A chasm yawns wide
As England ground Australia into the dust of Lord's, an odd atmosphere settled over the home of English cricket. In a place where Australia went unbeaten for 75 years, where they lost only four wickets in beating England by an innings in 1993, where Bradman and Border and Massie and McGrath had provoked such misery, there was a realisation of how far England have come and how far their oldest foe has fallen. There was a realisation that a chasm has developed between these two sides.
If that sounds like hyperbole then consider the statistics. England have now won four Tests in a row against Australia. Two of those victories have come by innings margins, another by nearly 350 runs. Where once England went into Ashes series with the pathetically modest ambition of 'competing' with Australia, they now seek to dominate. By the end of this series, they may well be resting players for sterner tests to come.
This is a highly significant moment in English cricket. Rightly or wrongly, Ashes series continue to provide the barometer of English cricket and, on this evidence, it is in fine fettle. While Australia are, arguably, at as low an ebb as they have ever been, England's achievements should not be diminished.
This is the manifestation of years of change in the structure of the domestic game and is rooted in brave decisions taken long ago by half-forgotten committee men. It is due to the introduction of central contracts, four-day cricket, promotion and relegation, investment in A tours, facilities and coaching and the realisation that, after years of defeats, things had to change. Luck has nothing to do with it.
It will not always be like this. Australia are a proud sporting nation with a plethora of natural athletes. It may take some time, but they will recover. It may well be that we come to reflect on these days as the golden age of English cricket.
The bad news for Australia, in the shorter term at least, is that England can play better than this. While they have played some fine cricket in this match, a few of their batsmen are still searching for their best form and Graeme Swann, for all his wickets, is feeling his way back after a series of injury lay-offs.
On a helpful pitch, Swann sometimes looked a little frustrated at Lord's. While he produced some terrific deliveries - he beat Michael Clarke, a renown player of spin, in the flight and should have had him stumped but for a fumble from Matt Prior and foxed Usman Khawaja so often that is almost constituted torture - he was not, by his own very high standards, absolutely at his best.
Since his most recent operation - the second he has undergone on his right elbow - Swann has worked hard on his fitness and looks trimmer than for some years. Due to an unsympathetic schedule, however, he has played only five first-class games this summer - four of them Tests - and has had little chance to settle into the rhythm that has made him so dangerous in the past. Still, to bowl just a little below his best and claim nine wickets in the match is not a bad effort. There is no reason why he will not bowl even better in Manchester.
Statistics rarely tell the full story. Just ask Stuart Broad who bowled particularly well in this Test yet claimed only one wicket. Generating sharp pace, he twice hit Clarke - once full on the badge of his helmet - and maintained a wonderfully nagging line and length while gaining as much movement as any seamer in the game. His fragility remains a concern, but Broad's bowling has returned to the standard it reached in the UAE nearly 18 months ago.
There is room for improvement in England's batting, too. England's opening partnerships in this series - 27, 11, 18 and 22 - have been modest and in this Test they recovered from 28 for 3 in the first innings and 30 for 3 in the second. But it says much for England's dominance in this series that Kevin Pietersen's possible absence from Manchester is not provoking the concern that it did in 2009 or 2012.
It remains to be seen how Australia react to this defeat. The efforts of their tenth-wicket pair suggest there is still defiance in their dressing room but, until that moment, it appeared a light had gone out in Australian cricket. There is precedent in a side coming from 2-0 down to win a five-match series - it happened in the Ashes series of 1936-37 when Australia prevailed 3-2 - but this Australia side contains no Bradman. It is not a realistic scenario.
England look too strong. Joe Root has now cemented his position at the top of the order and is a fast-improving second spinner, Ian Bell is in the form of his life and the return of Tim Bresnan allowed England to play a remorseless brand of cricket that suffocates opposition. Half of the overs Bresnan delivered on the final day were maidens and his reliability provided no release of pressure for Australia. England may not be the prettiest or most eye-catching opponent, but they have developed a relentless style of cricket that renders them painfully difficult to defeat. It will take a miracle to deny them the Ashes from here.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo