The fulfilment of a boyhood dream
As we sat on the pitch long after the conclusion of the Oval Test, an appreciation of what we had achieved began to settle upon us.
Sitting in that group, it felt as if I was part of something special. To win the Ashes - and go unbeaten for the first time in an Ashes series since 1977 - alongside the likes of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann - players whose records will, I think, stand the test of time - has been the fulfilment of a boyhood dream and something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I feel lucky to have been a part of it and lucky to be part of such a strong team.
This has been the summer of my career. The year 2011 was great, with runs against Sri Lanka and India, but to contribute in an Ashes victory is what you dream about when you're growing up. I've heard people say that the 2013 series may, in years to come, be known as "Bell's Ashes" in the same way that 1981 is known as "Botham's Ashes". All I can say is that if that does happen, I would consider it an incredible honour.
Even as I sat on the pitch the other night, my mind reflected on all those people who had helped me get to that position. There was Neal Abberley, for so long my batting coach at Warwickshire; there was Bob Woolmer, the inspirational director of cricket at the same club; there was John Inverarity, who helped us win the County Championship in 2004 and is now chairman of selectors for Australia; and there is Graham Gooch. There is no way I could have achieved all that I have without their help.
Abberley has been the key influence on my career. Whether I was scoring hundreds for England or ducks for Warwickshire, whether I had been selected or been dropped, whether it was a beautiful day or raining outside, he was always there to help me with my batting, he always believed in me. And Warwickshire, as a club, always celebrated my success and welcomed me back. Sadly Abbers, like Wolly, is no longer with us, but I was thinking of both of them on Sunday night and I will forever be grateful for their influence in my life.
One of the other men who has shaped me as a cricketer is Andy Flower. He has been outstanding for England since he was appointed at the start of 2009. He has instilled a toughness, a non-negotiable attitude towards improving fitness, and he has given our cricket an edge that I believe was lacking previously.
But at the same time, he is wonderfully calm in the dressing room. He insists you give your best at all times, but as long as you do, he is completely supportive, he keeps things simple and he provides small targets to ensure focus and discipline.
One of the first decisions he made when he became coach in 2009 was to drop me. It was a horrible moment, but I owe so much to that decision as it drove me to become a better player. I think the records show that I averaged 40.59 in Test cricket before that happened and 53.58 afterwards.
Even when Andy was leaving me out - and he has left me out of a few sides along the way - I felt he wanted me in the team and that the decision had been made for my betterment. He just felt there were aspects of the game I needed to work on and that I would come back hungrier, fitter and better prepared. He was quite right and I'm grateful for the strength he had in making that decision and his support in helping me improve.
It's not for me to talk about Andy's future but, whatever he does decide to do next, I believe his place in the records is assured. He has been the best coach England have ever had and he has played a key part in the success we have had.
Whatever happens next, though, I feel England are quite well placed for the future. In the team and the coaching staff, there is an element of succession planning that is designed to ensure sustained success. So although there is an experienced spine to this team - the side could have four players with 100 Test caps in a year or two - there are younger guys, such as Joe Root, coming in and refreshing it. The balance is good.
It's the same with the coaching. Ashley Giles spends a lot of time with the squad. So if and when Andy decides he wants to move on, there will be a smooth transition and not a huge culture change. It's sensible management.
We saw a couple of guys come into the team in this last Test. Chris Woakes showed he has a good temperament and he would have surprised a few people with his batting. He has a lot of skill as a bowler, too, and I can see no reason why he can't develop into an allrounder, batting in the top six or seven and operating as a fourth seamer.
I know what a good bowler Simon Kerrigan is, too. I was his maiden first-class wicket and since then have somewhat become his bunny: he must have got me out three or four times. He had a tough debut but he is only 24 and just has to look at the example of Graeme Swann, who did not peak until his late 20s, to see there is plenty of time for him. He'll be back.
People have asked me many times what I have done differently this year. The answer is nothing. The only thing I am doing differently is writing for ESPNcricinfo! I haven't changed my technique much since I made my Test debut in 2004. The thing that has changed, over time, is my self-belief. When I look back now, I'm not sure I really had the confidence to succeed in Test cricket when I started.
I'm going to be taking some time off now. It would have been difficult to focus on limited-overs cricket with my mind still so fresh with Ashes memories and, to be honest, still thinking about the next five Tests we have against Australia. I will be popping in to Edgbaston to see my Warwickshire team-mates, but I won't be playing. I need a break.
It's a shame that some stories have emerged that might overshadow our success. As far as I'm concerned, nothing that went on after the game the other day is a big deal and it would be a shame if a wonderful summer for England was not remembered as it should be. This is a great time for English cricket. Let's celebrate that.
Ian Bell was speaking to George Dobell
A fixture in England's middle order for almost a decade, Ian Bell has played in four Ashes-winning sides