Yesterday's Birmingham Post carried a story about the England rugby union team's memorable day of celebrations in London two years ago, after beating Australia in the World Cup Final.

Around a million fans camped in central London on that day to pay homage to Martin Johnson and his heroic players.

Well it?ll be the same again if Michael Vaughan can orchestrate the return of the Ashes over the next few days at the Oval. If all goes well for England, the celebrations exactly a week today will rival those enjoyed by the rugby fraternity.

There?ll be a motorcade, starting at Trafalgar Square, and the ticker-tape welcome will snake its way through the parts of central London followed by Martin Johnson et al.Then onto an official reception at 10 Downing Street, where Prime Minister Tony Blair will reveal a passion for cricket that he has managed to conceal all his life.

After that, Vaughan and his squad will decamp to Lord?s, where the precious urn that actually never leaves the ground will be officially handed over to the England captain.

In making the appropriate plans, the England and Wales Cricket Board should not be accused of opportunism or over-confidence that the team will prevail at The Oval.

There are vast logistical matters to consider when you talk about blocking central London for several hours, as well as a Prime Minister?s diary to consult.

I understand that the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone ? no sports fan, he ? has been fully involved in the planning and, shrewd populist that he is, tapped in fully to the desirability of making a fuss of England?s cricketers. If it all comes to pass.

Incidentally, England?s top women cricketers will also be feted alongside their male counterparts that day. It may have escaped your notice, but the women wrested the Ashes away from the Australians ten days ago and the chance of a double celebration will not be spurned.

The ECB is right to want to make a fuss over the cricketers and they couldn?t be expected to organise something special in the space of 24 hours if the action goes down to the wire on Monday night.

The Aussies may bridle and accuse the ECB of jumping the gun, but sensible forward planning is vital if the nation wants to commemorate a great sporting feat.

And with figures going through the roof for television and radio coverage of the Ashes battle, it?s a great chance to capitalise on the revived popularity of cricket.

There?ll be time enough for football to grab the back pages and lead the bulletins over the coming months, so let cricket enjoy one more day in the sun of public consciousness.

In yesterday?s Post, the Wasps chief executive, David Davies made the shrewd point that England?s rugby status didn?t kick on after that marvellous day of joy in London. He said the Rugby Football Union spent ?a year parading the trophy before planning what to do next?.

The main point about that is England?s top players were either ageing, about to retire or suffer serious injuries, so the national side marked time. That won?t be the case with English cricket.

For a start, the key England cricketers are all at an age when they can stay together as a unit at least until the next Ashes battle in 18 months? time.

The average age is 28, the norm for a successful international cricket team. Australia have only Brett Lee, Michael Clarke and Shaun Tait in their likely Oval squad who are under 30.

The ECB has taken justifiable flak for selling off the cricket rights to Sky, rather than staying with terrestrial television ? and don?t say that regular readers weren?t warned about it, because this column banged on about the doomsday scenario last November.

But the ECB?s strategy over the development of elite players has paid off and if the Ashes do come home, a few executives should take a bow.

Lord McLaurin, formerly the ECB chairman, gave us all a cheap laugh back in 1996 when, after taking over, he said that England would be the best side in the world a decade later.

The ECB?s mission statement proclaimed the virtues of ?from the playground to the Test arena? and McLaurin confidently predicted that by 2007, the Ashes would be back with England.

Well, he may prove to have been conservative in his estimate but his insistence on creating an elite of players, instituting central contracts, giving the England coach enormous powers, and steaming ahead with the impressive Academy at Loughborough have all been contributory factors in England?s renaissance.

Much as any self-respecting columnist enjoys slagging off a sport?s administrative team, it has to be said that English cricket is superior in this respect to football and rugby union.

Now to the match. The key players are Glenn McGrath and Simon Jones.

If the peerless McGrath is really fit from his elbow injury, then Australia?s prospects are correspondingly enhanced. McGrath is a ? go-to? bowler, who enjoys the responsibility of answering his captain?s call.

His morale will be understandably high if he makes it, because he has bowled wonderfully against England for a decade ? as recently as Lord?s six weeks ago ? and he can easily do it again. McGrath could be the difference between the two sides.

Jones has bothered the Aussies all summer with his pace, ability to perform reverse swing and the aggression that angered Matt Hayden at the Edgbaston one-day international.

He is hurting with that ankle injury and there?s a real worry for England that if he struggles with it again at The Oval, they will be a bowler short on a good batting surface. And don?t expect the Aussies to agree to a substitute fielder without a whinge to the umpires.

They can justifiably state that Jones came into the match with an injury, rather than incurred it at The Oval and could refuse to agree to someone like Gary Pratt or Trevor Penney coming on to field like a whippet.

