Last updated: January 7, 2011 1:26 am

Cocks of the walk made feather dusters

 
ashes cricket

England’s captain Andrew Strauss (left) and Graeme Swann (right) celebrate as Australia’s Mitchell Johnson is bowled out

The once-good ship Australia – torpedoed below the waterline weeks ago, listing heavily with her cricketing self-respect leaking alarmingly – finally sank in Sydney.

Having been delayed by belated resistance and showers, England secured yet another crushing victory on Friday to win the Ashes series 3-1.

A substantial crowd (a few of whom must have been Australian) were let in free to watch the last knockings. And the English majority got their reward when – just before midday – Chris Tremlett knocked over last man Michael Beer to complete victory by an innings and 83 runs. It was England’s third innings victory in a calendar month, almost to the minute.

England had nearly won the night before and the Australian players must have been half-hoping they might so they could take a day off, go home and try to forget the whole wretched experience.

Professionalism kicked in, however, and the eighth-wicket pair of Steve Smith and Peter Siddle held out and added 86 before Siddle slogged once too often. England then took the new ball and cleaned up.

England have now established a mastery over Australia that is unprecedented in the memory of almost anyone present in Sydney. Discarding the dud series of 1978-79 – when Australia fielded their second team – England have not exercised this kind of control since 1928-29. And at that time the Aussies were nurturing a young chap called Bradman who was destined to turn things round. If the next Bradman is lurking in this team, he has not yet made himself known.

Australia were once again pitiful with both bat and ball. England batted on until after lunch yesterday, defying the general expectations they would declare. Declare? Certainly not! Full and unconditional surrender, those were the terms. And England wanted as many runs as possible to enforce them.

They got 644, their largest ever total in Australia, and thus a lead of 364 – which was Len Hutton’s score at The Oval in 1938 and perhaps the most resonant number in English cricket. Wicket-keeper Matt Prior became the third centurion of the innings and was so thrilled he forgot the normal decorous bat-raising ceremony and rushed over to the Barmy Army to salute them.

The bowling had been so toothless it was hard to tell whether the pitch was as bland as it appeared. And there was certainly more life and movement when England got to work. But they were again helped by the complete inability of the Australians to build an innings: the top six all got to double figures; none reached 50.

The openers were solid enough until – for the third time this series – Shane Watson got himself involved in a fatuous run-out muddle. His partner Phillip Hughes followed swiftly, fencing at a ball from Tim Bresnan and getting caught behind – a shot that may mark the end of his Test career.

And the sorry procession went on. The captain (in this case the stand-in Michael Clarke) stood on the bridge as a captain should, even though the waters might be lapping round his ankles. Clarke, however, was batting with more flash than fastidiousness and never looked convincing.

In common with almost all his team-mates, his reputation has diminished these past few weeks. “Today’s cock-of-the-walk,” I overheard a man say in the Victor Trumper Stand, “is tomorrow’s feather duster”.

The stocks of England players, in contrast, have all risen – with the solitary exception of Paul Collingwood who, after failing with the bat again on Wednesday, announced his retirement from Test cricket. His personal sadness will be lost amid the general mafficking.

FIFTH ASHES TEST (Sydney). Australia 280 and 281 (SPD Smith 54). England 644 (A.N. Cook 189, M.J. Prior 118, I.R. Bell 115). England won by an innings and 83 runs and took the series 3-1.

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