Birmingham, 7 August 2005
No series had been more eagerly awaited than the 2005 Ashes. After years of painful defeat, England had raised a strong side and a close contest was anticipated. And so it proved, with the ancient foes fighting for the spoils like a pair of enraged bulls. Roared on by passionate crowds, urged on by an entire nation, the hosts relentlessly attacked an opponent desperately trying to find breathing space.
After 22 days of fierce struggle, amid scenes of wild rejoicing, and by the narrowest of margins, England recaptured the urn. Thereafter the players were feted and almost knighted. Meanwhile the Australians went home to lick their wounds.
Yet the abiding memory of the series was not of violences or close finishes or even nationalistic fervour. Sport provides man with an opportunity to rise above himself. Throughout, Andrew Flintoff was a towering figure, a great warrior in his element. In Birmingham, though, he showed the gentlest of touches. In the most frantic of finishes, Australia's tailenders had taken their team to within two runs of a stunning victory only to fall agonisingly short.
As all England celebrated, so Flintoff went across to console the valiant but vanquished. He put an arm around Brett Lee and the two pugilists embraced in the aftermath of battle.