When Ashley Giles clipped a leg-side half-volley from Shane Warne through mid-wicket, a wide smile and raised bat marked a perfect moment in one “magical summer”.
Two priceless runs sealed a tense three-wicket win for England in the fourth Test against Australia at Trent Bridge. Ultimately, with the fifth at The Oval drawn, this was where they secured a first Ashes triumph since 1987.
The 2-1 victory was a titanic battle, of wills, words and warriors, and arguably the greatest in the contest’s 138-year history. Having been ridiculed previously, England earned respect through an unpredictable and unforgettable affair.
“We knew the size of the task in front of us, but it was a perfect storm of circumstances,” says Giles.
“Australia had held the Ashes so long, they had players who would go down in history as great players, and us as the youngish pretenders coming up and thinking we can challenge them.
“It was almost like playing against the Galacticos with their incredible names with records. But the cricket we had played in the previous two years, we were confident we could give them a run. We just never imagined the series would play out in the way it did.”
No-one did. As Steve Harmison’s hostile bowling set the tone in the Lord’s Test, it promised and delivered high-octane action and drama that enthralled the world.
Cricket writer Richard Gibson was covering his third Ashes for the Press Association and recalls: “It transcended sport. I’ve never seen a series like it, before and since. Everyone was talking about it. This wasn’t just top cricket, this was top sport.”
In the first Test at Lord’s, Glenn McGrath mesmerised the home of cricket with match figures of 9-82 as England lost by 239 runs.
Captain Michael Vaughan said: “I got in the car to drive home and thought, ‘that’s it, the end of the series’.”
But they rested and regrouped for Edgbaston and enjoyed good fortune when McGrath was ruled out after he trod on a stray cricket ball in training just before the start and injured his ankle.
And then Australian skipper Ricky Ponting chose to field after winning the toss, sparking a row with spinner Shane Warne, who was not alone in being surprised at that decision.
“It was dry, it was nice,” recalled Vaughan. “If he had batted on that day we would not have won the Ashes.”
What was also significant was they remained united and their approach was positive and aggressive.
Clarke: I would love to see similar cricket as the 2005 Ashes. It was a fantastic series. Any series like that is great for the game. #Ashes
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 7, 2015
“There were elements of Lord’s that were good but we ended up getting murdered of course,” Giles tells Sport360. “But one of the things was that when we went to Edgbaston, Vaughany said in the management meeting – and I was on the management group – was that we went hard at Lord’s and we had to go even harder at Edgbaston.
“It was absolutely the right mentality to go into against the Australians. They can be bullies – and you had to stand up to them.”
And that they did to level the tie, with Andrew Flintoff ferocious and flamboyant, sparking memories of Ian Botham with his all-round brilliance of 141 runs and seven wickets.
But Australia came agonisingly close as last man Michael Kasprowicz gloved a Harmison ball to Geraint Jones two runs shy of their 282-run target. The absence of McGrath was crucial.
“He’s one of the greatest bowlers who has ever played the game,” says Jason Gillespie. “So when a team loses a player like that, it has an impact.
“England just came out and attacked. It was a different feel about England, the way they came hard at us. Even simple things like walking out after the umpires and running out on the pitch and getting into position early. These little things, I hadn’t noticed about England before and it said to me that this team was a bit more switched on.”
England remained focused at Emirates Old Trafford where another nailbiter ensued after around 20,000 ticketless fans were locked out on the final day. Lee and McGrath, back but clearly unfit, were defiant to salvage a draw.
“I was travelling that day with [former England player] Angus Fraser and couldn’t get anywhere near the ground,” recalls Gibson. “Gus had to get out of the car because he was going to miss his Test Match Special spot. It was incredible.”
It was a reflection of how much the breathtaking duels had gripped the nation. And the moment too when England sensed they could end their wait for the prized urn.
“I think when we came to Old Trafford having gone 1-1, we put them under a lot of pressure and had them at nine-down and the Aussies were celebrating a draw,” reflects Giles, now head coach of Lancashire.
“Suddenly we thought, jeez we are on them here. We realised we had an opportunity to win the series.”
And so it proved at Trent Bridge where Ponting fumed after being run out by substitute fielder Gary Pratt and Giles sealed his place in cricketing folklore.
As he and Matthew Hoggard defied the Warne-inspired Aussies to reach the 129 target and give England an advantage they would not squander, there was added satisfaction.
Giles had almost quit the game a year previously after suffering from depression and endured criticism about his inclusion. His contribution, including a 109-run partnership at The Oval with Pietersen – who blazed 158 after being dropped by Warne on 15 – was described as “massive” by Flintoff.
“In our jobs, very rarely do you go through a career without criticism,” adds Giles. “But to be part of that team was really special. It was really boy’s own stuff.
“I guess I get more remembered for Trent Bridge, but the more important innings for me was the 59 at The Oval in the stand with Kev. When we got together we were 205 ahead with a lot of time left and it was important we put on a partnership.”
Farcically, the match result was decided by bad light with the Aussies scoring four of the 341 required.
For fan Andy Thompson, travel manager of the Barmy Army, it was worth spending a second day in the same clothes as he reveals: “We couldn’t go home after day four. We wanted to see it.
“Day five we didn’t have a ticket because it sold out. But, through a friend and Ian Botham’s daughter Sarah, we managed to get an empty hospitality box. So by lunchtime we were in the ground, right next to the players’ dressing room and the players’ families just below us.
