@theoldbatsman 15 minute read
The 2005 Ashes series saw Kevin Pietersen and Simon Jones help England conquer the greatest side of the era. Jon Hotten, co-author of The Test – Jones’ definitive account of the series – introduces the memories of their glorious summer. First published in 2015.
The Ashes of 2005. So far away, and yet so near… Much has happened since: that yearned-for win in Australia sandwiched between a couple of 0-5 drubbings, not to mention two other home victories, and yet 2005 retains its hold on the memory and the imagination.
The power of those 54 high-summer days remains, even though the players are slipping away now. Only Ian Bell of England and Michael Clarke of Australia are still in their respective Test teams; Kevin Pietersen, Marcus Trescothick, Geraint Jones, Shaun Tait and Paul Collingwood actively playing, but to watch the highlights of the series – still a perennial rain-delay favourite – is to be jerked back with an immediacy and intensity that defies passing time. The emotions it stirs are somehow still current.
Simon Jones and Kevin Pietersen were tyros then, 26 and 24 respectively, and their fates would diverge radically after that summer. Each would produce performances that tilted the series England’s way, and both provided an aggressive intensity that helped to shove the Australian winning machine off course. Pietersen would go on to play some of the great innings of the modern era during his lightning rod of a career. Jones would never play international cricket again. But from the moment Pietersen joined the Test match dressing room, forcing his way past the retiring Graham Thorpe with a knock of quite stunning quality in the ODI at Bristol, the pair struck up a friendship that endures.
It helped that they were the only two single lads in the side – Jones somewhat unfortunately so following a tabloid kiss-and-tell sting that landed on the Sunday of the first Test – and also that they had something to prove. Jones had laboured hard on the winter tour of South Africa to show that he could be relied on with the newer ball as well as the old; Pietersen fought the age-old English suspicion of any outsider with an unorthodox method.
They had strong allies in their skipper Michael Vaughan, who was evangelical in his desire for his men to play without fear of failure, and the wily coach Duncan Fletcher, who recognised their ability to change the course of a match with a single spell of brilliance. Jones even made several vital interventions with the bat, using a blade that Pietersen had given him.
Although Australia had been defeated heavily in the new-fangled T20 thing on a raucous night at the Rose Bowl and had lost consecutive ODIs to Bangladesh and England, normal service appeared to have resumed with their customary win in the first Test at Lord’s. Yet anyone watching on that opening morning of the series, when Langer and Ponting were struck on the elbow and head respectively and Jones summoned the wicket of Damien Martyn with his very first ball, saw the seeds of a new and indomitable England side. Pietersen’s dismissive hitting of McGrath and Warne added to the effect, and so the greatest series of all was launched…
Here, in the words of two of the prime combatants, is what happened next.
First Test – Lord’s, July 21-24
What was the mood in the dressing room leading into that first Test?
Simon Jones: Full of excitement. We’d beaten everyone else in the world and Australia were No.1 and had a team of absolute legends, so they were the ones to beat. We were young, we were fearless, a lot of us were hitting our peak – it was a great time to catch the Aussies. We were like children on Christmas Eve. We’d had the one-day series beforehand and now we just wanted to get on with the real cricket.
Kevin, you were called up in place of Graham Thorpe to make your Test debut. What were your hopes and expectations going into the series?
Kevin Pietersen: I wanted to be accepted as a Test player in the dressing room. Putting me in the side was a brave selection and I wanted to reward that. Duncan Fletcher and Vaughany were just incredible. They were like, ‘Just go and bat and whack that ball as far as you can for as long as you can and everything will be sweet’. From a team perspective, there was a lot of belief because we had beaten Australia a few times in the one-day games and the brand of cricket we played stood us in good stead. We met fire with fire. That Aussie team had never had the opposition come at them like we did. They’d never had someone come in at Lord’s and whack McGrath over his head for six and put Shane Warne into the terraces a few times. I mean it just wasn’t very English.
Can you describe the atmosphere on that first morning at Lord’s?
SJ: Normally when you walk through the Long Room the members will you give a clap, maybe a pat on the back. When we entered the Long Room that day, I’ve never seen anything like it. It just erupted. All these guys who’d been so restrained in the past were jumping up and down. It made us realise just how important this series was going to be. When we went on to the pitch the hairs were standing up on the back of our necks. The crowd were geeing us up and I think it shocked the Aussies too. It was as if they were baying for blood.
KP: I never heard a cheer like that again in my 104 Test matches. It was unbelievable. The public felt we had an opportunity to beat them and we certainly felt it there.
