From Daniel Keane, Australia
Sometime on the final morning at Lord's, the thought must have crossed or re-crossed Ricky Ponting's mind - more than the Ashes are at stake this series. As if the tiny urn is not enough - is not, indeed, all - circumstances have conspired to add a little extra spice.
Flintoff's impending retirement and Ponting's desire to avoid losing a second series in England will no doubt spur on their respective sides. More importantly, however, the outcome of this series will retrospectively determine how we regard the previous two. After two tests, the legacies of 2005 and 2006/07 already appear locked in battle. Both series have been invoked, the former rather more than the latter. Flintoff's bowling at Lord's was, as Stuart MacGill put it, "straight from the 2005 highlights reel." The only question about next week's Edgbaston Test will be whether the memories of 'last time' linger quietly or are broadcast loudly.
By contrast, viewers of Australia's first (and only) innings at Cardiff could be forgiven for thinking they were watching the sixth test of 2007, rather than the first of 2009. After two years, it seemed that Australia had merely resumed its winning run against its old foe. Hundreds from Katich, Ponting, North and Haddin helped raise Australia's highest Ashes total since 1934. Sometimes, the roles were even reversed. Panesar and Anderson's unbroken last wicket stand was likened to Lee and McGrath's at Old Trafford four years ago. Collingwood's match-saving 74 was every bit as important as Ponting's 156.
Despite (or perhaps because of) their contrasting scorelines, the 2005 and 2006/07 series shared several important features. Reputations were tarnished. Ponting's captaincy - already questioned by some - lost further legitimacy. In Australia, Flintoff proved himself an unsatisfactory leader. Australia's narrow defeat was every bit as devastating as England's humiliating loss. Even now, the memories of both must cause the minds of many to darken. For Australians, 2005 upset the natural order. To restore that order, no simple retaliation would suffice. Nothing short of an annihilation would begin to sooth the wounds. And in being thumped five nil, England did not only lose the Ashes - it lost a little of 2005. As Gideon Haigh rightly pointed out, while England can forever claim the Edgbaston Test, Adelaide 2006 belongs to Australia.
English aspirations (to the status of an equal and the title of number one Test nation) were revealed as mere pretensions. After its 2007 triumph, another Australian win would further reduce 2005 to a vivid but regrettable stain on Australia's otherwise unblemished recent Ashes record. An English victory would not only silence Australian talk of an 'aberration', but elevate England into a frontier unconquered by Ponting's men.
For the time being at least, the current series has the air of a decider, of a final set following a first set tie break and a second set bagel. Its significance has been inflated by its remarkable predecessors. Perhaps it will help to settle the score of which of the two was the greater victory. And while some of the principle players have gone from the scene, both captains will fight bitterly for the last word.