Ashes to ashes: England inflicts defeat on Aussies

SYDNEY (AP) - A series between the third- and fifth-ranked teams wouldn't ordinarily generate much buzz about the victor's potential to become the world's premier test cricket team.

But the Ashes is no ordinary series, and England's dominance over Australia was quite extraordinary.

England wrapped up an innings and 83-run win in the fifth test on Friday morning, completing a 3-1 series victory that contained an unprecedented three innings defeats for Australia.

It sparked celebrations for Andrew Strauss and his team on the field and around it, where the thousands of England's faithful traveling fans known collectively as the Barmy Army went wild at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Fair enough, too. It had been 24 years since England last won a test series in Australia.

Some members of England's Ashes squad weren't born when Mike Gatting's England achieved that in 1986-87. Some weren't even English. But many of them will be cherished household names in England now.

"We have become more dominant and certainly those last two test matches were as good as an England side I've played in has performed," said Strauss, who tips his squad to get even better.

"There are going to be injuries and other guys putting their hands up wanting to be part of the team but the majority of the side should be hitting their peak years in the next couple of years or so. That's encouraging for us."

A generation of England cricketers seemed to think it was impossible to beat the Australians in Australia. Strauss said that, if nothing else, this series had changed that attitude.

"We've proved that it's possible for English teams to win out here," he said.

"We've proved that you don't need a mystery spinner or a guy that bowls at 95 miles an hour to do it. You just need a lot of guys performing really well and consistently."

The 33-year-old Strauss, who was born in South Africa and moved to England as a boy, urged his squad not to take it easy now that the hard work had been done.

After winning the 2005 series at home, ending an Ashes drought that dated back to 1989, the English squad was awarded civic honors for its efforts and partied hard.

But the celebrations were short-lived, with Australia bouncing back to sweep the next series 5-0.

"We've overcome a barrier," he said, "but if we just turn up next time expecting to win we'll get the treatment we have for the last 24 years."

While some critics have dwelled on how inconsistent the Australians were, and how they've tumbled from the top to the middle of the test rankings in the short space of time since they swept the last Ashes series Down Under, credit must go to England.

Michael Clarke, standing in as captain for injured Ricky Ponting for the last test, conceded England had outplayed Australia in every facet of the game.

Australian opener Shane Watson agreed, saying England had the kind of balance required to be the No. 1 team.

Strauss didn't have the happiest tour to Australia four years ago, scoring only one half century in 10 innings after being overlooked as captain.

But he didn't waste the trip. He observed from close quarters how Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and the likes of openers Matt Hayden and Justin Langer - all since retired - operated.

"They were a great cricket side and there's certainly been some lessons learnt from them and hopefully we can go on and emulate what they've achieved," he said.

The England team management modeled their plans along those lines and have since turned it against the Australians, with the result being successive Ashes wins on home and foreign soil.

England's bowlers worked together as a unit to frustrate Australia's batsmen with nagging accuracy and some reverse swing.

The batsmen displayed a discipline that was almost nonexistent in their Australian counterparts.

Opener Alastair Cook amassed 766 runs but left almost as many balls as he played in order to hit the right ones. His three centuries in the series was as many as the Australians scored combined.

The tight bowling, composed batting and almost flawless fielding all contributed to England's lopsided triumph.

It was the first time in 31 years that England had won back-to-back test matches in Australia.

England's 644 in the first innings here was its highest total ever in Australia, and one of the four 500-plus innings it posted in the series. The English batsmen combined to post nine centuries in the series and five of the top seven averaged above 50.

Mike Hussey scored two of the three centuries from Australia and was the only local batsman to average above 50.

Jimmy Anderson took 24 wickets an average of 26 apiece and all the bowlers had economical rates.

That helped contain Australia, which experienced its worst first innings ever at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when it was bundled out for 98 in the Boxing Day test.

"I didn't expect to win three test matches by an innings, there's no doubt about that," Strauss said.

"What happens over the course of a series and certainly we found in 2006-07 is that once one side gets on top and wins emphatically once or twice than it's very hard to come back because their confidence is high and yours is lower.

"The teams sort of drift apart a little bit and that's maybe where we got to in this test match. We were as confident as I've ever seen an England team.

That's a great testament to what happened earlier in the series."

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