The last time England won the Ashes was way back in 1986-87. Since then, they could not get the urn until this time (2005). And the English team in the 90s faced some huge dip in form. The inventors of cricket were in a bad patch. On the other hand, Australia had already become the predominant force in the world of cricket. But instead of taking England for granted Aussie Captain hinted well with his words that the series was going to be close.
The 1st Lord’s Test:
The historic series started at the Mecca of Cricket, Lords on 21 July. Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. The first innings and second innings did not prove to be scoring. The pitch offered swing and bounce that costed the visitors quick fall of wicket. Justin Langer only accumulated a decent score of 40 runs which came off only 44 balls. Ricky Ponting was hit on the face by a bouncer of Harmison and the helmet cut his cheek. But Ponting could not take a revenge as he was dismissed for 9 only. Australia managed to put on a total of 190 runs only. Harmison ended up taking a fifer.
In reply the English side could not do much. The talented debutant Kevin Pietersen smashed a half century. But the McGrath-Lee storm did not let the English anchor their innings. They lost all the wicket for 155 runs only.
The third innings went well in the favor of the Aussies as they could set up a huge lead over England with the help of Ponting, Martyn, Clarke and Katich. Young Clarke went close to a well-deserved century but could not fulfill it for 9 runs only. The Aussie innings amassed 384 runs.
England, with a huge total to achieve collapsed badly with only Pietersen again scoring a good 64 runs and Trescothick 44 runs, gifted the rivals the first Test by 239-runs.
The 2nd Edgbaston Test:
In this Test too, Australia won the toss but they elected to bowl first. Batting first, England registered a good total of 407 runs. Trescothick made 90. KP, who was in a sound form made 71 runs and Flintoff contributed 68 runs. England made these runs very quickly. They maintained an average run rate of more than 5 runs per over.
Australia too tried to maintain a high scoring rate. Langer, Ponting, Gilchrist and Clarke added valuable runs to the scoreboard but Australian innings ended 99-short of the English total.
But the Australian bowlers bounced back in the third innings. With Lee and Warne taking the charge they sent the England batting line up quickly to the pavilion. The only stand out performance was Flintoff’s 73.
With a view to chasing 282 runs Langer and Hayden stepped in. They were slowly inching closer to the winning total but losing wicket continuously wasn’t helping them at all. An inside edge for four and the goal came down to single digit; the fans were getting excited as were the players. But the batter couldn’t play the short ball and the keeper took it. Up went Billy Bowden’s crooked finger as Vaughan ran in joy. Flintoff sat with Brett Lee in the middle; the game is only in the field; it’s not a war after all.
The 3rd Manchester Test:
Michael Vaughan won the toss at Old Trafford on 11th August. England went to bat. The wicket of Strauss fell quickly. Then Vaughan and Trescothick built an important partnership. But as Trescothick edged a ball to Gilchrist, Warne completed the rare feat of taking 600 wickets in test cricket. But Vaughan played a captain’s knock of 166 runs which would eventually become the highest individual score of that series. Bell was struggling in that series earlier but made a gritty 59 runs in the innings and England registered a score of triple fours i.e., 444 on the board.
Australia on the other hand failed to surpass the English total. It was Warne with the bat who took Australia to a respectable total of 302 runs. Warne made 90 runs in the innings.
In the 3rd innings Strauss hit a ton with Bell again scoring a half century. The English declared the innings when it was 280 for 6.
Australia bore a mammoth total on their head. Everyone thought England would win the match as wickets kept on falling in a regular interval. But it was Aussie captain’s turn to show his master class. Ricky Ponting stood high and scored 156 runs with the help of 16 boundaries and one over boundary. He basically saved Australia from losing the game with his match saving knock. Australia ended up for 371/9. England failed to take the last wicket and the yet another dramatic end to the match made it drawn.
The 4th Trent Bridge Test:
At the Trent Bridge too the result of the toss didn’t alter. England won the toss and chose to bat first. Once again England crossed 400 runs. Flintoff’s century and other teammates’ assistance helped England reach 477 runs in the first innings.
On the other hand, English bowlers restricted the Australian line up from scoring big. With decent knocks of Katich and the Brett Lee Australia managed to score 218 runs.
Forced to follow on Australia did well in this innings. And when they were wrapped up England needed to score 129 runs to claim the match. But this seemingly easy run chase did not prove to be so easy. England had to lose 7 wickets before completing the run chase. Drama, Drama and drama that’s what the Ashes all about. However, England won the match and took a 2-1 lead in the series.
The 5th Oval Test:
At last, it was Oval. The result of toss was same as before. England came to bat and scored 373 runs assisted by 129 of Strauss. When it came to the Australian innings the two openers scored hundreds. Based on their performances Australia came very close to England as they stopped at 367.
Then the young KP once again showed his class with a brilliant knock of 158 coming off only 187 deliveries.
Australia had a target of 342 runs to label the series. But the whole match was interrupted by occasional rains. So, Australia could play only 4 balls before the match as well as the series ended.
The End of a Perfect Ashes:
Andrew Flintoff aka Freddie Flintoff was awarded the Player of the Series. He rightly deserved that as he became the first English player to score more than 400 runs and take more than 20 wickets in a test series. His contribution was peerless in that Ashes. It was a historic series filled with drama and emotions as an Ashes is expected to be. This was a huge victory for England and the rejoice amongst the English was even more than any World Cup win. And why shouldn’t they be happy? After 18 years they had at last regained the iconic Ashes Urn.