England celebrate after regaining The Ashes in 2005 © Getty Images
England celebrate after regaining The Ashes in 2005 © Getty Images

Australia had held The Ashes since 1989. Barring 1997, England had never come close to regaining the most coveted urn in sport. But this time in 2005, Michael Vaughan’s men got together to pull off a tremendous display, securing a 2-1 lead before the last Test at The Oval. England needed a draw going into the last Test, but ran into trouble against Shane Warne. Then Kevin Pietersen played one of the greatest innings in the history of the contest, helping England draw the Test and win the series, and along with it, The Ashes. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a day England fans still hold closely to their hearts.

The introduction is redundant, are they not? We have been through it, all of it, many a time. Allan Border had led Australia to a 4-0 rout on English soil in 1989. Border kept the domination going, as did his successors Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.

England had come close in 1997. They went 1-0 up. When rain saved England in the second Test it seemed they would pull it off. But Steve Waugh scored twin hundreds at Old Trafford, and Australia never looked back, crushing England by an innings at Headingley and 264 runs at Edgbaston. England secured a consolation win at The Oval. The 2-3 margin looked competitive, at least on paper.

Things were different this time. To begin with, both sides had new captains in Ricky Ponting and Michael Vaughan. While Ponting was no less aggressive than his predecessors, Vaughan, too, was a man with a purpose. He was leading a side carefully built by Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain in the new millennium.

There were other factors as well. Four of the Englishmen — Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, and Geraint Jones — had not played against Australia before, and were not under the pressure that earlier sides had faced. Ashley Giles had played 2 Ashes Tests in separate series, and Simon Jones had broken down after bowling 7 overs in his only Ashes Test.

In other words, it was a fresh-looking side that refused to buckle under pressure. In Andrew Flintoff they had an outstanding all-rounder; to support him there was a pace attack consisting of Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, and Simon Jones; and in Marcus Trescothick they had an opening batsman as aggressive as any.

Most importantly, they had discarded Graham Thorpe in favour of an uncapped Pietersen. It was not merely about replacing one man with another; by replacing Thorpe with Pietersen they sent out a message to Australia that they were not interested in looking behind.

A wary Ponting told BBC: “This England side have a different feel to them. They have a bit of a winning habit and winning culture which they haven’t had for a while.”

Of course, none of that mattered to Glenn McGrath, who announced BBC before the series: “I’ve said we could win 4-0, unless we got a bit of rain, in which case it might be 3-0.”

The stop-start tour

Australia had their usual tour start, defeating PCA Masters XI and Leicestershire. The first blow came in the one-off T20I, where they were bowled out for an abysmal 79 (at one stage they were 31 for 7).

Worse followed. They scored 342 for 5 against Somerset, who chased it down with 19 balls to spare despite the absence of Marcus Trescothick. True, the opening pair consisted of Graeme Smith and Sanath Jayasuriya, but the middle-order was not a strong one.

Then, to the astonishment of the cricket fraternity, they lost an ODI to Bangladesh. They lost the next ODI too, to England, and tied the NatWest Trophy final.

Normalcy was restored in the NatWest Challenge that followed (yes, there was a bilateral series after the triangular tournament got over). Despite losing the first ODI Australia clinched the series. And though Leicestershire held them to a draw largely due to Chris Rogers’ 209, it had to do with the fact that Australia had rested both McGrath and Shane Warne.

All is well

The Lord’s Test started on an unexpected note. A steep bouncer from Harmison hit Ponting on the helmet, jamming it against his cheek, making him bleed.

It started with that. Justin Langer resisted for a while, but Australia were quickly reduced to 87 for 5. A lower-order resurgence pushed them to 190.

As always, McGrath rose to the occasion, taking the top 5 English wickets. The score read a mere 21. It was déjà vu for the English spectators. That horrible sinking feeling was back.

But Pietersen took the attack to the Australian camp. Support came from Geraint Jones, and England recovered to 155. Australia did much better in their second outing, and England were left to score 420.

