By the time the fourth Test of the 2005 Ashes rolled around the whole country had progressed from suffering Ashes fever to full on Ashes plague. From Land’s End to the bits up north that nobody cares about, every town hall, 24 hour McDonalds and AA meeting was crammed full of cricket zombies, regurgitating low quality journalism about Freddie Flintoff being some sort of 21st century messiah. Suddenly stories about footballers roasting gullible young ladies were relegated from the back page, replaced by discussion of reverse swing and Ricky Ponting’s rat-like face.
For those of us used to skulking around in the shadows (both literally and metaphorically), this sort of spotlight on cricket was a little terrifying. Surely it wouldn’t last. After all, in the previous game Australia had barely clung on to keep the series level, helped by some rain and the fact that Steve Harmison collapsed under pressure like a Victoria sponge cake being accidentally trodden on by Rik Waller after a night on the town (presumably spent drinking heavily to try and forget that his gig in Devon had been cancelled after only two tickets were sold). Surely Australia would now turn on the style and do what they always did, winning Ashes series.
Obviously they didn’t. It’s important not to lose sight of that fact, lest the tension spoil the rest of the article for you.
The announcement on the morning of the first day that Glenn McGrath was again injured was like opening your bedroom curtains one morning and discovering that somebody’s built the Taj Mahal in your back garden and then filled it with your favourite flavour of Angel Delight*. With hot prospect Shaun Tait brought in and Kasprowicz replacing Gillespie, it certainly didn’t look like the fabled attack of yore. And so it proved on the first day as, between the rain breaks, England reached 277/4. As first days go it was rather comforting – Australia looked a shell of their former selves, with no backlash in sight.
Day two was where the fun really started though, thanks to a partnership of 177 between Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones. From a 2012 perspective it’s hard to remember Jones as being anything other than a disaster for England, dropping catches galore and barely making a run. But in 2005 the jury was still out; indeed, Jones’s place in the team was one the hot topics of the summer. This was the sort of innings that backed up Duncan Fletcher’s judgement as he and Flintoff smacked Australia all over the park. There’s no other way of putting it – this was actually fun to watch. While Edgbaston and Old Trafford had been crammed with more tension than eight hours trapped in a lift with Suzanne Reid, Trent Bridge was an absolute joy to watch.
At least it was for the first two days. After England had finished on 477 they set about blitzing through the Australian top order, reducing them to 99/5 by the close. The whole county was euphoric. Or very drunk. Or both.
Day three saw England complete the first part of the job, eventually rolling over the Aussies for just 218. The follow-on was duly enforced; victory surely just a matter of hours away. At least that’s what we thought.
Star of the first innings with the ball had been Simon Jones. Jones was at his absolute peak by now, reverse swinging the ball around corners and being as exciting a cricketer as we’ve ever seen. He was seriously rapid, plus had the advantage of being the most handsome of a bowling attack that wasn’t a patch on England’s current muscled army of super-hunks. We could write two thousand words on Jones alone, but Editor Steve would get angry, so here’s an utterly wonderful YouTube trip down memory lane instead:
A repeat performance was surely on the cards second time around. At least that’s what we thought. Four overs later, Jones broke down, never to bowl for England again.
With the Ashes slipping away from them, Australia truly dug their heels in. Every batsman made it into double figures, bar Tait. And yet, while Clarke, Katich and Langer all made it to 50 none made it past 61 as England manfully plugged away. Just as each partnership threatened to swing the game back into the tourists’ favour, England found a breakthrough through either Hoggard, Harmison, Flintoff, Giles or, in one unforgettable moment, Gary Pratt. His run-out of an ominously poised Ponting, in the gathering gloom of the afternoon, brought conversations across the country to a sudden halt. Silence turned to laughter as Ponting lost his rag leaving the pitch, abusing the balcony as he went.
Australia were finally bundled out for 387, leaving England the mere formality of 129 to win. As they raced to 32 inside five overs it looked even more straightforward. And then Warne came on to bowl. Trescothick went first ball and Vaughan followed in his next over. Strauss was just a few minutes behind before Brett Lee claimed the not-overly prized scalp of Ian Bell. The sound of nerves jangling across the country was deafening but was briefly calmed by Flintoff and Pietersen who took the score to 103. Victory was in sight before the game swung yet again. Just like Edgbaston and Old Trafford, it was once again squeaky bum time.
Lee returned to claim the wickets of Pietersen and Flintoff in quick succession before Geraint Jones did his bit for Australian/Papau New Guinean relations, smacking a ball from Warne straight up in the air. With just 13 runs needed it was back to Edgbaston all over again: nobody was allowed to move. Nobody that is, apart from messers Giles and Hoggard. Neither was exactly known for their batting but, ball by ball, run by run, they gradually brought the target within sight. A cover drive from Matthew Hoggard that sailed to the boundary brought enormous cheers before Giles worked the ball off his hip for the last two runs. England had done it. Finally everyone could relax. Most importantly, those of us dying for the toilet could finally go.
With just one game to go, England were in front. Surely the final match at The Oval couldn’t be anywhere near as tense…
*with thanks to Keith Cameron from the NME, from whom this delightful phrase has been shamelessly plundered.