Ashes of a lifetime: is this the best one ever?

With the fifth Test still to come, the current series is already widely regarded as the greatest of them all. As we await the final instalment, Paul Newman catches up with those watching and those playing and asked them to pick their most memorable moments from an utterly compelling sporting drama


The England player: Ashley Giles

Cricket fever has struck the nation and now it's our responsibility to win the Ashes. That would do a lot for cricket in this country. A lot of people said Test cricket was gone but that's not the case based on the first four Tests of this series.

It's been an incredible year for me. Just to be involved with this side is fantastic. We are basically another county team. We know each other that well. We've played that much cricket together.

In the last 12 to 18 months, this team has done some special things because we have been consistent in selection. You don't want to be going out there thinking: "This could be your last game if you don't get a wicket."

Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan have put a lot of faith in the people they select.

I still remember the criticism of me in the days after the first Test at Lord's. It's important to remember that sort of criticism, but you can't dwell on it.

This has been easily the toughest few weeks of my career. I've found sleeping difficult. I wake up and cricket is the first thing that comes into my head: how I'm going to bowl or bat in the day ahead.

The Australia player: Matthew Hayden

Touring England has been a wonderful experience. Every ground we've played at has been full. Personally and collectively we could have played better and we're looking forward to doing so in the final Test. Australia have been through some unbelievable series and we have crushed sides in the past, but it's great to be in a fight. We're in a scrap with everything on the line. What has happened in the last 14 weeks is ridiculous when you think about it. The series has drifted along like a river and suddenly we're at its mouth and the job has to be done.

It's been great to catch up with old friends like Allan Lamb and other guys I've played county cricket with. The old guys like 'Lamby' and 'Fot' [Dennis Lillee] talk about how the sides they played in got together and how they still enjoy a beer. I'd like to think we've built similar relationships this summer.

A highlight of the series? How close the two sides have become. There is a great spirit between us and long may it continue. We respect England and I'm sure they have the same view about us.

The cricket administrator: David Morgan (Chairman of England and Wales Cricket Board)

I've been at almost every day's play. I'm not normally a nervous watcher, but when we were chasing those 120-odd runs at Trent Bridge I needed a comfortable place to watch.

In the four matches so far, we've taken 79 of the 80 Australian wickets. They've taken 73 of ours and I think that difference is quite significant.

There have been many great moments, but I think the wicket that gave us victory at Edgbaston would be at the top of them. Overnight there was a belief in some quarters that it would be over quite quickly, but I never believed that. So often over the years I've seen us get into a dominant position against Australia but fail to win. It looked to be going away from us again, but then Geraint Jones' catch gave us victory. If Australia had won it would have been a massive disappointment and we would have been two down in the series.

I always thought we could come back after losing the first Test. I remembered how in South Africa in the winter we lost quite badly at Cape Town but bounced back with a win in Johannesburg.

The chairman of selectors: David Graveney (Chairman of England's selectors)

It's wonderful the way the series has pulled in people who hadn't watched cricket before. It underlines how important sport is in this country and what a role it can play in terms of the "feelgood factor".

People have a spring in their step. When you read that the TV ratings exceeded the final night of Big Brother, you know that you're heading in the right direction.

A personal highlight? How long have you got? I particularly enjoyed the first morning at Edgbaston. We hadn't played very well when we lost the first Test and we'd copped a lot of criticism in the week. Everybody was saying it was the same old England and that Australia would win the series 5-0.

Then in the space of two hours everything changed. It was so unexpected. There was Marcus Trescothick hitting Warne straight over his head into the stands and then going for Lee in the last over before lunch. I don't know what the players had for breakfast, but they just came out and attacked.

The British politician: Richard Caborn (Minister for Sport)

I went to Lord's and Trent Bridge and what I could see was an England team with a will to win and a belief in themselves. I was struck by the way Andrew Flintoff stuck up for Geraint Jones when he was interviewed and asked about the criticism of Jones. He was very quick to point out that there was absolutely no criticism of him from within the England camp.

The leadership of Michael Vaughan has set a great example. He's so cool under pressure and there's obviously huge respect for him. I was at a fund-raising function a few months ago on the same table as Sven Goran Eriksson and Michael Vaughan. It struck me then how similar they are: very quietly spoken and very calculated. They're very focused people: nothing will distract them from their objectives.

The Ashes series has been the icing on the cake for the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board], which has done a very good job over the last four or five years with developments like central contracts, Twenty20, its work in schools and in reviving grass-roots cricket. Irrespective of what happens at the Oval, the Government has to recognise what a fantastic job cricket has done for the country this summer.