Trescothick and Strauss added 82, but it was the same story all over again. Pietersen played yet another dazzling innings and remained unbeaten with a 79-ball 64 (following an 89-ball 57), but it all went in vain. McGrath added 4 for 29 to his first-innings 5 for 53. Warne had 4 for 64 to go with 2 for 19. And England crashed to a 239-run defeat.

All was well for Australia. Worcestershire clung on to a draw. Then came the second Test.

Freddie comes to Binga

We all know the story. McGrath missed the Edgbaston Test due to a freak injury before the Test. The English batsmen walked out with the intent to give their bowlers as much time and runs as possible. So they went about it, and were bowled out by stumps and scored 407. They secured a 99-run lead.

Brett Lee stepped up with 4 for 82, but the hero of the second innings was definitely Warne, with 6 for 46. Having smashed a 62-ball 68, Flintoff now smashed an 86-ball 73 with a total of 9 sixes in the Test. Set 282, Australia finished Day Four on 175 for 8. There was no way they could win from there.

But Warne and Lee thought differently, as did No. 11 Michael Kasprowicz. There was a flurry of runs from both ends, and Australia approached the target at a rapid rate. By the time Warne trod on to the stumps he had scored 42: they still needed another 62.

Kasprowicz surprised everyone with his aggressive batting, smashing 3 fours off the first 10 balls he faced. Runs came at an astonishing pace as the crowd waited with bated breath. By the time they checked the score Australia were a mere 3 runs away.

Everything happened in slow motion: the Harmison bouncer; the helpless fend from Kasper; the loopy arc in which the ball descended; the Geraint Jones dive; Lee, dejected, sitting on his haunches; and Flintoff, all celebrations forgotten, sat next to Lee, for he was playing cricket.

Punter saves the day

England dominated the Trent Bridge Test from the onset. Both Vaughan and Strauss found form, scoring solid hundreds. Simon Jones pitched the ball up and threw the occasional bouncer in the mix, and captured 6 for 53.

Set 423, Australia became 182 for 5 when Michael Clarke came in aid of Ponting. The pair added 81. Jason Gillespie was promoted to consolidate, but he fell cheaply. With 187 balls to go and 3 wickets to take, England sniffed a chance.

Warne batted out for a chunk of it as Ponting stood firm. When Warne fell (the ball flew to Strauss at slip and Geraint Jones caught the deflection) they still needed to bat out another 58 balls. And just when it seemed Ponting would see them through to stumps, he was caught-behind off his glove down leg for a masterly 156.

Lee was left to survive 24 balls in the company of McGrath. Not only did McGrath make it, he also managed a four off Harmison. It was a remarkable draw, perfectly fitting of the quality of cricket the series had witnessed.

The Giles-and-Hoggard show

England needed another win, desperately. Once again Australia were sans McGrath, who was nursing an elbow injury: Once again England batted at great pace, scoring 477 at 3.87 an over, Flintoff smashing 132. Simon Jones, with 5 for 44, then skittled out Australia for 218.

Vaughan enforced the follow-on. Unfortunately, Simon Jones broke down after 4 overs and left with an ankle injury. He would not take part in the rest of the series. For the tourists, everyone but No. 11 Shaun Tait reached double-figures as they reached 387.

There was, however, an incident worth a mention. Ponting responded when Damien Martyn pushed one to cover and set off. He fell short of the direct hit. There was nothing unusual about that — other than the fact that the fielder was Gary Pratt, substituting for and a significantly superior fielder to Simon Jones. Ponting was not amused.

Set 129, England set off positively, adding 32 in 5 overs. But Warne struck, having Trescothick caught at bat-pad and Vaughan at slip. Strauss hung around before edging Warne to leg-slip. The next ball, at the other end, Ian Bell hooked Lee to deep fine-leg. At 57 for 4 the nerves were clearly showing.

The in-form Pietersen and Flintoff took the score to 103 before Lee had the former edging. Lee then unleashed a scorcher of an off-cutter to bowl Flintoff. And with 13 left, Geraint Jones tried to clear long-off and was caught. Hoggard walked out to join Giles. Of the two batsmen left, Simon Jones was injured.

Lee and Warne continued from both ends. Runs came in singles. With 2 runs left Warne almost had Giles as the ball missed off-stump by a whisker. Giles flicked the next ball for a brace to settle things.

England had taken an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series, but the urn was yet to be regained. They needed at least a draw at The Oval to settle things.

Paul is called

There was, of course, the big problem: who would replace Simon Jones, arguably England’s best bowler of the series till then? There was, of course, Chris Tremlett, but David Graveney, then Chairman of Selectors dropped him based on form. They called up James Anderson instead.

Would they really replace Jones with Anderson, who had played a solitary Test in the past one year and had failed in that? Was he worth the risk? What options did they have? Of course, one way out was to bolster the batting with an extra man, but that would be defensive cricket. Four bowlers would probably not be enough to bowl Australia out twice.

But then, England did not need to bowl Australia out twice. They needed men to bat out the Test. They needed to stop Australia from taking 20 wickets. They needed the extra batsman to combat Warne, whose 3 Tests at The Oval had fetched him 20 wickets at 23.30 apiece.

So they decided on Paul Collingwood, who had played 2 Tests till then, both back in December 2003, and scored 89 from 4 innings. In other words, they went in with six specialist batsmen in addition to Flintoff, followed by Geraint Jones and Giles, both of whom could bat.

For Australia, a fully fit McGrath returned, replacing Kasprowicz. Tait stayed on along with Lee.

The Gypsy Baron meets Hollywood

A roar of applause went up as Vaughan won the toss. As expected, Trescothick and Strauss played with caution, but when Lee strayed in line, he punished him past square-leg, third-man, and mid-wicket for three boundaries. Strauss joined in the fun, responding with two fours off Lee and two more off McGrath.

Runs came quickly, and the score read 58 without loss after 12 overs despite McGrath. England had feasted on McGrath-free Australian attacks at Headingley and Edgbaston, but this time even he could not stop the onslaught.

Tait went for runs as well. Warne was summoned in the 14th over, but it made little difference. Strauss and Trescothick added two boundaries to the score.

By the time Warne had Trescothick edging one to Hayden at slip the Somerset man had scored 43 in 65 balls. England were 82, and it was merely the 18th over. The big hitters, Flintoff and Pietersen, were way down the order.

Vaughan did not let the run rate drop. A pull and a gorgeous extra-cover drive off Warne made his intentions clear: they were not going to let anyone — Warne included — dominate them.

But then there was one shot too many: Warne pitched one marginally short, and Vaughan, probably caught in two minds, tried to push it off the back-foot. Unfortunately, he found Clarke at short mid-wicket, placed specifically for that stroke.

Bell lasted 7 balls before he played half-forward to one that zipped through straight. 104 for 3. Warne had brought Australia back after that initial onslaught.

In the 1990s England might have gone into the defensive and crumbled from there. Not this time. They had an over before lunch, and Pietersen cover-drove and leg-glanced Tait for two boundaries, not allowing Australia gain the psychological advantage.

Then, after lunch, Warne unleashed the kind of delivery that only he was capable of on a docile wicket on Day One: it pitched on leg, drifting away outside before landing; Pietersen, almost on an invisible leash, was sucked into a flick, his feet rooted to the ground; the ball went past the outside edge and hit off-and-middle.

Flintoff did not fancy walking out at 131 for 4. It was not the kind of launching pad he deserved in the series of his life. Lee rose to the occasion, unleashing a lethal bouncer: it hit Flintoff on the helmet and rushed past Gilchrist to the fence.

