The Ashes 2005

A summer we will never forget

James Lawton; the Independent 13 September 2005

On the last day of the most brilliant summer of our sporting lives the impossible occurred. As the sun played across this old ground, as even the heavens seemed to say these were hours which could not played under a grey cloak of London sky for they they had to be cherished always, not only did the drama refuse to abate, it itensified.

England won the Ashes, but long after this is a detail of cricket history assigned amid a thousand others, this day, this summer, will surely live at least as long as all who saw it and felt it and were carried, for a small but totally absorbing fraction of their lives, into a world where men, however young and green, however steeped in gritty experience, kept digging down and finding new dimensions to both their will and their talent.

This was the story of this fifth Test, as it was of the first at Lord’s, the second at Edgbaston, the third at Old Trafford and the fourth at Trent Bridge.

In the end this wasn’t so much a series for the mythic trophy of the Ashes, it was an exploration of pure commitment and spirit. Astoundingly, at none of these bastions of the ancient game that some claimed was the foundation of the old British empire, did the momentum, the dream of sporting perfection, ever flag. It was as though it was infused by some outside force, some element beyond the normal calculations of mere sports technique.

The momentum of the play has created more than amazing feats and emerging personality. It has created a wave of joy, one that will now be celebrated in Trafalgar Square today but this is of not so much importance. There will be a certain sadness buried in the pomp and the triumphalism.

It is is that the real action has stopped because this has been a series of cricket matches that had become a heady state of mind, a sustained exultation about what sport can be when it is played in the very best spirit and at the highest level of performance.

Yesterday the stage was seized at the most crucial hour by Kevin Pietersen, a young, brash mercenary cricketer from South Africa in whom many see some of the worst aspects of the modern sports culture…burgeoning ego, a love of celebrity, a taste for “bling”, £50,000 of it taken on to the field in one of those massive self-advertisements beloved of the red-top tabloids. But when it mattered most all those doubts about his place in the Ashes summer – or at least his philosophical understanding of what was happening around him – dissolved in a blaze of competitive character and virtuosity.

Pietersen scored a century that propelled him instantly alongside the hero of ’81, Ian Botham, who has been his greatest defender in some controversial days. In the long break from Ashes success, 16 years of it, some said no Englishman would ever win the acclaim of “Beefy” when he smashed his way to a century that redeemed himself, and his team, and the Ashes trophy. But this summer the high ground of Botham has not been occupied but invaded.

First it was Freddie Flintoff, a man of superb spirit and force but essentially gentle nature. Now it was the adopted Englishman, Pietersen. His power, after withstanding a brutal 93mph-plus assault from Australian Brett Lee, carried the long battle on to still another dimension. His response to a ball that threatened to decapitate him, was a flurry of mighty sixes. This was cricket of the most vengeful gods.

But then it was only what had come to be expected in a contest which the grand, elegant old man of cricket Richie Benaud, a superbly acute captain of Australian in his youth before he became the voice and the wisdom of the game, has declared the greatest Ashes cricket he has ever seen.

Even for those who do not the nuances of cricket, its mysterious ebb and flow, the pattern of the summer has been easy enough to see and to value.

It is been about arguably the greatest team of cricketers ever assembled in the history of the game fighting off the challenge of a rising English team, one hardened by the rejection of long years of defeat and disgrace. Just five years ago the predecessors of this England team were booed by the crowd when they appeared on the balcony of the the pavilion here after a disastrous series against New Zealand. Cricket was not a glory of the land, then. It was a sad remnant of the old days of Compton and May, Hobbs and Hutton, and, the more recent heroes Botham and Bob Willis, Mike Gatting and David Gower.

Now there is a stunning renaissance. As the hour of Pietersen came, the Oval crowd was filled with something more than stale chauvinism. It was a pride which brought wit and laughter built on the fact that was not some sudden eruption of skill and by proficiency by their team. It was the pinnacle of a long, hard drive to, as far as this game goes, supreme achievement.

The summer has been punctuated by superb performances from men like Flintoff, Pietersen, Andrew Strauss and Ashley Giles, the spinner in the shadow of the great Australian Shane Warne who again yesterday represented the great threat to England’s ride home to glory. Giles had stirred controversy with his complaints about fierce criticism after first Test defeat by Lord’s. He didn’t see then that Australia’s brilliantly commanding performance, led by another legend Glenn McGrath, only seemed to have confirmed the English sense that the men from Down Under were visiting us from another planet.

