When play began on the fourth day of the 2005 Ashes Test at Edgbaston, England were staring at a straightforward victory. They were just two wickets away and Australia needed 107 runs. With the visitors having won the first Test emphatically, it seemed inevitable that the hosts would draw level and make a statement of their own.
As simple as the equation was, though, what followed was right out of a best-selling thriller. The drama that day was as intriguing as it had been on each day of that Test match.
Australia won the first Test at Lord’s by 239 runs but their chances for the second game took two major blows even before the first ball was bowled. Their premier fast bowler Glenn McGrath was ruled out after suffering a freak ankle injury while playing touch rugby during warm-up before the start of the game. And then, captain Ricky Ponting won the toss and elected to field first, looking at overcast conditions, on a pitch that many predicted would deteriorate considerably over the course of the match.
England took full advantage of Ponting’s seeming lapse in judgement and piled on 407 runs in their first innings. Marcus Trescothick was classy at the top of the order with 90 runs, with Kevin Pietersen (71) and Andrew Flintoff (68) providing a quickfire partnership of 103 runs for the fifth wicket.
In reply, Australia rode on half-centuries from opener Justin Langer (82) and Ponting (61) to post 308, but they were still a fair way short of England’s total.
The Aussies needed to strike early in England’s second innings. And they did just that with a piece of magic from Shane Warne. The legendary leg-spinner came from around the wicket, gave the ball a nice rip, landed it in the rough, and rattled the stumps as Andrew Strauss put his front leg across in an inexplicable manner.
Flintoff made a defiant 73 down the order but Warne’s stunning spell of 6/46 brought Australia right back into the contest as England were bowled out for 182.
The Aussies were set a target of 282 runs and while that didn’t seem like the toughest task, they had their work cut out with the pitch starting to break up.
And things did go downhill for the visitors as they got reduced to 137/7 with Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones all picking wickets for England.
A young Michael Clarke then put up a fight but he was clean-bowled by the other unforgettable delivery of that match – an absolute peach of a slower one by Harmison.
And that set up day four of the match. Australia were 175/8, chasing 282. England had all the momentum and looked set to level the series. While the match had already lived up to expectations in terms of entertainment, no one could’ve predicted the spectacle that was to follow.
Australia had Warne and Brett Lee at the crease. The duo, in typical Aussie fashion, didn’t give up at the start of day four and went about building a partnership. They added 45 runs for the ninth wicket and before anyone knew it, the visitors had wrestled their way back to a much more hopeful position.
But just as things started to get a little too close for comfort, England’s star all-rounder Flintoff stepped up and got rid of Warne. Australia were 220/9 and needed 62 runs to win. The match was still very much in favour of the hosts.
But, again, the Aussies refused to go away. Lee then got together with Michael Kasprowicz to put on the most nerve-racking stand for the final wicket. From needing 62 runs to win, Australia soon needed 42, then 22, and finally they were just three runs away from the most extraordinary victory.
And that’s when it happened... a final twist in the tale that thrills fans to date.
Harmison ran in to Kasprowicz and bowled a sharp bouncer that climbed straight to the throat. The right-hander took evasive action but the ball managed to take the edge, and wicketkeeper Geraint Jones threw himself down the leg side to complete a superb low catch.
England had done it. They had managed to hold their nerves and close out one of the most memorable victories in the history of Test cricket. There were scenes of utter jubilation as the England players huddled in celebration.
Lee, who had fought valiantly to remain not-out on 43 off 75 was shattered and on his haunches. And in a moment that’s as iconic as the match itself, Flintoff went across to console Lee even as his teammates celebrated.
As if the match wasn’t fascinating enough, a piece of information brought to attention by Kasprowicz later on summed up the overwhelming nature of the Edgbaston classic. The Aussie pacer rightly pointed out that in the delivery that got him out at the end, the ball nicked that hand of his which had come off the bat. Television replays confirmed that he wasn’t actually out. But there was no DRS at the time and on-field umpire Billy Bowden’s decision was final.
“As history will tell you, it was an unbelievable game of cricket where one run decided that Test match and probably ended up deciding the series [England won 2-1]. That was how close it turned out at the end,” Ponting told cricket.com.au recently.