Meanwhile, Strauss marched on in that no-nonsense approach of his. While Warne was taking out one Englishman after another, Strauss kept his head down and went about with his business. The footwork was cautious; he left everything that was supposed to left; but whenever there was a loose delivery it did not go unpunished.

But Flintoff was in the thick of actions. McGrath pitched one outside off, and Flintoff somehow guided it to the third-man fence. And before the commentators could decide on whether the shot was intentional, he smashed Warne past mid-off for four.

The duel intensified after tea: Flintoff pulled, swept, slog-flicked, and straight-drove Warne for four fours, the last three off consecutive balls. At the other end, Strauss brought up his hundred without fuss, off 150 balls.

Andrew Strauss (left) celebrates his hundred; though nowhere as spectacular as Kevin Pietersen’s hundred it was no less crucial © Getty Images
Andrew Strauss (left) celebrates his hundred; though nowhere as spectacular as Kevin Pietersen’s hundred it was no less crucial © Getty Images

Flintoff cut loose after that, thrashing Lee all over and lofting Warne into the mid-wicket stands. Not only were England scoring runs at four an over, they were also not losing wickets.

Ponting would ideally have wanted to hold McGrath back till the second new ball, but it would probably have been too late by now. McGrath came on: he bowled on off, but slower than usual; and Flintoff edged it. His 72 had taken 115 balls, and 54 of it had come in boundaries.

England’s extra batsman did not contribute: Tait’s reverse-swing caught Collingwood in front of the wickets. He had scored 7. Anderson would probably have equalled that.

And then, in the 80th over, Warne had Strauss poking at one; Katich flung himself and took an excellent bat-pad catch. Strauss, the backbone of England on Day One, had scored 129. Warne, on the other hand, had five on Day One.

Jones and Giles both contributed, while Harmison hammered his way to a 20-ball 20 including three consecutive fours off Lee. Warne finished with 6 for 122. England had put up a middling 373.

A top-heavy response

If England had batted rapidly, there was no reason Australia would not. They were, after all, the ones who had started scoring at over 3.50 runs an over in Test cricket. Langer took charge, teeing off with two boundaries in the sixth over, and outscoring Hayden 36 to 9.

Giles came to bowl in the 19th over. The second ball soared over long-on; the fourth, over mid-wicket. Langer took 14 off that over. The seamers did well, containing Australia, but they could not break through.

But then, they need not break through. Delaying Australia would be enough for them to regain the urn. The onus was on Australia…

Australia had finished Day Two on 112 without loss. There was a rain break, following which play resumed under overcast conditions. Things got slower, but with their strong batting line-up Australia always had the depth to accelerate.

Eventually Harmison broke through in an erratic over. The first ball bounced so high that it was ruled a wide. Langer steered the next for four to bring up his hundred. Once again Harmison bowled a wide, and once again Langer guided it, this time over slips, for another four.

A fuming Harmison charged in, unleashing another bouncer that soared way over Langer. It should probably have been ruled a wide had Harmison not overstepped.

Langer blocked the next ball, only the third legal ball of the over; he chopped the next one on to the stumps, and both batsmen left immediately — for it was raining again. Langer’s 105 had taken him 146 balls. Australia were 185 for 1.

Ponting counterattacked as well while Hayden played the foil, a role uncharacteristic for him. But then, Hayden was not in the best of forms in the series: he had not made it to forty even once in the series. His perseverance paid off when he on-drove Flintoff for four to bring up a patient 218-ball hundred.

Even when Flintoff had Ponting caught at gully for a brisk 35, Australia looked set for a massive score. They were 277 for 2 at stumps, a mere 96 behind.

Martyn fell early next morning: Flintoff bounced one that kicked off and reached Martyn before he was halfway through that pull. The harmless fend went to square-leg.

But Clarke hung around, and Hayden did exactly what Strauss had done in the England first innings. The score reached 323 for 3. They trailed by 50.

Then Flintoff trapped Hayden in front with one that moved back in. The big Queenslander’s 138 had taken 303 balls.

