Man of the match: Steve Smith
AUSTRALIA restored some pride with a dominant innings win in the fifth Test at the Oval - but England, of course, could already celebrate a fourth successive home Ashes triumph.
Steve Smith (143) scored his second big ton of the summer as the Aussies set up a platform on days one and two to control the final chapter of this bewildering campaign.
For this Ashes series can only accurately be described as having been bewildering. From the start, it has constantly confounded expectations.
It seems a long time ago now but Australia went into the series as favourites having completed a whitewash over England only 18 months previously.
England, though, won the first Test by the not insignificant margin of 169 runs before Australia dwarfed that with a massive 405-run victory at Lord's.
Perhaps, it was thought, it had just taken the Aussies a little time to wake up. Perhaps now they would pulverise England the rest of the series.
But no - it was the English bowlers who dominated at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge with Steven Finn and James Anderson spearheading the first of those efforts before Stuart Broad produced, in the absence of Anderson, his now legendary spell of 8-15.
Australia were blown away for 60 in their first innings in Nottingham, the shortest first innings in Test history - and, having only done slightly better second time around, had lost the Ashes and looked a shambles of a team.
Surely then England would cap a glorious summer at the Oval by grinding the Aussies' noses in the dust to emerge as 4-1 winners.
Alas, sadly not. Despite England winning the toss, any early Aussie vulnerability was steadied at the top of the order by Chris Rogers (43) and David Warner (85).
The openers guided the tourists to 82-0 at lunch on the first day - and their position at the end of day one, 287-3, was no less dominant with Smith at the crease alongside Adam Voges.
Voges had played himself into a bit of form at the back end of the fourth Test with an unbeaten half century there - but he will have enjoyed his 76 at the Oval far more.
There was, however, no last big satisfying score for outgoing skipper Michael Clarke. He made just 15 before being caught behind off Ben Stokes - and, by later enforcing the follow-on for the first time ever, did not get a second chance.
Australia eventually made 481 as Smith found another useful ally lower down the order in Mitchell Starc (58).
The big question at that point was whether England, facing similar first innings scoreboard pressure to that which affected them at Lord's, could do any better this time.
In short, they could not. On the stroke of tea on day two, the hosts lost skipper Alastair Cook (22) - castled by Nathan Lyon - and, after the interval, the rest of the team collapsed in a heap to 92-8.
Only a bit of counter-punching from Moeen Ali (30) and Mark Wood (24) pushed England onto three-figures. However, both were dismissed by Mitchell Johnson early on the third day.
Clarke then made his momentous decision to enforce the follow-on for the first time ever in his final Test match.
With one eye on the inclement British weather, and England trailing by a massive 332 runs, it was really the only sensible choice.
But, by denying himself the chance to improve on his own first innings score, Clarke admirably favoured the value of a crushing win over any valedictory vainglory.
Australia delivered for him. Peter Siddle may have been terribly under-employed on this tour but he was belatedly able to show his quality by taking 4-35 in the second innings for match figures of 6-67.
Notably, Siddle twice dismissed Adam Lyth cheaply - and, with the Yorkshireman having failed to make any sort of truly significant contribution in this series, it now seems certain he will be dropped for the winter tours.
Ian Bell, meanwhile, is rumoured to be on the verge of international retirement, satisfied with a career which has made him a five-times Ashes winner.
Bell, of course, will always have the 2013 series to cherish, his three centuries being the foundation stone to that England victory.
But it would not be unfair to suggest that this series has rather passed him by. He has averaged 26.87, and even that mark is boosted by a strong performance on his home ground which was not repeated elsewhere.
So, the wheel turns for England again - ahead of a completely different sort of challenge against Pakistan on the dry pitches of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah in October.
Captain Cook, however, remains steadfastly at the head of the ship - and deservedly so after such an unexpected series victory.
Of course, there has still been some horror shows with the bat from England but a lot of the bowling has been genuinely thrilling.
Remember, it was this England attack which was the first Test side in history to have four different players take at least six wickets in four consecutive innings at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge.
