ENGLAND descended to defeat by an innings and 46 runs in the fifth Investec Test yesterday to narrow the margin of their 2015 Ashes series success to 3-2.
The hosts lost their last four wickets for 83 runs either side of a two-hour rain break on day four at The Oval, and were bowled out for 286.
They knew, of course, irrespective of their performance in this epilogue Test, that they would be holding the urn up to a packed crowd at the conclusion. But there was a hollower ring to celebrations for Alastair Cook’s team, after Moeen Ali was last out to Peter Siddle to confirm them significantly second-best here.
Siddle (four for 35) made the first breakthrough of an increasingly overcast day, under floodlights in his second over with the second new ball.
He beat Mark Wood’s forward prod and overturned an initial not-out lbw decision on DRS.
Jos Buttler had worked hard the previous evening, alongside Cook, to regain form in the attempted rearguard. But he gave it all away disappointingly eight short of his 50, to the 107th ball he faced, when he chipped Mitch Marsh on the up to a tumbling mid-off. In the match context, it was a strange mode of dismissal.
Moeen and Stuart Broad then batted for ten overs together – long enough for the forecast rain to arrive and delay the inevitable. But Broad lasted only five more minutes, on the resumption, bowled off-stump after missing a drive at the admirable Siddle.
The last act of an oddly uneven series then came when Moeen wafted an edge behind off the same bowler.
For Michael Clarke, the match marked a winning end to the Australia captain’s fine career.
Clarke has had a bittersweet relationship with England over the ten years he has been coming to these shores.
He has been on the losing side in all four of his Ashes tours, and success in his final Test took his overall record to a still-modest four wins in 20 attempts.
But he also looks back on those contests as some of the hardest, and most rewarding he has played and the lingering ovation he received as he left the field of play for the final time was a touching moment.
“The 2005 Ashes series was my favourite series to be a part of and we lost, but it really opened my eyes to how hard Test match cricket is and how tough it is to win in this country,” he reflected.
“I love coming to this part of the world. It’s a fantastic country and the fans love their cricket, they love seeing England beat Australia and so they should, but to show the amount of respect they have done for me I am forever grateful.”
Cook, meanwhile, conceded to a little disappointment at events on the pitch yesterday but none that would stop the champagne corks popping in the England dressing room and long into the night.
The captain – whose team are up to third in the world rankings, just behind Australia, with South Africa at the top – said: “Of course, we’d love to be sitting here at 4-1 rather than 3-2.
“But credit to Australia, they showed how good a team they are. It’s a little bit disappointing, but I’m not going to worry about it too much tonight.”