Picture of Mark Taylor walking back after scoring heavily, one more batsman with him but I don’t remember who, lot of good words written below about Australian batting – a picture about 1989 Ashes in Cricket Samrat is what I can recall as my first memory of Ashes.
After that, I found Ashes nothing but a bilateral test series where two teams participated so that Australia could win. Only solace England could find was that no matter what Australia did, they had to be content with the replica of the trophy. Original was kept somewhere in a museum in England and every time Australia demanded it to be transferred to Australia, since Australia winning had become a rule, it was turned down in the name of preserving a century old tradition. Only if England had cared a bit more about their present, better future would have come sooner than it actually did.
“Ashes” was nothing but a boring test series. A decade and half passed by.
Then it arrived – Ashes 2005.
For the first time, I was going to follow an Ashes test series closely. My career had just started and I didn’t have much of work at the start of it – actually, I have rarely had any. Cricinfo had become part of my life which meant access to enjoyable articles, records to analyze and the rest. In addition to this, I had picked up this hobby of writing. Life was good.
I was hoping for a good series.
England looked to have
discovered imported a new batting talent in Kevin Pietersen.
English media was claiming that KP was so talented that he would force Warne
and McGrath into retirements. They had
said something similar about Greame Hick, claimed Creig White and Mark Elham
were Botham reborn and Phil Tufnell could turn the ball so much that it could
endanger non-striker’s wicket is what I thought.
Australia on the other hand, relied on same old boring stuff – Hayden and Langer at the top, Ponting and Martin in the middle order, wonder-kid Clarke somewhere in between, Gilchrist who was rarely needed to bat, followed by bowlers. McGrath and Warne put together – they could suffocate their own batting lineup, forget about the rest of the world.
I still hoped for a better series.
First test, Lords, Australia batting first – 190 is all they could muster. “Good job. Now England doesn’t have to worry about saving the follow on” is what I told my friend. When McGrath reduced England to 21 for 5, I was telling my friend “I told you so”
Then it started - the KP show. For ages, I had seen England batsmen batting in awe of Australia – barring few good innings here and there, they had always looked scared. KP looked totally different. He displayed one quality which was hardly seen in English batsmen – fearlessness. Maybe it was because he didn’t have any baggage of past, maybe because he wasn’t English.
But he was class, a class apart.
Normal services resumed soon and Australia won the test easily. KP was the only standout performer for England. Australia leading the series by 1-0 - even a newborn would have predicted it and got it right.
The world moved to Edgbaston.
It was one ball which changed the fate of the series. It wasn’t a ball bowled in the match. It was the ball on which McGrath slipped just before the second test started. Maybe English batsmen were waiting for his absence. Maybe this was the stroke of luck that England needed. Maybe even God was bored of Ashes and decided to give it a tweak.
Whatever it was, it changed everything. Suddenly same English batting lineup started looking different – even the tale. Even the bowlers picked up. So when Australia needed almost a hundred to at the end of third day with two wickets in hand, it all looked over for Australia. Just before play on day four started, I moved out to watch Salman Khan’s epic – Lucky, No time for love. I wanted to watch the match but my flatmate pleaded me to accompany him for the movie. I obliged. I care for friends and the friendship – especially if they promise to pay my bill in a pub.
In case you haven’t seen the movie, you must make amends. You will get to know the cost one has to pay for friendship. The cost I paid – I missed out on two hours of nerve wrecking, enthralling and most entertaining test cricket so that I could watch Salman Khan taking Sneha Ullal out of a war-zone to safety.
“What say now?” is what a friend sent to me via SMS. “What the F” I thought while checking the score. I almost fell from my seat. Australia needed 12 to win with one wicket in hand. In the end, England won it by two runs. Think about it, just two runs when they had over a hundred to play with. “Champion teams don’t give up so easily” is what everyone said. It was all going to change, very soon.
McGrath came back in third test, went wicket-less and was hit for a six by Geraint Jones. After fluctuating fortunes, the match moved to last day. Australia needed to score 399 to win. Ponting played captain’s knock but it couldn’t win the game. His dismissal almost resulted in Australia losing the match. In the end, last pair batted for 24 balls and saved the match.
Like an event before the second test had turned out to be more important than the match itself – McGrath’s injury, an event after the match turned out to be of equal importance.
As soon as the match ended, everyone could see Australians celebrating in the balcony as if they had won the world cup. Think of it – Australians celebrating a draw.
Maybe this time it will be different is what I thought and I wasn’t the only one.
McGrath was ruled out of the fourth test. English batsmen made the most of it. England needed a small total to go 2-1 up in the series and it all looked in the kitty. However, Shane Warne showed his class and almost made it 1-1. Alas, Australian batsmen had scored too little for him to defend.
Who would have though that after four tests, England would be looking for a draw – not put rest to continuous four losses but to lift the trophy? However, England did manage a draw - mainly due to KP’s fantastic century in the second innings.
The tide had turned. England had won.
Like it always happens, plenty of reasons were given for England’s success – will to succeed, captaincy, amazing bowling unit in which even Ashley Giles showed some potency, determined batting, Flintoff, KP, comfort breaks taken by the bowlers and the substitutes abilty to hit the wickets.
Lot of moments from that series will always remain fresh in the memories of those who followed it – McGrath’s bowling in Lords, KP’s counterattack in Lords, news that McGrath would be missing in second test, Flintoff’s spell, KP’s batting, Ponting’s bleeding face, Ponting’s unrelenting bat, Ponting abusing Fletcher after he got run out, Warne’s magic and the list goes on.
However, England’s euphoria was short-lived and they lost the next Ashes badly by 5-0 in 2007. Since then, it has been all England. I have not followed Ashes as closely as I did in 2005 and cannot really comment if quality of it in 2007, 2009 or 2011 was anywhere close to Ashes 2005. But I doubt those three would have come anywhere close to the quality of 2005. In fact I doubt any series, provided it was long enough and seen with a pair of eyes which didn’t have any bias, would be better than Ashes 2005. This was the only series, not involving India, which I followed so closely. I wrote a lot about it too.
Sometime later, I think in 2006, I came across a video named Ashes fever. It was about Ashes 2005. If ever there was an example of how to make a documentary about a tournament, this video would be one of the best examples. Narrated by Mark Nicholas, containing interviews of different people from different walks of life – cricketers, journalists, actors, unknowns, Australians, English, the video beautifully captured the essence of Ashes 2005. It is a must watch.
Few years later, in 2008 I think, I came to know that I had got a mention on BBC website because of what I had written about Ashes 2005. That was the highest point of my writing career, if it can be called so. Well, it also remains to be only point worth mentioning.
Anyways, once again it is here – the Ashes. So sit back, relax and enjoy every moment of test cricket and hope to see some quality in it. Because if BCCI comes to know that you are not enjoying Ashes, it may decide to organize one more India-Sri Lanka ODI series. Don’t tell me then that I didn’t warn you.