Thousands cheer England heroes
The party that swung into gear at The Oval, when umpires Rudi Koertzen and Billy Bowden ceremoniously removed the bails to confirm England’s Ashes success, continued on into Trafalgar Square as thousands of cricket fans turned out to hail Michael Vaughan’s team.
The Ashes victory parade began at Mansion House and was winding its way along the Strand to a site which has become synonymous over the last two years with remarkable sporting triumphs.
Eighteen months ago it was where Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson celebrated their Rugby World Cup triumph with a million fans.
It was where Dame Kelly Holmes, the men’s 4x100metre relay team and Matthew Pinsent’s rowing crew were acclaimed for their Olympic gold medals last November and where, only two months ago, London celebrated winning the right to host the 2012 Games.
Now it was the turn of captain Vaughan, man of the series Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff and the rest of England’s squad to party with the Barmy Army, whose ranks have swelled by the day during this remarkable summer.
It was a day of celebration too for Clare Connor and England’s women cricketers as they joined in the parade having won their own Ashes back for the first time in 42 years.
Supporters on Monday were clambering on roofs and peering through gates as they sought any vantage point for a glimpse of the gripping tension at The Oval, where Kevin Pietersen’s magnificent 158 secured the draw England needed for a 2-1 series victory.
Millions more waited with baited breath in homes, pubs and offices the length and breadth of the country for the moment when Vaughan became the first Englishman since Mike Gatting in 1987 to lift the little urn.
Today they all celebrated as those 18 years of frustration were ended by a tumultuous series now considered the greatest ever played.
It began nearly eight weeks ago with a chastening defeat at Lord’s, where Glenn McGrath turned in one of the great bowling spells to propel Australia to a 239-run victory.
But in the same way as Sir Clive Woodward’s rugby side, that stood triumphantly in Trafalgar Square in November 2003, Vaughan’s England have developed a self-confidence, a steely resolve and determination to win.
They hit back with a heart-stopping two-run victory at Edgbaston - the narrowest margin in 128 years of Ashes cricket - where Flintoff proved the hero.
England, with Simon Jones wreaking havoc with his reverse swing, came within a wicket of winning at Old Trafford and then edged another nailbiter at Trent Bridge as Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard proved the unlikely batting heroes.
That drama left England in the box seat leading into The Oval and even Her Majesty the Queen was said to be tuned in as Pietersen, after a wobbly start, righted England’s listing ship to score his maiden Test hundred.
The Queen declared England’s triumph a “magnificent achievement”. Thousands of fans sang and danced the night away - just as the players did in their Tower Hill hotel, where the party was still swinging as the sun came up.
And those fans were still in full voice as the team bus began to make its way via the Strand and, with beautiful irony, past Australia House towards Trafalgar Square.
Cricket can now build on the remarkable scenes witnessed throughout the summer.
Paul Burnham is organiser of the Barmy Army - cheerleaders at today’s celebrations as they were throughout the summer - and also a committee member of ’A Chance to Shine’, the charity aimed at raising money to bring cricket into state schools.
And he believes England’s double triumph will prove inspirational for the sport and for the nation’s youth.
“England’s victory has finally given cricket what it has been after for years and years and that is street-cred, so kids actually think cricket is a tough game,” Burnham said.
“With what Freddie has done, kids now realise that to be good at cricket you have to be something. Kids have their role models and the sportsmanship we have seen in this series has been brilliant.
“The Barmy Army think the Chance to Shine appeal is great. It has brought everybody from cricket together - it is chaired by the governor of the Bank of England.
“What we must do, once the kids have played their six or seven games which the appeal is trying to get them to do, is make sure they are taught the basics of cricket, like the sportsmanship.”
The summer of cricket epitomised the ultimate in sporting spirit and Burnham believes that too is important for the future of the sport.
“Flintoff and Shane Warne have been brilliant but I think Brett Lee has been the best. He has had a lot of stick but plays with a smile on his face, gives it 100% and he has been more of a role model than anyone else,” he said.
“Brett Lee is the ultimate sports person.”
Burnham also hailed Connor’s team (left) as role models and trend-setters in their own way.
“One thing in the Barmy Army is that I actively encourage women to get involved so to have the women winning as well is brilliant.
"The game can be played by both sexes and we live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society.
“Maybe we can try and unite through cricket. That is something to look at in the future.”