Simon, your series couldn’t have started any better, taking the wicket of Damien Martyn with your first ball…
SJ: I was desperate to get that ball in my hand. I thought I’d try and hit my length hard and see what happens. There was a bit of pace in the wicket that day and luckily he chased a fourth- or fifth-stump ball, it flew into Geraint Jones’ hands and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
But McGrath did what he did best, England folded despite two fifties from Kevin, and it was a comfortable Australian win. What did Michael Vaughan say to you after the defeat?
SJ: Vaughany sat us down after the game and said, ‘Lads, this is gone, it doesn’t get spoken about again, we’re starting the series again at Edgbaston’. It was a great way of approaching it. Teams in the past would have rolled over and died but we were up for a fight and the Edgbaston Test was something else.
Second Test – Edgbaston, August 4-7
There was high drama on the first morning as McGrath twisted his ankle in the warm-up and then Ricky Ponting sprung a surprise by putting England in. What did you make of it all in the changing room?
SJ: I was blown away when Ricky decided to bowl first. I know there had been some weather around but we had a look at the wicket and it was a typical Edgbaston track: flat and pretty slow. And they’d just lost their best bowler. I don’t know if it was down to a bit of arrogance that they’d turned us over so easily at Lord’s but Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss took the Aussies apart in the first couple of hours.
KP: McGrath’s injury definitely was a huge turning point. The team plan was to attack the Australians and it’s a lot easier to attack without McGrath in their side. We scored 400 in that first day and made our intentions clear. We clubbed the ball to all parts.
Simon, you were standing at mid-on for Flintoff’s famous over when he dismissed Langer and Ponting to really put England on top. What do you remember of it?
SJ: Freddie was just enjoying himself. He was telling me what he was going to do before each ball: ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to hit this length hard’. And he did it to a tee, an absolute tee. And every time he got a wicket he was looking at me laughing, as if to say ‘I told you so’. He brought so much to that team.
Steve Harmison explains what was going through his mind shortly before he took a “staggering gamble” and bowled “one of the great balls.”https://t.co/lz2zV2xJdF
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) May 10, 2020
And of course it culminated in one of Test cricket’s great climaxes. How were you feeling as Lee and Kasprowicz chipped away at that target?
SJ: It was probably the toughest couple of hours of my life. The Aussies were so stubborn and I dropped a catch [at third-man with 15 runs required] that I’d back myself nine times out of 10 to take. I saw the ball coming, dived forward and then I lost it. I thought I’d literally dropped the Ashes, I really did. It just showed the ability we had to come back from any situation.
KP: I remember Brett Lee smashing a full toss when they needed just three runs and I thought, ‘We’re done here’. But Jonah fielded it and a couple of balls later we got the wicket. The guys were just so, so happy. It gave us so much belief.
“Jones…Bowden…Kasprowicz the man to go!”
Never. Gets. Old.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) May 10, 2020
Third Test – Old Trafford, August 11-15
Simon, Old Trafford was where you really made your mark on the series, taking a first-innings six-for and two memorable dismissals of Michael Clarke…
SJ: Harmy had taken a five-for at Lord’s and Freddie was exceptional at Edgbaston and I just wanted to get into the series. Old Trafford’s a place you enjoy bowling as a quick – it’s a fast deck and it’s abrasive so you can get it to reverse. I picked out Clarke as a young talent, a very dangerous player. I thought, ‘I’m going to have a crack at this boy’. I felt like every time I bowled at him, I could get him out.
You got him with that slower ball in the first innings…
SJ: Clarke looked settled so I said ‘Pel araf’ to Fred, which means slower ball in Welsh. He said, ‘I dunno what you’re talking about mate, just bowl it’. I told him to go a bit deeper. Duncan Fletcher had always said that when you bowl a slower ball, really hang it out there, so they’re reaching for it. And he was absolutely bang on. It was on probably a seventh-stump line, he’s mistimed the shot and Fred’s taken a great catch at mid-off. It was great to look up at the balcony and see Fletcher giving me a clap.
It took one of the great rearguard knocks to deny England the win. Just how good was Ricky Ponting’s innings?
KP: As a young batter, as much as I wanted him to get out, I just stood there and admired it. It was an unbelievable hundred. I’d watched Ricky Ponting as a young boy and I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is incredible. I’m just so lucky’. He kept his side in the game, but to watch that great Australian team celebrating a draw gave us a lot of confidence.
Fourth Test: Trent Bridge, August 25-28
Simon, it was during the Old Trafford Test that you really started to suffer with a bone spur in your ankle. How bad was it?
