It is difficult to overstate the importance of the 2005 Ashes series to English cricket. They were a side on the up, having gradually risen from humbling low of being bottom of the world Test rankings in 1999 up to second place by the time the 2005 series came around. Under the leadership of Michael Vaughan, they had won many plaudits with their positive brand of cricket. However, as with any English team, to truly assert their credentials as a great Test side they would have to beat their old enemy in the biggest series of them all.
What a side they were coming up against, too. Barely deterred by the retirement of the great Steve Waugh 18 months previously, Australia had some of the best players not only of their generation but in the history of the sport: Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting with the bat, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee with the ball, and Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps. Understandably, they went into the series as heavy favourites.
1st Test, Lord’s, 21-25 July
After a long build-up and the usual trash talk associated with an Ashes series, the teams finally got under way at Lord’s. Ricky Ponting won the toss for Australia and opted to bat first, but quickly found themselves in trouble. Coming up against an inspired English bowling attack, they were five wickets down before lunch, while Steve Harmison also inflicted a symbolic blow on Ponting, bowling him a bouncer which struck him on the head and cut his cheek. After lunch the tail contributed a few more runs, getting Australia to the semi-respectable total of 190 all out, while Harmison’s excellent pace bowling earned him five wickets.
Even before the first day was over, though, Australia managed to regain the upper hand. England came up against an inspired Glenn McGrath, who took five wickets in his first eight overs to devastate the English top order, leaving them 21 for 5. The damage could have been far worse but for a swashbuckling debutant by the name of Kevin Pietersen. His half-century, and contributions from the tail managed to drag England to 155 all out, disappointingly conceding a first-innings deficit despite having bowled so well.
The match remained in the balance through Australia’s second innings as they reached 100 for 3, having lost three of their best batsmen in Langer, Hayden and Ponting. Yet their less high-profile players Michael Clarke, Damien Martyn and Simon Katich delivered in their place, each making a half-century to take the game away from England. By the time they were all out, they had set England a target of 420 to win, a chase that, if successful, would be a world record.
The English run chase got off to a positive start, with Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick putting on 80 for the first wicket. After they fell in relatively quick succession, however, England’s batting performance became little more than a procession. Every batsman after the openers, with the exception of Kevin Pietersen, was dismissed in single figures and Warne and McGrath hit their stride. Pietersen was the only saving grace, making an unbeaten 64 as the rest of the team folded around him.
The English response to the defeat at Lord’s was one of exasperation, considering the abject way their talented side had surrendered to the more experienced Australians. They could at least take some solace, though, in the performances of their bowlers (particularly in the first innings), as well as the confidence shown by Pietersen on debut.
2nd Test, Edgbaston, 4-7 August
Even before the second match got underway, England were bolstered by some major breaking news: Glenn McGrath, Australia’s best paceman and man of the match at Lord’s, had slipped on a rogue cricket ball in training, tearing ligaments in his ankle and ruling him out of this game.
Australia again won the toss, but this time, somewhat surprisingly, opted to put England in to bat. The England batsmen immediately got to work, with the openers posting England’s first century partnership of the series. After they were both dismissed, Trescothick having made a scintillating 90, England suffered a minor wobble, falling to 187 for 4. At this point however, Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff proceeded to wrest back control of the game for England, lighting up Edgbaston with another century stand, one coming at almost a run a ball. This combined with some late hitting from the English tail got them up to 407 all out, all coming within a day’s play.
Australia responded in similar fashion on day two, despite losing Hayden for a golden duck, as Langer and Ponting scored quickly against the new ball. They put on 88 for the second wicket, before Ashley Giles, whose performance in the first test had been strongly criticised, claimed the key wicket of Ponting for 61, caught by Vaughan at short fine-leg. After this, Australia lost wickets at regular intervals and were bowled out for 308, with Ponting and Langer, who made 82, the only batsmen to make half-centuries.
England’s attempts to capitalise on their first-innings lead of 99, however, seemed to be somewhat scuppered by none other than their arch-nemesis Shane Warne. After bowling one of the balls of the series to dismiss Strauss, he tore through the English middle order to leave them under serious pressure at 131 for 9. Yet standing in the way of Australia chasing a manageable total was Flintoff. Taking the attack to Australia with another battling half-century, he put on a crucial 51 runs for the last wicket with Simon Jones before falling to Warne, who took six wickets in total.
Australia, chasing a difficult but attainable 282, got off to a steady start until they came up against an inspired Flintoff. Coming on for the first time in the innings, he bowled what many consider to be one of the greatest overs of all time, bowling Langer with his second ball and then having numerous appeals against Ponting before finally getting him to edge the last ball of the over behind. After this the whole bowling attack chipped in with key wickets to reduce Australia for 137 for 7. When Michael Clarke and Shane Warne threatened to build a partnership before close on the third day, the former was bowled by an audacious slower ball from Harmison, leaving England on the brink of victory with only two wickets required.
Yet the Australian tail defied England the next day, building partnerships to edge them ever closer to an unexpected victory with just one wicket in hand. With just three runs to get and Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz going along strongly, a short ball from Harmison surprised Kasprowicz, who gloved one through to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones to give England the narrowest of victories. Whether Kasprowicz should have actually been dismissed is another story, as his hand was apparently off the bat as it was struck by the ball, but he was given out, marking one of the most thrilling Test match finishes in cricketing history. England were jubilant, having just levelled the series, while Australia were disconsolate.
3rd Test, Old Trafford, 11-15 August
The teams moved to Manchester with the series all square thanks to England’s stunning victory the week before. The Australians, though, could find comfort in Glenn McGrath’s quick recovery, including him in the team for the third Test.
Vaughan won the toss, and was the main recipient of his own decision to bat first, racking up an outstanding 166 with support from Trescothick and Ian Bell, who each added half-centuries. A useful lower-order partnership from Flintoff and Geraint Jones then pushed England beyond the 400 mark, before being dismissed as England reached 444 all out. Warne, as usual, was Australia’s main threat, taking four wickets, including becoming the first bowler to reach 600 test wickets when dismissing Trescothick.
As was often the case for Australia, their innings started with a strong opening partnership, but after losing both openers their middle order suffered a collapse. This time, Simon Jones was the instigator, his inspired use of reverse-swing often unplayable as he claimed six wickets. Australia’s total of 302 all out was well behind England’s but could have been far worse had it not been for Shane Warne’s 90 at number seven.
England found themselves in a similar position to Edgbaston at the start of their second innings, but unlike the previous game they hammered home their advantage far more effectively here. Andrew Strauss led the charge this time, contributing an excellent century at the top of the order which, with the assistance of Bell’s second fifty of the game, essentially put the game beyond Australia’s reach. After Strauss was dismissed for 106, England began to up the ante with a view to setting Australia a target, eventually declaring on 280 for 6.
This left Australia the improbable target of 423 to win, with their more likely goal to survive the final day to see the game off into a draw. By this point the English fans were so enthralled by the series that they queued in massive numbers to get into the stadium, with reports suggesting tens of thousands had to be turned away on the final day. The day started well for England, and after Matthew Hoggard removed Langer for 14, wickets fell at regular intervals, with Flintoff again in inspired form. The one man they could not remove, however, was Ponting, who proved his mettle with a dogged century. With support from the lower order, in particular Clarke and Warne, he appeared to be dragging Australia to safety until he uncharacteristically gloved one down the leg side and was caught behind, with four overs remaining in the day. With only Australia’s last-wicket pairing of Lee and McGrath remaining, England would have fancied their chances of victory, but the two tail-enders held out to secure a tense draw.
England were undoubtedly bitterly disappointed by this result, having been ahead of the game from the very first session, and may have seen their failure to win as a missed opportunity against a team which did not offer many. Yet Vaughan later said that the result, and Australia’s reaction to it, motivated the team, as here was the great Australian side celebrating a draw as though it was a victory.
4th Test, Trent Bridge, 25-28 August
Despite the disappointment, belief was high among the England side going to Trent Bridge, who knew from the last two tests that they had what it took to genuinely challenge Australia. The Australians, meanwhile, had to contend with another injury to McGrath, ruling him out of the fourth Test, meaning Shaun Tait was handed his Test debut.
