Single-minded: Strauss wants England to become the world's top Test team after retaining the Ashes [GALLO/GETTY]

England's imperious innings-and-157-run victory in the fourth Test in Melbourne not only retained the Ashes for the tourists but plunged a declining Australia side into a painful period of introspection.
 
The victory, completed before lunch on the fourth day, gave holders England an unassailable 2-1 lead in the five-Test series and made Andrew Strauss's team the first to take the Ashes home since the Mike Gatting-led triumph of 1986/87.

Then, as now, the venue of the decisive victory was the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a hulking coliseum where England had enjoyed precious few victories in preceding years.

On Wednesday, however, it resembled a Lord's or a Headingley, with thousands of English supporters clad in white and red chanting joyously in the stands as the tourists completed a stunning rout of their former tormentors.

The England players embraced and pumped their fists in the air upon the dismissal of the hapless Ben Hilfenhaus, caught behind for a duck off Tim Bresnan's bowling, as Australia were all out for 258.

But the touring captain warned that, as highly prized as victory against Australia is to English hearts, it was not yet the pinnacle for his side.

Currently ranked third in the world, England must overhaul South Africa and India to become the top Test team.

Businesslike
 
"English cricket is not just about winning the Ashes," said Strauss, whose 'no complacency' mantra has been taken fully to heart by his businesslike side.

"We've got a lot of small steps on the way for us, including India next summer.

"I get the feeling we can still improve a lot as a side and that's quite motivating."

"We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our fans around Australia to bounce back quickly and show a bit of pride in what we do for our country. Although we can't win the Ashes, there's a good chance for us to level the series"

Ricky Ponting, Australia captain

Ricky Ponting was gracious in defeat, but it was all pain and regret for the Australian skipper, who also lost on tour in 2005 and last year, as his woeful form at the crease mirrored the side's greater batting struggles.

"Hopefully I'm not just remembered as that guy, the guy who lost those three Ashes series... I guess this result here is not one of my proudest," he said.

Speculation has been rife that the 36-year-old might relinquish the captaincy in disappointment, but Ponting said he would continue to fight for Australia's leadership, even as the side faces years of rebuilding to regain their former standing.

"It's out of my control," the under-fire skipper said of his tenure at the helm, as selectors prepare to choose the side for the fifth Test in Sydney.

Australia had resumed on 169 for six, still facing a 246-run deficit to make England bat again but lost their remaining wickets shortly before lunch with a day and a half left to play.
 
Chris Tremlett shattered Mitchell Johnson's stumps for six, while Peter Siddle defiantly slogged his way to 40 before belting a lofted drive off Graeme Swann straight to Kevin Pietersen at long on.
 
The injured Ryan Harris did not take his place in the side, while wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who had refused to gift his wickets cheaply like so many of his playing partners at the top of the order, was left stranded on 55 not out.

Harris is to undergo surgery on a fractured ankle and could be out of action for four months, Cricket Australia said on Wednesday, effectively ruling him out of next year's limited-overs World Cup.

Bresnan, called into the side for Steve Finn, was the pick of England's bowlers in the second innings, finishing with 4-50 after ripping through Australia's top order after tea on day three to quash the hosts' slim hopes of salvaging a draw.

He and Tremlett, who replaced the injured Stuart Broad for the lost Perth Test, made vital contributions in an England side whose collective efforts trumped an Australian team too often forced to rely on brilliant cameos.

The win was also a stunning turnaround from Perth, where England slumped to a 267-run defeat that levelled the series 1-1.

Mirage

Australia's resurgence on the fast WACA wicket before Christmas proved little more than a mirage when their batsmen, brittle throughout the series, were skittled on Boxing Day for a first innings total of 98, a record low against the tourists at the MCG.

England pressed the advantage by romping to 157-0 on the first day and anchored by a sublime unbeaten 168 by Jonathan Trott, who was named man of the match, posted a first innings total of 513 on day three.

Trott also scored a century in the first Brisbane Test in a record stand with Alastair Cook.

His performance in Melbourne echoed his brilliant 119 on debut at the fifth Test at the Oval that helped England seal the home series last year.

"We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our fans around Australia to bounce back quickly and show a bit of pride in what we do for our country," Ponting said of the final Test in Sydney next week.

"Although we can't win the Ashes, there's a good chance for us to level the series."

Source: Agencies