The Greatest Series Ever - The 2005 Ashes
There is no better time than now to look back at that incredible summer of cricket and five test matches that will live long in every England fan's memory. Test cricket is undergoing a stiff test, much of it from the sport itself, with other formats in danger of winning the popularity contest against the purest form of the game. England's mixed performance in their current series in the West Indies, despite their much-heralded reboot, does not help. However, it is in England, perhaps more than anywhere else, where the long form of the game remains strong, with interest at fan level, dedicated betting promotions, and TV channels fighting for the rights to screen it.
The 2005 series had all the ingredients. It was between the two best sides in the world, competing in the oldest and greatest rivalry in the sport. The grounds were sold out weeks in advance of the Australians touching down at Heathrow, and even the English weather, that most unpredictable of elements, delivered practically non-stop glorious sunshine. Looking back from a time when the dearth of characters and personalities in the game is an issue, back then, both sides were packed with them, including Andrew Flintoff and, of course, the now sadly departed Shane Warne.
First Test: Lords
The game in which Kevin Pietersen made his test debut did not bode well for his England side, or indeed for the series to come. Australia won the toss and Ponting opted to bat on a first day that saw 17 wickets fall. A devastating spell from Harmison saw him take four for seven off 14 balls, and Australia were bowled out for 190 shortly before tea. Any hopes of England taking full advantage were put to bed, as they ended up at 72 for 7 at stumps. A brief fightback on day two cut the Aussie lead and England finished their innings 35 runs short.
Poor fielding did not help England's cause, and Australia, helped by a last wicket partnership of 43, scored 384 leaving England with a world record 420 runs to win with still plenty of time left in the match.
A positive start saw England fans hoping for an unlikely win, before the tide turned and they ended day 3 on 119 for 5, still needing 301 runs for victory. Rain prevented any play on the morning of day 4, but when play did finally resume, it took Australia just 10 overs to dismiss the last five England wickets.
Australia won by 239 runs.
Second Test: Edgbaston
Ponting again won the toss and put England into bat, perhaps going on the fact that 12 of the last 13 tests had been won on the ground by the side bowling first as opposed to the conditions. England started well, determined to play positively, put the disappointing first test behind them, and take full advantage of Glenn McGrath's absence through an injury sustained during the warm up. In a little under 80 overs they reached 407 with almost all of their batsmen contributing.
Day 2 started in bright fashion for England, with Harmison getting Hayden out for a golden duck, before Ponting, Langer and Clarke steadied the ship taking Australia to 208 for 5. They had hopes of at least reaching England's total, only for Flintoff to rip through the tail, leaving them 308 all out, 99 runs short. Again England started positively, putting on 25 runs before Strauss fell to Warne near the close of play.
Day 3 saw 17 wickets tumble, with the Australian bowlers on top, and the England advantage suddenly looking fragile to say the least. No batsman was able to get in, and at 131 for 9 with an obviously in-pain Flintoff and Simon Jones at the crease, it was suddenly looking ominous for England. Flintoff had other ideas, however, and in an incredible display of power and skill, he smashed 73 runs, including 33 off 28 balls from Lee, taking England to 182.
Australia slowly accumulated runs, though wickets kept falling, but despite being given an extra half hour, England couldn't make the final breakthrough, the day finishing with Australia needing 107 runs with just 2 wickets remaining.
Day 4 was one of the most incredible in a remarkable series. Warne and Lee put on 45 runs before Warne stood on his wicket. Kasprowicz came in and helped to tick off the runs, dealing with some very aggressive England bowling. With just three runs needed for victory, Kasprowicz fended off a short ball from Harmison and was caught by a diving Geraint Jones. It was an unbelievably dramatic end to a superb test match.
England won by 2 runs.
Third Test: Old Trafford
Incredibly, the 3rd test almost topped the second for drama. England won the toss and piled on 444 runs in their first innings, Vaughan scoring 166. Australia were then all out for 302, Simon Jones being the pick of the England bowlers with figures of 6 for 53. A Strauss century put England in a good position, and when they declared on 280 for 6, Australia needed a record 423 to win, and a little over a day to survive. With more than 20,000 locked outside, the final day promised to be every bit as dramatic as that in Edgbaston. England got Australia to 354 for 9, with 4 overs remaining, but resolute batting from Lee and McGrath saw them home for the draw.
Fourth Test: Trent Bridge
England won the toss and, after opting to bat, again had a very strong first innings, amassing 477 with Flintoff getting a century. This time England were able to press home their advantage, and with help from a Simon Jones fifer, bowled Australia out for 218. England enforced the follow on, but Australia rallied, scoring 387 before being bowled out just before tea on day 4, leaving England with 129 runs to take a lead in the series for the first time.
Australia had other ideas, however, and, inspired by Warne, reduced the home side to 57 for 4; for a time it looked like Australia would grab victory from the jaws of defeat. Giles and Hoggard steered England home though, with three wickets remaining, meaning England would go into the final test with a lead.
England won by 3 wickets.
Fifth Test: The Oval
The final test of this tremendous series saw both sides put themselves in the position to win. England won the toss and chose to bat, scoring 373, Strauss making 129. Matthew Hayden then made 138 as he took Australia to 367 all out, a fifer from Flintoff reducing what could have been a match winning total. Kevin Pietersen returned the blows with a 158, leaving England with 335. By now it was already into the afternoon of day 5, and the match that had been hit by bad light fizzled out to a draw, with Australia taking the light at 4 for no loss. It was a strangely anticlimactic end to a remarkable series, but that did not dampen the jubilant scenes in the capital or around the country. It is unlikely we will ever witness another series like it.
Match drawn. England won the series 2-1.