Giles was advised to, as they say in the tougher sporting circles, put up or shut up. Giles put up to brilliant effect. The bowler who was dismissed as a passenger by one critic of Test experience held the line with the bat when England won the last Test at Trent Bridge to give them the 2-1 lead they carried here. And it was Giles, after the devastatingly cheap dismissal of Flintoff, who occupied the batting crease for the tense overs which ensured that the Ashes would again become English property.

You can go through the English team and find so many stories of such resilience, and nowhere more remarkably than at the top. Michael Vaughan, the captain, has suffered a problem which often comes with the cares of leadership. His own batting, which at its best is of the classic variety, has not been inflicted, but he did produce a brilliant century at Old Trafford and yesterday he execute a drive through extra cover which simply had everything, poise and breathtaking facility.

That was the promising prelude of huge promise to the devastating, ultimately decisive onslaught of the latest hero Pietersen.

The Australians fought long into the last day. Warne bowled at times superbly but in the declining hope that at 35 and probably playing his last Test on English soil he would finally emerge as the man of the greatest summer cricket has ever known.

He didn’t manage it in the end but he could say that at least he was a huge part of it. Whichever way you looked at that, it was impossible to see it as defeat. England won the Ashes and that was supposed to mean everything. In a way it did, but only in a way. There was something more and it was a wonder and last night, whoever you were, you left this place with the knowledge that you might never again feel about sport to quite the same degree.

Pietersen shines in Ashes triumph

David Llewellyn at The Oval (The Independent)

Sept. 12. —The series may belong to Andrew Flintoff for his fabulous all-round contribution throughout, but for sheer guts, and aggression an award should be pinned to Kevin Pietersen’s chest for today’s brilliant century. His previous nine Test innings against the Australians this summer had occupied a shade over 12 hours and had contained plenty of fireworks.

But it is the 288 minutes he spent out in the middle today which will go down in legend. Edges of seats were worn away, voices were shouted hoarse as Pietersen single-handedly, and in swashbuckling style, settled the issue of where the Ashes will reside for the next 14 months or so until England’s visit Down Under in the winter of 2006-2007.

The half-dozen dropped catches attributed to Pietersen during this taut series can be expunged from the memory if not from the record as far as the jubilant England fans are concerned. This courageous, outrageous, century – the 22nd of his first-class career – is one to treasure.

The 25-year-old’s seemingly nerveless innings, including a breathtaking assault on the fast bowler Brett Lee just after lunch, lifted home spirits and fanned the flames of patriotic passion. And he does not discriminate with his punishing hitting. He professes to have great respect for the Aussies, but even his best mate Shane Warne, with whom he shares a great rivalry, has come in for plenty of stick from the six feet four inches Pietersen throughout the series, no more so than today as he thundered to another century.

His one-man assault in south London was no more than what everyone has come to expect from the flamboyant Hampshire batsman. Not for him the role of sheet anchor, there is no cowering behind a defensive bat, as Australia’s cricketers and England’s fans have witnessed since the first Test at Lord’s.

That might have ended in defeat for England, but Pietersen’s two half-centuries were testimony to his philosophy.
In the second Test at Edgbaston, Pietersen hit another half-century. And although the second innings saw relative failure by his own high standards, the big-hitting, attacking approach was still evident in his modest contribution of 20 runs which contained two more sixes. Normal service was resumed yesterday as he continued to clear the boundary in heroic fashion.

All aglow in aftermath of battle
By Sue Mott – The Telegraph

It may not be an exaggeration to assert that we are a better nation this morning. Not just from the pride of seeing Michael Vaughan hold up the Ashes trophy amid a blizzard of confetti, streamers, fireworks, cheers, tears and violently-sprayed champagne but from the privilege of watching the greatest series of cricket ever played on these, or any, shores. It was the most spectacular contest performed in the finest spirit by warrior competitors imbued with generosity, decency, Trojan effort and vivid mutual admiration.

If Shane Warne was also over-imbued with pies, it only added to the memorable character of the event.

“It’s been seven weeks of absolute emotional turmoil,” England’s opener Andrew Strauss said succinctly. It was. “We’re knackered,” he said. So are we, Andrew, and all we’ve done is hide behind the sofa.

England, sport and cricket are victorious but it is a measure of how much we have appreciated the continued feats of pugnacity on both sides, exemplified by the dynamic Kevin Pietersen yesterday, that we can scarcely bear to let Australia go. We have grown accustomed to their ways.

Warne’s wicked genius, old Matthew Hayden’s bullish century, young Shaun Tait’s ripping fast ball and captain Ricky Ponting’s battle-scarred acceptance of defeat.

