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England v Australia, first Test, Lord's, 2005

Great balls of fire

On a balmy Lord's morning in 2005, England drew first blood - literally - in what would turn into a storied series

Stephen Brenkley

February 7, 2010

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Ricky Ponting calls for the medics, as he was hit in the face by Steve Harmison, England v Australia, first Test, Lord's, July 21, 2005
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At the time it seemed momentous and its meaning has not diminished with the passing of a few years. The first session of the 2005 Ashes series was always going to be important. Not that it would determine the outcome of the series exactly, but it would tell us loads about the nature of the contest. Were England, after 16 long years, ready?

The answer arrived with the second ball. Stephen Harmison jammed a short, fast delivery into Justin Langer's elbow. The batsman needed treatment. England meant business all right.

Five overs later Harmison did it again when a bouncer pierced Ricky Ponting's grill and cut his cheek. England offered neither apology nor succour.

The interpretation of body language is by and large a spurious art, up there with astrology and pitch reading, but here it was clear. England, led - it should not be forgotten - by a magnificently hostile spell from Harmison, were a team whose moment had arrived and they knew it.

The atmosphere in the ground, already redolent with expectation, grew more fervent as the morning wore on. Australia, who had come out to intimidate, were swiftly in disarray. It was stirring stuff, not only because Australia were losing wickets but because England, by their every movement and look, were so clearly prepared. At lunch the tourists were 97 for 5 after 23 quite gripping overs.

True, England went on to lose that match by 239 runs, which might seem to give the lie to all the above but a pattern had been set. England were so assured by now that they were able to regroup, and at Edgbaston they had another scintillating opening session. Of course it became the greatest series of all, but it was created at Lord's that balmy July morning.

Stephen Brenkley is cricket correspondent of the Independent.
This article was first published in the Wisden Cricketer

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