On the brink of something special
Michael Vaughan praised the character of his team and admitted that England "were on the brink of something special" after their nerve-shredding three-wicket in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, a result that carried them into a 2-1 series lead and to within touching distance of their first Ashes series win since 1986-87.
"Anyone who expected England to stroll after watching the previous three games should probably have realised it was going to be hard work," said a relieved Vaughan in the post-match press conference. "Shane Warne and Brett Lee bowled really, really well but full credit to our team. Once again they produced a performance of high standard and really put Australia under pressure for sustained periods."
"Simon Jones bowled exceptionally well in the first innings, so after losing him, the bowlers in the second innings deserve a lot of credit," added Vaughan. "They kept running in on a placid wicket that was really very slow. We had to use all our resources to whittle out those ten wickets and restrict them to a total where we only had to chase 130."
Even so, that target almost proved too much, as England's top-order imploded in the face of Shane Warne and Brett Lee. "When you're chasing a total of 220, you tend to bat time," explained Vaughan, "A lot of teams have done similar to us in the past, when they've lost a few wickets trying to play their shots. The bowlers get a bit of momentum and the pressure mounts and sometimes it can be tricky. But I'm just delighted we got over the line. To go 2-1 up in an Ashes series is not something we've done for a long, long time."
The obvious question on everyone's lips is now: Can England win the Ashes. "We're playing good cricket," said an understandably evasive Vaughan. "Challenges have been thrown at us over the last few weeks and we've done alright in the last few. The Oval I'm sure will be an epic like the last three. Can we do it for the last game? I'm not too sure if we can but sure we will do."
If the match was unbearable for the spectators, then Vaughan was quick to remind them that the real nerve-jangler has already been and gone. "It was tense, but it wasn't as tense as being out on that pitch at Edgbaston that Sunday morning," he said, still wincing at the horrific alternative universe that the team flirted with that day. "It helps that we've won games like this before - we chased down runs against New Zealand here last year. We've liked to have won by a few more wickets, but that wasn't to be."
Vaughan added that he'd been happy enough to enforce the follow-on, despite the risks it entailed. "At the time there were clouds about and it had swung nicely in the morning, and we expected the same in the afternoon. But to lose Simon Jones, ten overs in, was a huge blow, so full credit to the remaining four bowlers and Ian Bell. To restrict them to 40-odd in a session this morning was a tremendous effort on that wicket."
Ricky Ponting, meanwhile, rued his team's first-day performance as he faced up to the reality of Australia's situation - that they need to win at The Oval next month to save the Ashes. "It's difficult to cope when you've given away too big a start," he admitted. "We didn't make as many as we should, and ended up with our backs against the wall. If I'm being realistic, we once again got closer than we should have done.
"The fight was there but not for long enough," Ponting continued. "England have been on top from the moment the last ball of the first Test was bowled and now we've got no option. If the guys can't get up for a game like the one we've got coming up, then they shouldn't be playing."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo