(CNN) -- British Prime Minister David Cameron congratulated the England cricket team on Wednesday after it trounced arch-rival Australia to retain the Ashes, the most storied prize in the sport.
"Retaining the Ashes for the first time in almost a quarter of a century marks a very special end to the year for sports fans and a great late Christmas present for the country," Cameron said in a statement. "I look forward to welcoming them to Downing Street when they return."
The touring English team wrapped up the fourth Test match in Melbourne on Wednesday morning with an innings victory -- the most decisive manner of victory in cricket.
The win gave England a 2-1 lead in the five-match series being played during this southern hemisphere summer. With one of the earlier games having been indecisive and with only one Test remaining, the worst England can do is finish the series 2-2 -- an outcome which would see the team, as current holder of the Ashes, retain the title.
It is the first time in 24 years that England has won and then retained the Ashes in consecutive series of this biennial contest -- a rivalry that began in 1877, making it one of the oldest continuous battles in international sport.
England's victory by an innings and 157 runs in the fourth Test followed an equally overwhelming innings triumph in the second Test in Adelaide earlier this month -- two of the most decisive victories the British side has scored against Australia in recent decades.
Captain Andrew Strauss' team bounced back from a 267-run defeat in the third Test in Perth, having drawn the opening five-day match in Brisbane.
The fifth and final Test starting in Sydney on January 3 gives England a chance to register a 3-1 series triumph over an Australian team that has lost the dominance it has enjoyed in international cricket for the past two decades.
The future of Australia captain Ricky Ponting is now in doubt, with the 36-year-old facing the prospect of being the first from his country to lose three Ashes series since 1890.
"I want to keep playing. I would love to keep leading the team. I still think I've got a lot to offer in both those regards -- but it's got to be about the betterment of Australia cricket," he told reporters after the defeat.
"It's never been about me. It's always been about the team and what's right for the team."
The Ashes contest dates back to 1882, when Australia won in England for the first time and a British newspaper ran a tongue-in-cheek "obituary" saying cricket had died, the body would be cremated, and the ashes sent Down Under.
England's last tour of Australia ended in a humiliating 5-0 defeat in 2006-07, as the team was unable to follow up 2005's first series win -- at home -- since 1987.
Australia's batsmen resumed their second innings on Wednesday on 169-6, knowing that Ryan Harris could not bat after suffering a foot injury while bowling.
Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin was left unbeaten on 55 as Mitchell Johnson (6), Peter Siddle (40) and Ben Hilfenhaus (0) fell to the bowling of Chris Tremlett, Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan respectively.
Bresnan finished with figures of 4-50, and 6-75 for the match, in his first Test appearance of the tour after being brought in to replace the rested Steve Finn.