On December 5, 2006, the Adelaide Test was headed towards an inevitable draw, before Shane Warne’s mastery spun out England to set up a comfortable win for Australia. The match was also highlighted by dominating performances from the willows of Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen for England, and Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey for Australia. Karthik Parimal goes back in time to reminisce the eventful fixture.
Australia’s squad for the 2006 Ashes featured more or less the same set of players who conceded the urn to England, for the first time since 1987, on the previous occasion. It was, hence, well known that the Australians — many of the cavalry still hurting from the defeat — would leave no stone unturned to reclaim the lost trophy, and pride, when they played hosts in the summer of 2006-07. The intentions of the powers that be were made clear when, a few weeks prior to the first Test at Brisbane, a military training camp was organised for the squad, where the players were chiselled and readied for the upcoming battle.
True to character, Australia hit England hard at Brisbane, with senior members of the team like Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath crafting a 277-run victory. Nonetheless, the celebrations were subdued, for they were fully aware of the tougher tasks that lay ahead, and also the fact that only a thrashing, perhaps a whitewash, would possibly appease the wounds of 2005. After the Test, Ponting got his unit into a huddle and duly reminded them to, by all means, enjoy the win, but to also remember that the English would come back very hard. “Look after yourselves and be ready for Adelaide [venue of the second Test],” were his parting words on the final evening.
The Australians were on a high after the gargantuan win. Their top and middle-order looked impregnable and the bowlers breathed fire. On the other hand, the English were flummoxed. They’d replicated the procedure that brought them success the previous year on the field, but most of those tactics rendered futile this time around. Nevertheless, they had the ammunition to get out of the rut. Moreover, Australia’s spearhead, McGrath, had been struggling with a heel injury and was a doubtful starter. Although Ponting wasn’t keen for him to play, he was adamant and declared himself fit for the match.
England placed its hopes on Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen, the duo who offered resistance with stoic knocks of 96 and 92 respectively in the second innings of the Brisbane Test. The bowling, despite the presence of skipper Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and James Anderson, looked insipid. As foreseen by Ponting, the English did come back strongly on the first morning after Flintoff won the toss and chose to bat first on what appeared a batting paradise.
Collingwood and Pietersen show
It was Stuart Clark, and not the lethal new-ball pair of Brett Lee and McGrath, who rattled England early in their innings. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook were both sent back to the hut in the first session before Ian Bell and Collingwood stitched together a 103-run stand. Once Bell departed for 60, with England on 158 for three, Pietersen walked in amidst huge applause from the Barmy Army. What followed thereafter was a marathon hammering as the Australian bowlers, in what was one of those rare instances, looked helpless and devoid of a plan to puncture England’s steady progress.
While Pietersen pummelled away from the outset, Collingwood, past his fifty by now, was beginning to cut loose, too. Uncharacteristically, he wasn’t hesitant to step out of the crease and he unfurled an array of strokes usually not in his repertoire. Together, they tore apart the Australian attack and took a liking to Warne, belting him to all corners of the Adelaide Oval.
The friction between Pietersen and Warne came to the fore, yet again, just like it did on the fourth afternoon of the Brisbane Test. Pietersen defensively pushed the ball towards Warne, who collected it and, in an attempt to throw it back at wicket-keeper Gilchrist, almost hit Pietersen. Although good friends off the field, Pietersen didn’t refrain from giving Warne a piece of his mind; and the latter was more than happy to retaliate. Pietersen let his willow reply to Warne’s verbal taunts this time around, as the champion leg-spinner was made to look like a part-timer, albeit not for long.
Collingwood galloped to hundred and kept his foot on the gas pedal. His aggression stumped many.
“Collingwood’s determination had never been in doubt; but he also soared above his presumed limitations as a primarily leg-side player, cutting and cover-driving, and then dancing down the track to straight-drive Warne to reach 150,” noted Wisden. On the second afternoon, he became the first England player to score a double-century in Australia since Wally Hammond in 1936. After smashing 16 fours in an innings that lasted for almost nine hours, he fell for 206, Clark the bowler again.
The partnership with Pietersen was worth 310 — a record for the fourth-wicket against Australia. At the other end, Pietersen smashed 15 fours and a six in his knock of 158, before falling for the third time on the same score. His dismissal, a run out, was perhaps a resultant of his desperation to get off that figure. Flintoff and Ashley Giles then added a quickfire 60 to propel England’s total to a massive 551 for six declared. After nearly two days in the field, the Australians were asked to pad-up.