“And the Barmy Army song, ‘everywhere we go’, they were singing it from one side of the ground to the other which was fantastic. We had seen Pietersen take Brett Lee apart and Warney dropping the Ashes. It was unbelievable.”
And it hurt the Aussies as Gillespie, dropped after Old Trafford, adds: “It was hard to take, disappointing. However, you have to give credit to England. When the situations dictated, they handled the big moments better.”
Rising to the challenge made England heroes. But Giles adds: “There were different times in that series when you thought we had blown it. But it was a magical summer. Here we are 10 years on and people are still talking about it as the greatest-ever series. It might well stay that way for a long time.”
Australia coach Darren Lehmann has said the tourists are prepared to make changes for the second Ashes Test, amid speculation all-rounder Shane Watson is set to be dropped.
England won the series opener by a crushing 169 runs with more than a day to spare in Cardiff on Saturday. The match saw Watson twice out in familiar fashion, lbw in both innings for modest scores of 30 and 19, while Australia captain Michael Clarke only utilised his medium-paced bowling for 13 overs in the match.
Watson has now fallen lbw 39 times during the course of a 59-match Test career repeatedly blighted by injuries, only passing 50 twice in his last 16 innings.
With fellow seam-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, 11 years Watson’s junior, waiting in the wings Australia do have a ready-made alternative and Lehmann indicated it was one the tourists were considering deploying at Lord’s, where the second Test starts on Thursday.
“At the end of the day you don’t want to be getting out lbw all the time and you want to make more runs,” Lehmann said on Sunday.
“Shane would be disappointed, so are we. It’s one of those things where you have to find a way and that’s something we probably didn’t do as a batting group, not just Shane. We’ll certainly look at the wicket and work out the best XI to win in those conditions and if it means making changes, we’ll make changes.
“That won’t be an issue for the selection panel. It’s going to be a tight call heading into the second Test,” the former Australia batsman, whose side thrashed England 5-0 on home soil in 2013/14, added.
“We can’t control what just happened; what we can do is learn from it and make the right decisions going forward,” said Lehmann, looking to guide Australia to their first series win in Britain in 14 years.
The Australian media also came down heavily on Watson. Geoff Lemon, writing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Sport’s website, said: “You sense that Watson’s time is up: not because of his critics but because of himself. His confidence is shot… He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself.”
Shane Watson is the new Robert De Niro. When given lbw, the look on his face of disbelief is the best acting you’ll see…
— Robin Chipperfield (@sportchippers) July 11, 2015
Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting told Sky Sports: “There’s a very big decision that needs to be made there…Watson hasn’t bowled a lot in this Test.”
Australia have fitness concerns over Mitchell Starc, their best bowler in Cardiff despite playing most of the match with a right ankle injury.
The left-arm paceman took seven wickets on a slow Sophia Gardens pitch and now has just four days to be fit in time for Lord’s.
“We’ll see how he pulls up but he’s going to have to be 100 percent,” said Lehmann.
There have been suggestions that pitches for the series will be deliberately slow in order to nullify the threat of Australia’s fast bowlers, appreciably quicker than their England counterparts.
“We know what we’re going to get in terms of wickets,” said Lehmann. “Everyone says we’d love a little more pace and yes, that would be true, but we’re not going to get it and there’s no point asking,” added Lehmann, who played county cricket in England for Yorkshire.
“You’d hope for more at ‘the home of cricket’ (Lord’s)…I’d just like you to be able to bowl a bouncer on day one.”
But former England wicket-keeper Matt Prior said talk of ‘pitch-doctoring’ was nonsense.
He said: “All this talk of the Cardiff pitch being engineered to help our bowlers is just ridiculous.
“Cardiff is slow and low and always has been – it’s like turning up at the Gabba (in Brisbane) or Perth and moaning that it’s quick and bouncy and then accusing Australia of doctoring pitches. The whole idea of us preparing pitches to nullify the Aussie quicks is a joke.”
Trevor Bayliss may have told England they needed to “fight fire with fire” if they are to regain the Ashes, but the team’s new Australian coach does not want captain Alastair Cook to change his batting style.
Cook, often criticised for formulaic leadership, saw just about every one of his bowling and fielding changes pay off at Cardiff. He also held three catches, including a stunning effort in an unusual short mid-wicket position to dismiss Brad Haddin on Saturday.
The one downside for Cook was that the opening batsman added just 32 runs in all to his tally of 9,000 which had already seen the 30-year-old left-hander become England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer.
But former Sri Lanka and New South Wales coach Bayliss said there was no need for either Cook or the experienced Ian Bell, who enjoyed a welcome return to form with a second-innings 60 at Sophia Gardens, to abandon the methods that had brought them a combined 49 hundreds in Test cricket.
“My message to Alastair Cook is to go out and play his own way,” said Bayliss. “Certainly, people like Alastair and ‘Belly’ have scored plenty of Test hundreds.
“My advice to them would be to go out and bat like you always have done. Those two guys are class players and can change their game to suit any situation. The rest of the guys can bat around them.”
England, looking to regain the Ashes after a humiliating 5-0 defeat in Australia in 2013/14, will head to Lord’s for the second Test on Thursday with an unchanged 13-man squad – fast bowler Steven Finn and uncapped leg-spinner Adil Rashid again joining the Cardiff XI.