It was a glorious summer that turned the whole of England into cricket fans, and brought the game to a new audience entirely.
England won back the Ashes for the first time since 1987, ending a period of biennial Australian dominance and almost two decades of hurt for the Three Lions. And it was done in the most thrilling of fashions, a 2-1 series triumph full of twists, turns and unprecedented drama. From the first to the last ball the old enemies fought out what is likely to forever be considered the greatest of all series – it will certainly take some beating.
Arguably the Test of the summer came up second, at Edgbaston, Birmingham. The hosts trailed Australia following defeat by 239 runs at Lord’s, traditionally a ground the tourists enjoyed playing at so hardly a surprise.
With Australia holding the Ashes urn, they needed only a drawn series to retain it and at 1-0 up with four to play, it left England potentially needing to win three Tests from four – a tough ask given Australia’s form. The pressure on the Three Lions going into Edgbaston was palpable. It was seen as make or break for Michael Vaughan’s men.
The most welcome of boosts came during Australia’s warm-up when England’s nemesis Glenn McGrath tore his ankle ligaments when he stepped on a ball. Having taken nine wickets in the first Test his withdrawal gave England a big lift. Not only were Australia deprived of their premier bowler throughout, but his replacement Michael Kasprowicz would go on to play a crucial role in the finale.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting must have been rattled because having won the toss he went against almost every pundit and onlooker in deciding to field first. England immediately set about making him pay and became the first team to hit more than 400 runs in a first day of Test cricket against Australia since 1938. Opener Marcus Trescothick top scored with 90 at a strike rate of 88 – impressive even now, 12 years on in this modern age of attacking cricket. Big hitting Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff stole the show, though, with 103 runs together in just 17 overs. England were on top with 407 on the board.
Australia’s response fell 99 runs short but they struck an early blow to England’s attempts to build an imposing lead when Shane Warne bowled Andrew Strauss before day two was out. A critical day three looked set to decide the Test. And so it proved as 17 wickets fell.
Brett Lee took three in 12 minutes and Flintoff – the eventual Man of the Series – arrived at the crease with England wobbling at 72 for five. A counter-attacking 73 saw England reach 183 but Warne’s brilliance had held them in check and having been clear favourites at the start of the day England had a tough 281 to defend.
However, the pitch had begun to deteriorate and so Ponting’s poor choice after winning the toss would hurt him.
With two and a half days to get an achievable 282 to win, Australia began supremely, with Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer wracking up 47 without loss. Then Flintoff took charge with the over of his career. He bowled Langer with his second ball, had two LBW shouts turned down, and also found Ponting’s edge but no catcher.
Finally, after a no ball, his seventh delivery had Australia’s number three caught behind. Seven Australian wickets had fallen as the third day approached a close but England were given an extra half an hour to try and force a three-day finish. Warne defied them, but Steve Harmison got Michael Clarke during overtime setting up what appeared to be a winning position going into the fourth day.
The hosts needed two wickets, with bowlers Warne, Lee and Kasprowicz requiring 107 runs. Remarkably, two partnerships of more than 40 defied England and nervously, the tourists and their tail were edging to a 2-0 series lead. Vaughan and his bowlers were running out of ideas and the expectant crowd were silenced. Television viewers equally so.
When Simon Jones dropped Kasprowicz with Australia needing just 15 runs, he admitted he thought he’d dropped the Ashes. Twelve runs later and it looked like it would happen. England would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Steve Harmison was bowling at last man Kasprowicz, in for the injured McGrath remember, with Lee – defiant and determined for his brilliant 43 – at the other end. Harmison bowled a short ball, Kasprowicz nervously fended it and Geraint Jones sprung forward to claim an historic catch. Somehow, England had won the most breath-taking of Tests.
Amidst the celebrations, an iconic image took place as Flintoff and Lee, two warriors who played a major role in the Test, came together on the wicket. Flintoff commiserating a crestfallen Lee first, before joining the celebrations of his teammates second.
Part of the charm of this series is that it was the last to be played in its entirety on terrestrial television, with Channel 4 pulling in record viewing figures. Sky Sports have done wonders for the game in terms of the money put back into cricket and the amount of games now played live, but England’s matches are no longer available to all and it’s fair to say that many of the supporters hooked by the 2005 Ashes have since been lost behind Sky’s paywall. A true shame, but even the more casual of fans that unforgettable summer have memories to last a lifetime.