Australia’s turn to make hay
The track was still affable to the batsmen, but three quick wickets had fallen for 65 when Ponting and Michael Hussey got together at the crease. The partnership then etched by these two changed the course of the game, although a chance offered was put down when Ponting pulled Matthew Hoggard, for Giles to drop a sitter at deep square-leg. The duo, on the day, employed contrasting styles. “I had to work my backside off for every single run. Ricky [Ponting] on the other hand was making it look easy,” recalls Hussey in his autobiography Underneath the Southern Cross. The two would also laugh their heads off looking at the antics of the crowd, this while standing in the middle of the Adelaide Oval in an Ashes Test. “But that was the way batting with Ricky could relax you,” further states Hussey.
Ponting amassed 142 — an innings inclusive of 12 boundaries — before England took the second new ball and he was caught off Hoggard by ‘keeper Geraint Jones. Soon after Ponting’s exit, Hussey chopped one on, on 91, and cursed his way back to the pavilion for missing out on a ton in his first Ashes. Thereafter, Michael Clarke (124), Adam Gilchrist (64), and Warne (43) doused England’s hopes of clawing back into the series. Just after tea on the fourth day, the Australians were all-out for 513, Hoggard bagging seven wickets for 109. They fell 38 short of England’s first innings total, but gained a psychological edge over their counterparts nevertheless. The English hadn’t expected such resurgence, but stumps were called with the score on 59 for one, and a draw looked inevitable. But all that was to change on the final day, owing to the magical wrists of a genius leg-spinner.
“Then came the Great Man”
Despite a turgid draw looming large over the Adelaide Oval, a crowd of 20,000 turned up to witness the proceedings. It was perhaps one of the best investments they’d ever made, for an epic was played out on that final day. Half-hour into the match, Andrew Strauss hopped out of his crease to pat down a delivery from Warne. The ball, however, lobbed into the hands of the fielder at short-leg and Strauss was given out by umpire Steve Bucknor. Subsequent replays showed that the ball missed Strauss’s bat by at least six inches, but the decision had been made and the referral system was still not in place. Unfortunate it was, but the fall of wicket evoked a shift in momentum.
Few minutes later, Bell was on his way back after faulty communication ensured he was run out by a good number of yards. It was then the turn of the big fish, Pietersen. Dexterously, Warne bowled into the rough outside the leg-stump, and as Pietersen went for the sweep, the ball turned squarely to hit the outside of the off-stump. Bewildered, the batsman walked away, yet to comprehend how his downfall had been flawlessly plotted. Warne, on the other hand, was ecstatic. At 73 for four, panic gripped the English camp.
Captain Flintoff’s modus operandi to douse Australia’s rising hopes was to smash their bowlers out of the park, but Lee began to reverse-swing and usurped his wicket, followed by that of Jones’s, as England slumped to 94 for six. By now, Warne was getting the ball to spit off the surface like a venomous cobra. Giles was the next victim, who, while attempting to fend one such turning delivery, managed a thick outside-edge to Matthew Hayden at slip. Warne then unveiled a rare googly, and Hoggard, the tail-ender, was understandably undone by it, chopping the ball onto his stumps. At 105 for eight, the Australians sensed a certain victory. McGrath then wiped off the tail and the target to go 2-0 up in the series was 168 in exactly 36 overs.
With potentially match-winning figures of four for 49, Warne was perched on the pedestal. He was indeed, as touted to be by many before the commencement of the series, the difference between the two sides. “For four days and 43 minutes of this Test match, there was plenty of time to think about such matters [Great Man theory], and also whether it might be more amusing to spend the final afternoon hiring a pedalo on the River Torrens instead of watching this turgid contest dribble away to its inevitable draw. Then came the Great Man,” aptly noted Wisden.
Australia knocked off the runs, riding on Ponting’s 49 and Hussey’s unbeaten 61, with six wickets to spare. Quite uncharacteristically, the Australian players from the dressing room ran down the steps and onto the ground to ecstatically greet Hussey after the winning runs were scored. It showed how much the win, especially after what transpired in 2005, meant to them. Ponting and Warne termed it the best win they’d played in, a huge statement coming from two veterans of more than 100 Tests. Soaking in the raucous applause from their supporters in Adelaide, the Australian players never wanted that moment to end.
Damien Martyn disappeared after the post-match celebrations, only to announce his retirement with immediate effect from all forms of the game the next morning. The developments that ensued, bang in the middle of an Ashes series, took many Australian cricketers by surprise, but that didn’t prevent them from thrashing England 5-0 to regain the urn.
England 551 for 6 decl. (Paul Collingwood 206, Kevin Pietersen 158, Ian Bell 60; Stuart Clark 3 for 75) and 129 (Andrew Strauss 34; Shane Warne 4 for 49) lost to Australia 513 (Ricky Ponting 142, Michael Clarke 124, Michael Hussey 91, Adam Gilchrist 64; Matthew Hoggard 7 for 109) and 168 for 4 (Michael Hussey 61*, Ricky Ponting 49) by 6 wickets.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)