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September 13, 2005
The revelation of the summer, Jones's absence at The Oval was unsettling for team and fans alike. No-one else enjoyed such a matchless command of the old ball, and with him in the ranks, England had a licence to attack, attack, and attack some more, in the knowledge that there was always a fresh seamer around the corner. Driven by the memories of his agonising first day of Ashes cricket - at Brisbane almost three years ago - he found an extra gear that few had realised he possessed.
He wasn't going to be kept out of the limelight for long. For a man whose approach is so fuelled by confidence, Pietersen's lustre seemed to be fading as the series wore on, as the indignity of those six dropped catches began to sink in. But two early let-offs at The Oval - including a critical reprieve from none other than Shane Warne - and the rest has already taken its place in history. It's hard to believe he was a debutant before this series. He already seems to have been around forever.
Still no century in 15 Tests against Australia, but invaluable contributions to each and every match of the series. His attitude was every bit as important as his accumulation. After fulfilling every prophecy in the book by becoming Glenn McGrath's 500th wicket at Lord's, he refused to be cowed, and carried on slugging the cover-drives and playing his own - oft-maligned - game. The most intimidating left-handed opener of the series, which is saying something.
Desperate form in the first two Tests threatened to destabilise England's entire campaign, but turned his game around after that infamous double let-off at Old Trafford, and recorded his fourth century in eight Tests against the Aussies. Never quite at the peak of his powers thereafter, but how much of that was down to the captaincy is anyone's guess. In that department he was simply immense - planned, proactive and ruthless from first over to last.
Nominated as Shane Warne's bunny before the series, and duly fell to him on six occasions out of ten. But in between whiles he was a rampant rabbit, carrying on his incredible conversion-rate to record his sixth and seventh Test centuries in 17 appearances, including the performance of his career in the first innings at The Oval. Safe in the slips for the most part, he provided one of the iconic images of an epoch-making series with his soaring pluck off Adam Gilchrist at Trent Bridge.
For those who love an underdog, Giles's performances this summer were a triumph. Never remotely in Shane Warne's class with either ball or bat, he did his duty when a nation expected, extracting each member of the Aussie top eight at least once in the series, and providing an improbably safe pair of hands in the gully. It was his batting, however, that set him apart. His cool and collected 7 sealed victory in the nerve-shredder at Trent Bridge, while his maiden Ashes fifty staved off the fear of defeat at the last.
No man encapsulated the sheer terror of this series better than Jones, whose glovework veered from the ordinary to the simply awful, and yet who clung on to the chances that really, really mattered - none more important than the leg-side snatch that sealed the two-run win at Edgbaston. His impish batting was equally hit-and-miss - take Trent Bridge, for instance, in which he soared into credit with an impish 85, then plumped the depths with a horrific second-innings smear. Brrr.
Only one outing in which to demonstrate his skills, and though the runs did not flow, his 14-over alliance with Pietersen was the moment that England began to believe their destiny. At 126 for 5, had he fallen early, Australia might have streamed through the breach, but with every prodded dot-ball, the nation began to emerge from behind the sofa.
Twin half-centuries at Old Trafford looked like the start of something substantial, but sadly Bell managed just one other double-figure score in the series, and wrapped up his series with a spirit-sapping pair at The Oval. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were simply too wily for this most wide-eyed of rookies, but he will learn from the experience and will be backed to bounce back by a sympathetic management. One undoubted plus was the speed of his reactions at short-leg.
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