Justin Langer (left) and Matthew Hayden celebrate their hundreds © Getty Images
Justin Langer (left) and Matthew Hayden celebrate their hundreds © Getty Images

Then the procession began: Katich missed an in-swinger from Flintoff and was given LBW; Gilchrist began in a flurry of boundaries, smashing 4 off the first 10 balls he faced, but missed an in-swinging delivery from Hoggard and was trapped in front; Clarke was beaten off a peach from Hoggard that did just enough to beat the bat; Warne’s pull off Flintoff ballooned to mid-on; and Hoggard polished things off, having McGrath caught at slip and Lee at deep midwicket.

They should have amassed a massive lead, but Australia ended up trailing by 6 runs. In an inspired spell of fast bowling Flintoff (5 for 78) and Hoggard (4 for 97) had taken 7 for 44 in 88 balls.

Bad light and tolling bells

With over an hour left on Day Four, there was no way England could have won the Test. They did not need to, either. Thus, when Trescothick and Strauss strode out to the centre, all The Oval crowd wanted was for them to bat out the rest of the day.

Billy Bowden and Rudi Koertzen had a conference after Lee sent down the second over. They had another after McGrath bowled the third. McGrath was perhaps acceptable, but play would probably have halted if one of Lee or Tait bowled.

So Warne came on to bowl the fourth over. He tossed up the first two balls before sending a quicker one. Strauss kept out all three. The fourth turned the proverbial mile, took Strauss’ edge and went to short-leg. The fading light had come as a blessing in disguise for Australia.

Unfortunately, the light deteriorated to the extent that play had to be called off midway through Warne’s next over. A cautious Trescothick and an aggressive Vaughan saw them off to stumps after play resumed.

At 40 for 1 with a lead of 46, England’s grip on the urn had definitely tightened. Vaughan went after the bowling next morning in a flurry of elegant drives and deft placements…

But McGrath had other ideas. It was one of those trademark deliveries that pitched on that spot where McGrath could land with eyes closed. Vaughan poked and perished, Gilchrist taking a terrific flying catch.

It was a massive wicket. Vaughan’s 45 had come off a mere 65 balls. Another hour’s batting would probably have shut the doors on Australia, but as always, they had managed to find a way.

The next ball took Bell’s edge and went to Warne at first slip. 67 for 3. The lead was 73. McGrath was on a hat-trick.

A tale of two Hantsmen

Pietersen walked out. He had had a wonderful start to his Test career. Not only had he scored fifties in each of his first 3 innings, he had also got them at a strike rate of 79. He had crossed 25 just once in his previous 6 innings. That average had dropped below 40.

Maybe the magic was wearing off. Maybe they had made a mistake by dropping Thorpe.

The first ball from McGrath was a ripper. The ball pitched on a length and virtually climbed on Pietersen. A lesser man would not have been able to put his glove out of the way, but Pietersen managed. The ball bounced off his shoulder to second slip. Bowden made the correct decision.

Warne, Pietersen’s Hampshire mate, licked his lips in anticipation. Just like McGrath, he had made it clear that it would be his last Test on English soil. And just like McGrath, he was keen on making his swansong special.

He tossed one up. Sure enough, Pietersen nicked it, and the ball flew towards Hayden at first slip. Unfortunately, the ball brushed Gilchrist’s right pad on its way and deflected slightly. Hayden’s initial movement was — correctly — towards his left; the last-moment change of direction meant the ball hit his right thigh; there was no way Hayden could have taken the catch.

When a tiring McGrath bowled short Pietersen pulled him for four. He survived a direct hit from Clarke. Ponting replaced McGrath with Lee, and Pietersen on-drove the first ball straight down the ground as Trescothick dived to make it to the crease.