One particular scar he earned at the outset, as his helmet grille was embedded in his cheek in the ferocity of the opening exchanges. But far from developing into a nasty minded war, it is evident that both sets of players have shared experiences that will forge lifelong friendships and recurring hangovers whenever they meet again.

Quaintly, the fabulous series ended in mayhem, finishing not with a winning run or deciding wicket, but with the umpires parading their light meters and the players going off for bad light. Nobody cared. The presentations took forever but no-one left for the Tube. This was history, disguised as a sports event, but much more important than that.

This was about men growing up, accepting responsibility, becoming heroes and clumping a cricket ball higher, further, farther than the Australians. When did we think we would ever say that? It made a leader of Vaughan, a gladiator of Andrew Flintoff and stupendous crowd-pleaser of Pietersen, lately of South Africa, now of England.

Won’t they be sick in Pretoria. Funnily enough, no-one thought his foreignness was an issue, nor that of England’s Zimbabwean coach, Duncan Fletcher. Clearly, neither of them is as foreign as Swedish. Neither of them lost either.

It could all have been so different. Pietersen lived dangerously. He dropped six catches in this series, but the Australians almost repaid the compliment in his one innings. Dropped by Hayden, Warne and Tait, he was struck on the ribs, the chest and ducked into a vicious volley of bouncers from Brett Lee only to score 158. That will do.

Jerusalem has never sounded so stirring, even if half the crowd thought the mention of the Lamb of God was out of date. He retired years ago, Allan.

Unforgettable for the England players, for the crowds who cheered them, for the worldwide viewers who scarcely left their couches for nerve-wracked, heart-stopping, beer swilling, crisp-cramming, desperate hours on end. The legacy is vast, if we allow it to be. You can hardly begin to imagine how many little boys (and possibly tomboy girls) will be going to school with their hair dyed like a skunk. The most appalling look and the most wonderful homage to Pietersen’s maiden Test century.

Everyone was struck by it: Warne, Lee, Glenn McGrath, Tait and the policewoman who clapped him on the back as he danced up the steps to the wild embrace of team-mates in the dressing room.

We’ve caught the bug. The celebratory mood that rocked the Oval last night has already radiated outwards. If one more single school playing field is sold off after this, the entire Cabinet should be strapped to a lamppost to be bowled at by Matthew Hoggard. Without boxes.

Cricket, a sport previously redolent of summer laziness and portly chaps getting out for nought while still chewing their tuna fish sandwiches, has come brilliantly, sexily, dramatically of age. This Ashes series was a magnificent combination of ancient lores and modern athleticism. The flags of St George and the Southern Cross fluttered amid the turrets of the Oval’s traditional pavilion, while the Barmy Army and their bugler went noisily delirious in the shelter of a space-age stand.

But so much for the setting. In the end, it was the players to whom the Oscars belonged. No other sport produces such confrontations.

Man versus man, partnership versus attack, team versus team. So Warne thoroughly affrighted poor Paul Collingwood, like a great fat white-nosed cat toying with a mouse, and he yet scored his precious 10 and finished up on the victorious side.

Vaughan called winning the Ashes “his distant dream” at the start of summer. As autumn nears, his wish has come true. It has also rekindled passion for a sport that seemed heading for the mortuary, crushed to death by football’s more crass and brutal appeal. Not any more.

Images will linger, none more so that the gestures of genuine affection and sportsmanship between players locked in combat. It is peculiar to remember the Oval has already been in the news once this summer. For a bombing that went wrong. It was famous again last night. For a sport that went marvellously, memorably, majestically right.

View from Hobart

The strangest thing is that my compatriots don’t seem more upset, says Australian novelist Richard Flanagan

Tuesday September 13, 2005
The Guardian

My 86-year-old mother still hasn’t forgiven the English for Jardine and believes Freddie Flintoff is an animal. My own feelings, honed in my youth by that particular generosity of spirit and sharpness of wit that is Oxford University (“Who’s the sheila, convict?”), are not dissimilar.

I don’t care whether we win or lose against India or South Africa. But I derive a satisfaction from seeing the Poms flogged in the Ashes, not unlike that which must have arisen in the breast of the first Goth to walk as victor through imperial Rome.

But these feelings no longer seem common to much of the rest of Australia. Cricket here no longer means what it did in the Bodyline series in 1932, nor even what it meant when David Hookes pounded Tony Greig for five boundaries off a single over in the centenary test in 1976.