The Australian politician: John Howard (Prime Minister)

The 2005 series is the most keenly contested Ashes series in my memory. I have watched a lot of the current series.

I was in England for the first Test at Lord's and managed to catch an hour of the second day and all of the third day.

Back in Australia, I have watched the exciting finishes to both the third Test and the fourth Test and a great deal of the play in the other matches as well.

It has been a great series for a number of people, very memorable for Glenn McGrath, who managed to get his 500th Test wicket at Lord's, and Shane Warne has been absolutely fantastic, with both the bat and the ball.

Ponting's hundred at Old Trafford was magnificent. On the English side, Andrew Flintoff has been a real star and the opening bowling and fielding has kept them in a very competitive position. Overall, it has been a wonderful series for the great game of cricket.

As for my personal highlights, it would be hard to pick between Warne's bowling, McGrath's 500th wicket and Lee bowling Flintoff with that beautiful off-cutter in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. I saw that at just after three o'clock in the morning and at that point I thought Australia might still win.

The groundsman: Peter Marron (Old Trafford groundsman)

We were getting Old Trafford ready for the third Test when the Edgbaston Test was finishing. The whole place just came to a stop as we sat round televisions watching the climax. The last thing I was worried about at that moment was preparing our pitch. When we got the last wicket the ground erupted. All the maintenance people and ground staff were watching.

I've been head groundsman 22 years, but I've never known a summer like this. I got a taxi to the ground at six o'clock most mornings of our Test because I knew I wouldn't be able to get the car near, but the driver still had to drop me off on the other side of the Manchester United ground. On the last day the place was heaving. There were queues all around the ground.

The agent: Neil Fairbrother (Represents Andrew Flintoff)

It must be the greatest series of all time. It's certainly been the most exciting. I can't ever remember a series like it. I think it's exceeded all our expectations. The finishes of the last three Tests have been unbelievable. Let's hope they can do it one more time at the Oval.

There have been so many highlights: Freddie [Flintoff] hitting a six out of the ground, Ashley Giles' little nudge to win the game at Trent Bridge. But I don't think there was anything as dramatic as Geraint Jones taking the winning catch at Edgbaston. We'd all more or less given up hope of England winning the game.

The woman player: Clare Connor (England captain)

The closeness and team spirit of the men's team is very similar to ours and we've greatly admired their skill and tenacity.

To beat Australia is every cricketer's dream and it definitely helped to inspire us against the Aussies this summer.

People remember 1981 because of Botham's Ashes and the Headingley Test in particular. In the future people will remember 2005 in the same way, particularly if the team can round it off at the Oval.

And in our own world people will remember it for the way the women's team also finally came to terms with the Australians after years of their domination.

The umpire: David Shepherd

It would have been nice to be involved in the series, but we have neutral umpires in Test matches these days so I've had to take a back seat since the one-day games.

Because I've usually been umpiring elsewhere, I haven't seen that much of England over the last few years, but I've been very impressed with what I've seen this summer. They've made great progress as a team.

There's been great camaraderie between the two teams. I'll treasure for a long time the moment when Andrew Flintoff put his arm round Brett Lee at the end of the Edgbaston Test. They are two cricketers who play the game very hard but they play it in the right spirit.

The journalist: Chloe Saltau (Cricket Correspondent, The Age, Melbourne)

It's been a wonderful tour to cover. Everything that could happen has happened. The time difference with Australia means we can generally cover play until tea, but things have a habit of happening just after our deadlines, making us look rather stupid. On the first day of the first Test we reported the blaze of wickets that England took, but by the end of the day Glenn McGrath had his 500th Test wicket and Australia were on top.

There's been great interest back home, with huge TV audiences. The fact Australia are in a fight appeals to the public. It might seem unpatriotic, but the highlight for me so far was the finish of the Edgbaston Test.

The fan: Paul Burnham (Founder of Barmy Army)

This has been a long time coming and we're loving it. We formed the Barmy Army at the Adelaide Test in 1995 and English cricket's been slowly on the up ever since.

That tour was probably England's lowest point. We'd even been beaten by Australia's Academy side. The Australians had great fun with that. Our response was to support the team in the way we knew best - by singing. We were saying: "We know we're crap, but we're here and we're going to carry on supporting you, whatever happens."

Additional reporting by Angus Fraser, Glenn Moore and David Llewellyn.

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