And while Clarke and Australia can continue to moan all they like about the pitches favouring the hosts, they have no real argument unless they transform the Gabba in Brisbane or the Waca in Perth into a dry-turner for a visit of Pakistan or India.
English pitches in England should not really come as a surprise to Australia - there were, after all, few complaints from them about the surfaces in 1989 or 1993 or 1997. Or 2001 for that matter.
Yes, it is now 14 years since Australia last won a series in England - and it will be 18 years by the time they are scheduled to arrive on these shores for Tests again.
England, in the meantime, can bask in the glory of holding the urn for the next two-and-a-half years before the next contest Down Under in the winter of 2017-18.
For, although the series ended on the damp squib of a defeat at the Oval, the performance level overall from a developing side has restored some faith in the team around the country.
My preview suggested most supporters would be satisfied with a 2-2 draw and some entertaining cricket, even if that meant the Aussies retaining the urn.
In that case, a 3-2 victory - even when finishing on an innings defeat - is more than satisfactory. Now, if only the infuriating inconsistency could be sorted out.
THE ASHES 2015: ENGLAND WON 3-2
|8-11 July||1ST England 430 & 289 beat Australia 308 & 242 by 169 runs||Cardiff|
|16-19 July||2ND Australia 566-8d & 254-2d beat England 312 & 103 by 405 runs||Lord's|
|29-31 July||3RD England 281 & 124-2 beat Australia 136 & 265 by eight wickets||Edgbaston|
|6-8 August||4TH England 391-9d beat Australia 60 & 253 by an innings and 78 runs||Trent Bridge|
|20-23 August||5TH Australia 481 beat England 149 & 286 by an innings and 46 runs||The Oval|
Runs scored England 2365, Australia 2565
Wickets taken England 80, Australia 81
Australia 3-2 England
215 Steve Smith (Australia) in the second Test, Lord's
173 Chris Rogers (Australia) in the second Test, Lord's
143 Steve Smith (Australia) in the fifth Test, The Oval
134 Joe Root (England) in the first Test, Cardiff
130 Joe Root (England) in the fourth Test, Trent Bridge
TOP RUN SCORERS
508 Steve Smith (Australia)
480 Chris Rogers (Australia)
460 Joe Root (England)
418 David Warner (Australia)
330 Alastair Cook (England)
293 Moeen Ali (England)
215 Ian Bell (England)
201 Ben Stokes (England), Adam Voges (Australia)
BEST BATTING AVERAGES
60.00 Chris Rogers (Australia)
57.50 Joe Root (England)
56.44 Steve Smith (Australia)
46.44 David Warner (Australia)
36.66 Alastair Cook (England)
36.62 Moeen Ali (England)
29.50 Jonny Bairstow (England)
28.71 Adam Voges (Australia)
26.87 Ian Bell (England)
25.75 Mark Wood (England)
England 4-2 Australia
8-15 Stuart Broad (England) in the fourth Test, Trent Bridge
6-36 Ben Stokes (England) in the fourth Test, Trent Bridge
6-47 James Anderson (England) in the third Test, Edgbaston
6-79 Steven Finn (England) in the third Test, Edgbaston
6-111 Mitchell Starc (Australia) in the fourth Test, Trent Bridge
5-114 Mitchell Starc (Australia) in the first Test, Cardiff
TOP WICKET TAKERS
21 Stuart Broad (England)
18 Mitchell Starc (Australia)
16 Josh Hazlewood (Australia), Nathan Lyon (Australia)
15 Mitchell Johnson (Australia)
12 Steven Finn (England), Moeen Ali (England)
11 Ben Stokes (England)
10 James Anderson (England), Mark Wood (England)
BOWLING AVERAGES minimum 10 wickets
20.90 Stuart Broad (England)
22.50 Steven Finn (England)
25.75 Josh Hazlewood (Australia)
27.50 James Anderson (England)
28.25 Nathan Lyon (Australia)
30.50 Mitchell Starc (Australia)
33.45 Ben Stokes (England)
34.93 Mitchell Johnson (Australia)
39.10 Mark Wood (England)
45.50 Moeen Ali (England)