SJ: As a quick bowler you have a very high tolerance to pain, it’s your job. But that was hard. I’d had a couple of jabs to be on the field. I didn’t care about further down the line. I just wanted to play in that series. If I could’ve bowled all day without stopping, I’d have been fine. But when I bowled a spell, came off for a rest and then came back on, that’s when the ankle got really sore. It was a matter of trying to keep myself as mobile as I could to prevent the pain.
Australia were forced to follow on – with Simon fighting through the pain barrier to take a first-innings five-for before hobbling off in the second dig – and England were left needing 129 to win. How tense was the dressing room as you slipped to seven wickets down?
SJ: It was horrible. I had an Aircast on and I’d had to ask someone to drive me to the ground that morning because I couldn’t put any pressure through the accelerator. I had a chat to Steve Harmison and said, ‘Mate, you’ve got to go No.10 but I’m coming out with you if you go because there’s no way I’ll get down the stairs quick enough’. The Aussies would’ve timed me out. I was in a bit of a predicament so to see Ashley Giles’ little stroke through mid-wicket was the biggest relief I’ve ever felt.
KP :When I was batting and in control, it didn’t seem like a big target. But then I nicked Brett Lee and Freddie got knocked over by Binga when I was unpadding. The boys were real, real nervous. I was wearing a wristband and I think I chewed right through it. To see Hoggy and Gilo take us over the line was incredible. It was a special, special Test match and you could see how much it meant to the fans.
Fifth Test: The Oval, September 8-12
Simon, your injury forced you to miss the final Test. Was there ever a chance that you’d be fit to play?
SJ: I kind of knew I was done after Trent Bridge but I wanted to do whatever I could to play. Kirk Russell was physio at the time and it was almost as if we were Siamese twins for a while because we were with each other all the time. We tried everything. I did three or four oxygen chamber sessions at Wellington Hospital in London and I sat in there for four hours at a time with terminally ill people which was a bit of a wake-up call really because I’m trying to get fit for a cricket match and these guys are fighting for their lives. We even tried a faith healer. It was tough when I had to tell Fletch and Vaughany I couldn’t play but it was the best decision for the team.
KP: Simon was a huge loss. Not just as a bowler, he was my real good buddy. On an emotional level, it was something I didn’t particularly enjoy because I wanted him to be the centre of attention for that Test match because he had got us into such a great position in that series. He deserved the opportunity to finish it off.
Talk us through your series-clinching innings on that final day. Was your attack on Brett Lee – when you blitzed him for 35 runs off 13 balls after lunch – premeditated?
KP: I remember waking up on the final day and at breakfast reading ‘England need one hero today’ in the paper. I just thought to myself, ‘Jeez, how amazing would that be if that was me’. Nothing in my innings was premeditated – it was all instinct. People say you’ve got to practise that and do this… I can tell you something right now, that’s a load of nonsense. When someone’s bowling 95mph, it’s all instinct. And it could all have gone wrong. I was just lucky enough to take Brett Lee on and a couple of top edges went into the stand. I’ve had a couple of instances in my career when the pull shot has gone wrong, I’ve been caught at square-leg or fine-leg and been hammered. It went in my favour that day, and I’m not going to stand here and say it was premeditated. Nonsense. Instinct won it for me that day.
Simon, you were with the team in the changing room for days three, four and five. What was it like watching Kevin’s innings unfold?
SJ: I’ve never wanted someone to succeed more than I did Kev that day. He’d shown glimpses of what he could do and taken it to the Aussies but here he took the game by the scruff of the neck. Brett Lee was bowling 95mph and he was just hooking him into the stands. It was brilliant to see the genuine delight at what he’d achieved against the best team that’s ever played the game. A ridiculous innings.
The post-match celebrations have gone down in Ashes folklore. Were you all as badly behaved as we’re led to believe?
KP: Obviously we had a bit to drink, but we weren’t as boisterous or as silly as the journalists liked to write up! I mean, that pissing in the garden in Downing Street… I only heard about that afterwards, I never saw it. I don’t know if it happened. Great story, though.
SJ: That trip to Downing Street was probably one of the worst ideas the ECB have ever had! Twelve drunk cricketers who weren’t going to go to bed going down to 10 Downing Street the day after? It just didn’t make sense, but we weren’t going to let it ruin our night – we’d worked hard for that. It was just a great feeling that we were being appreciated, though. The amount of people that turned up that day, it blew us away. There were 30 or 40,000 people at Trafalgar Square. It was like a dream.
First published in 2015.