There is no sense of national anguish as there once was when England won, and Australia seems to be showing more grace and dignity in losing the Ashes in 2005 than it showed in some of its victories at the height of its supremacy in the 1990s.

Why does it not seem to matter more? There has been a sense here for some years that Australia’s complete domination of the game for so long now threatened cricket’s future, and, until this series, it has seemed that in Britain cricket was retreating into some enclave of incomprehensible folk activity whose sole, sad adherents were ageing rock stars and John Major.

In Australia, a nation where sport is the prism through which we understand ourselves and others, where the Sydney Olympics was our Woodstock, and where our sporting heroes are accorded the honour artists still get in some European countries, the Australian cricket team has been much admired, but little loved.

No contemporary Australian cricketer occupies the same psychic space in the national dreaming, nor has the historical significance of a Cathy Freeman, an Ian Thorpe, or Aboriginal AFL star Michael Long. Only Shane Warne, a force as extraordinary and as undivinable as Uluru, comes closest with his mesmerising embodiment of every failing known to suburban Australian man coupled to sporting genius.

There has also been a reluctant admiration here for the elan and discipline of the English team, a heart and a spirit that at times seems almost eerily, unbearably Australian. For the best part of two centuries Australians had aspired to ape the English: could it be that the English now wished to be Australian?

They seemed to have found something we once thought was our birthright, and with it outplayed Australia. For once they looked like men, and not lost accountants. Maybe such acceptance of defeat arises because Australia excels globally in many sports. At the same time Australia has grown into a polyglot country in which cricket means nothing to most Greeks, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Serbs and Italians.

Greece’s victory in the World Cup saw jubilation in the streets of Melbourne, reputedly the biggest Greek city in the world after Athens, something unthinkable with another Ashes victory.

In stark contrast to Australian Rules football, which is booming through its ethnic and black base, cricket struggles to connect with what Australia has become. And perhaps the muted response is also because Australia feels beset by a malaise not so dissimilar to our cricketers.

While the country appears more successful than ever, it also feels lost, frightened, and uncertain. Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, has identified himself and his conservative vision of Australia with the Australian cricket team. Yet that vision can at times appear repressive, divisive and racist within Australia, and craven to the United States outside. In consequence, Australia has sometimes appeared as wrong-footed in its responses in the face of an uncertain world as its batsmen have been when confronted with reverse swing.

Perhaps, in the end, Australians’ strange response to this winter of our humiliation arose because Australians no longer view England as their colonial oppressor, nor as the home of an arrogant master race. It suddenly seemed just a small island on the edge of a faraway continent with whose destiny their own troubled future no longer entwined in many ways that were meaningful. It had all meant as much and as little as another text message from Warnie

Much respect, no complaints and roll on 2007

England (373 and 335) drew with Australia (367 and 4-0) – England win the series 2-1

Gideon Haigh at The Oval
Tuesday September 13, 2005
The Guardian

When, in the Australian vernacular, an event is classified “good for cricket”, it usually means that the national team has lost, and is almost invariably said through gritted teeth. In light of the first occurrence, there will be being a lot of “good for cricket”-ing across Australia as you read these words. There is, however, little need for the grudging tone.

It was hard to watch England retrieve the Ashes yesterday, but only because the fingers of one’s hand tended to obscure the view, as the teams presented another gift of a game that just kept on giving. It was a drama, thriller and comedy rolled into one, though not a tragedy. Nothing much is genuinely tragic in sport, least of all an end of 16 years’ one-way traffic.

For the duration of Australia’s dominance, Ashes cricket has been like the Giant’s Causeway: worth seeing but seldom worth going to see. This series would have justified taking out a second mortgage to witness, and its last instalment merited pawning the family silver.

No one arrived at The Oval entirely happy yesterday morning. With 98 overs to play, even signs of confidence seemed grotesquely misplaced. The Sun’s “Ashes Coming Home” bus has been the ghost at the feast these past five days, its banner potentially as collectible as the newspapers that announced Dewey had beaten Truman in the 1948 presidential election.

Perhaps it will now be decreed that it was The Sun Wot Won It, but after 40 minutes that bus looked like it bore the destination Hubris. Glenn McGrath and his elbow, far from fit in this game, took time to warm to their tasks, but then found that traditional nagging length. Vaughan followed one that went away to send a tremor through his team, and Bell responded to his first delivery as though he had been passed the black spot.

By that time, too, after two exploratory overs from Brett Lee, Warne was in harness. In the inaugural Ashes Test at the Oval in 1882, it was Fred Spofforth who assured his colleagues that “this thing can be done” before going out and doing it; it was tempting to ascribe the same sentiments to Warne.