Ricky Ponting has seethed for weeks about England?s sharp practice over the use of substitutes on the field and the umpires will know his thoughts before the match starts.

Only Simon Jones will know if he?s fit for a five-day Test when he rocks up on Thursday morning. If he declares himself fit, then he must live with the consequences. He must go through the various pain barriers and not let the team down.

Jones knows all about coming back from serious injury and he will know that it?s a case of one final heave. Bite the bullet, stay on the park, deliver the goods and he?s one of 11 heroes for the rest of his life.

The winter tour to Pakistan and India can look after itself. If he has to stay home for an operation on that right ankle, then so be it.

He can spend the rehabilitation watching the DVD of the Ashes summer and flicking through his photograph album of a great day in London on September 13.

If Jones rules himself out, I hope the England selectors go for the attacking option in the swing bowler, James Anderson, rather than the bits and pieces that Paul Collingwood offers.

There is no evidence that the admirable, worthy Collingwood would stiffen the batting at Test level while Anderson would continue the positive, aggressive policy of the England team that started with the second ball of the series when Steve Harmison pinged Justin Langer on the helmet.

The Australians have been disconcerted by the naked aggression displayed by England in this amazing series and it would be wrong to revert to the bunker, to battle hard for five days in the hope of just avoiding defeat. England must remain bold.

Ellis retains deadly business instinct

It looks increasingly likely that Doug Ellis fully intends to see out his days as chairman of Aston Villa.

He has often warned that ?they?ll have to carry me out in a box? and at the age of 81, he shows no signs of relinquishing power.

After failing in his #45 million bid to take over Villa, Ray Ranson is not allowed to make another move for six months and it?s questionable whether he?ll be bothered come springtime.

He?d been given enough strong hints that Jack Petchey wanted to sell his 20 per cent stake and that other significant shareholders were keen to cash in on an offer that was #15 million higher than Ranson?s previous bid ? but the old boy wasn?t for turning.

Deadly Doug has surprised many at the speed of his recovery from heart by-pass surgery earlier in the year and his role in the Milan Baros transfer from Liverpool showed that he can still play a cute hand of cards when necessary.

When you add the signing of the Dutch defender Wilfred Bouma, Ellis has sanctioned transfers worth #10 million in the past fortnight. So he?s stilled any grumbles from David O?Leary for the time being, putting the pressure back on his manager to deliver results, rather than offering windy rhetoric about having a small squad of players.

Villa?s former deputy chief executive, Mark Ansell, may rail that the new offer from Ranson was never put to the club?s wider shareholders for consideration, but he knows that it is often the way with football clubs.

Democracy rarely gets an outing in these matters and Ansell worked in football long enough to know that.

His agenda is personal and, in any event, the issues behind Ranson?s bid had been aired enough in the media for the shareholders to be aware of the situation.

Ellis outfoxed his adversaries with the simple business expedient of sitting tight, saying nowt and biding his time. He held the winning cards and was experienced enough to know the terrain of the forthcoming battle.

He will sell up if and when he feels like it. The various action groups that purport to have a say in Villa?s future will just have to live with that.

I honestly believed that, this time, Deadly Doug was wavering and that he might have walked away, albeit with regret.

I?m sure his many detractors won?t agree but I have a sneaking respect for his resilience.

Whether it?s good news for Aston Villa will be determined over the course of next season, the third under O?Leary?s management and his most taxing yet.

Fundamentally it?s the players who determine the health of a club, not an octogenarian chairman.

Eriksson errs on Beckham

If Sven-Goran Eriksson truly believes that David Beckham can be the holding player in midfield, the game is up for England?s World Cup chances.

Years of watching Beckham play and the evidence of the match against Wales on Saturday confirmed that he doesn?t have the tackling ability, the physical presence nor the tactical antennae to play in front of the back four in the manner of Claude Makelele at Chelsea.

Beckham made his name wide on the right as an attacking presence, superb at free-kicks and an excellent passer with his right foot.

No more, no less. His pace ? never his forte ? has waned appreciably and he is in danger of becoming superfluous in the midfield as too many chase the ball in the same area. It was entirely sensible that Eriksson should entertain a meeting last week with Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to discuss midfield formations.

You have to get your influential players onside and every top manager knows that.

But those three players have their own positions to consider, seemingly oblivious to the fact that one must be surplus to requirements.

A fetcher and carrier like Birmingham City?s Nicky Butt at the expense of Beckham would enhance England?s World Cup prospects but Eriksson won?t waver in his admiration for Beckham.

What was good enough for France in 1998 ? Didier Deschamps doing the unobtrusive work for the stars ? doesn?t seem to appeal to Eriksson.

This is supposedly the most talented bunch of England players for years and the hope is that World Cup 2006 will be their stage. Not if the head coach doesn?t soon offer some overdue clarity of thinking and moral courage.