England beat Australia in Melbourne to retain Ashes
Fourth Ashes Test, Melbourne (day four): England 513 beat Australia 98 & 258 by an innings and 157 runs Match scorecard
England will hope to win the series by avoiding defeat in Sydney
By David Ornstein
England have retained the Ashes for the first time in 24 years - and with a match to spare - after easing to a comprehensive win in the fourth Test.
Australia, resuming 246 runs behind on 169-6 and with Ryan Harris unable to bat, were eventually dismissed for 258 before lunch on day four in Melbourne.
Chris Tremlett, Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan each took a wicket as England won by an innings and 157 runs.
The tourists are now 2-1 up with only the Sydney Test remaining.
If they avoid defeat there, England will win their first series down under since 1986/87.
It's great for me but we all know a captain's nothing without the guys who stand up and deliver under pressure
England skipper Andrew Strauss
"We've got to keep our feet on the ground because there are many goals that we want to achieve both in this series and into the future," said England captain Andrew Strauss.
"But we're very excited right now. It's a special occasion the MCG game and to come out here and retain the Ashes is something that will live long in all our memories."
Strauss was quick to heap praise on his team-mates.
"These guys deserve everything they get because the players stood up and performed when it matters," he said.
"It's great for me but we all know a captain's nothing without the guys who stand up and deliver under pressure.
"I'm not going to take the credit for this because it's not my victory, it's the team's victory."
British Prime Minister David Cameron offered his congratulations to the England team on "a brilliant performance" in Australia.
England fans' joy at retaining Ashes
"Retaining the Ashes for the first time in almost a quarter of a century marks a very special end to the year for sports fans and a great late Christmas present for the country," he said. "I look forward to welcoming them to Downing Street when they return."
Former Australian bowler Shane Warne was quick to praise the English.
Writing on his Twitter page, he said: "Congrats to the England cricket team on retaining the ashes .. It has taken 24 years for England to do it in Aust.. Well done and Congrats."
England's win in Melbourne was their biggest against Australia since 1956 and one they fully deserved after dominating their opponents with both bat and ball from the start.
Strauss's men showed immense character and skill to bounce back from a comprehensive defeat in Perth, although they were aided by a bitterly disappointing performance from Australia.
While questions surrounding Ricky Ponting's future as Australia captain are likely to intensify, his side could yet salvage a share of the spoils from a final Test that starts on 3 January.
But for that to happen the hosts would have to experience a dramatic about-turn in form and - if this evidence is anything to go by - England will not exactly be quaking in their boots.
The tourists had engineered a position of such dominance over the previous three days that both teams arrived at a sun-drenched Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday knowing the outcome was a mere formality.
With Australia staring down the barrel of a crushing home defeat by their fiercest rivals, the players were greeted by vast swathes of empty seats as they walked out at the 100,000-capacity stadium.
That said, the Barmy Army were out in force to will England over the line - and they swiftly had cause for celebration.
Fresh from tearing through Australia's middle order on day three, Bresnan got proceedings under way with a devilish over of reverse swing that had Mitchell Johnson in all sorts of trouble.
The Yorkshireman laid the foundations for an early strike, which duly arrived in the second over of the day when Tremlett swung one back into left-hander Johnson and clattered his stumps via an inside edge.
A swift end appeared likely but Peter Siddle and Brad Haddin combined doggedly to delay the inevitable.
Watchful at first, Haddin soon began to open his shoulders and moved towards a seventh Test half-century by dispatching Swann down the ground for six.
Andrew Strauss on Ashes 'holy grail'
A couple of edges narrowly eluded Paul Collingwood at slip before Siddle got in on the act with a slog-sweep over wide long-on for a maximum.
It was important for England to remain patient, and instead of taking the new ball Strauss opted to stick with the spin of Swann and swing of Bresnan. It was a move that paid dividends.
Siddle had grafted his way to a career-best score of 40 but there would be no maiden half-century after he lofted Swann to Kevin Pietersen running round from long-on.
With just one wicket needed, it arrived in the very next over, Ben Hilfenhaus caught behind off Bresnan to spark scenes of jubilation among the England players and fans alike.
Mike Gatting, the last England captain to win the Ashes down under, said success was down to the fact that the tourists have been "very well led, very well coached, very well prepared".
He added: "The great thing about winning in Australia, you have to play as a team.
The really important thing we need to do is pay credit to England and the way they played for the whole tour
Australia captain Ricky Ponting
"It's not just any one person who is going to win you the Ashes and make a huge difference. Everyone has to compete out there because you are battling against a team that is used to winning in its own back yard."
England batting coach and former captain Graham Gooch told BBC Radio 5 live: "Everyone there can be proud of their performance.
"But they won't be thinking that this is over yet. They will want to go to Sydney and finish Australia off and win the series. That was the aim at the beginning of the tour."
Defeat in Melbourne means Ponting, 36, is the first Australian skipper in 120 years to fail three times in the Ashes.
"We've learnt a lot about how to play very good Test cricket from some of the cricket that the English team have played over the last few weeks," he said.
"I'm disappointed with the way this series has gone for us so far, really disappointed at the way this week has turned out for us after having such a good week last week.
"But I think the really important thing we need to do is pay credit to England and the way they played for the whole tour."
England and Australia began the series by drawing the Brisbane Test.
England then went 1-0 up crushing the hosts by an innings and 71 runs in Adelaide, only for Australia to hit back instantly in Perth, recording a surprise 267-run victory.
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