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The romance of the Ashes

Mausam Kumar
344   //    05 Sep 2019, 13:36 IST

A Jubilant Ben Stokes after his maverick 135 to lead England to a win against Australia at Headingley to keep the Ashes alive
A Jubilant Ben Stokes after his maverick 135 to lead England to a win against Australia at Headingley to keep the Ashes alive

It was the summer of 2005. The buildup to the Ashes had been heating up as Australia had comprehensively beaten England by a margin of 4-1 in 2003. Talk of revenge was in the air. England were able to build a very good team and it was expected to be a great series given the quality of players on both sides. It wasn't an opinion that lacked evidence - the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen added an aura to the English side, the kind they had struggled to match since the Ian Botham days.

The Aussies required little reinforcement. They were by far the best Test side up until then and oozed the kind of confidence and arrogance that they were known for. The stage was set. Little did anybody know that this was going to be the Ashes for the ages. 

The appeal of Test cricket lies in the intimacy it has with its puritan followers. It is also the ultimate 'test', batsmen having to battle past the challenge of bowlers with attacking fields and bowlers toiling through the day to pick wickets. Each session has its moments - its highs and lows. The challenge of Test cricket is real.

The first Test at Lord's ended up in annihilation for England. Australia had been bowled out for 190 in their first innings and it seemed like England were going to take the Test match by the scruff of its neck. Instead, they were bowled out for 155 and 180 in their two innings and were beaten comprehensively by 239 runs. Steve Harmison's five-wicket haul in the first innings had gone in vain. The murmurs of 5-0 had started to fly. Little did they know what was in the store to come. 

The second Test at Edgbaston in that series was by far the best Test match that had ever been played until it was trumped by Headingley 2019 (Ben Stokes masterclass). England played with vengeance and fury and without a single century were able to post a mammoth 407 in their first innings. It was now for the bowlers to take control. Australia put up 308 largely due to valiant efforts from Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting. Starting with the lead of just under 100 England crumbled for 182 in their second innings. Brett Lee and Shane Warne shared all 10 of those wickets. Australia were set a target of 282, not modest by any means but hardly undoable with their batting prowess. 

Langer and Matthew Hayden gave them a good start. Once Langer and Ponting fell in the 13th over, it was down to the unusual suspects to do the job now and they almost did. The fact that Lee and Warne were the two with the highest scores in the second innings bore testimony to their grit. Michael Kasprowicz added 20 of his own for the last wicket partnership with Lee and it felt like they were going to do the unthinkable.

But only they didn't. Billy Bowden raised his crooked finger when he adjudged Kasprowicz to have nicked a short ball off Harmison which went into Jones' gloves. Brett Lee had been left stranded at the other end. England had won the Test match by 2 runs. It was real. This had happened. Flintoff's surreal moment with Lee in the aftermath of all this drama was going to become the most iconic consolation in cricket.

The Ashes had been saved. It was still burning. There was all to play for at 1-1.

A distraught Kasprowicz being consoled after he was the last wicket to fall for Australia in Edgbaston test, 2005
A distraught Kasprowicz being consoled after he was the last wicket to fall for Australia in Edgbaston test, 2005

Edgbaston 2005 captured the very romance of the Ashes. It had everything a test match could ever have. What happened in the aftermath of this win is history now. England went on to win the Ashes 2-1. The mighty Aussies had been humbled. The Romance of the Ashes was alive and kicking. 

The Ashes of 2019 has a similar ring to it. Australia beat England comprehensively in the first Test at Edgbaston and it was quite humbling for a team which has just won the ODI World Cup. The second Test ended in a draw and the third Test will perhaps go down as one of the greatest Test matches ever played given the defiance of Stokes and Leach in the end. The anticipation of an epic battle is what makes the Ashes what it is. 

When the Ashes come, heroes rise. The third Test in Headingley which bore testimony to one of the most incredible run chases ever in the history of Test cricket has kept the Ashes alive. Stokes and Root and DRS came together to foment a concoction of mesmerising taste, one that had never been created before. The Ashes are now poised critically at 1-1. The romance of the Ashes is immortal, it is internal. The romance of the Ashes is a romance in time. This is to rejoice in a celebration of its glory and to its mystique and grandeur. Long live the Ashes. 

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