England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 5th day September 12, 2005

The urn has turned

Shane Warne: scrapped to the end, but his dropped catch proved crucial © Getty Images
Australia did not give up the Ashes with a whimper. The only problem was that Kevin Pietersen's bang was bigger and his century and the crowd straining over Jerusalem will ring in Ricky Ponting's ears until the next series in 2006-07.

For two sessions Ponting eyed a miracle through his chief magicians as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath zeroed in on the greatest of escapes. The third was the decider for Australia as they forfeited the game's most cherished prize and ended a golden era with another debate over bad light.

Ponting laughed at the start of the tour when asked if he'd be the man to lose the Ashes. He now has to carry the title around like the scar on his cheek from the opening morning at Lord's. It will be a big burden after 16 years of ownership through Border, Taylor and Waugh. Months of post-mortems will re-examine the faults of a flawed campaign in which desire was heightened when the side was at its most desperate.

Day five was the most crucial of a pulsating series and Warne and McGrath, playing their final Test hours in England, showed a vampire-like tendency to keep the team alive. Both men walked out after lunch with arms around each other's shoulders, having floored England with four wickets in the first session.

Michael Vaughan's side should never have been in danger of giving up a match hampered by rain and bad light, but McGrath almost dished up a hat-trick - the third ball narrowly missed Pietersen's glove on the way to his shoulder - and Warne dumped Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Flintoff. Australia's two most successful bowlers had breathed fire and silenced a crowd intent on celebration.

Ricky Ponting in reflective mood on the final afternoon © Getty Images
Warne was adamant throughout the series that he would leave England with an untarnished record, but despite capturing 12 wickets for the match and 40 for the series, it was his spill of Pietersen on 15 that will be hardest to erase. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden both got hands to a difficult chance on zero, as did Shaun Tait on 60, but Pietersen's edge off Brett Lee flew straight to Warne. It was an unfair moment considering his brilliant series and he leaves as the most successful bowler in England with 172 victims.

Throughout the afternoon Warne tried bravely for redemption, but the innings ended with him again at McGrath's side and a host of what-might-have-beens? It was that sort of series for Australia. The two-run loss at Edgbaston, a clutch of missed catches, wickets from no-balls and a slow response to England's dramatic improvement.

The upshot for Australia was a series of reverse. Swing that proved unplayable highlighted the decline of a team that was at the front of the game for a decade. And with Warne and McGrath on their last rounds of the world's grounds there will be further huge holes to fill. McGrath signed off with a superb leg-cutter to bowl Pietersen while Warne decided it was time for another Englishman to be bowled around his legs, picking on Ashley Giles before adding Steve Harmison's edge.

Australia deserve to be admired for their regular refusal to die in this series, but the urn has turned. In the commentary box Richie Benaud said "it was time to say goodbye". He was referring to England viewers following 42 summers in their lounge rooms. After 16 years the same applied to Australia and the Ashes.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo