From around the turn of the millennium, Australia for a long time were an unrivalled force in world cricket under the captaincy of first Steve Waugh and then Ricky Ponting. Defeating them in one Test, leave alone an entire series, was as difficult a task as any.
In fact, Australia lost only two Test series in eight years from 2000 to ‘07. And it’s no coincidence that those two series – Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2001 and The Ashes in 2005 – are considered by many as the two greatest Test series of the past few decades. To beat Australia at the time, you needed something so extraordinary that it would etch in the minds of everyone who watched it for years to come.
That’s what happened when Australia toured England in 2005. The visitors hadn’t lost a Test series in over four years and they hadn’t lost an Ashes series in over 18 years. An astonishing series followed.
The most memorable of Ashes victories for England didn’t begin on a great note though. In the first Test at Lord’s, it was the same old story.
Australia endured a terrible start to the tour when they were thrashed by England in a T20I, lost to Somerset, Bangladesh and England in one-day games – all in the space of a week.
They soon got going and, after a tied final against England in the ODI tri-series, they defeated the hosts 2-1 in the three-match one-day series that followed. Despite this, the results earlier during the tour would have given England hope that they could stand up to this Australian team who, for the last few years, had seemed invincible across formats.
What would have given England more belief was their own form. Heading into the 2005 Ashes, they had won their previous five Test series and were looking like a top team under the leadership of Michael Vaughan. A few months earlier, they had defeated South Africa in South Africa and the previous summer, they had whitewashed both New Zealand 3-0 and West Indies 4-0 at home.
Out of the 124 Tests that legendary pacer Glenn McGrath featured in, Australia lost only 20. In the 66 Tests he played after the start of 2000, the Aussies lost just six (9.09%). In the 19 matches he didn’t feature in between the turn of the century and his retirement, the former world number one side lost four (21.05%).
While Australia had numerous superstars in their ranks, McGrath was undoubtedly one of the most important.
Heading into this match, McGrath had previously played two Tests at Lord’s and enjoyed success on both occasions, including an eight-wicket haul in an innings in 1997. His masterly use of the Lord’s slope was remarkable and it would help him attain highly favourable results in 2005 as well.
The match didn’t get off to the best of starts though for Australia. The away team, after electing to bat first, were bowled out for just 190 before tea on day one. Steve Harmison, who had been in superb form over the previous couple of years, starred with the ball for England with five wickets.
Then came the McGrath show. In a stunning spell of bowling, the Australian great took a handful of wickets to leave England reeling at 21/5. It was his third five-wicket haul in Tests at Lord’s in as many matches.
A half-century on debut from Kevin Pietersen helped England to three figures before they were bowled out for 155, conceding a 35-run lead.
While the lead might not have been that substantial, Australia capitalised on the situation with many of their top-order batsmen getting starts in their second innings. Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich all got half-centuries, with the 155-run fourth-wicket partnership between Martyn and Clarke putting the visitors in a commanding position.
While Clarke top scored with 91, Katich put up an admirable performance with the tail – 95 runs were added for the final couple of wickets. Even McGrath scored a valuable 20 not out, his joint-fifth highest score in Tests.
A target of 420 was always going to be an uphill task for England and so it proved. While both openers – Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss – got starts and Pietersen impressed again with another fifty, it was a bridge too far for the Vaughan-led side against a mighty Australian bowling line-up.
McGrath was once again among the wickets, picking up four scalps. Legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne also accounted for four wickets as England were bowled out for 180.
McGrath was named the Player of the Match for the third time in as many Tests at Lord’s.
What Happened Next?
The following Test at Edgbaston, Birmingham was one of the greatest Tests ever played. McGrath, the match-winner at Lord’s, got injured after stepping on a cricket ball during warm-up which proved to be a pivotal moment in the series.
Australia looked down and out while chasing a target of 282 in the fourth innings, but the lower-order fought back valiantly before losing by just two runs.
With the series level at 1-1, England had a great opportunity to take the lead at Old Trafford, Manchester in the third Test. This time, Ponting produced a captain’s knock, scoring a fourth innings hundred which helped Australia draw the Test. The visitors were just one wicket away from defeat at the end of play on day five.
Despite the final day disappointment in Manchester, the hosts would have gained a lot of confidence from the previous two Tests. And it showed as they won the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham by three wickets. It was the second Test in this series that Australia had to play without McGrath – who was ruled out due to an elbow injury – and it was the second time they were defeated.
A draw in the final Test at The Oval, London meant that England had finally regained The Ashes after more than 18 years.
Just before the start of the series in 2005, England skipper Vaughan had said: "Both sets of players are sick and tired of talking about the Ashes.” It’s fair to say that his sentiments after the series were much different and he’ll probably never ever tire mentioning that particular Ashes.