Kasprowicz and Gillespie relive Edgbaston 2005
There are three things Michael Kasprowicz is always being asked: what's Shane Warne really like? What do you do in retirement? And what happened at Edgbaston in 2005? It was Kasprowicz's jerky fend off Steve Harmison to the wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, which was quickly followed by Billy Bowden's raised crooked finger, that gave England a two-run victory and turned the Ashes contest from another one-side affair into a world-rattling series.
Kasprowicz, the No. 11, and Brett Lee put on 60 for the final wicket, first taking their side from hopeless to hopeful, and then to the verge of a stunning triumph. With nerves making everyone feel like it was the middle of winter, Harmison ran in. "It was a short ball," Kasprowicz remembered. "Instinct took my hands up. I'd successfully got through previous short balls like that and I guess that's what made it so cruel. I got out, England won the Test. To be part of the game was pretty neat, but winning would have been ideal." Never had three runs, the number needed for victory, seemed so many.
As Kasprowicz floated around the first two Tests of this series, members from his touring group were continually pressing him on whether he hit that ball. At the time he wasn't sure, but replays created the sort of doubt that turned the decision into one of the great what ifs of Australian cricket. Four years on it adds to the tale.
"Generally people ask did you hit it?," Kasprowicz said. "There was an Indian guy who came up to me and said thank you so much, thank you for saving Test cricket. If you had got the runs the series would have been dead and Test cricket would have been dead. You single-handedly changed cricket. I thanked him nicely and said that the single hand was actually off the bat at the time." It's the best joke of a series that most Australians didn't find funny.
While the match peaked with such excitement that it made it impossible for the Australians snuggling under covers back home to sleep, it started with another crucial development. Glenn McGrath stepped on a ball in the final warm-up and as his ankle turned, so did the series. Both times when McGrath didn't play, Australia lost. One of Australia's legion of support staff should be on the lookout for stray balls on Thursday morning.
Shortly after McGrath's mishap, Ricky Ponting won the toss - and bowled! The exclamation mark is still necessary. At the time it was a bewildering choice and reports of a fierce dressing-room argument were denied amid talk that the decision to field was unanimous. "I was a little bit surprised," Jason Gillespie said of the decision four years on. "In preparing, Glenn went down, then all of a sudden we'd won the toss and bowled. It took me by surprise. However, Ricky would have been totally justified had we held our catches. Then England smacked 407 in a day."
After being 99 behind on first innings, Australia dismissed England for 182 and were chasing 282 for a 2-0 lead. It soon felt like 500 and they started the final morning at 175 for 8, but they were not planning a meek surrender. Shane Warne swept comfortably to 43 before brushing his stumps with his foot, leaving the final pair to survive. In the dressing room Gillespie, who lasted two balls the previous afternoon, was counting down the runs with his team-mates.
"It was very tense," he said. "At first we were thinking 'we're no chance', then 'the boys are hanging in there', to 'we could do this!'. England didn't have any answers ... but it just takes one ball. It was unlucky Kasper was given out, but it was a bizarre, great Test match."
In the middle Kasprowicz and Lee made a vow to relax and have fun. Nobody expected them to get close, so they would see what happened. A lot happened: a flurry of boundaries, scampered singles, the stressing of England fielders, the volume falling in the majority of the crowd.
"They were trying to get us out each ball, with bouncers and yorkers, so the runs were coming," Kasprowicz said. "It wasn't until we got to nine runs to get that they started bowling a good line and length. Then the runs were stopped."
The margin was brought down to single figures following an Andrew Flintoff ball down the legside that hit a footmark and went for four. "From that moment on there was silence through the whole ground, except for a pocket of Australians," Kasprowicz said. "That was unique."
In Australia it felt like the great escape was on, that this wonderful team would do it again. The hosts, led by Michael Vaughan's cajoling, were trying to remain calm. Muscles were tightening like they do in torture chambers.
Bowden's finger allowed the next release of emotion. The crowd re-discovered its collective voice, Flintoff found Lee and hugged a body that was more tenderised than the batsman's instantly bruised heart. During Lee's bravest innings it felt like he had taken more hits than his 43 runs. At the other end Kasprowicz was lonely, stranded on 20, and not sure what exactly had happened. Nobody was offering consolation cuddles.
"I've had people ask me, 'you know that photo where Freddie Flintoff comes up and hugs you, what did he say?' I say: 'Nothing, nothing at all, it was actually Brett Lee.'"
The walls between dressing rooms at Edgbaston are thin and the England songs could be heard next door. The Australians tried to ignore the noise, preferring gloomy reflection. "Because it was so close, everyone retreated into their mind about the shot they played or a no-ball or a mis-field, one of those minor events, about how they could have done it better," Kasprowicz said. There would be a lot more looking back over the rest of the series.
There was no Australian recovery and England showed rare poise under pressure, a trait which had been missing from them in the Ashes contests over the previous 16 years. "What was different about that series was that the close moments, which had gone Australia's way in the past, were going against us," Kasprowicz said. "It was a different feel in the team because all of a sudden those moments weren't working out, like getting a decision go against you or dropping a crucial catch. In the past it wasn't a big deal because you'd get another one and get on with it.
"During that series every single error was amplified so much more. In the dressing room, if you feel you are unlucky then you are, and the word luck was used in the Australian dressing room. In the past luck was never an issue. The only team that talks about luck is generally the loser." At Edgbaston, Kasprowicz and Lee were desperately unlucky.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo