Test of strength

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HOW times change. When England's cricketers last retained the Ashes 24 long years ago in Australia, Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister as the imploding Westland crisis threatened to bring her government down; Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and Tim Bresnan, the Yorkshire bowler who took the winning wicket yesterday, was still in nappies.

At the end of a challenging year, England's heroic success has lifted the nation's spirits – as illustrated by the patriotic celebrations of the Barmy Army at the MCG, a group of travelling supporters who had not even been formed when Mike Gatting's 1986 side, including Bill Athey from these parts, silenced those Australians who had claimed, with characteristic arrogance, that the tourists could not bat, bowl or field.

It would be unsporting to cast a similar aspersion against the current Australian side. That can be left for the merciless critics of Ricky Ponting's side. The challenge now for Andrew Strauss, and his heroes, is to achieve world domination, something the great Ashes-winning sides of yesteryear failed to achieve. With unrivalled back-up resources at their disposal, they will never have a better chance to do so.