England win the Ashes
England won back the Ashes when they beat Australia by 197 runs on the fourth evening at the Brit Oval, capping a terrific series which offered a surprise at every turn.
At 17.49pm, Mike Hussey, who had held England at bay for 236 balls in scoring an excellent 121, prodded Graeme Swann to Alastair Cook at short-leg.
England showed great character to win the series 2-1. When they escaped at Cardiff, they responded by winning by 115 runs at Lord’s. Their capitulation at Headingley Carnegie a fortnight ago was followed by this utterly concentrated bowling show.
To put this win in its proper perspective, England have now won back the Ashes for only the second time since Mike Gatting's side won 2-1 in Australia in 1986-87.
Despite overwhelming odds against his side, Hussey did his best to delay the inevitable with a gritty century on a day of brave Australian resistance.
When he and Ricky Ponting put on 127 for the third wicket, Australia harboured genuine hopes of pulling off the most unlikely chase in Test history.
Having taken the first tentative steps to chasing down a would-be record fourth-innings score of 546, the game turned emphatically on two inspired pieces of fielding just after lunch that left Australia 220 for four.
First, Hussey attempted a single to Andrew Flintoff at mid-on, only for the departing all-rounder to throw down the stumps of the ambling Ponting at the striker’s end.
Three runs later, Michael Clarke was a victim of the closest of decisions. Andrew Strauss reacted to a ricochet off short-leg’s boot by running out the advancing Clarke, who was yet to score.
TV replays showed that Clarke’s bat was on, rather than over, the line as the bails were removed.
Australia began the day 80 without loss, but Simon Katich and Shane Watson were both sent back having barely added to their overnight scores.
England were encouraged by a pitch offering variable bounce out of the footholes.
Stuart Broad, England’s hero of the first innings, was entrusted the first over, and immediately had the ball spitting at Watson.
The elusive breakthrough arrived in the third over, when the doughty Katich, on 43, fatally padded up to Graeme Swann’s arm ball.
Watson followed to Broad in the next over for 40, lbw to a ball striking him on off stump. Watson felt that he had edged the ball on to his pad, but Asad Rauf’s decision appeared correct.
With defeat looming, Ponting was staring at the unenviable feat of becoming the first Australia captain to relinquish the Ashes twice.
He received a rapturous reception from the Oval crowd, though he may yet appear in this country next summer in neutral Tests against Pakistan.
He was patently desperate to ensure any defeat was met with the greatest resistance possible and, after being troubled by Swann’s variable bounce, played a sweet pull off Broad, and drove Swann for two successive fours.
He almost lost Hussey in the 42nd over, when the left-hander edged Swann between Paul Collingwood’s legs at slip.
To the first ball back after lunch, Ponting greeted Broad’s full toss by thrashing him through cover for four. He reached a 48th Test fifty soon afterwards.
In the 54th over, Ponting escaped when he edged a low chance on to Collingwood’s boot. The ball bounced behind the slip fielder, who vainly scrambled to try and catch.
But in his final Test, Flintoff was determined to have his say any which way. Taken out of the slip cordon, and struggling with creaking knees, he nonetheless stooped with his large frame to collect Hussey’s prod and end Ponting’s innings.
When Clarke followed, Australia’s hopes lay squarely with Hussey, who showed remarkable application for a man who is essentially out of nick. He was given a further reprieve when Collingwood dropped a straightforward chance at slip.
Marcus North had scored 10 when Swann’s off-break ripped past his attempted sweep. He failed to get his foot back over the line before Matt Prior removed the bails, just reward for his improved glovework.
When they returned after tea, Hussey further entrenched himself, leading Strauss to take the new ball after 84 overs.
The new nut was more unpredictable in its bounce, and Brad Haddin responded by throwing the bat at anything wide.
Haddin could have fallen three times in an Anderson over, clipping the ball through the hands of substitute Graham Onions at midwicket, and playing two airy drives past cover.
The wicketkeeper hung around long enough to see Hussey to his elusive hundred with two checked drives in the 89th over. Hussey’s 10th Test hundred, and first in 29 innings since a 2008 Test in Bangalore, came from 219 balls.
Haddin threw away his wicket on 34, when he attempted to carve Swann into a heavily populated leg side. The ball fell tamely to Strauss at midwicket.
From thereon in, Australia fell like a pack of cards. Collingwood finally held on to an sharp chance offered by Mitchell Johnson.
Then Steve Harmison threatened to steal the show. He forced Peter Siddle into a leading edge to Flintoff at extra cover, and from the next ball, Stuart Clark nudged to short-leg.
Ben Hilfenhaus withstood the hat-trick ball, but with Hussey farming the strike, the centurion eventually played an uncontrolled nudge to Cook to cue England’s delirium.