Authors: John Miller
Tags: #Sports & Recreation/Cricket
No sporting contest has captured the imagination of two nations like the Ashes, and despite war interruptions, the scare provided by Bodyline, the threat posed by World Series Cricket and the popularity of the one-day game, the Ashes has survived and thrived. The series in England in 2005 and Australia in 2006–07 provide the evidence.
Going in to the 2005 series, Australia had won eight successive series and had an overall lead of 125 to 95 in English–Australian Tests. However, England produced the unbelievable, coming back from 1–0 down to win 2–1 and regain the coveted urn.
The first Test was at Lord’s and not since 1890 had both teams failed to muster 200 in the first innings there as Australia made 190 and England 155. Kevin Pietersen gave notice to Australia with 57 and 64 not out, and Steve Harmison with 5–43 but Australia won by 239. The Edgbaston Test was a thriller with England winning by two, the narrowest margin in any Ashes contest. After being put in to bat by Ricky Ponting, England openers Marcus Trescothick (90) and Andrew Strauss posted a 112-run stand, setting up a total of 407.
Shane Warne became the first bowler to take 100 Test wickets in a country other than his own and did so with a delivery in the second innings reminiscent of ‘that ball’ from the 1993 series. It ripped through the defence of Strauss, crashing into his middle stump. Warne took 10–162 in the match. Fast bowlers Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz put on a plucky 59 for the last wicket and looked set to give Australia an amazing victory, when the latter nicked one to the keeper, leaving Australia just short. The final wicket was greeted with cheers and plenty of relief as England had shown more fight and flair than it had for many years. In Manchester, on the first morning of the exciting drawn third Test, Warne became the first bowler to take 600 Test wickets. But he was unable to stop Vaughan scoring 166 in England’s 444 nor Strauss hitting 106 in the second innings. Vaughan declared late on the fourth day leaving Australia 423 for victory and they were 0–24 at stumps. England expected a victory and the public responded—fans queued outside Old Trafford from 3am, the ‘house full’ sign indicating 24,000 people was put out at 8.30am and another 15,000 swirled around outside unable to get tickets. Ponting turned in a brilliant captain’s knock, staying at the crease for most of the day. At one stage Australia had a chance but at 6–263 Ponting thought it best to play for a draw. Gillespie went cheaply and Warne made a patient 34. When he was dismissed Australia was 83 short but eight wickets down. Harmison removed the tired Ponting for 156 and McGrath joined Lee with 24 balls left. England threw everything at them but they survived.
England took the lead in the series with a three-wicket win at Nottingham. The home side made 477, including a powerful 102 from Andrew Flintoff. Australia struggled to 218 owing to the reverse swing of Flintoff and an inspired 5–44 from Simon Jones. It was forced to follow on for the first time in a Test in seventeen years and fared better to make 387 and give England 128 to chase. England began its chase with most fans believing it would be plain sailing. At 0–32 and 97 to get, Warne was introduced and immediately took the wicket of Trescothick and then Vaughan in his next over. Wickets continued to fall and the crowd was first stunned as Warne got another to make it 7–116 but then relieved as the total was finally achieved.
With Australia needing a win and England at worst a draw to win the Ashes, all eyes were on the Oval. England made a good start after Vaughan won the toss and Warne was the only bowler to trouble the batsmen as England made 373. Australia replied with 367 but played into England’s hands when on day two they left the field after accepting the bad light offered just after tea. Bad light was again costly on day four and England was now content to play for a draw but ran into trouble on the final day, being 5–126 before Pietersen came to the rescue with a powerful innings of 158. At tea England was 7–199 with a 205 lead but Australia could still win with quick wickets. This didn’t happen as Pietersen continued and it was not until the end of the first hour after tea that the crowd could rest easy in the knowledge it would be drawn and the Ashes returned. Pietersen went on to one of the great power innings of Test cricket, hitting seven sixes and fifteen fours in his match-saving 158 off 187 balls. Flintoff was England’s star of the summer, becoming the first English all-rounder to achieve 400 runs and twenty wickets in a Test series against Australia.
The result created huge interest in the 2006–07 series in Australia, with most seats for all five Tests sold out shortly after tickets went on sale early in 2006. Many believed it would be another close series but to the delight of most in the sold-out crowds, except the ‘Barmy Army’ supporters of England, it wasn’t, and Australia achieved a 5–0 clean sweep for only the second time in Ashes history.
England’s stars of the previous series failed to fire with Vaughan and Jones out through injury. Flintoff was given the captaincy duties but it proved too great a burden as he failed to fire with the bat and was not consistent with the ball. Only Pietersen showed anything like the form he had in England, but he received little support. For Australia, Warne and McGrath were outstanding in their last Test series while fast bowler Stuart Clark took the most wickets. All batsmen proved up to the task, sharing the load well throughout with captain Ponting, desperate to make up for losing the Ashes, a shining light.
In Brisbane, Australia set the scene by scoring 9–602 in the first innings, including 196 from Ponting. McGrath ripped through England, taking 6–50 of 157. Ponting did not enforce the follow-on but gave England a formidable target by declaring at 1–202. England fared better scoring 370, but still lost by 277. England batted first in Adelaide and set a competitive 551. After having Australia in trouble early, they let them off the hook with Ponting’s 142 and Michael Clarke’s 124 taking the hosts to 513. Hoping to set a big total, England capitulated with 129. Australia lost four wickets in scoring 168.
England again let Australia off the hook in Perth, handing the Ashes back. Exciting spinner Monty Panesar had inexplicably been left out of the first two Tests but was included in Perth with immediate results, taking 5–92, and Australia was dismissed for 244. Hoping to get an advantage, English wickets fell steadily with Pietersen’s 70 the backbone of a disappointing 215. Australia then put the match beyond England with 5–527.
England did better in its second innings, scoring 350 but still lost by 206. Warne took 5–39 as England was humbled for 159 in the first innings in Melbourne. Flintoff took three early Australian wickets as the home side were in a spot of bother at 5–84 but Hayden (153) and Andrew Symonds (156) put their team in a strong position while Warne, much to the delight of a packed MCG for his last home ground Test, hit 40 not out as Australia made 419. Needing 261 to make Australia bat again, England could not get near it, scoring only two more than their first innings. Hoping to avoid a humiliating whitewash in Sydney, a miserable second innings saw England fail to stop Australia doing just that, handing them a twelfth successive Test win and a perfect send-off for the retiring Warne, McGrath and Justin Langer. The visitors hit 291 in their first innings. The match looked evenly poised with Australia at 5–190 but again England let them off the hook as Symonds, Gilchrist and Warne (71) gave their side an advantage of 102. England handed the win to Australia with a feeble second innings of 147.
Despite the whitewash Australia has lost a number of its best players with others close to retirement, while England has a young side with the potential to improve significantly. These factors together with the unprecedented spirit and pride associated with English–Australian Tests will ensure that future Ashes series will be as keenly contested and enthusiastically watched as any before.
No contest has captured the imagination of cricket lovers around the world as much as the Ashes. From the controversy of the Bodyline series to the brilliance of Bradman, from the heroics of batsmen like Botham and Ponting to the bowling magic of Warne, this is an event that has always demanded the very best of those who wish to win it. From the Test that started it all back in 1882 to the recent triumphant Australian victory in 2006-7, THE ASHES looks at the moments that have made this one of the world's great sporting events.
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