When it came down to it, at the Oval in the Ashes decider, the loss of ten wickets for just 87 runs on the second afternoon cost Australia the urn.
England, by contrast, were good enough when it mattered to grab their chance, and that was why they fully deserve to regain those Ashes.
As at Lord’s, in the second Test, Australia paid a heavy price for one horrendous session. You can sometimes afford a bad session as a team, but not horrible ones like the Aussies had at Lord’s and then the Oval.
I must give huge credit, though, to Stuart Broad for his five-wicket burst in Australia’s first innings collapse in the final Test, and to Graeme Swann for backing up Broad so well as Ricky Ponting’s team were bowled out for 160.
After being 73 for no wicket, that represented a barely-believable turn of events. I don’t think there was anything between the two teams in this series – except that England won the big moments when it mattered.
There was the draw in Cardiff, when Australia failed to break that last-wicket stand between Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar after Paul Collingwood’s great back-to-the-wall innings, then Lord’s and even in the rain-hit third Test at Edgbaston when, again, Australia’s first innings batting was blown away by Anderson and Graham Onions.
Australia’s thumping win at Headingley seemed as if it had turned the momentum of the series back towards them, but Broad and Swann changed the whole thing around again at the Oval – and then both Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott showed great application and temperament on the third morning to make sure England stayed in front of the game and were able to build an unassailable lead.
What is particularly galling for Australia is that a lot of their players put in fine performances over the course of the series. Six of the top seven run-getters were Australian, as were the top three wicket-takers. It is just that they were found wanting at those two crucial moments, at Lord’s and the Oval.
It will be no consolation for Australia, however, that this series could have gone either way. This defeat will hurt.
England must now build on this series success, even without the retiring Andrew Flintoff. There are several players – such as Strauss and Broad, Swann and Matt Prior – who have really added to their reputations, but there are also others – Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Anderson, too, who still have question marks against their names.
Anderson, for me, is still not consistent enough as a bowler in all conditions, and his numbers in this series are not so flash considering he was supposed to be the leader of England’s attack and a much better bowler than when he played in the last Ashes series in Australia.
But full marks to England for emerging as the winners of what has been a very entertaining, enjoyable and unpredictable series.