The Ashes may be gone for England, but Alastair Cook finally proved that the same cannot be said of his Test career just yet as he produced a timely hundred at the MCG that evoked memories of his dominant 2010-11 tour of Australia.
Cook turned 33 on Christmas Day and came into this fourth Magellan Ashes Test with serious questions over his future after a terrible series that saw him average just 13.83 before this innings.
The opener had admitted before the third Test in Perth earlier this month he had “no idea” if this would be his last series, although he made it clear he still had the hunger to carry on at the highest level.
Scores of seven and 14 at the WACA Ground hardly did much to quell those doubts about his longevity.
Yet he rolled back the years on day two in Melbourne to post not only his best innings of the series so far - and one that has put England in charge of this Test - but his highest score against Australia since hitting 189 in Sydney seven years ago.
That was the final act of a sublime series for the Essex batsman, whose 766 runs set up England’s first away Ashes win in 24 years.
Before this, though, he had failed to reach three figures in 35 innings across his previous 18 Ashes Tests since.
Although there have been plenty of runs in the interim, this is the best Cook has batted in front of an Australian audience since then by some distance as his unbeaten 104 at the end of the second day here eclipsed the 72 he made at Perth on England’s last Ashes tour in 2013-14.
It was also the 32nd hundred of his career and drew him level with Australia great Steve Waugh on Test cricket’s all-time list of century makers. It was also the first time he has reached three figures at the MCG having hit one at every other Australian Ashes venue.
This innings was classic Cook, with a determination and ruthlessness that had been evident in every one of his previous 31 Test centuries.
The last of Cook’s hundreds had come against West Indies at Edgbaston back in August, when he struck 243. But before this knock, the 37 he made in England’s first innings during the second Test in Adelaide was the best he had managed since then.
The indication that Cook was perhaps in the mood – and, more importantly, the touch – to go back to the future came with three shots during the early stages of England’s innings.
Firstly, he produced a beautiful cover drive to dispatch Pat Cummins to the boundary to move onto 19.
He then drove Jackson Bird straight down the ground for another four to move onto 25.
His murderous cut shot – a brutally productive staple during that 2010-11 Ashes tour – was nailed in Bird’s next over.
If there were any doubts Cook was back, they were removed when he pulled the second ball after tea – from Cummins – for four. It was perhaps his best shot of the innings.
There was fortune when Steve Smith dropped him on 66 later in the evening session before gifting him the runs he needed to get to the hundred when he bowled the final over of the day.
Former England spinner Graeme Swann, a team-mate of Cook’s for seven years before his retirement on the 2013-14 Ashes tour, said: “That was the most relieved celebration I’ve seen in a long, long time. There’s hardly any energy left and a ‘thank goodness for that’. “That’s possibly the best hundred of his career given the situation. Everyone was talking about retirement, his desire has been questioned. That would have hurt him, I know that it did hurt him.
“I didn’t have doubts, only because I know him. Had I not, I think I would have been wondering if he was still full of the fire.”
As well as the runs, this is also a significant match for Cook for another reason altogether given it is his 34th successive Ashes Test – beating the previous record of 33 held by Wally Hammond since 1947.
The record for Australia is 44 by Allan Border.
Another player whose disappointing performances in this series prompted questions over his future was Stuart Broad, who had gone 69 overs without a wicket before his dismissal of Usman Khawaja on day one at the MCG.
That was the longest barren patch of the 31-year-old’s Test career but he claimed another three wickets on day two to take 4-51 overall and help dismiss Australia for 327 in their first innings.
Those were Broad’s best overseas figures since he took 4-33 against India at Vizag in December of last year and Paul Farbrace, England’s assistant coach, revealed the seamer was determined to bounce back from a performance at the WACA that saw him return his worst Test figures of 0-142.
“He is big enough to know he was below standard,” said Farbrace. “No one had to say it to him. He showed on the big occasion and in front of the big crowd that he wanted to show there is a lot of life left in Stuart Broad.”
The same can be said for Cook. “His innings was special,” said Broad.
“Both of us on this trip haven’t done as well as we would have liked but the game does go in swings and roundabouts. Things do turn eventually and that was evident with Cooky today. He had a positive mental attitude which showed."
England’s underperforming pair of senior men might just make the 2019 Ashes after all.
Australia XI: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England XI: Joe Root (c), Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21