This Ashes-rich year always was going to be a journey for Australia. But few expected it to be as it has been, a trip through time.

When it began in July with defeats at Trent Bridge and Lord's, it was difficult to foresee a day when the Ashes might be recovered. For various reasons, none of Mitch Johnson, Ryan Harris, Dave Warner or Nathan Lyon were in the team then, though all were fit. Ashton Agar was, memorably, but beneath the euphoria surrounding his buccaneering exploits at Trent Bridge was a nagging feeling that this might have been as good as it got in the northern summer. Agar was before his time.

Jimmy Anderson took 10 wickets for England at Trent Bridge, Graeme Swann nine at Lord's, catalysing a gruesome Australian collapse. Ian Bell made centuries in both matches. Untimely rain in Manchester two weeks later meant the Ashes were forfeited for a third successive series. It was the status quo.

Less than five months later, the landscape through the window of the Tardis is unrecognisable as 2013. After three matches in the return series, Johnson is by far the leading wicket-taker, Warner the leading run-maker. Alastair Cook and Kevin

Pietersen have been neutralised. Anderson has taken more than three wickets in a game only once since Trent Bridge. Swann has been hit not just out of the attack, but out of the game. Stuart Broad is hobbling, Jonathan Trott is hors de combat, and England are in a mess. Australia have won all three matches by handsome margins, and hold the Ashes.

Authorities had hoped for no more than for the series still to be alive come Melbourne. Instead, the Boxing Day Test again becomes what was for so long a robust affirmation of Australian cricket. It was an accident of history that gave Australia such an early chance for redress, but that same accident would have acutely embarrassed Australia if they did not so quickly and dramatically raise their game, and stifle England's. Two or three years' worth of progress has been compressed into less than six months.

An optional nets session at the MCG on Christmas morning was almost fully subscribed. In one net, Doug Bollinger bowled finger spin. In another, bowling coach Craig McDermott passably reprised his Test best, enough once to catch Chris Rogers' outside edge. Indoors, captain Michael Clarke did a mini-clinic for George Bailey. The mood was buoyant.

Central to this distortion of Ashes time is the coach, Darren Lehmann. He is an old-school character, no one's idea of a diplomat or technician, shoehorned into the job in July. In England, he sensed improvement without anything to show for it. Here, the bowlers have risen to a sustained new level, and the batsmen are starting to kick in at last.

As much as this team has leapt forward in time, so it has gone back. With two 36-year-olds and an average age of 31, it is the oldest Australian team since the one that completed the Ashes clean sweep in 2006-07. That was a team of superstars, backbone of an era, who came through together and went out more or less in a bloc after that one last legendary exploit.

This team was gathered ad hoc, lacks towering figures and has not even played a full series together, yet soon enough also will begin to break up; that is a biological certainty. Perhaps awareness of mortality has fortified and stimulated it. The least it now has is a bold mark in history and given England's disarray, it might yet replicate that whitewash seven years ago.