Paper Round - England win the Ashes September 13, 2005


Anyone arriving in the UK this morning could be forgiven for thinking that cricket was the nation's obsession and football was a mere afterthought to fill in the gap between seasons. But then again, the Ashes aren't won every day (or even every decade).

While the broadsheets attempted to retain some sense of restraint - if only in appearance as opposed to their writing - the tabloids had no such worries. "FantASHtic" boomed the front page of The Sun, while its back page was devoted entirely to a picture of Michael Vaughan and the words of William Blake's Jerusalem. The Mirror also put aside its front and pack pages to the cricket, and chose a different pun to lead with - "URNcredible". And inside, just to put football finally in its place, the headline - "They think its all Oval ... it is now".

The broadsheets also went into overdrive, with pages devoted to the match, and in some instances special pull-outs as well. But it was Kevin Pietersen's performance which attracted the column inches. "When sport and drama can reach no higher plane and spectators are watching through the gaps between their fingers, even the greatest athletes can have performance strangled from within them. Pietersen' s colleagues from higher up the order yesterday bore witness to that," wrote Owen Slot in The Times. "Those who survive, we tend to associate with steely mentality: Jonny Wilkinson, Nick Faldo, Bjorn Borg. But to come equipped with soaring self-belief clearly helps, too. Arguably, Pietersen had no right to be "the man who did it", but when your mentality is as cocksure as his is, who is there to stop you? "

In The Daily Telegraph , Geoff Boycott said Pietersen was "a belligerent individual. He is cocky and confident; there is a touch of arrogance about him. I love it, so long as he produces runs. All the great players have had self-confidence and self-belief. They have all been full of themselves. But the point is that they have delivered. Up until this point, Pietersen has had the persona but he hasn't had the runs. All we want now is for him to take a catch, and then he has cracked Test cricket."

In the same paper, Martin Johnson carried on the theme with his tongue firmly in his cheek. "A grateful nation woke up this morning with the unshakeable conviction that Kevin Pietersen was wonderful, and if this was a view which happily corresponded with his own, what the heck. He even has an autobiography in the pipeline, no doubt with a diamond-encrusted front cover and the modest working title, KP Superstar ... many batsmen take to wearing lucky charms, like a rabbit's foot, but while they generally wait until the rabbit is dead, Pietersen became the first cricketer in Ashes history to bat with a live animal as a mascot. Wearing a skunk underneath your helmet may not meet the approval of the RSPCA, but in England's hour of crisis, it certainly got the job done."

"Play Pietersen, they said before this series began," wote Mike Selvey in The Guardian. "Tolerate his lip and his ego, the bling, bullshit and 50-grand ear stud. And forgive him his batting peccadilloes - of which there would be many from such a free spirit with a confidence level on red alert - because somewhere along the line he will deliver an innings that matters. Yesterday was his, the day this brash fellow, with the skunk-chic haircut and more front than Durban, channelled it all into one remarkable innings that saved the day for his team and won them back the Ashes."

In The Independent, James Lawton caught his breath. "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."

Also in The Independent, Peter Roebuck said that the England had won the Ashes fair and square. "They looked the Australians in the eye and exchanged blows until the weaker side fell.. He concluded: "Perhaps, though, the last word belongs to a cheerful crowd's lone trumpeter, a splendid gentleman who reminded all and sundry that it is only a game by routinely greeting Langer with his rendition of " hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go".

Back to The Times , where Christopher Martin-Jenkins touched on the massive interest in the match across the country. "There has never been a series followed at close quarters by so many as this," wrote Christopher Martin-Jenkins. "When Radio 4's computer was switched on in the Test Match Special commentary box yesterday morning there were 18,543 e-mail messages unread."

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo