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September 13, 2005
As the dust settles on an epic Test series, Andrew Miller looks back at the moments that turned the 2005 Ashes into the greatest sporting contest of the 21st Century
Batting performance of the series
Kevin Pietersen's blistering denouement will linger long in the memory, but by that stage of the series, the dream was there to be grasped. It took instead a similar feat of inspiration on the upward journey to set up England's shot of glory. Freddie Flintoff's devastating, last-ditch 73 at Edgbaston was the moment the series was transformed, as he and Simon Jones added 51 for the final wicket to revive an Ashes challenge that was sinking back to its knees.
Bowling performance of the series
Warne at Edgbaston, Warne at Trent Bridge, in fact, Warne throughout the summer. His contributions were the single greatest reason why this series will echo through the ages. Without his 40 wickets (not to mention his 249 runs), Australia would have been rolled over after Edgbaston, quite possibly by the sort of margin that the Aussies themselves had envisaged. Instead, they came within an ace of plucking both defeats out of the fire, and could even have squared the series if they'd held their catches at The Oval. How the side will fare in Warne's absence doesn't bear thinking about.
Shot of the series
"Helloooo ... Massive!" Mark Nicholas had no doubt about this one. Flintoff's humongous heave into the TV gantries at Edgbaston, with the entire Australian team set back for the shot, could one day rival Ian Botham's swat off the eyebrows at Old Trafford in 1981 as the most replayed six in history. But for sheer pain relief, Matthew Hoggard's extraordinary cover-drive off Brett Lee, with eight needed for victory at Trent Bridge, was an improbable second-place.
Ball of the series
Two. For sheer significance, Harmison's branding of the Australian captain on the first morning at Lord's. The message was clear - England would not be cowed, in spite of the mixed messages they transmitted for the remainder of the Test. But for sheer eye-popping magnificence, Warne's ripper to Strauss at Edgbaston brooks no argument. With five balls of the day remaining, the seam gripped the rough like a tank track and rumbled into the stumps, leaving England in no doubt as to the contest that lay ahead.
Catch of the series
This is case of style versus significance. The photographers' vote goes unequivocally to Andrew Strauss, whose horizontal extraction of Adam Gilchrist at Trent Bridge was not only a seminal moment, but a collector's item that Mark Waugh would have been proud to pull off. But, in a summer when Geraint Jones turned every edge into a heart-in-the-mouth moment, he chose the perfect moment at Edgbaston to get everything right, by completing the catch that changed a world order.
Drop of the series
For the entire time that England's Ashes dream remained in the balance, there could only be one contender. Pietersen's agonising spill at cover, that allowed Michael Clarke to gallop to a matchwinning 91 at Lord's. It was the sort of fractional error on which this series has balanced, and sure enough, Pietersen's crown was claimed at the very last by none other than Warne, who dropped his Hampshire team-mate when he made just 15 of his 158 series-sealing runs.
Turning point of the series
A seismic double-whammy at Edgbaston. First Glenn McGrath, fresh from nine wickets at Lord's, steps on a cricket ball during pre-match practice and is stretchered off to hospital. Then, Ricky Ponting wins the toss and neuters his one remaining champion, Warne, by choosing to bowl first. England rampage to 407 on the first day and the momentum of the series has been seized.
Wicket of the series
Kasprowicz at Edgbaston is the runaway winner, naturally, although Harmison's slower ball to Clarke the previous evening was perhaps even more invaluable. As the tail so amply demonstrated on that fourth morning, the pitch was good and England were fearful. Half a session of brilliance from Clarke, and it could have been all over.
Over of the series
Edgbaston again, and that man Flintoff again. At 47 for 0 needing 282, Australia were flying and England needed a shot in the arm. Enter Freddie, bundling in from around the wicket. His second delivery bludgeons through bat and pad, and onto Langer's off stump. His third, fourth and fifth deliveries curve into Ponting and torment his off stump. A tactical no-ball sets up a seventh stab of inspiration, and a wicked outswinger skims off the edge to cue pandemonium.
Letdown of the series
Jason Gillespie's demise was tragic - a likeable man, his tour had been over ever since Aftab Ahmed smacked him for six at Sophia Gardens, but the Australians were too bound up in their team ethic to spot how costly his demise was becoming. But the biggest disappointment was Simon Katich. His classy guidance of the tail at Lord's should have been a springboard to greater feats, but instead he floundered against England's reverse swing, and ultimately imploded with an out-of-character tirade at Trent Bridge.
Stat of the series
For the first time since the 1978-79 Ashes - a series blighted by Packer defections - Australia failed to muster 400 in any of their innings. This, beyond all else, was the difference between the sides. As Adam Gilchrist graciously admitted, England's attack was the best he had ever encountered in his career. The fortunes of Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, two of the most aggressive batsmen in Test history, epitomised a side that had turned from hunters to hunted.
Best moment of the series
At Edgbaston, Flintoff's consoling of Lee at the moment of victory was beautiful, a revival of the sort of chivalry that was supposed to be anathema to modern-day sport - just imagine Wayne Rooney producing a moment like that. But what preceded it was all the more important. If Harmison had not conjured that last-ditch dismissal, if Jones had not taken the tumbling chance, England would have lost an unloseable game, Australia would be 2-0 up with the Ashes in the bag, and a generation would be lost to the game forever.
Worst moment of the series
Flintoff's apparent dislocated shoulder at Edgbaston. Not here, not now, not in this way. All the while that he struggled to regain his timing and nerve-endings, a sense of dread permeated every stakeholder in the game. England's wipeout at Lord's was none too clever either, and nor was the bungling bureaucratic idiocy that turned England's moment of glory at The Oval into a confused melee of umpire meetings and tannoy announcements.
Blinkered selection of the series
Australia's insistence on turning to Stuart Clark (who?) whenever Glenn McGrath's place was in doubt. A) He was never going to play, and B) Andrew Symonds or Shane Watson would have given a stricken side so many more options.