The deal is sealed
Sydney, New South Wales
Not many parties start at 11.57 on a Friday morning and end without tears. This one will.
Knowing with certainty that England were going to wrap up the Ashes with their third crushing win of the series did not make the denouement one tiny bit less sweet. When Chris Tremlett's fast, bouncing delivery cannoned off the bottom edge of Michael Beer's bat and splattered his stumps, it was the cue for scenes of English delight and delirium unprecedented at this august old sporting theatre.
Tremlett, a giant of a man, disappeared under a bouncing scrum of team-mates clutching souvenir stumps. All around the boundary, English supporters cavorted and sang. The batsman sighed, grimaced at his partner Steve Smith and turned for the pavilion.
They say you can't beat the feeling of sinking the first Beer of the day. Thousands of England fans are currently doing their best to prove that old theory wrong.
England won by an innings and 83 runs. Some had hoped for a series win down under. Others had feared the usual sound thumping. No-one expected anything as comprehensive as this.
Anderson takes a catch in the deep to remove Siddle to the delight of the Barmy Army. Photo: Getty
It was as if every ex-pat in the country had decided to be there. Beaches, backpacker dorms and Bondi bars were emptied, this corner of a foreign field for once entirely England.
The happy hordes had begun arriving at the ground hours before the start of play, splashing through the early morning puddles and queuing patiently while others piled up behind them.
The playlist was eclectic. The party-goers warmed up with Jerusalem and God Save the Queen, kicked on with Rule Britannia and Swing Low and then let rip with The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the theme from Rocky and that rather saucy version of Waltzing Matilda.
No incident was too inconsequential to cheer, no opportunity spurned for mockery of the vanquished Aussies. Monty Panesar came out to practise his fielding and was greeted like an all-conquering prize fighter. Alastair Cook saved a single to roars almost as loud as those that met his century. Mitchell Johnson was briefly spotted on the Australian balcony, heard the unfortunate song about his action starting up and swiftly went back in.
Showers briefly delayed the inevitable. So did a frantic, boy-on-burning-deck half century from Steve Smith. No-one minded. Nothing was going to rain on this parade.
Peter Siddle was the first to go, slogging Graeme Swann to James Anderson in the deep. Ben Hilfenhaus was next, edging Anderson behind for Matt Prior's record-breaking 23th catch of the series.
There were almost mixed emotions for some. Much as they wanted it to be over, they also wanted it to carry on. It's been a long wait. Why end the entertainment so soon?
Just in time to spotlight the celebrations, the sun broke through the clouds. Barmy Army bugler Billy Cooper sounded the Last Post. A few seconds later, Tremlett broke through Beer's defences and England's most comprehensive Ashes victory of the modern era was complete.
There should be something slightly ridiculous about a grown man trying to lift the smallest trophy in sport, let alone someone who has forearms like hams. Andrew Strauss looked like he could deal with it.
As fountains of red and silver glitter exploded on either side, the skipper and his team-mates bellowed at the blue skies above and let all the emotion and exhaustion of the last six weeks escape.
"To win the Ashes here in style will be something which will live long in my memory," admitted Strauss afterwards, jogging a valedictory lap of honour around the boundary. "It's been an amazing tour. I'm very, very proud of what we've done."
England's heroes, urn in hand, revel in the historic victory. Photo: AP
Alastair Cook, man of the match and indisputably player of the series, looked a little stunned. "An amazing day, and an amazing seven weeks," he said, shaking his head. "If someone had told me I could do this I'd have laughed in their face. I think it's going to take me a while to get over this."
The contrast with their old rivals could not have been greater. Michael Clarke's men had woken to newspaper headlines declaring them 'Our worst XI' and 'the woeful Saggy Greens', and the sombre looks on their faces as they watched England waving delightedly from the podium suggested the day had only got worse.
It has been a dismal summer for the Australian cricket team, a slow descent into the sort of hellish hole that England touring teams on previous Ashes trips knew only too well.
They hadn't lost three Tests at home in 22 years, not since the last hurrah of Viv Richards' all-conquering West Indies side. They hadn't lost by an innings on Australian soil for 17, but have now done so three times in four weeks.
On an individual level it's almost worse. Captain Ricky Ponting averaged 13. Their three spinners between them took just four wickets for 556 runs. Vice-captain Clarke averaged less than Swann, England's number eight.
The England supporters dancing in the grandstands were in no mood to commiserate. Too many could remember the scenes four years ago, when Shane Warne was chaired round the field and Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Glenn McGrath basked in the righteous glory of a 5-0 whitewash.
Friday was not so much the revenge as the new reality. There's still no party like an SCG-club party. It's just that the names on the guest-list are rather different.
Men in full-length bear-suits did the Sprinkler. Others pulled on home-made paper masks of a pouting Ponting with tears drawn on his face. One chap brandished a cut-out cardboard urn with the words "Job done" written across it in large letters. If the inscription was a little pithier than the original, it was just as apt.
Paul Collingwood, given the honour of leading out the England team on his final day as a Test cricketer, was one of the last to leave the outfield. "Today is absolute number one," he beamed. "It's a special, special day.
"This is why we play the game, to savour moments like this. It doesn't get any better."