Inconsistent Australia win final battle after losing Ashes war
One of the most vibrant Ashes series, high in roller-coaster excitement if not in the quality of its batting, ended as it began.
After an hour at Cardiff England were holding on for grim life at 43 for three, almost swamped by the power of Australia's pace. And, in the last rites, Australia's pace bowlers wiped out England's four remaining wickets either side of rain to win the fifth Test by an innings and 46 runs.
In between, however, England were able to counter the dominant force of this series - Australia's pace bowling - and seize back the urn from under their noses. It was a steal really, a feat of wit and ingenuity, which enabled Alastair Cook's team to regain the Ashes 3-2.
Australia had the better cricketers: any composite side would include their top three batsmen, alongside Cook and Joe Root, and most of Australia's bowlers - perhaps all of them except Stuart Broad. Australia had the stronger XI; but England had the better team.
So England managed to nip in to snatch this series - thanks to their team unity, which was manifest in their catching and tail-end batting marshalled by Moeen Ali, combined with Joe Root's batting at crisis-points, and this ingenuity (or certain low cunning).
The pitches at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge served England's pragmatic purpose, minimising the threat of Mitchell Johnson and maximising the impact of England's swing-and-seamers.
England can therefore be thoroughly proud of themselves. They defeated a stronger Australian team. It was the same in 2009, when Australia won the series by every indicator except the scoreline of 2-1: as in this series Australia averaged more runs per wicket than England.
But in Test cricket, anywhere, it is a very rare accomplishment.
The fifth Test served to illustrate this difference in quality. England played like drains, until some fight was shown by Cook in their second innings, largely because they were drained.
In addition, however, the undeniable fact is that Australia were stronger on anything except a green-top, thanks to their pace-bowling superiority.
It was only Australia's fourth Test victory in England since 2001. Such is the importance of home advantage that, the next challenge facing England will be how to retain the urn when the series returns Down Under at the end of 2017. (© Daily Telegraph, London)