England have won the Ashes after sealing victory in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge to take an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series.
Little more than 18 months after suffering a 5-0 humiliation in Australia, England reclaimed the urn with their second straight Test victory achieved inside three days of play, bringing the curtain down on one of English cricket’s most difficult periods with a flourish.
After thrilling victories at Cardiff and Edgbaston, either side of a chastening 405-run defeat at Lord’s, England began day three with an 89-run lead, needing just three more Australian wickets to seal the series.
Mitchell Starc went for a duck to Ben Stokes in the fourth over of play, before Mark Wood claimed the final two wickets of Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon inside the first hour of play to prompt wild scenes of celebration at Trent Bridge.
The fourth Test, the pivotal moment in a wildly unpredictable series, had swung firmly England’s way by lunch on day one, with Australia skittled for just 60 after less than two hours’ play – the embarrassment for the tourists compounded by not one batsman outscoring their extras column, which finished on 14 as Stuart Broad posted a barely believable 8-15.
In less than three full days of play from the start of the third Test, England had moved from uncertain outsiders to hot favourites.
While the Australian resistance appeared decisively broken by their first innings collapse, England had to finish the job, but did so in composed fashion.
Joe Root led the way with an imperious 130, including a dazzling partnership of 173 with Jonny Bairstow, as he became the series’s leading run-scorer.
England compiled a monumental first innings lead, declaring just before lunch on day two on 391/9.
Facing not so much a mountain as a cliff face, Australian openers David Warner and Chris Rogers offered early resistance, but Ben Stokes seized his moment with the ball, taking three wickets as Australia slumped from 113-0 to 136-4.
From that moment on, the result of the Test, and therefore the series, was a foregone conclusion as England patiently collected the remaining wickets required.
Stokes added the wickets of Peter Nevill and Mitchell Johnson late on day two, setting up a third day procession as England completed the job before lunch.
For Australia, the rebuilding job will begin now that defeat is confirmed, withMichael Clarke poised to announce his retirement from Test cricket, and an ageing batting line-up set to be dismantled.
England, and particularly captain Alastair Cook, will savour the moment – and a valedictory fifth Test at the Oval to come – after a series victory achieved with an entirely unexpected speed and swagger.