Exclusive: England urged to finish off wounded Australia

YORKSHIRE legend Raymond Illingworth has backed Andrew Strauss to follow in his footsteps by becoming only the fifth England captain to win an Ashes series Down Under since the Second World War.

Illingworth, who led England to a 2-0 win in Australia in 1970-71, believes Strauss can build on his achievement of retaining the Ashes by winning the fifth Test in Sydney, starting on Sunday.

England go into that game having retained the urn as current holders by establishing an unassailable 2-1 lead.

Now Strauss has the chance to emulate Illingworth, Len Hutton, Mike Brearley and Mike Gatting as the only England captains to win an away Ashes series since World War Two – and the first since Gatting performed the feat 24 years ago.

After Strauss's men thrashed Australia by an innings and 157 runs in Melbourne, where Yorkshire pace bowler Tim Bresnan took the historic last wicket, Illingworth said: "I would back Strauss now to lead them to an outright series victory.

"I fancy England to win 3-1, and that would be a terrific achievement by Strauss and his players.

"People don't realise how hard it is to win a series in Australia; the conditions are difficult, the crowds are against you, and in our case 40 years ago the umpiring was not the best.

"We didn't get a single lbw in a seven-match series! But at least that sort of thing has been resolved by the advent of neutral umpires and what have you.

"I said before this tour started that if ever there was a time to go to Australia and really take them on, this was it, because I honestly felt Australia are a very average side – and so it's proved.

"The batting's not as good as it was by any means; if Ponting misses out, then they haven't really got any quality Test players to do the job, while the seam bowlers are hardly Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, are they?

"The bowlers they've got at the moment would be no better than good support bowlers for those two, while the spinner is non-existent.

"But you can only beat what you've got to play against, and, apart from their defeat in Perth, England have played very well."

Illingworth, who captained England in 31 Tests between 1969-1973, winning 12, drawing 14 and losing only five, has been impressed with Strauss's leadership style.

In stark contrast to his opposite number Ponting, who was fined 40 per cent of his match fee for querying an umpiring decision at Melbourne, Strauss has gone about his business almost un-noticed.

"I think he's done a really good job," added Illingworth, 78.

"I said when Pietersen got the captaincy a while back that I would have gone for Strauss, and I think he's shown he's got the right qualities.

"Perhaps his biggest strength is that he's unflappable, which is particularly important at Test level.

"You don't see Strauss getting into too many scrapes or arguing with people or things like that; he likes to keep everything calm and serene.

"Ponting, on the other hand, has never been a great captain in my view. He's had some very fine bowlers at his disposal over the years; you can hardly fail when you've got the likes of McGrath and Warne in your side.

"But he's finding it a lot harder now, and the worrying thing for Ponting is that he's not batting very well at the moment.

"His technique looks pretty shattered to me and he needs a good, long knock to get him going again."

While Ponting has not had the bowling to consistently trouble England's top-order, Strauss has been blessed with a fine attack.

James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and Bresnan have all played their part, while Graeme Swann has provided the spin option that Australia sorely lack.

"Our seam bowling now looks as good as most teams," said Illingworth, the current Yorkshire president.

"You certainly wouldn't put too many seam bowlers above our lads. Bresnan's performance at Melbourne also highlighted our strength in depth. He's a very reliable sort of bowler, the type you're always happy to have in your side."

It took England just under 90 minutes to claim the last three wickets they required for victory at the MCG.

Resuming on 169-6, a deficit of 246, and with stress-fracture victim Ryan Harris unable to bat, Australia soon lost Mitchell Johnson, bowled by Tremlett.

Brad Haddin (55 not out) and Peter Siddle (40) held up the tourists with an entertaining eighth-wicket stand of 86 before Siddle was caught on the long-off boundary by Pietersen off Swann.

When Bresnan had Ben Hilfenhaus caught behind, Australia were all-out for 258 and England celebrated a famous triumph.

England captains to win in Australia

LEN HUTTON: The Yorkshire batsman led England to a 3-1 victory in 1954-55 – England's first series win Down Under since the Bodyline tour of 1932-33.

RAYMOND ILLINGWORTH: Fellow Yorkshireman inspired a 2-0 success in 1970-71, going on to retain the Ashes with a 2-2 draw in England in 1972.

MIKE BREARLEY: Led England to a 5-1 win in 1978-79 when the Australian side was severely weakened by Kerry Packer's World Series.

MIKE GATTING: England won 2-1 under Gatting's leadership in 1986-87 - the last time they had prevailed Down Under since Strauss's class of 2010-11.