England retain Ashes urn
Melbourne - England retained the Ashes with a crushing innings and 157-run win in the fourth Test Wednesday, breaking a 24-year away drought in the series and leaving Australian captain Ricky Ponting's future in doubt.
The holders' biggest win over Australia since 1956 put them an unbeatable 2-1 up with one to play, almost a quarter of a century after Mike Gatting's team claimed the series 2-1 in 1986-87 in England's last triumph in Australia.
Australia's humiliation was complete when Ben Hilfenhaus was the last man out before lunch on the fourth morning at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, caught behind off Tim Bresnan for a duck after Ryan Harris was unable to bat because of an ankle injury.
"Winning the Ashes in Australia has always been a bit of a Holy Grail for English sides," skipper Andrew Strauss said.
"We haven't won the Ashes yet but we obviously retain the urn which has been one of our primary goals and the guys deserve everything they get because the players stood up and performed when it mattered."
There was only going to be one outcome after Australia were routed for a miserable ground record low of 98 on Sunday's opening day after Strauss had won the toss and put the Australians in to bat on a greenish wicket.
The English responded with a towering 513 to hold a match-winning 415-run innings lead which Australia found totally beyond them.
British Prime Minister David Cameron congratulated the England team for their "brilliant performance" while British newspapers said the Ashes triumph was well-merited.
"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," Cameron said in a statement from his office.
Australian skipper Ponting paid tribute to the tourists for their high standard of play throughout the tour.
"Apart from the third Perth Test, they've played a really high level of cricket the whole way through, not only this series, but the tour games as well. Credit to them for the way they prepared," he said
The crushing loss will heap further pressure on embattled Ponting. It was the Australian skipper's third failure to win an Ashes series following his earlier defeats in England in 2005 and last year.
Bresnan finished as England's best bowler with 4-50 off 21.4 overs, while England number three Jonathan Trott was named man-of-the-match for his unbeaten 168.
In 1986 England won the series and the Ashes after an innings and 14-run victory at the MCG.
Australia can still level the series if they can win next week's fifth Sydney Test, but the Ashes are gone.
"Our objective was to come out here and win the series, so we haven't achieved that yet," Strauss said.
"It's very reassuring to know that the Ashes are going to remain in England for the next couple of years, but it would leave a very sour taste in the mouth if we weren't able to go on and convert our position into a series win in Sydney."
England last won at the MCG in 1998 with Dean Headley taking 6-60 in the second innings as the tourists won by just 12 nail-biting runs.
The heavy defeat was only Australia's second in their last 12 MCG Tests, the previous coming two years ago against South Africa by nine wickets.
It was England's 20th win in 54 Ashes Tests at the MCG.
A small crowd, dominated by the celebrating Barmy Army and other English supporters, witnessed the final rites with the Australian fans giving up on a lost cause.
British newspapers said England comprehensively outplayed the lacklustre Aussies and were deserved winners.
"This represents a triumph, the vindication of months of hard work and planning," said The Times.
English commentators rubbed their hands with glee at the poor showing by the Australians, with The Guardian branding them "rudderless and among the also-rans."
Ponting, who is expected to hold on to the captaincy for next week's Sydney Test, fitness permitting with his fractured little finger, said he hoped history would not only focus on his three Ashes defeats.
"The fact that I've lost those three Test series is disappointing for me," he said.
"Hopefully, I am not only remembered as the guy that lost those three Ashes series, there's lot of other great things I've been part of in my career."