Cook the best of England's terrific team
Titanic. In the build-up to the series, Australia obsessed about Cook's technical weaknesses, but completely neglected his mental strength. The upshot was a series that might have been torn from the sepia annals of the 1920s or 30s, as Cook booked himself in time and time again, refused to flinch when the ball passed his off stump, and ground out his runs with scarcely a false stroke in 36 hours and 11 minutes at the crease. His hundreds in Adelaide and Sydney were crucial to the cause, but it was his phenomenal performance at the Gabba that made everything else possible. His first-innings 67 was an early reassurance that things were going to be okay, his second-innings 235 not out made possible the iconic scoreline of 1 for 517, and was the prelude to a series of unfeasibly prolific run-making.
James AndersonThey said he'd never front up in Australia, they reminded him endlessly of his five wickets at 82.60 on the whitewash tour, and they scoffed at his match-winning feats with the Duke ball back in England. The Kookaburra, cloudless skies and flat Aussie pitches would neuter him, they said. They've all changed their tune now. Anderson was magnificent, right from the moment he bowled without a modicum of luck on the third day at the Gabba. At different stages of the series, and on a variety of different surfaces, he found conventional swing, conventional seam and reverse swing, and allied all of those skills to a relentless attacking line and length. Dale Steyn may be quicker and his outswinger may be the world's most wondrous fast-bowling sight. But Anderson has got the full arsenal now …
Bloodlessly brilliant from the Gabba through to Melbourne, a modern-day Chris Tavare with more runs, more shots, and just as many infuriating mannerisms that ensured he crawled right under the Australians' skins, and refused to budge. Briefly took his average in Ashes Tests to 100.83 before a duck in Sydney, but his work by then had been done, particularly in Melbourne when Australia's tea-time dismissal on the first day gave him permission to set his own tempo and crush them for an unbeaten 168 that spanned more than eight hours. His fielding was a revelation as well, and that direct-hit from midwicket to run out Simon Katich without facing in Adelaide was one of England's moments of the tour.
Yet another England quick who confounded all expectations. Tremlett's reputation preceded him for years, with Shane Warne, his former captain at Hampshire, questioning his desire while at the same time remarking that he had all the attributes to be the best fast bowler in the world. Warne's fellow Victorian, David Saker, however, took no notice of the doubters and instead backed a man with the physique of a rugby lock-forward to make a big splash on the big stage. Eight wickets on a Perth flyer was just the start of his contributions. His twin lifters to Watson and Ponting in Melbourne were superb, and it was he who had the honour of claiming the final wicket of the series to cue the mother of all celebrations.
His maiden Ashes hundred was tainted by a UDRS controversy, but there could be no quibbling with the fact that he had earned his landmark. The Shermanator of four years ago became the Terminator of 2010-11 - Shane Warne's words, not mine - a player who, pound for pound, looked the most fluent and classy batsman operating on either side. England persistently batted him too low in the order, so that on the two occasions when he really looked the part, at the Gabba and in Perth, he ran out of partners before he could make his form count. But in his fourth Ashes campaign, he transformed his reputation, and by 2013, he'll be ready to be the big noise.
Started the series with a wafty drive to set up Peter Siddle's hat-trick, but finished with a brutal century to hoist England to their highest ever total in Ashes campaigns in Australia. In between whiles he did what he had to do with scarcely a foot out of place. His six catches in the Melbourne rout equalled the Ashes record, and his final tally of 23 was a testament both to his improved standards with the gloves, and to the number of opportunities that England's relentless attack created.
The first captain to defend the Ashes in Australia since Mike Brearley in 1978-79, Strauss has earned his place in the English sporting pantheon, but he had to do it the hard way. His flapped cut to gully from the third ball of the series was a staggering moment of theatre that threatened to topple the equilibrium of his team, but Strauss to his immense credit blocked out the bad juju and responded with the first of England's nine centuries in the series. Thereafter he was the rapier to Cook's bludgeon, dealing in momentum-seizing cameos, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney (once he'd worked out the right length to leave on these pitches). On-field leadership was rarely spectacular, but it rarely needed to be either.
Aside from one formidable double-hundred in Adelaide, it was a series of missed opportunities for Pietersen, whose fury at his shortcomings was never more obvious than during the Perth defeat. Nevertheless, he served his purpose superbly in the series, not least because the Australians spent so long in the build-up obsessing about the threat he posed, they completely neglected to take any attention of the rest of the top-order, least of all the key man Cook. He struggled to be the ultimate team player, with Lamborghini escapades, Twitter rants and attention-seeking press comments all causing a fuss at various moments of the trip, but he was never anything less than professional in his preparations - as has always been the case.
Extraordinarily effective when he was given his chance in Melbourne, Bresnan was not only England's fastest seamer in the final two Tests, he was also the most consistent reverse-swinger, and relentlessly hostile from a full, stump-threatening length with a hint of jag off the deck. The lessons learned on the pudding decks of Bangladesh in March held him in good stead for the biggest moment of his career, in front of 85,000 expectant punters on Boxing Day, and he brought the house down in both innings - not least with his 3 for 2 in 18 balls in the second dig. He made a cameo with the bat in Sydney to remind everyone of his allround potential, which might come in handy on the slow decks of Sri Lanka next winter.
Graeme Swann Less of a match-winner than might have been anticipated, but on the one occasion he was really obliged to front up, he duly did so, with five second-innings wickets in the innings win at Adelaide. Michael Hussey kept him under the pump in the early exchanges, taking a shine to him in Brisbane before beating him clean out of the attack in Perth, but the festive Tests provided the stage for the showman to return. His spell of 22 overs for 23 runs in Melbourne was one of the finest spells of attacking yet containing spin bowling since Warne was in his pomp. On a separate note, Swanny's video diary gets 10 out of 10 for providing the most candid dressing-room insights imaginable.
Two wickets at 80.50 and a first-ball duck were hardly the returns that Broad would have envisaged when he set about emulating the Ashes-winnings feats of his father Chris in 1986-87. Nevertheless, his influence on the squad was massive in those opening two games, and only properly appreciated in hindsight, when England regrouped after the Perth defeat and returned to their original game plan of bowling for maidens and suffocating their opponents into mistakes. Broad's economy rate of 2.30 was never bettered in the course of the series, but as things turned out, the reserve seamers were well enough drilled to cover for his absence.
At the age of 21, his time will surely come again, and when it does, he will have the memory of six first-innings wickets at the Gabbatoir to remind him that his temperament is rock-solid. Fronted up brilliantly in Adelaide as well, sharing the new ball when Broad went lame and making sure that England's perfect performance did not peter out in disappointment. By Perth he was looking jaded, and his inability to hit the right length for the conditions was a key reason why Australia wriggled off the hook and were able to transform the contest. But he'll know better for next time. And for the time after that ...
An extra mark for sentimentality? Or for recognition that team spirit is a fundamental requirement on a tour as arduous as an Ashes campaign, and this is a man who possesses it in spades? Collingwood's batting form was woeful throughout the series, and had he not chosen to retire from Test cricket in Sydney, his tally of 83 runs in six innings would probably have done the deed for him by next summer. But his tidy offcutters claimed the invaluable scalp of Hussey in Sydney, while his catching was invaluable. Of his nine takes, the most by any outfielder on either team, none was more symbolic than the salmon leap at Perth to scythe down Ponting. Keeping Australia's captain under lock and key was an integral factor in England's success.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.