LONDON (AP) - To captain Michael Vaughan, England began to win the Ashes back as soon as everyone thought they were losing it.
After Australia won the first test inside four days at Lord's in late July, most fans thought the tourists would also win the five-test series in a romp.
But England won the second and fourth tests and sealed the deal on one of the most thrilling Ashes series in its 123-year history by forcing a draw on the last day of the last test at The Oval on Monday.
Cricket's prized urn was back in English hands for the first time since 1989, and Vaughan couldn't be any more proud of the way his side responded to critics and the world's best team.
"I think the way that the team turned up at Edgbaston (for the second test) with a positive attitude, the way that they practiced, the way that they shrugged off the disappointment of Lord's,'' was the turning point of the series, Vaughan said.
"There's been so many good things about the Ashes and so many good points about every game that it's very difficult to just take out one bit.''
Once more for England, someone who hadn't starred in the series grabbed the limelight when his team desperately needed it.
Kevin Pietersen, one of the team's five Ashes newcomers, scored his maiden test century on Monday to stymie Australia's bid for a win to level the series and keep the Ashes.
Pietersen survived three dropped catches to belt 158 runs from 187 balls, including seven sixes and 15 fours.
Australia still had a shot at tea when England was 221 for seven, and 49 overs remained. But Pietersen lasted nearly 20 overs more, piled on another 53 runs, and Australia ran out of time to reel in the deficit.
England's second innings finally ended at 335, and Australia, 341 in arrears, had time only to score 4 without loss, before bad light stopped the match for the third time in five days, and England could formally start partying.
"It's an incredible feeling, it probably really hasn't sunk in, what we've achieved, but the incredible day's cricket I think really summed up the whole of the series,'' Vaughan said.
Ricky Ponting, the first Australia captain to return home without the Ashes since Allan Border 20 years ago, was gracious in defeat.
"I'll stand here and praise England as much as anybody because I think they thoroughly deserve to win the Ashes,'' Ponting said.
"They've been better than us in the crucial moments of this test series.''
England started the day at 34 for one, but the world's highest wicket-taker Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath put Australia in the hunt with early wickets to limit England at 127 for five at lunch.
Pietersen narrowly avoided giving McGrath a hat trick when he pulled his bat and gloves away and the ball brushed his shoulder en route to Ponting in the slips.
But the South African-born batsman's greatest escape came when he was on 15 and England was 93 for three.
He hit a Brett Lee delivery straight to first slip Warne, who spilled a simple catch. It was a costly mistake.
Pietersen eventually fell to McGrath, and Warne snapped up the last wickets to finish the innings with 6-124 for 12 in the match, and a record 40 in the series.
"It's been one of those series,'' Warne said. "They were just too good for us and full credit to England. We tried as much as we could but weren't good enough.''
Warne, who turns 36 on Tuesday, and 35-year-old McGrath, with 1,142 test wickets between them, walked off The Oval to a standing ovation, both likely to have played their final test in England.
Then England accepted deserved applause, which will carry through on Tuesday to a victory parade in the center of London, stopping for a public celebration in Trafalgar Square.
The festivities mark an England achievement which rates beside its 1966 World Cup soccer victory and its rugby World Cup triumph in Australia in 2003.
"I think we've grabbed the nation,'' Vaughan said.
"To know that we've made a lot of people in England very happy, that's the most pleasing aspect of this.'' - AP
Aussie Ashes domination up in smoke
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) - A virtual groan rumbled across the dusty Australian continent Tuesday, gathering magnitude as it sunk in for inhabitants from Fraser Island to Fremantle that England had ended its record-long Ashes drought.
Australia had won an unprecedented eight consecutive Ashes series leading into the 2005 contest and Aussies prided themselves on holding a stranglehold on "the old enemy'' in cricket that was unparalleled in any other sport.
But time ran out for Ricky Ponting's squad, which left Australia's shores as worldbeaters in June and will return with its No. 1 test ranking tarnished by the Ashes loss.
A generation of Australians - anybody under the eligible voting age of 18 - had never experienced losing the Ashes, cricket's most storied prize.
Before its 2-1 series triumph, which concluded with the drawn fifth test late Monday, England hadn't won the Ashes since 1986-87.
And the losing sequence ended where the Ashes legend began at The Oval in south London in 1882, when an English newspaper published a mock obituary for English cricket following a test loss to Australia.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a self-described "cricket tragic,'' broke from a UN summit in New York to commend England's performance.
"It's been an amazing 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,'' Howard told reporters.
"I do congratulate England, I commiserate with (Australian captain) Ricky Ponting and the Australian team.
"There's natural disappointment but it's a situation where you give credit to the team that won. They will no doubt celebrate and that will be difficult for some, but that's the nature of these contests and we should not take anything away from England.''
The loss will hurt many Australians because the Ashes have come to transgress sport Down Under - winning is important for the psyche of a nation that prides itself on having a sporting edge over its former colonial ruler.
After regaining the Ashes in 1989, Australian sport went through a renaissance.
The Wallabies won two rugby world cups - clinching both titles on British soil - Australia won two cricket world cups and won the Davis Cup of tennis twice.
And Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics, rated by former IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch as the best Olympics of all.
All the while, British sport was in the doldrums. But that changed when England beat Australia in the 2003 rugby world cup final in Sydney.
Now it appears British sports stocks are on the rise - and should continue on that track at least until the London 2012 Olympics - and Australia is on the slide.
English cricket started its ascendancy two seasons ago.
Modeling itself on Australia's system, England introduced central contracts for its leading players and established a national cricket academy.
It employed Australian great Rodney Marsh to head the academy, hired Australia's Troy Cooley as its fast bowling coach, stuck with hard-nosed former Zimbabwe international Duncan Fletcher as its head coach and moved to No. 2 in the test rankings.
Before the series, Fletcher didn't even qualify for a British passport because he didn't fulfill the residency requirements as he was out of the country for long periods - with the England team.
If Clive Woodward deserved a knighthood following the rugby world cup triumph, Fletcher deserves at least honorary citizenship after his squad parades through central London on Tuesday, stopping in Trafalgar square like the victorious 2003 rugby squad did.
The aging Australian squad won't get the same reception. Critics already are calling for fresh talent to be blooded for when veterans like Shane Warne, 36, and Glenn McGrath, 35, retire.
The fifth test finished after 3 a.m. on Australia's east coast, too late for newspaper deadlines.
But the next editions will almost certainly forecast gloom for Australian cricket.
Australia needed to win at The Oval to level the series and retain the Ashes.
And despite leaving it until the last day, the Australian public remained quietly hopeful that their bowlers could take nine wickets and their batsmen could wipe off any required runs in the last three sessions to save the Ashes.
Two dropped catches were costly on the final morning, with South African-born Kevin Pietersen getting reprieves on 0 and 15 and then blazing a match-saving 158 for England.
Warne took 40 wickets in the series - his last Ashes campaign in England ending a day before his 36th birthday - and was magnanimous in defeat.
"It was an amazing series ... my best ever series,'' said Warne, who holds the test record with 623 wickets.
"We tried our best - England were just too good for us.'' - AP