The big moment came three balls later. There was nothing wrong with that one from Lee. It was quick. It was marginally outside off. It had also served its purpose: Pietersen went for the expansive and edged it. The crowd gasped as the ball flew to the man in the floppy hat at second slip…

It happened in a flash, and yet, almost in slow motion. The ball flew at Warne’s face. His hands went up in instinct, palms cupped. The ball popped in and out.

Warne had dropped the catch.

He would have to make up for it. He knew that. Would KP change his approach?

There were two ways to go about countering Warne, and Trescothick had adopted one of them, curbing his instincts and grinding everything that came his way.

That was not the Pietersen way. He knew Warne was ready to prove a point. He decided to dent his county teammate’s confidence even further. He slog-swept the first ball of Warne’s next over — from outside off — for six. The sixth ball, pitched on middle-and-leg, met the same fate: this time the shot was flatter.

But just when it seemed Pietersen would take the match away, Warne struck at the other end, trapping Trescothick leg-before. Flintoff huffed and puffed, cut Warne through cover before the blonde genius found revenge: the Lancastrian, beaten completely in flight, tamely lobbed it back to Warne.

Shane Warne celebrates the wicket of Andrew Flintoff in the fourth innings to bring Australia back into the match © Getty Images
Shane Warne celebrates the wicket of Andrew Flintoff in the fourth innings to bring Australia back into the match © Getty Images

126 for 5. The lead was 132. Australia were still in the Test. The urn was far from secure.

On came Lee to bowl the last over before lunch. This time the gloves went up as a reflex action. The ball could have gone anywhere, but soared over first slip, Ponting in hot pursuit. Pietersen, knocked over by the momentum of the ball, almost landed on the stumps.

But this was Pietersen’s day, and he was not going to take any nonsense. He was ready for it when Lee bounced again, immediately after lunch. The brilliantly timed hook disappeared into the stands over backward square-leg, bringing the historic ground back to life.

The duel continued. Lee bounced. Pietersen hooked, and probably did not middle it; however, there was no fielder, and Lee’s pace and Pietersen’s power carried it over the backward-square leg fence.

The next ball was another bouncer, a misdirected one on leg. Pietersen moved to the off, his bat riding the ball and guiding it towards the fine-leg fence. Tait, despite diving full-length to his left, had no chance. The next ball was met with a leg-glance; once again it beat Tait.

Pietersen on-drove Lee for four after Warne sent a quiet over. Lee followed with a short-pitched one outside off. Pietersen did not even try to make room. He waited for it and slapped it past the umpire for four.

The lead mounted to 179. Time was running out for Australia.

Warne came round the wicket. Pietersen swept. The ball took something and went to first slip, and up they went in unison.

The Oval waited with bated breath. The slow-motion video revealed that the ball had taken the bottom-edge and bounced before it had hit the boot before flying to slip.

Pietersen survived.

The crowd gasped when Collingwood pulled Warne to the mid-wicket fence. The Durham man was almost invisible amidst all the drama. Suddenly he made his presence felt.

Unfortunately, his joy lasted two more balls: Warne sent down another ripper that took pad, then edge, and Ponting dived to take a stunner at silly mid-off.

Finally, after 56 overs, after McGrath and Lee had bowled their hearts out, Ponting summoned Tait for the first time. And Pietersen greeted him with a cover-drive and a square-drive, both for fours.

Three balls later Tait uprooted Jones’s off-stump.

The hundred came with a gorgeous extra-cover drive to the fence. Off came the helmet to reveal those golden streaks. As Giles hugged him, the camera zoomed on to Warne, who applauded without much enthusiasm.

The 158 at The Oval was the innings that made Kevin Pietersen © Getty Images
The 158 at The Oval was the innings that made Kevin Pietersen © Getty Images

The war was almost lost. And yet, the scenario could have been so different, had he held on to that chance…

Despite the early blows it was easily Pietersen’s most important innings till then — and of his entire career, too.

England went to tea at 221 for 7. They led by 227. Surely it was too much for Australia?

