The two men that matter: Ponting and Strauss
The Old Trafford stadium in Manchester saw an attendance crowd of 23,000 on 15th August, 2005. The day was to culminate the third Test of the five match series between Australia and England being contested at the latter’s home soil. The series was so far well poised at 1-1 with both the sides having managed a win apiece in the previous two encounters. Chasing a mammoth 423 in the fourth innings on the final day to register a victory, Aussies were under mounting pressure but they did not choose to succumb.
Consistent break-through at regular intervals saw England manage an upper hand for the most part of the day but the rate at which Aussies kept the runs flowing, had Michael Vaughn bite his nails under the threat the Kangaroos endangered. Amidst all the uncertainties, a moment worth a flash befell out of nowhere. Aussies were well poised on 340 for 7 with hardly ten more overs to play in the day.
Skipper Ricky Ponting was way past his hundred and he was allied with the ever reliable Shane Warne who had almost brought his team home in the previous clash at Edgbaston if not for a collective moment of brilliance by Geraint Jones and Steve Harmison. With little more than an hour to stretch the play for a hard fought draw, Aussies were quite adamant in containing the English attack. But the man for the moment Andrew Flintoff had some other plans. An expeditious out-swinger that managed to take a thin sneak from Warne’s blade went at an even more exceeding pace to Andrew Strauss in the second slip, only to hit his knee before the English opener could manage to bend down enough for the ball to glue to his hand. Even before Marcus Trescothick standing in the third slip could sigh in disbelief, wicketkeeper Geraint Jones had already aviated half a yard elongating his right hand in the direction of the ball ensuring it sticks into those mighty gloves for a period enough for the umpire to send Shane Warne marching orders.
Old Trafford stadium was left stranded in awe and so was Ricky Ponting witnessing this resplendent display of exuberant commitment and passion to win. Jones’ unearthly reflexes ensured the dismissal number eight for the visitors and took the home team to another level of fortitude where they saw a memorable triumph in a chasing distance.
What followed reaffirms Australia’s intransigent character as despite losing Ponting in succession, tailenders Brett Lee and Glen McGrath managed to stay their grounds and stayed put for a spell of crucifying tribulation by the English attack. The four over spell delivered by Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison could not manage to produce one delivery that could disturb the timber. At the end of the proceedings, the Australian was a happier dressing room and rightly so.
THE TRUE ASHES SPIRIT
The series further unfolded many more nerve cracking pieces of cricket that made reasons for it to be registered as the most unforgettable Ashes encounter in the modern times. But this incident which delineates a magical piece of utter dedication and character by both teams to cancel each other out describes the intensity and rapture that personify the term ‘Ashes’ in its purest spirits.
Cricket has come a way too far five years down the lane and so have the Ashes. After the scintillating clash in 2005, England were humbled 5-0 down under in the following season only for them to undo the Australians again with the same 2-1 margin during the 2009 episode.
It is for this time in the year when the two oldest horses in the game are crossing swords for 66th time in the history. Many of the propositions have been reversed and this perhaps is happening for the first time since the late 70s that both the sides have been able to grab even attention from the media. The Pandits have predicted England to reign supreme hands down this time but what is it in being Australia if not for pulling up the socks to rise on the best occasion?
2005 to 2010: ASHES HAVE COME A LONG WAY
Most of the antics have been changed since 2005 as both teams set to take field at the Gabba tomorrow. A certain flamboyant, promising youth known to the world as Kevin Pietersen has matured into one of the better English batters in the latest phase. A certain Paul Collingwood who failed to feature into any of the five Test matches then has become an impeccable element of the English middle order. Ricky Ponting, rated then the best thing to have happened to Australian captains’ legacy has been reduced to be cited the only Aussie skipper to have been undone twice by his Brit counterpart. A certain Michael Clarke – once unanimously nominated as Ponting’s deputy – has been rated surplus to team’s requirements in due consideration to his indifferent form.
A generation of Australia’s golden legacy cricketers have hung up their boots and the present squad today has only hopes and promises to boast of – so un-Australian one would choose to say. When one looks into the Aussie squad, it certainly does not appear short of talent. However, it would not take long realizing that but for Ricky Ponting, the number of Test matches played by the rest of the squad does not even measure to the number of matches Ponting alone has represented Australia in. This is not an ideal situation to lead a side that is intrinsically short of experience going into a tournament of this magnitude. An over reliance on the skipper and senior batsman Michael Hussey has been tormenting Tim Nielsen’s sleeps. The bowling too has not had best of the winter and disappointed during their short stint in the subcontinent when the team came second twice to the mighty Indians.
England on the other hand certainly appear a better poised team post a triumphant summer. With several identified botches in the top order, the side is cited by many as the serious title contenders for this time and they would prefer not to leave any stones unturned on their way to embark upon a matchless glory.
One man that England heavily rely on to turn the fortunes in their favor is the off-spinner Graeme Swann. His will be the most crucial role in trapping the unseasoned middle order of Australia and exceed pressure on Ponting and Hussey; eventually forcing them to err. Teaming up with Swann are Pietersen and Collingwood to form the trio Australia would set their eyes on. With few highly impactive prospects in Stuart Broad and the pace spearhead James Anderson; this English side is most certainly the team to beat.
Intending to dismiss all the brouhaha that has surrounded team’s preparations, the Aussies would be all raring to go Gabba, whereas England do realize there would not be a better time to bag a title down under. Both teams have gone under a pronouncing overhaul in the later years – England by choice and Australia by force. Hardly a dozen from the current squad had worn the English colors during the epic 2005 encounter whereas the Aussies have even fewer numbers on that front.
AUSTRALIA: A POINT TO PROVE
All said and done, this is one test of character where earthly predicates like form, tactics and techniques mean for nothing. No reputation helps a player surge his way into the field and is rated only as good as he was in the last game. The two nations in the highest ecstasy are locking horns and the crazy fans do not take long in deeming a star a dud. As one may safely assume Ricky Ponting incandescing the grand Ashes carnival for one last time before he calls it a day, a hope prevails around the whole cricketing camaraderie that may the force be with the man.
The Australian summer has invariably terrorized the oppositions coming down under and that better remain the case. In case of any other outcome at the culmination point of the series, Ponting may well have to call it a day prematurely – Unwillingly not to mention.