England have won this Ashes series, and lead 3-0 with one Test to go, because of their experience. In the nervous finales at Trent Bridge and Chester-le-Street, Alistair Cook's men have prevailed under pressure, holding their nerve while their opponents lost their heads. But whilst Australia crumbled, their elder statesmen stood strong and showed the way to avoid a humiliation of this kind in the future.
Although he ended up on the losing side at Chester-le-Street, this was the match where 35-year-old Chris Rogers comprehensively repelled the view that you can be too old to carve out an international career. England fans mocked him for his farcical dismissal at Lord's, missing a Graeme Swann delivery that looped apologetically into his pads, but his 110 in the first innings here was punchy, assured and gritty. The former Derbyshire captain carried his team at the top of the order, helped by the belatedly effective Shane Watson, and simultaneously affirmed his status as a cricketer of international class. Indeed, whilst many cite the wicket of David Warner in the second innings as the turning point, Rogers' dismissal for 49 was arguably just as important. It deprived the brittle Australians of their steady platform, the team's mature statesman.
Whilst Rogers brandished his bat with authority, 33-year-old paceman Ryan Harris ripped through England's batting line-up with a brusqueness and brutality belying his relaxed demeanour. Dispensing of Cook, Joe Root and Jonathan Trott, a top three unit utterly impregnable at its best, is impressive enough; producing one of the deliveries of the series to dislodge Root, one which clattered into the 22-year-old's off-stump with the rattle of finality, showed his magic touch. With the build of a wrestler yet the fragility of a glass ornament, Harris is an unconventional fast bowler, yet had his team-mates batted with their brains his figures of 7-117 in a raucous second innings would have clinched the match. Not bad for a man who was called up to the Australian Test squad for the first time in March 2010 for a series against New Zealand at the age of 30.
One wonders what Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich would have made of this. 38-year-old Ponting has probably spent much of the series wincing at replacement Usman Khawaja's propensity for getting himself out at a crucial juncture. With an average of 19 in this series, the 25-year-old Tasmanian visibly needs guidance from an older hand. And whilst an opening partnership of Rogers and 37-year-old Katich would hardly have set the pulses racing - both fall within the category of 'gritty' - Lancashire opener Katich has 936 runs on English soil at an average of 72 this season and rarely gives his wicket away. This cuts a contrast to the languid Shane Watson, whose insouciance at the top of the order has hampered him for too long to be disguised as a temporary defect.
Put simply, age has been proven to be no barrier to success in this year's series. At 34, Graeme Swann remains arguably the best spinner in the world; his 23 wickets so far have come in many different forms and often at crucial junctures. 33-year-old Kevin Pietersen and 31-year-old Ian Bell have contributed vital centuries for England (Bell, of course, has delivered a triumvirate, each one majestic in its own subtle way). If ageism is to be used to discriminate between performers, then it is youth that suffers. Root has been scratchy, with an average of 31.25 in the series compared to a Test average of 44.88 - and that relies heavily upon his anomalous 180 at Lord's, masterly though that innings was. And whilst 19-year-old Ashton Agar will be remembered for his blistering, record-breaking 98 at Trent Bridge which took Australia to the cusp of victory, aggregate bowling figures of 2-248 from the first two Tests necessitated his being gently shunted aside in favour of Nathan Lyon. Watch and learn, as they say: Root should observe Rogers' high valuation of his wicket, Agar must absorb Swann's variety and ability to build pressure.
It would be wrong to suggest that old is the new young. The likes of Agar and Root will return stronger for their difficulties in this series, and have every chance of playing a central role in the return series Down Under this winter. But those who derided Australia for calling up a 35-year-old must now retract their scorn; those who hailed Agar as a revolutionary on the grounds of his youth must confess that he remains raw and not yet a Test-class cricketer. Old age in cricketing terms can be a blessing rather than a hindrance; in this particular Test, the brilliance of Rogers and Harris whilst others fell around them provides a template for the next generation to replicate.