England won the toss and chose to bat, and the openers immediately got to work, putting on 105 for the first wicket. After this partnership, they went on to lose a few quick wickets, and when Vaughan and Pietersen threatened to rebuild, the former was dismissed for 58 by none other than Ponting, using his occasional medium-pace bowling to good effect. From here, Flintoff and Geraint Jones took it open themselves to get England to a good score, putting on 177 including an outstanding century from Flintoff. By the time England were bowled out they had made a formidable 477.
The English bowlers were at it again during the Australian response, with Hoggard taking three early wickets. The star of the innings, though, was Simon Jones, who mastered conventional swing bowling as he did reverse to run riot among the Australian batsmen and finish with five wickets to his name. Australia could have been in an even worse situation were it not for a rapid 47 from Brett Lee, who was getting something of a knack for useful batting performances. Yet they still ended up 218 all out, and were forced to follow on for the first time in a Test match since 1988.
Australia immediately looked much better in the second innings, and although nobody kicked on and got a century, there were significant contributions from throughout the batting order, including fifties for Langer, Katich and Clarke. Ponting also contributed 48 before being famously run out by the English substitute fielder Gary Pratt, much to his chagrin. After a few useful partnerships they were eventually dismissed for 387. Wickets meanwhile were shared among the England bowlers, with the exception of Simon Jones, who was forced off the field due to injury in what would sadly turn out to be his last ever Test match due to his injury-prone nature.
This set England the attainable target of 129 to win, but in this incredibly dramatic series nothing was certain. After a decent start from the openers, both were dismissed by Warne, who along with Lee set about terrorising the England batsmen. Dismissals came and went at a worrying rate for England as they crept towards their target. As Jones, the last recognised batsman, departed England were seven wickets down with 13 runs still to get against a rampant bowling attack. It was tail-enders Giles and Hoggard, though, who managed to see England home, to send Nottingham into raptures and take a 2-1 lead going into the final game.
5th Test, The Oval, 8-12 September
The dramatic events of the previous games meant that England only needed a draw at The Oval to regain the Ashes. They did, however, have to do so without Simon Jones, who was replaced by batting all-rounder Paul Collingwood. Australia, meanwhile, welcomed back McGrath in place of Kasprowicz, naturally providing another threat for England to deal with.
Vaughan again won the toss and opted to bat, his faith instantly repaid by Andrew Strauss, who made his second century of the series, becoming the only player on either side to do so. Support for him came first from Trescothick at the top of the order, and later, to steady the ship after a few wickets were lost, from Flintoff, whose fifty marked yet another meaningful contribution to the series. This allowed England to post a solid 373 for their first innings, as the ever-outstanding Warne took 6 wickets.
Knowing that they would likely need to match if not better England’s total, Australia’s openers got off to a flying start. Langer and Hayden dominated the English bowling attack, each making a century to see Australia to the dominant position of 264 for 1. Determined not to find themselves facing a large, first-innings deficit, however, the English bowlers hit back. Flintoff took five wickets and Hoggard another four to peg back Australia as they fell to 367 all out, slightly behind England’s total.
England knew they were one good innings away from winning the Ashes. Bad light and rain, too, had eaten time out of the game to make a draw much more likely. This, though, did not prevent them from having a serious wobble in the second innings. With Warne and McGrath once again dominant, England fell to 199 for 7 before Pietersen stepped up to make the difference with his maiden Test hundred. Having been dropped by Warne early in his innings, he went on the attack and, with help from Giles who made a crucial half-century, essentially put the game beyond Australia.
By the time the Australians went out to bat, they knew chasing a target of 341 with only 19 overs remaining was too much, and accepted the light when offered it by the umpires, confirming the match as a draw.
Despite such a dramatic series ending in such an anti-climax, England were jubilant, having won the Ashes for the first time since 1987. The series, which had been shown live on free-to-air television in the UK, had captured the interest of the nation, growing a new generation of cricket fans. Thousands upon thousands of them lined the streets of London for England’s victory parade, while the Vaughan’s team became immortalised in English cricketing lore.
Image Credit: Gareth Williams