WE HAVE recently witnessed the climax of what must rank as one of the best, if not the best, Test Match series of all time. Certainly, there has not been an Ashes series to compete with the excitement or the entertainment this summer has provided for spectators and players alike.
The summer started with an overwhelming feeling in many camps that Australia were still going to be far too strong a side for the emerging English stars, despite the fact that England have seemed a far more successful, settled and composed team for many years. The Australians were of course talking up their own abilities and messages of a 5-0 whitewash were rife.
Once the Australian team arrived, however, it was a slightly different story. They were beaten in the 20/20 by England twice, suffered a humiliating defeat against Bangladesh, who incidentally are ranked 410th as opposed to Australia who are ranked first in the one day game, and then went on to lose to Somerset in a warm up pre-Ashes match. The Australians were still convinced that all would come right once the Ashes series got under way, even though many England supporters were now having a little smile to themselves.
The England smiles continued on day one of the first Test Match at Lords when a great bowling performance from England, especially Harmisontaking five wickets, restricted the tourists to 190. Unfortunately, the England batting left a lot to be desired and Australia came back into the match to bowl them out for 155. Australia improved their performance in their second innings but, unfortunately, England did not and the tourists won the match by 239 runs with Glen McGrath taking nine wickets.
The second test match at Edgbaston started with England still slightly bewildered at how they managed to hit such poor form, when it was Australia who had been struggling since their arrival. Michael Vaughan must have been even more bewildered when, on the first morning, Ricky Ponting won the toss and asked England to bat on what appeared to be a good track. Maybe Ponting was still in shock from the news that McGrath had twisted his ankle and would take no part in the match.
After finishing the first innings 99 runs ahead of Australia, England were skittled out in their second innings for 182 with the destructive Shane Warne becoming a real problem for the home side with six wickets in the innings. Despite losing early wickets, Australia settled themselves with a rearguard fight-back and looked set for a second win until, needing only three runs for victory, Harmison took the final Australian wicket for what must be described as one of England’s greatest test match victories ever.
The series was set up at 1-1 as the third match at Old Trafford produced just as much, if not more excitement than the previous thriller. Both Vaughan and Ponting, the respective captains, made excellent knocks of over 150 and Shane Warne took his 600th wicket. Australia were again facing defeat with only one wicket left on the final day, but, on this occasion, they managed to hold England at bay for the match to be drawn.
It is a reflection of the way this series had caught the attention of the public, to be able to report that over 10,000 would-be spectators were turned away from the old Trafford gates on the final day of this match.
Trent Bridge was not to be so lucky for the visitors after England amassed 477 runs and then reduced Australia to a follow on position of only 218 all out. Australia responded in their second innings, but could only leave England requiring 129 for victory. This was not to be as easy as it might have seemed as they lost seven wickets cheaply before Giles and Hoggard saw England home to take a 2-1 lead with only the match at the Oval remaining.
The final match had supporters at fever pitch, with £10 tickets being sold on for as much as £500 for the final day. England won the toss and elected to bat on what appeared to be an easy batting track. Their total of 373 was somewhat short of expectation, but the Australians failed to take advantage of a good opening partnership, losing their last eight wickets for less than 100 runs, leaving them just short of England’s total. Time was lost for both bad light and rain during the match and England batted out the final day to draw the match and win the series 2-1. England had won The Ashes for the first time in 18 years!
One more very noteworthy point is the sportsmanlike manner in which this series was played. The players were a credit to world sport as were the supporters. Let us remember these two teams are the biggest rivals in the game, the venues were sold out every time, alcohol was being served, chanting and singing was in abundance and yet there was no violence, no police cordon between rival supporters, no seats torn up or property destroyed – lets hope fans of football take note and act accordingly!