Like the volatile, mephistophelian Spofforth, Warne wears his heart on his sleeve and his cricket on his face. He has at least as many guises as he has deliveries, from pent-up fury to barely suppressed hilarity. Though he leaves the crossing to Matthew Hayden, there is even pious Warne. During the pre-lunch session, he regularly returned to his mark with eyes upturned, muttering to the individual he calls “the man upstairs” – a phrase ambiguous when he was on Kerry Packer’s payroll, but now more obviously aimed heavenwards.

Marcus Trescothick, meanwhile, resembled a London bobby trying to quell a riot, somehow retrieving his equilibrium each time a breach of his defensive line was threatened. It is no discredit to him that it never looked an equal contest. Could Warne’s unearthly chaos ever have been contained by the forces of law and order?

From round the wicket at the extremity of the crease, with his arm at the same elevation as Clarrie Grimmett’s, Warne almost appeared to be bending reality, the ball deviating as though passing through a prism. He turned one delivery out of the footmarks so far that it was almost a breach of the spirit of cricket – by the standard unit of measurement, it spun a Double Gatt and would have ended up at backward square leg had the batsman’s pads not been struck, a micron or two outside off stump. From this point, Trescothick’s fall was almost foretold: another Double Gatt, and umpire Koertzen almost did not need to be asked. The wicket was Warne’s 168th against England; no one has taken more, and it will be a long time before anyone does.

Warne had no more left-handers to bowl to, but did have Kevin Pietersen, whom he had devoured in the first innings like Hannibal Lecter. Pietersen again looked like a juicy morsel. But for a touch of Adam Gilchrist’s gauntlet, his under edge would almost certainly have been swallowed whole by Hayden at slip. The eyes that closed all over The Oval when he played his first slog sweep may have included Pietersen’s own.

Warne’s chief impact on Pietersen’s innings, however, was to prolong it. Pietersen was a skittish 15 when he edged to slip face-high to his Hampshire captain, almost infallible in the position this season but not yesterday. The roles had been reversed at Old Trafford, Pietersen dropping Warne in the gloaming; Pietersen could not have asked for cricket to be the great leveller at a more telling juncture.

Warne flashed predatory eyes on Pietersen for the rest of the day, twice removing the bails at the bowler’s end when he went wandering down the pitch in mid-over, perhaps only half-jokingly. As he stood rather forlornly at third man after tea, stretching his sore and weary fingers, he was, as ever, the toast and the bait of the crowd, whose choruses alternated from “There’s only one Shane Warne” and “Warnie dropped the Ashes”.

The first is beyond contradiction, a tribute to the bowler and a haunting thought for Australians. The second is unsupportable: with 40 wickets at 19.93 and 249 runs at 28, it is arguable he made them. “We wish you were English” sounded much more like it.

The contest between Lee and Pietersen was perhaps the day’s leading indicator. At first, Lee treated him as a punch bag, pounding his body from short of a length. Especially after gloving one short ball over the catching cordon, Pietersen looked grateful for the asylum of the non-striker’s end. His retaliation was, in its own way, still harder to watch: a face-to-the-wall rather than a backs-to-the-wall effort. He hooked thrillingly, crazily, just millimetres each time from having his head turned into a turnip by the tabloids. Paul Collingwood’s involvement in their 60-run partnership was so minimal that he might have been tempted to a chorus of “Eng-ger-land Eng-ger-land Eng-ger-land” just to feel more part of the action.

In the end, however, Lee had one of those days where he mistakes shortness of length for hostility of intent. On the Test’s driest day, he had the ball reversing at 95mph when he pitched it up. The opportunity to turn England’s best weapon against them, however, was lost in the backwash of testosterone.

With Shaun Tait too callow for lifting this heavy, too much labour was left for the unflagging Warne and the unfit McGrath. With Ashley Giles a loyal sentry, Pietersen stood guard over England’s series lead until it was impassable. A fifth bowler might have been handy, although perhaps only if his name had been Lillee or O’Reilly.

In any event, there will be time for inquests later. For the moment, an Australian gives thanks. For years, my fellow countrymen have publicly pined for a “competitive Ashes series”, without perhaps something so competitive in mind, but no grounds for complaint exist. A sporting rivalry is only a rivalry if there is the danger of defeat: England have not only won the Ashes but reflated the whole currency of Anglo-Australian cricket. That is, unambiguously, good for the game.