Graeme Swann struck in the nick of time to complete England’s 347-run victory inside four days and ensure they moved 2-0 up in the Investec Ashes series without the hassle of any unfinished business at Lord’s this morning.
Australia’s last pair of Ryan Harris and James Pattinson took their hosts to within three deliveries – even after an extra half-hour – of having to return to complete a final-day formality in the second Test.
Instead, after Joe Root had added two telling wickets to his 180 runs, England are already within one more Test success of winning the Ashes next month for a third consecutive time.
Australia – set a mammoth world-record 583 to win here or more realistically the challenge of survival for almost six sessions – always appeared certain losers at some stage, especially after three wickets went for 12 runs before lunch and then three more for just two almost on the stroke of tea.
But numbers 10 and 11, stubborn in the extreme after 30 runs had also been added for the ninth wicket, defied England for more than an hour and 14 overs until Pattinson was lbw on the back-foot defence to become Swann’s ninth wicket of the match as Australia were dismissed for 235.
Root had to settle for only two more runs today, but then intervened with the ball too as, in his secondary guise as increasingly effective back-up to front-line off-spinner Swann (four for 78), he broke Australia’s afternoon resistance.
Captain Michael Clarke (51) and Usman Khawaja (54) responded to lunchtime adversity in a stand of 98, only for both to go in successive Root overs.
There was still plenty of graft ahead for the hosts to take four more wickets, particularly as those 73 runs were added for the last two, but they just about managed to eke their way through the tail. England had declared on 349 for seven, and then unleashed Swann to help close out victory on a wearing pitch.
James Anderson gave them their first breakthrough, Shane Watson lbw in predictable fashion – for the 10th time in 19 innings against England – pushing forward in defence, but missing an inswinger.
Swann was called into the attack for only the 10th over and England’s most obvious wicket-taker in these conditions struck for the first time with only his fifth delivery.
Australia’s legion of left-handers were doubtless having nightmares about the rough outside their off-stump and what Swann might do with it.
Chris Rogers was surely mindful of that when he left an arm ball and was bowled off stump. Phil Hughes also went to Swann before lunch, lbw to an off-break which turned only marginally but enough to beat bat and be headed for leg stump – a point proven by Hawkeye as Australia lost their first review.
Had Matt Prior then completed an easy stumping when Clarke went on the charge and missed a Swann arm ball, the Australia captain would have been gone for two out of 38 for four.
Instead, he and Khawaja battled on until, after 17 straight overs from the nursery end, Swann was replaced by Root.
Alastair Cook brought himself in at leg slip for the new bowler, and two balls later the captain took the reaction catch when Clarke guided it to him. Khawaja soon failed to cover the exaggerated turn and a sharp catch flew to gully off Root; then Tim Bresnan had Steve Smith inside-edging to Prior.
DRS could not save him, but it did help England overturn Marais Erasmus’ not-out verdict against Ashton Agar when he was also caught behind.
Root had earlier fallen short of his double century, as England, who lost just two wickets in the entire third day, did likewise in 15 minutes this morning.
After Jonny Bairstow was caught-behind to end a stand of 62 and then Prior poked a simple return chance back to Agar only to be dropped on one, Root himself succumbed.
His attempt at a cheeky ramp shot over his left shoulder off Harris looped down to third man to give the Australia seamer two wickets in four balls and end Root’s near eight-hour stay, as well as the England innings.
Thanks to Swann, however, it all worked out fine in the end and the balance of power in this summer’s Ashes rests emphatically with England.