been played in has been brilliant,” he said.

Shane Warne

© Getty Images

“It’s hard to say that when you lose - because I don’t like losing. But I’ve tried as hard as I can through the series and I’m pretty proud of myself the way that I’ve done it.

“It’s been my best ever series - but unfortunately it’s not been good enough. Anyone who has seen me play over the last 15 years will say I’ve given everything I’ve got, but you have to give credit to England.

“Everything they’ve tried has worked, and they deserved to have the rub of the green. They had the right attitude and they executed their plans well.”

Merriman echoed many of Warne’s sentiments as he paid tribute to England.

Cricket Australia

“On behalf of Australian cricket, congratulations to the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board David Morgan, the ECB board and management and its players, staff and officials on their success in reclaiming the Ashes,” he said.

“This has been a remarkable series from start to finish, and we respect the way that England have played and won in such quality fashion.”

Like many observers, Merriman has also been enthused by the impact the 2005 Ashes has had on a wider scale.

“The interest, attention and energy that has been breathed into cricket in England and Australia through this series and the fine performances of the England team is a wonderful result for the global game,” he said.

“We look forward to resuming our battle with England for the 2006-07 summer of cricket in Australia.”

Speaking in New York, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who is in New York for a UN summit, offered his congratulations.

“It's been an amazing cricket series, a wonderful series for the game of cricket, and the true victor in this series has been this wonderful game that so many of us love,” he said.

“I do congratulate England, I commiserate with Ricky Ponting and the Australian team.”

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