Pietersen could afford to go for it now. Another fifty-odd would put it even past the world champions for good.

The crowd behind square-leg went into ruptures as the brutal pull off Lee landed amidst them. Warne tossed up. Pietersen waited and played with the turn, clearing the long-off fence. The full-toss that followed was clearly a sign of fatigue: Pietersen simply drove it down the ground.

The Barmy Army sang along. The lead had swelled to 263. Vaughan waited in eagerness, the urn mere minutes away from him — but the Test had to go through the formalities.

The cheers grew louder as Giles took on McGrath for two boundaries in a single over. Pietersen lofted Warne over long-on and square-cut him next ball, bringing up his 150. It had taken him 176 balls.

It finally came to an end when McGrath ran through his defence, knocking the off-stump back. And The Oval stood up in unison, as did his teammates on the balcony and thousands of others in front of television sets as Pietersen acknowledged the cheers…

A side-story

Before we proceed, let us take a small detour.

This tale is about a man, probably the greatest to have served the sport. He finished as the top wicket-taker for his country. He never lost a series as captain, and with time, had stamped his mark as one of the greatest commentators in history. ‘The Voice of Cricket’, they called him.

But there was more to Richie Benaud than that. Benaud was a staunch believer in live cricket telecast being available to everyone. He was not happy when Channel 4 lost the rights of cricket telecast in Britain to British Sky Broadcasting.

He had announced that he would not work as a television commentator in England again. Fittingly, his last moments behind the microphone ended with a standing ovation, albeit for Pietersen. It might have been for the legend from Penrith as well.

The end of an era: Richie Benaud would commentate no more in England © Getty Images
The end of an era: Richie Benaud would commentate no more in England © Getty Images

King of Spain comes to party

It is time to get back to the match now.

The final rites were still left, and Giles decided to make the most of it. The back-foot cover-drive off McGrath would have made most top-order batsmen proud. He slammed the next ball down the ground to bring up his fifty.

Another boundary followed in McGrath’s next over, and then came another exquisite back-foot extra-cover drive, this time off Warne. Pietersen had dug Australia’s grave earlier in the day; Giles was hammering the final nails into the coffin, one by one.

Thankfully, Warne finished things off swiftly. He bowled Giles round his legs (for a career-best 97-ball 59), and two balls later, had Harmison caught at slip. He finished with 6 for 124 to go with his first-innings 6 for 122, but the fast bowlers had failed him.

Warne also finished the series with 40 wickets at 19.92. For the first time since Terry Alderman in 1989 had anyone taken 40 in a series; and the last to do it in a 5-Test series was Jim Laker, way back in 1956.

He left the ground with McGrath, their arms around each other’s shoulders, amidst tumultuous applause. The crowd treated them to a rousing ovation. Little did they know that they had also seen the last of Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist, Martyn, or Gillespie as well, not to speak of Benaud.

Funnily, Australia had to face another two overs in fading light before England could officially celebrate. Vaughan rightly summoned Harmison to speed up the process. The fourth ball brushed Langer’s shoulder and raced to the fine-leg fence.

Koertzen and Bowden offered light. Langer and Hayden accepted. And they cheered, the eleven men and substitutes and team officials and the crowd and fans across the world, for 16 years of agony had come to an end.

Brief scores:

England 373 (Marcus Trescothick 43, Andrew Strauss 129, Andrew Flintoff 72; Shane Warne 6 for 122) and 335 (Michael Vaughan 45, Kevin Pietersen 158, Ashley Giles 59; Glenn McGrath 3 for 85, Shane Warne 6 for 124) drew with Australia 367 (Justin Langer 105, Matthew Hayden 138; Matthew Hoggard 4 for 97, Andrew Flintoff 5 for 78) and 4 for no loss.

Man of the Match: Kevin Pietersen.

Men of the Series: Andrew Flintoff and Shane Warne.

Compton-Miller Medal: Andrew Flintoff.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)