Birmingham thriller: the sprain that changed modern cricket

Lose your best fast bowler in the warm-up then win the toss and elect to bowl. That’s what Ricky Ponting did at Edgbaston in 2005. His decision contributed to one of the greatest Test matches ever played.

England won that frantic thriller by two runs and the result set ablaze a series that ignited modern Test cricket. Ponting’s decision to bowl was a surprise. Glenn McGrath was forced to withdraw moments before the toss after standing on a ball in the warm-up, rolling his ankle. Michael Kasprowicz took his place and on the fourth day played a direct role in the moment that catapulted the series to the top of every news bulletin in the cricket universe.

The mighty Australian side had been set 282 for victory and were off to a great start when Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden were 0/47. But a hostile spell from the affable Andy Flintoff cracked the Aussie juggernaut open. Right as Flintoff bowled Langer dark clouds rolled across Birmingham and the rowdy Edgbaston crowd found its voice. It spurred England on and Flintoff, Jones, Hoggard, Harmison and Giles ripped Australia’s highly rated batting order to pieces.

Australia were in tatters at 7/136 and 25,000 Englishmen were absolutely bouncing. The atmosphere was as loud as a football match and it seemed over for the Aussies. But they weren’t ready to die. A young Michael Clarke was joined at the crease by Shane Warne and they stabilised the Australian innings before Steve Harmison shattered Clarke’s off stump late in the day, 8/175.

The next day it seemed just a matter of time. It was alleged workplaces were empty all across England, pubs were filled with punters desperate for victory against Australia; England had not won an Ashes series since 1989 and victory at Edgbaston against the odds might dare some to dream. But Brett Lee and Shane Warne had other ideas. They repelled the English attack and quietened the capacity crowd as they picked off the runs. The tension and anxiety was monumental and then in calamitous circumstances Warne stood on his stumps and the pressure was relieved, 9/220, 69 runs to win.

Kaspa, the big Queenslander, and Brett Lee took Australia to within 3 runs at 9/279 then disaster struck. Harmison pushed a shortish riser towards Kaspa’s hip. The tailender attempted an awkward flick and the ball flew down the leg side. Diving away to his left PNG born English wicket keeper Geraint Jones caught and appealed. In fact, about 60million poms went up and New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden raised his crooked finger. England erupted.

The moment England levelled the 2005 Ashes Series at Edgbaston, Birmingham. England won the series 2-1.

The moment England levelled the 2005 Ashes Series at Edgbaston, Birmingham. England won the series 2-1.

Players ran in all directions celebrating the wicket

Players ran in all directions celebrating the wicket

One of the most famous images in modern cricket

One of the most famous images in modern cricket

It’s been ten years since that Edgbaston thriller and today Australia takes on England at Edgbaston with the series locked up at one all.

The wicket looks grassy and a little dry, an exciting prospect for fast bowlers and spinners alike. What would the toss winning captain decide to do knowing the dramatic series changing events that followed Ricky Ponting’s decision in 2005?

Rain has fallen in England and hydroponic heat lamps confiscated by Birmingham Police in drug raids have been used to dry both the pitch and outfield at Edgbaston. Seriously. The pitch has been sweating under covers so moisture in the pitch and precipitation from above may play key roles in the Test.

Australia has confirmed that Peter Nevill will retain his place ahead of Brad Haddin, another indication (Shane Watson gone) that Australia mean business here and will not tolerate a lack of performance in a series that means so much to both nations. Chris Rogers is reportedly fit to play but surely Shaun Marsh will take his place – and not Watson – if he must withdraw. England will reshuffle after replacing Ballance with Bairstow, Ian Bell will bat at three and Mark Wood’s fitness will be tested before play.

Here’s to another week without sleep. Better get the aspirin out and dust off those defibrillators, here comes the Edgbaston Test Match.

The over that changed the momentum at Edgbaston in 2005:

Flintoff cracks open the Aussie juggernaut taking the wickets of Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting in his first over.

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