| Rachel and Holly Flintoff, wife and daughter of Andrew Flintoff, on board the bus with the victorious England squad in London. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 13: A 20-year-old Indian girl had a ringside seat today as the victorious England cricket team celebrated their Ashes triumph with a parade in an open-top bus which took them from Mansion House to Lord’s with stops at Trafalgar Square and 10 Downing Street.
Isa Guha, who was part of the England women’s team which also beat the Australians this summer, was in the second bus which followed Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and the other members of the men’s team.
From her vantage point, Isa could experience the roar of the 100,000 cricket fans who had crammed into Trafalgar Square under Nelson’s Column to wave the flag of St George and sing Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen.
En route from the Lord Mayor’s reception at Mansion House in the City of London, the cricketers had passed streets packed 10 deep with delirious office workers who had turned out in bright September sunshine to cheer the new heroes of a born-again England.
“I am so hoarse I can hardly speak,” a happy Isa told The Telegraph.
At Trafalgar Square, she and the other women had stood next to the men, all of them looking smart in their dark blazers. On the way, as the two buses passed along Cannon Street, past St Paul’s Cathedral and along the Strand, Isa had waved to the crowd and held aloft the trophy which the women had won.
Of course, the eyes of thousands were on Flintoff, who carried his little daughter, Holly, with his wife, Rachel beside him. Many of the players were also accompanied by their wives or girlfriends.
Kevin Pietersen, whose knock of 158 saved England yesterday, was distinctive in his “skunk” hairstyle. Quite a few of the players, who had been celebrating all night, wore dark glasses ' “and it not only to keep out the sun,” as one commentator noted.
They had been greeted by Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street, where there was a joint photocall ' Isa stood at the front. The Prime Minister told the players they “lit up the whole summer”, while the Queen hailed the team’s “magnificent achievement”.
At Lord’s, where Vaughan handed over the four-inch replica of the urn containing the mythical “Ashes” of English cricket, there had been another formal photograph ' this time, too, Isa, sat in the front.
Like all the other players, Isa struggled to put her feelings into words, as she wandered into the Long Room at Lords, where once women were not even allowed to enter.
“It’s amazing, brilliant,” said Isa, who is hoping to be confirmed as a member of the women’s team to tour India this winter.
The men will come to India in March and April 2006, after touring Pakistan in November and December this year.
“It’s been a very emotional day,” remarked Isa.
It was also an emotional day for 56-year-old Duncan Fletcher, England’s Rhodesia-born coach who was today granted the British nationality that had been astonishingly denied to him for 14 years. It required the personal intervention of the home secretary, Charles Clarke, to ensure bureaucratic rules were waived in the case of a man who may now be in line for a knighthood.
To the victor was due all the spoils of war. The vanquished, Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, and most members of his side, who had lost the Ashes for the first time since 1987, slipped quietly out of Heathrow on their way home.
In London, the atmosphere was as though England had won the war ' which, in a way, it had.
The England captain was characteristically modest, however. “It’s great for the country and great that we have made so many people happy,” said Vaughan. “It’s been a privilege to captain 10 and 11 players who have worked so hard.”
Flintoff, shielding his eyes with shades and looking happily dishevelled, said: “To be honest with you I’m struggling, I’ve not been to bed yet and the eyes behind these glasses tell a thousand stories. It’s been a marathon for the last five weeks, a mammoth series and an emotional roller coaster we’ve been through. We’ve come out on top and we’re enjoying it.”