Throwback to the greatest series of all-time: Ashes 2005
“They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; ”
- Laurence Binyon
Perhaps the greatest sporting contest ever played panned out in 2005, when the Aussies, unbeaten in 16 years and possessing the sacred urn ever since Sachin Tendulkar had made his debut in International cricket, set foot in England to defend what was well and truly theirs. What they didn't quite account for was a battle, one with vengeance, fire, self-belief and driven by a talismanic skipper who knew the Ashes was going only one way that time around.
It was the pinnacle of Test cricket, a crescendo that commenced at the Mecca of cricket and culminated with every bit of excitement intact on the final day of the final Test at The Oval. It was a spectacle; a movie that ages would rewind, re-watch, adore, admire and save for grandchildren in their libraries.
If anything, it was a conquest, but one at home where the hosts defended bellicosely, summoning every ounce of their resources and administering them to impeccable perfection on the field, outplaying, out-classing and out-thinking a side often recognised as one among the best teams of the century, and probably a couple of centuries before.
Sixteen years. Eight successive series. 83 Test debutants
England went so long without an Ashes that they were desperate for a win. All these years they had meekly surrendered, not having the skills, players or resources to beat the Aussie juggernauts, a team that was quickly shifting gears and becoming the new powerhouse of cricket.
The hosts, however, had a stronger background this time. They had won seven series in a row in the Michael Vaughan-Duncan Fletcher reign. They had some talented batsmen, a maverick import from South Africa, an all-rounder oozing the aura of Ian Botham and a solid battery of pace bowlers.
What made them an even bigger force was belief. The earlier England Ashes teams since 1989 walked out jittery when facing the Australians. This had been the case for most of the previous decade until Michael Vaughan, an unassuming Yorkshire man rose to the helm of the England cricket, took them by their saddle and pulled them on vigorously. Vaughan and this England team, no.2 in the ICC rankings before that historic series, had it in them to test the Aussies. That even Ricky Ponting acknowledged this was probably England's biggest boost before the series.
But Australia being Australia, never saw the threat this England line-up posed. They had ruled the roost across the globe for close to a decade now and were the modern day equivalents of the Roman Empire, led by a charismatic skipper, adorned by some artistic craftsmen in the batting line-up, a scary line of seamers, a spinner with no equals and a keeper-batsman who could make the winds stop with his fiery striking prowess.
They had no reason to be daunted by this England outfit.
But as Steven Harmison, a vital cog in that England team, put it later, “When you're on a roll, it's very difficult to get knocked out of that, even if you're up against a great Australian side.”
First Test - Lord’s
Every conquest (let's call it that) in the history of the World has a path-breaking moment. England had theirs the moment Steven Harmison steamed in and hit Justin Langer on the elbow off the second ball of the opening Test of the series. The gutsy opener hung around to make 40 and watched his partner, the Hulk, Matthew Hayden, thumped on the helmet by another snorter. The skipper, Ricky Ponting, got a taste of Harmison too, when the ball rocked his helmet grille which in turn hit his cheek so hard that he had to visit the hospital.
Moment of the match
Harmison's raging spell set the tone for the series and showed that England were here to compete, much better than before.
Ponting recalls the horror first hour in a piece for the Telegraph, “Three guys were hit on the head in the first hour. It was all on: Test cricket the way you want to play it. When Steve Harmison hit me the ball pushed the helmet grille on to my cheekbone. At first I thought: ‘I'm in trouble here’ Then I looked around and thought: ‘No, I'm fine.’ I even started to take guard, but when I looked down at my bat I saw that I had blood all over my front.”
The Australians were bundled out for 190 but before England could bask in the joy of their pompous start, Glenn McGrath brought them back down to earth with a mesmerising spell 13-5-21-5. From 48/5, England had only one way to go but they hadn't quite expected their explosive, kinky-haired South African, Kevin Pietersen, to get them out of the rut, especially in Test cricket. He did. And admirably well. He looked England's best batsman on his debut, defending, attacking, flicking, pulling, all with the ease of opening a lid and England recovered.
But with just 155 on the board and conceding a lead of 25, the hosts knew they had to bowl well. Michael Clarke, named “Pup” for his relatively boyish looks, adjourned the “Australian” spirit in him to unleash a powerful knock, one that would take Aussies to a mighty total and dump England's hopes of saving the Test. Pietersen once again stood firm amidst the ruins, but England folded for 180 allowing the visitors a massive, confidence-boosting 239 run win.
Australia 190 (Harmison 5-43) & 384 (Clarke 91, Harmison 3-54); England 155 (Pietersen 57, McGrath 5-53) & 180 (Pietersen 64*, McGrath 4-29)