England retain The Ashes: Hard work has paid off - Strauss

Andrew Strauss today cherished English cricket's 'Holy Grail' after his team retained the Ashes, to rapturous acclaim at the MCG, with an innings victory well inside four days of the fourth Test.

Tim Bresnan and Matt Prior sparked roars of approval when they combined to take the final wicket, number 11 Ben Hilfenhaus caught behind, as Australia were bowled out for 258 in their second innings to concede a 2-1 series lead.

That meant the Ashes were retained, with only the final Test to come in Sydney next week.

Within a split-second, England's thousands-strong travelling support were euphoric in the Melbourne sunshine as their heroes began their own celebrations.

A message of congratulation and invitation to Downing Street on their return home swiftly followed from Prime Minister David Cameron.

That information may take a few hours before it is relayed to Strauss and his team-mates.

First, the captain was publicly explaining how the months of meticulous planning and hard work have all been more than worth it in the end.

"It has to be up there," Strauss said of his personal satisfaction at the innings and 157-run victory.

The win arrived 37 minutes before lunch, with more than five sessions to spare, on the back of a supreme collective bowling effort - led by Bresnan and his match figures of six for 75 - and Jonathan Trott's unbeaten 168.

Australia never remotely threatened to come up with a worthwhile response, despite some late defiance from Brad Haddin (55no), and Strauss spoke with evident pride at his team's achievement.

"The pressure of the situation - a Boxing Day Test, massive Test match, huge atmosphere, Ashes on the line - for the bowlers to perform the way they did on the first morning was outstanding," he said.

"Trotty then stood up with the bat, because we realised this was our chance to hammer it home.

"From that position, it was always going to be hard not to win the game."

England will need to win or draw at the SCG, of course, to actually win the Ashes for the first time in 24 years.

But they have already accomplished the first, and perhaps most significant, part of their mission by keeping hold of the urn they won at home 16 months ago.

"Winning the Ashes in Australia has always been a bit of a Holy Grail for English sides," said Strauss.

"We haven't won the series yet, but have retained the urn - which was one of our primary goals.

"The players deserve everything they get, because they've stood up when it matters.

"The back-room staff have prepared us well, and we sit here today feeling like a lot of hard work has paid dividends for us."

England's victories have both come by an innings, here and in Adelaide. They drew the first match in Brisbane with an outstanding rearguard batting performance, but lost by 267 runs in Perth last week.

"Two of the Tests we've played (here] have been two of the best I've been involved with," Strauss added.

"We've played some outstanding cricket - obviously Perth was a bit of a come back down to earth and a reminder that we aren't the finished article yet.

"You turn up in Australia knowing it will be hard work, so the guys have dug really deep and deserve what they've got so far.

"It's immensely satisfying."

Strauss has led impressively almost from the moment he replaced Kevin Pietersen as captain at the start of last year.

But he insists others deserve an equal amount of congratulation.

"There's a lot of hard work that goes into preparing for an Ashes tour.

"The captain is involved in that, but so is the coach and the backroom staff - who have been outstanding.

"It's great for me, but we all know a captain is nothing without guys in the side who stand up and deliver under pressure.

"I'm not going to take the credit for this. It's not my victory - it's the team's victory."

For Strauss' opposite number, the future is uncertain in the immediate and mid-term.

But the ever impressive Ricky Ponting, so badly out of form with the bat in this series, paid generous tribute to his conquerors.

Ponting has become the first Australia captain since the 19th century to lose the Ashes three times, and is likely to face calls for his resignation at the age of 36 from several quarters.

He said: "We've learnt a lot about how to play very good Test cricket from some of the cricket that the English team have played over the last few weeks.

"I'm disappointed with the way this series has gone for us so far, really disappointed at the way this week has turned out for us after having such a good week last week.

"But I think the really important thing we need to do is pay credit to England and the way they played for the whole tour."

Ponting, who had a second x-ray today on the little finger he broke in his team's win at the WACA, will doubtless face many awkward questions before the final Test.

He will answer them all without fail, but made sure he gave England due praise first.

"Apart from the third Test, they've played a really high level of cricket the whole way through - not only this series, but the tour games as well.

"Credit to them for the way they prepared."