Review of the year: The Ashes

A golden summer, forged in the furnace of cricket's greatest contest

Sometimes in life we have a day so perfect that we know it will always be with us. What was so remarkable about the summer of the Ashes was that we kept having such days. We couldn't shake them off. If we thought we had, if we sensed a stalemate coming on, some fleeting lapse in intensity or perhaps rain clouds gathering, someone like Andrew Flintoff or Shane Warne would come again, trailing still more glory It got to be ridiculous, in a pulsating way. From time to time it even put you in mind of the Hemingway line when he was recalling some distant, tumultuous summer of fishing in the Pyrenees and bull- fighting in Pamplona and horse racing and too much drinking and general high jinks in Paris.

"Remember that summer," he wrote, "when we were all nice to each other." You first recalled the line on the fourth morning of the Second Test at Edgbaston, when England came alive again after being shattered at Lord's, and Brett Lee, the Australian pace bowler who had batted with scarcely believable accomplishment and nerve, fell to the ground just one hit short of achieving a victory that would have made it an Ashes summer like so many others, a formal parade of Australian might. There we had the wonderful, early distillation of the spirit of a sporting summer never to be forgotten.

Flintoff, the conqueror, bent down in his very moment of triumph to comfort the vanquished. In another age his consoling of Lee might have warranted no more than a nod of approval that the niceties had been observed. Now, in another, more rancorous time, it was seen as confirmation that something rather amazing was indeed afoot. Flintoff said simply: "I looked at Brett Lee and suddenly I remembered all the times I had tasted defeat and I thought of how he must be feeling after doing so much for his team. It seemed like the natural thing to do, to get hold of him and say: 'Well played, mate...'"

There were so many other gracious notes and so many of them involved Warne, the veteran, who, in his last Test series on English soil, never stopped exploring the last reaches of his extraordinary talent. At Old Trafford, where an epic draw left thousands locked out on the last day and carried us to Trent Bridge and then The Oval with dwindling resistance to the idea of further astonishment, Warne reached the staggering milestone of 600 wickets. He achieved his feat on the ground where he had first announced himself to an English audience with a delivery to dismiss Mike Gatting that will probably always be considered the most astounding ever produced at the highest level of the game.

Gatting's expression of disbelief when he looked at his broken wicket would be mirrored throughout the summer of England's Ashes victory, their first in 18 years. When the diamond-studded larrikin Warne reached his summit, even the Barmy Army, who spend most of their days at cricket admiring each other's fancy dress and chanting banalities, responded reflectively and generously. Warne, their tormentor, swept off his sun-hat and acknowledged the cheers. You wanted to freeze that moment among so many others that defined how sport should really be.

Warne's particular contribution was his unbroken capacity to challenge a vibrant young England team with an effort that came to define the style of a champion. Had an ageing Australian side submitted with even a hint of resignation to this new force, had they shrugged their shoulders at the passing of the years, the scenes at Trent Bridge, where England survived a last-day crisis, and at The Oval, where the sound of Jerusalem beating against the grey sky was in the end as much about relief as celebration, could not have been so joyful. The Australians fought to the end. Warne came close to scoring his maiden Test century at Old Trafford, and whenever he was given the ball England braced themselves for trial by cricket's Merlin.

At Lord's in the first Test, where Warne's fellow bowling veteran Glenn McGrath had produced one of the greatest single phases of seam bowling ever seen in Test cricket, Warne had apparently undermined the entire English batting line-up with the guileful range of his attack. That England survived such a mauling was the single most extraordinary fact - and reason for celebration. That it happened had so much to do with the emergence of Flintoff as the heart of the new England.

At Lord's Flintoff was so tentative with the bat that the Australians sensed a familiar failure of English nerve. While Freddie went off to re-appraise everything he had tried to achieve in cricket, Warne contemplated the wreckage of his personal life and explained why it was so important for him to make a statement on the field.

"Whatever my problems off the field," he said, "I've tried to remember that my professional life is cricket and it has maybe never been more important for me to give a good account of myself as a player. Maybe I can at least get this right." Flintoff's reflections were no less intense and his response to the challenge that he recognised might just define his career, if not his life, was the single most decisive element of all. He and his young South African-bred team-mate Kevin Pietersen became the heroes of the summer with their spectacular deeds; they were at the heart of the national celebrations that were expressed in Trafalgar Square and Downing Street.

A few days later, back home in Yorkshire, the England captain, Michael Vaughan, made a heartfelt plea to his teammates. His greatest wish, he said, was that the team "stayed honest". They had to see the great summer as a foundation for future success, not a climactic, unsurpassable high in still young careers. At the same time the knowing English coach of Pakistan, Bob Woolmer, asked a cunning, intriguing question. "Would England," he wondered, "get up for the forthcoming challenge against his side as they had for the Ashes?" We know now they di not, and in their failure to play with the fortitude displayed in front of their own crowds they confirmed the one fear that jostled with the elation of the summer. It was something to do with the English sporting psyche, something about a failure to see that sometimes victory can be as much of an imposter as defeat. This, however, remains something for future years, for fresh campaigns.

Whatever happens, the summer of 2005 will always shine. It was the summer, like that one of Papa Hemingway's, when we were all nice to each other, and we couldn't keep the smiles off our faces.

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

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
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
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'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected