Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 5th day December 18, 2006

Australia earn the urn's return

The celebrations: "Group hugs with lost-sibling intensity" © Getty Images

Following the pain of the past 18 months Australia now have a chance to never let the Ashes go. For only the second occasion since the urn set up camp at Lord's it is residing Down Under and given today's passionate re-capture a baggy-green picket line might be set up when Marylebone Cricket Club attempt to fly the symbolic prize home from its exhibition.

With the 3-0 victory Australia have restored the recent Ashes order and the 2005 contest has been consigned to one-off status. Once again the game's oldest rivalry is lop-sided and it is easy to wonder if the previous result happened. The Australians have been trying to forget it while using it for revenge and their confusion has worked spectacularly.

The group hugs with lost-sibling intensity began in the Super Series a month after The Oval and the suffocating power of today's embrace two balls after lunch will leave bruises. Shane Warne bowled Monty Panesar to seal the series and two huddles formed immediately before magnetically drawing together. The two England batsmen waited so long for handshakes they started for the dressing room before the jubilant Warne noticed and jogged over.

Ricky Ponting clapped above his head and threw one-armed punches on the lap of honour. Australian flags draped from Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden while Adam Gilchrist pogo-ed for his home supporters. The prize is Australia's and all the forward planning that began in Melbourne the week after they returned from England led to those moments. All the post-mortems, changes in attitude, additions to the coaching staff, text messages, team meetings and boot camps.

On the previous England tour it took 11 days to settle the prize and this time it was extended to 15. The WACA has been the venue on both occasions and a half-full stadium with a boisterous Barmy Army was a strange place for Australia's quest to end. The hills were sprinkled with supporters rather than jammed. The host's flag fluttered only in a couple of pockets while the symbols of England and the United Kingdom were linked like dominoes at the Prindiville End.

When the five wickets weren't falling the Barmy Army provided the noise and it appeared most of the national pride had been imported. The Fanatics, Australia's all-purpose response to the Barmy Army, were a Monday platoon instead of patriotic battalion and the inevitably of the contest's direction diluted the local emotions until Panesar was removed. Then the Australians found their full voices.

A young boy on the way to the ground wanted England to make it a contest; his mate was desperate for a 3-0 demolition. A group in Queen's Gardens didn't mind how long it took. "I just want to be here to see it," one said. "If it finishes early we go to the nets this afternoon." England's resolve for improvement has not been as strong.

Ricky Ponting: "Surely it's got to be too frail to fly back" © Getty Images

On the field there was no danger of the Australians under-estimating their performance. They skipped and ran through the gate to start the morning and when balls narrowly missed the edge the cordon bounced. Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen held them up in the first session but once the victory procession started with Warne's dismissal of Flintoff they sparked like bushfires.

Ponting received most of the criticism after giving up the Ashes in 2005 and the urgency with which he moved in the field showed how desperate he was to rectify the error. His stunning run-out of Geraint Jones, when he flicked from silly mid-off with the reflexes of an indoor cricketer, set him off to midwicket at the speed of one of his greyhounds. It was an incredible split-second reaction.

As his team-mates danced in victory Ponting sprung towards the dressing room, clapping in self and team applause. He deserved the moment, the wonky grins and the compliments of the crowd. A beer with his mates followed and the question about the resting place of the urn was raised.

"Surely it's got to be too frail to fly back," Ponting said. "It's been here for a month so it's got to be even worse. It'd look pretty good in Cricket Australia's office." Keeping the urn in Australia will be harder than regaining the Ashes.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo