Warne slams Ponting's decision to bowl first at Edgbaston 2005
The legspinner called it "the worst decision made by any captain I've played under" and said it was based on past numbers rather than current reality
Shane Warne has called Ricky Ponting's bowl first call upon winning the toss at Edgbaston in the legendary 2005 Ashes series "the worst decision made by a captain I played under", while also revealing the team's divisions as England got away from them. In blunt passages of his book No Spin, Warne depicts the Edgbaston decision as the pivot point of what is now regarded among the greatest Test series ever, and said it was down to Australian arrogance and blind adherence to statistical information rather than the circumstances at hand. Despite plenty of Birmingham rain in the lead up to the match, the unveiled pitch was drier than expected, while Glenn McGrath, so dominant in the opening Test at Lord's, had been injured in the touring team's warm-up. "Ricky's decision was a shocker, presumably thinking that one good morning with the ball would finish England off," Warne wrote. "He didn't rate the English batting and it cost him, and us. Here is the truth. Forget anything else you've heard or read. Ricky relied on John Buchanan's stats, which indicated that the bowl-first, bat-last tactic at Edgbaston won more games than it lost. He looked back at the filthy weather of the previous few days, not forward, and made an assumption about the pitch having moisture in it. Wrong!
"It was a belter, an absolute road, which was to spin later in the game. He ignored McGrath's injury because arrogance refused to let him believe England could play. The entire series was defined right there, at Edgbaston, when Ricky was blind to the cricketing facts in front of him. England were thrown a huge bone and fed from it for the rest of the series.
"I rate it as the worst decision made by a captain I played under, just topping the charts ahead of Steve Waugh when he made India follow-on [at Kolkata in 2001], because it was based on arrogance about the opposition and our own supposed invincibility, not the cricketing facts."
"It was a belter, an absolute road, which was to spin later in the game. He ignored McGrath's injury because arrogance refused to let him believe England could play. The entire series was defined right there, at Edgbaston."
Australia would go on to lose narrowly, then escape with a draw at Old Trafford despite being thoroughly outplayed. Warne has recalled that the coach John Buchanan's attempts to right the ship by questioning the players' desire to win led to near mutiny in the team.
"On the bus on the way back to the hotel after the game, John Buchanan called a team meeting. I was like, 'Oh no, what's he going to say now?'," Warne wrote. "We collected in the team room and he started with an obvious line, something like, 'We didn't play very well again this game.' Yep, true, Buck. Then he said, 'But why didn't we play well?' Maybe you tell us, Buck. So he did.
"It was along the lines of 'I don't think you blokes care enough and, playing like you are, I don't think you're worthy of wearing the baggy green cap.' I could sense the rage bubbling in the room and could feel it burning inside me, but I waited for the captain, anyone, to say some-thing. Everyone sat there quietly, heads down, no-one willing to get involved. I thought, 'To hell with this,' stood up and said, 'Buck, don't you ever tell me I don't care enough and that I'm not worthy of wearing the baggy green cap. I've busted my balls for a long time, so has everyone else in this room, so how about we just play and you keep your thoughts to yourself.'
"McGrath said, 'I'm with Warney.' Magilla said, 'I'm with Warney too.' Ricky was like, 'Hey, hey, alright, calm down, you blokes.' I said, 'F*** this meeting, I'm not taking this shit from him,' and started to walk out."
Warne, who at the time was dealing with the breakup of his marriage, was clearly incensed by the challenge to his suitability to represent Australia. "There is no-one who can say I'm not worthy of the baggy green - no-one," he wrote. "John Buchanan would have no idea how much blood and sweat I've put in, never mind the tears, especially on that tour. That's not just me either, it's all the guys. We've all busted our guts and given it everything.
"Punter said, 'Hey, let's calm down.' But I had mentally gone. 'This meeting is over, Punt,' I said, and was out of there. Buck never really understood when to make a point and when not. It was like he couldn't judge the moment. He thought he knew us but he didn't. And that was proved time and time again with these ridiculous meetings."
Australia would go on to lose the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, during which Warne has admitted to going on a mid-match bender that severely affected his performance with the bat the following day. The series was lost with a draw at the Oval, handing the Ashes back to England after 16 years. Australia have not won a series in England since.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig