The astonished MCC members
There was a lot of excitement before Australia visited England in 2005. England hadn't won the Ashes since 1986-87, but I for one thought that this time they had a very good chance of reclaiming the famous urn. Growing up in Australia, I was a massive supporter of my national team and my support for Australia was still very strong for about 15 years after I moved to England. There's also a part of me that loves it when there is an upset, when an underdog comes out victorious and around this time my support for Australia had decreased ever so slightly. It was probably also a case that I knew the England players and coaches far better than I knew the Australians as I spent about half the year with the 'poms' and on the whole they were a nice, friendly bunch.
The big question before the first Test at Lord's was whom England would pick to bat at No. 5. Graham Thorpe was the man in possession but Kevin Pietersen had played magnificently in some one-day matches in South Africa and the Australian ODIs that preceded the Ashes. The England selectors would have to choose, and just before the Test it was announced they had gone with the man with the skunk hairdo - that's Pietersen by the way.
An Ashes series can mean early starts for the keenest photographers. Nowadays we have a meeting 90 minutes before the start of play of all international matches, with a priority system in place for positions, but back then there was a basic "first come, first served" system. It meant if you arrived at a ground early with your tripod you could place it in the spot that you wanted and reserve that position for the day. Some of the photographers covering this series were so keen to obtain what they saw as the best positions for photographs that for this Lord's Test some tripods were in position well before 5.30 in the morning. With the match not starting till 11, that meant a really long wait. I don't miss having to get up at 'stupid' o'clock, but I'd like to put on record here that I do not personally hold the record for placing down the earliest tripod at Lord's.
At least the cricket was worth it. That first day at Lord's was a great day of Test cricket with Australia all out for 190 and England struggling at 92 for 7 at the close. The great Glenn McGrath collected his 500th Test dismissal with the wicket of Marcus Trescothick along the way. You could have a look at Hamish Blair's excellent post on this blog about this significant moment.
The second day of the Test meant another early start for me and I managed to get a good position again, in front of the Edrich stand at the Nursery end of the ground. England only had three wickets to fall and 'KP' had decided to take the attack to Australia. One particular shot stood out - McGrath was bowling and Pietersen smashed him back over his head towards the pavilion. I quickly focussed on the members and took a couple of photos as the ball travelled towards them.
It's one of my favourite images from this remarkable series. Nearly all of the MCC members are looking skywards - a few are smiling, a couple of them are protecting their skulls from the descending ball, a couple are preparing to catch the ball but most look completely astonished at what they are witnessing. In the foreground is McGrath who seems to be pretty astonished himself. Maybe just to me? This six was a precursor to what would happen weeks later at The Oval, when Pietersen bashed his way to 158 and helped spark a national celebration.
I still feel honoured to have been photographing cricket during this period and shooting legends of the game. Warne, Flintoff, McGrath, Pietersen, Ponting, Vaughan, Gilchrist, Trescothick, Hayden, Langer - all world-class players. Cricket was on the front page of the newspapers as well as on the back pages. I don't think we'll ever witness another cricket series that grabs attention like that one did.
I was fortunate that I was one of four photographers on the double-decker bus that took all the players to Trafalgar square the day after the Ashes. I attached a camera to a long monopod and at various times along the route I held the contraption out in front of the bus and aimed the camera at the players up at the front of the bus who were waving to the massive crowds. It must be said that most players had guzzled a fair amount of 'celebration juice' since the conclusion of the fifth test match the afternoon before.
That September was a very busy time for me. Many books about the series were published, some of them put together very quickly indeed. I was fortunate that I had covered the entire series and so a lot of my shots were in demand. This photograph ended up plastered across two pages in a couple of these books and that was very pleasing indeed.
Specifications: Canon EOS 1D MkII, lens 500mm, aperture 4.5, ISO 250, shutter speed 1/1000
An Australian freelance cricket photographer based in England, Philip Brown has photographed over 150 Test matches around the world