Fourth Test –
By now my test match routine was settled. I arranged my working week so I could spend as much time as possible close to the radio on Thursday and Friday. The TMS coverage that year surpassed even their usual high standards. The commentators are great; Agnew, Blofeld, CMJ and Aussie guest Maxwell. The summarisers included Boycott, Marks and Lawson. Big news when I tuned in on day one, McGrath’s injury had flared up again and he would miss the match. Gillespie had been taking a hiding and he was dropped, the lightning fast Tait given a debut. Australia were creaking!
The match started, England won the toss and threatened to dominate from the start. With the exception of Bell, all of England’s top order scored good runs but none turned their start into a match winning innings. Day one was reduced to 60 overs by rain and finished poised with England 229-4.
Pietersen fell early on day two leaving England in a tricky situation at 241-5 but step up Flintoff who in partnership with Jones (85) tilted the game firmly in England’s favour. Freddie made 102 and England were eventually all out for 477. Then Hoggard destroyed the top order taking three and leaving Aus 99-5 at stumps.
We were home for the beginning of play, a hundred partnership between Katich and Clarke held England up but Hoggy broke them up and we began to chip away again. The wickets were shared and eventually Aus were all out for 387 leaving England 129 to win. It started comfortably enough with Strauss & Tres racing to 36 but Warne wreaked havoc and all of a sudden we were 57-4 and I was shitting it. KP and Fred then calmed things taking us to 103 before Lee roared in at extreme pace and we were 116-7 with Hoggy and Giles at the wicket! Surely they weren’t going to turn this around? Not revenge for Headingly, please NO!
It was unbearable. I had TV’s on upstairs and down with the radio in between and I was pacing between all three places. Upstairs then down, out in the garden between overs, then back in the house. We crept closer, from nowhere Hoggy played the best cover drive of his life and it went for four!! Closer, getting closer, Giles pushes for two and fucking hell yes!! Relief!! Adrenaline!! And I didn’t have to hide in the shower this time!
In three weeks we’d just experienced three brilliant test matches with close, tense terrifying finishes. And England had hung on to win two of them!!
Fifth Test – The Oval
We had to wait two weeks until the fifth and final test. It’s fair to say that by this point the country had gone Ashes crazy and everyone was behind the team. Could they do what no English team had managed in nearly twenty years? England had been the better team and if not for time lost on the first day at Old Trafford would have been leading 3-1. Would Simon Jones be fit? As time went on it became apparent but who would replace him? So with my Ashes routine in full swing my ability to follow the cricket was thrown into confusion by a family holiday to Holland!
I took my radio and TMS radio hat with me and was able to pick up coverage from time to time. I also managed to locate some English newspapers to keep me in touch with what was going on. For Australia McGrath was back and for England Paul Collingwood stepped in for the injured Jones, in what many thought was a defensive selection. We only needed a draw after all. Australia needed a win to draw the series and retain the Ashes, a victory they scarcely deserved. Yes they had played some great cricket but we had been better.
I don’t remember much about the first four days of the match. I managed to get TMS with a decent reception most of the time. England won the toss and batted making 373 built around 129 from Strauss and 70+ from Flintoff. A decent score but we hadn’t managed to bat Aus out of the match. Warne was at his very best bowling long spells to take six wickets. In reply the much vaunted opening partnership of Hayden and Langer finally fired, both made tons. Flintoff took five wickets and Hoggard four as Aus were all out for 367. By Stumps on the fourth day England’s second innings was poised at 24-1. We just needed to bat out the day to regain the Ashes.
The fifth day was always going to be nervous so I went to Amsterdam. I had my TMS radio hat on but the signal was dodgy in the city. I heard up until lunch with the score a precarious 120 odd for 5 but then lost contact. Had an extremely nervous couple of hours and even a visit to a coffee shop didn’t help. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I found myself standing in the middle of Dam square in the sunshine, the signal comes back and the first words I hear are “Lee runs in to bowl….” Lee? We’re still batting!!!! They haven’t got time to come back…..!!! I punched the air, shouted & danced on the spot. The family thought I’d gone nuts but luckily if there’s one place in the world we’re this kind of behaviour is almost normal, it’s Amsterdam.
KP scored his maiden test century, a brilliant 158 and received support from Collingwood and Giles who made 59. England made 335, Warne took another six wickets and McGrath three. Brett Lee was wicketless but on another day, with a bit of luck he might have won the match for Australia.
Back at our holiday caravan I sat in a comfortable chair soaking up sunshine, sipping from a Bottle of Amstel as the greatest series ever played came to a rather anti climatic conclusion. That didn’t matter one bit. England had won the Ashes!! Being abroad I missed the team’s drunken tour of London and in hindsight I’m glad.
Men of the series were obvious selections; For Australia Shane Warne took 40 wickets at 19.92 including three five wicket hauls. He also scored 249 runs at 27.66 with a top score of 90. England’s Andrew Flintoff took 24 wickets at 27.29 with a best of 5-78 and hit a century on his way to 402 runs at 40.2.
After beating a team of Aussie legends, we passionate English cricket fans could now appreciate what a great team they were. It was hard to do this when we were in the two decades of pain but now we could be objective. Yes they were a superb team and in Warne, McGrath, Ponting and Gilchrist they had some all-time great players (but not as good as the West Indies!) At that time Australia had strength in depth, in 2006 they regrouped came back stronger to thrash England. However that was the end of an era for Australian cricket.
Going into the 2005 England had a settled XI that was a proven match for anyone, that team reached its peak in that Ashes series. Afterwards it broke up and we didn’t have the strength in depth that Australia had. Simon Jones never played test cricket again. Vaughan, Trescothick and Flintoff struggled with illness and injuries. However English cricket was in a better place than it had been for many years.
That was the greatest test series ever played, a clash of champion and challenger that rivals the Ali & Frazier duels of the seventies. On paper England dominated the final four matches but that doesn’t tell the whole story. England kept knocking Australia down but they kept bouncing back swinging. It had the nerves and tension of a penalty shootout that lasted six weeks. The final outcome was not decided until the fifth day of the fifth test. The standard of cricket over the five matches was simply brilliant, there were great moments in all disciplines from both teams. Will we ever see two sides playing cricket as good as that again?