Finally, cricket's big prize is back in English hands

Helped by an innings of 158 from Kevin Pietersen, England yesterday claimed a historic sporting victory, winning the 2005 Ashes series against Australia 2-1

At 6.15pm yesterday, a tired and emotional Ricky Ponting made his way from the Australian dressing-room and offered Michael Vaughan his hand on the players' balcony of the Alec Bedser Stand. Bad light had forced the players of England and Australia from the pitch, making it a rather soft and touching way for such an intense, hard-fought and brilliant series to end. Yet in that simple act the Australian captain was handing over ownership of cricket's oldest and most treasured prize - the Ashes.

It is more than 18 years since English cricket last celebrated this feat, when Gladstone Small caught Merv Hughes in the deep at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 28 December 1986, and yesterday a nation rose to its feet again to applaud a team that it has every right to be proud of.

Kevin Pietersen, whose quite brilliant 158 ensured that England drew the fifth Test and maintained their 2-1 lead in the series, will grab the headlines. And deservedly so. Without him the Ashes could have been making their way back to Sydney this lunchtime with Ponting and his Australian team-mates.

But every member of Vaughan's dedicated and vibrant young side should be looked on as a hero. Andrew Flintoff has been a colossus, inspiring Vaughan's charges on almost every occasion they were in trouble, yet at some stage in this astonishing series each of the 12 players used by England has contributed to the team's success. Even Paul Collingwood, playing in his only Test of the summer, batted for 71 minutes with Pietersen when England looked as though they may yet still blow it.

It will take some time for these players to realise just what they have achieved during the last two months, or come to terms with their new-found status. For some, their lives may never be the same again. But during the next few days each of them, along with Duncan Fletcher - the England coach - and his staff, can sit down and reflect on the part they have played in the best Test series this great sport has ever seen.

There may have been Test series of higher quality but never can there have been one that has engrossed and played with the emotions of a nation in such a manner. From the first ball at Lord's on 21 July the action has been compelling, and following the 239-run defeat in the first Test very few of us gave England any chance of regaining the "little urn".

Yet regain it they have, with a brand of attacking cricket that suggests they will soon overtake Australia and become the number one side in the world. Many may feel that the victory should have given them this status already, but Vaughan's side will need to win in Pakistan and India during the winter, and defend the Ashes in Australia 12 months later to claim that crown.

England started the final day of this epic encounter with a lead of 40 and nine wickets in hand. Their goal was simple - to bat out 98 overs, or score enough runs to make Australia's run chase futile.

The vast majority of the 23,000 lucky ticket holders would have been hoping for a quiet, uneventful day, but this has not been that type of series. An unexpected twist was expected and for 38 overs it appeared as though Australia would pull off another remarkable victory. The brilliance of Warne, and the perseverance of Glenn McGrath had reduced England to 126 for 5, and the nerves of the home fans were getting another shredding.

It was only when Pietersen reached his century, and England's lead had been extended to over 220, that members of Vaughan's side felt confident enough to venture out of their dressing-room and watch history being created.

Roared on by a raucous crowd, England batted positively before they were finally bowled out for 335. And it was fitting that the truly magnificent Shane Warne should take the final wicket in his last Test on English soil. The presence of the game's greatest-ever bowler has made this series unforgettable, and when he had Stephen Harmison caught at slip it took his tally in the series to 40.

Warne's industry, skill and bloody-mindedness allowed him take take 12 wickets in the match, and made him the highest wicket-taker in Ashes history with 172 scalps. Warne did not deserve to be on the losing side but the fact that he did end up finishing second was largely down to the batting of his close friend Pietersen.

The Hampshire batsman may not be everyone's cup of tea, but, boy, can he play, and the manner in which he handled the pressure here highlighted what a wonderful future he has in this England side. However, his cavalier approach in the early part of his innings did little to ease the stress levels of anyone with an English chromosome in their body.

England were in trouble after Andrew Flintoff had chipped a simple catch back to Warne, and Pietersen was living on the edge. He was dropped on nought, nearly run out on nine and grassed again on 15. But having survived a nervous start he went on to play an innings of character and class.

Whilst his team-mates anxiously prodded and poked at the ball, Pietersen played bold, powerful strokes. He missed the occasional uncontrolled hoick at Warne but his tactics were sound because the runs he was scoring were just as important as the overs he was wasting.

In the over after Warne had dropped him at first slip on 15, the belligerent 25-year-old hoisted the leg-spinner twice into the stands for six. And the six-hitting continued after lunch during a sensational pocket of Test cricket at its very best.

Pietersen had been hit painfully in the ribs by Lee before the interval and Ponting set the field for a barrage of bouncers. But rather than duck underneath the 95mph thunderbolts being sent down at him, Pietersen decided to hook, and Lee was twice deposited into the crowd over fine leg. There were also two thunderous straight drives for four before Lee, having conceded 37 runs in three overs, was removed from the attack.

The loss of Collingwood and Geraint Jones, who fell before England were anywhere near safe, quietened Pietersen down but in Ashley Giles he found a partner he could rely on. The pair put on 109 runs for the eighth wicket and during it Pietersen posted his maiden Test hundred when he drove Shaun Tait through extra cover for four.

It was at around this time that the Australians started to realise their hold on the Ashes was over. Warne was shattered after 31 consecutive overs from the Vauxhall End, and Pietersen and Giles were picking off a tired and dispirited attack.

Pietersen hacked Warne for a straight six and pulled Lee over the leg-side boundary for the third time, before his superb innings was ended by a magnificent leg-cutter from Glenn McGrath which trimmed his off stump.

Warne ran up to Pietersen as he made his way back to the players' pavilion and congratulated the batsman before, in a typically un-shy manner, he lapped up the applause of a euphoric crowd.

With the game safe and the Ashes won, Giles passed 50 for the fourth time in his Test career. The partisan crowd gave Australia a standing ovation as they left the arena, thanking them for the part they had played in an unforgettable series. And it was fitting that Warne and McGrath, two of the game's greats, led their team from the field.

The pair have been the main reason for Australia's success in the last decade and English crowds will never see the pair playing Test cricket in this country again.

But England fans now have plenty to look forward to. They have a team that has the potential to dominate world cricket for the foreseeable future.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'