Here’s the second-best Australian Ashes performance of the past 20 years, with the greatest to be revealed on Wednesday morning.
No.2: Shane Warne, EDGBASTON 2005
Rarely in the history of Test cricket has there been a case of sliding doors so great as Edgbaston.
As fast bowling Steve Harmison recalled in a conversation with Mike Atherton, had England lost “we were staring down the barrel of a five-niller” at the conclusion of the second Test.
One moment changed the course of the second Test and, in doing so, set in motion arguably the game’s greatest five-match series.
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For Shane Warne, the decision by Ricky Ponting to send Michael Vaughan’s English side into bat after correctly calling “heads” ranks as the “worst decision a captain has ever made at an Ashes series” surpassing Nasser Hussain’s only three years earlier.
“Nasser Hussain’s happy because Nasser Hussain’s goes down as the worst decision ever at the toss of an Ashes series when he decided to bowl first at the Gabba,” Warne told foxsports.com.au.
“He laughs now because he said Ricky Ponting’s taken over from him as the worst decision a captain has ever made in an Ashes series.”
Ponting’s deputy in the series, Adam Gilchrist, disagrees and still defends him to this day.
“I, to this day, still don’t think it was necessarily a bad decision,” Gilchrist told foxsports.com.au.
“I still don’t think, you look at the toss like Nasser Hussain’s in 2002 in Brisbane, that’s a toss that’s gone horribly wrong because, clearly, when you look at the result they got absolutely massacred,” he continued on Hussain’s decision to send Australia into bat in the Ashes opener at The Gabba.
“If you look at the Edgbaston result, we lost by two runs.
“It’s not like we were massacred or we were out of the contest on that toss decision, so I defend Ricky in that regard.”
While there may be disagreement on Ponting’s decision, there’s unanimous agreement that what transpired next at Edgbaston goes down as one of the greatest Tests in the history of the game.
But it all started in the minutes before a coin was even tossed.
Glenn McGrath, the player of the match in the first Test and a thorn in the backside of England for more than a decade, went down as Australia warmed up on the oval after a hurricane had swept through the Birmingham region in the days before the Test.
“It’s one of those ones, as a sportsman, you hear the old line that goes out, ‘you never want to see another sportsman get injured,’” Harmison says. “I’ll tell you what, I was over the moon when he was on the floor. When the golf cart went out, we said don’t jinx it.
“There were 15 Englishman and a Zimbabwean doing backflips on the other side of the square when Glenn McGrath was lying on the floor.
“He got up and went off to hospital, the ego in Australia really cost them.”
It was at that point Atherton interrupted, “You mean Ricky Ponting put you into bat still … there were reports that there was ranting inside the Australian dressing room just after the toss between Warne and Ponting? Did you get a sense of that?”
“Warnie’s walking between overs shaking his head,” Harmison responded.
“He came on in the ninth over and Warnie’s shaking his head, so we know there’s something going on. Then he bangs him over his head for six.
“I still believe that moment when he put us in and we batted first, Marcus (Trescothick) changed the way we English people looked at playing the red cricket ball. We’d gone from defending it, leaving it and plinking it in the Nasser Hussain, Nick Knight, Mike Atherton way to actually going to the ball.”
You can catch up on No. 20-3 in our countdown of the best Australian Ashes performances of the past 20 years below.
20-16 GREATEST: Lyon tears down the ‘fortress’; McGrath’s brutal assault
15-11 GREATEST: Shock admission in 59-ball blitz; Waugh’s miracle on one leg
10-6 GREATEST: Teen’s debut stunner; Waugh moment that stopped the nation
Up until Edgbaston, the Australian way had been to win the toss and bat.
As Ian Chappell would say, “When you win the toss, nine times out of 10 you elect to bat. The 10th time, you think about it and again elect to bat first.”
Before Ponting correctly called heads, a decision was made between the leadership team and coach John Buchanan.
Buchanan, one of Australia’s most successful coaches, had gone through the data which pointed out the success teams had chasing totals in the fourth innings at Edgbaston.
What the data failed to take in, however, was the psychological impact of sending England in, or what the loss of McGrath on the opening morning meant for Ponting’s side.
“There’s so much before a ball was even bowled that happened,” Warne tells foxsports.com.au.
“There was some form of tornado, floods, all sorts of stuff that was happening around the Birmingham area and John Buchanan had done all the stats and said the team that bats last and chases has won whatever Test matches there were leading up to our Test match.
“I was a bit like, ‘well, I’ve played County cricket here the last few years and this thing absolutely turns square at the end, so in all those stats you have Buck, I don’t think they’ve had a spinner like me bowl on the last day, so that might skew the stats, so why don’t we just bat first if it’s a flat wicket.’
“I couldn’t believe it, anyway, I wasn’t a part of the decision-making process, I was just giving my opinion when I was asked, no one listened to me, and Punter and that decided to bowl first on an absolutely flat wicket.”
After 79 overs, England were bowled out.
Yet the home side had made a rocket-fire 407 at a run-rate of 5.13 – a rate unheard of in Test cricket.
As the late Dean Jones said in coverage, “you shouldn’t lose from there”.
Brett Lee went at more than six runs an over, Michael Kasprowicz at five and Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne more than four.
Warne took 4-116 in the first-innings, but the flying start from Trescothick (90 from 102) and lightning fast half-centuries from Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff had given England the ascendancy.
The momentum well and truly lost from Lord’s.
Australia responded by scoring 308, with half-centuries to Justin Langer (82) and Ponting (61) while Gilchrist finished unbeaten on 49 when Kasprowicz was trapped in front first ball to an upbeat Flintoff, who was finding his voice.
Trailing by 99 after the first-innings, Australia needed someone to stand up.
It was not long until Ponting turned to Warne late on day two after 20 wickets had been taken in an action-packed start to the second Test.
Warne, still filthy at the predicament Australia found themselves in, recognised the game was quickly getting away from the tourists.
“That night we had to make a statement and bowl them out cheaply,” Warne says.
“I was also trying to prove a point that this wicket is going to turn and the psyche of it, we had just beaten them easily in the first Test at Lord’s, we saw glimpses that they were a good side, now on a flat wicket, if we go into bat first, win the toss and bat and make a big score, they’re gone, that’s the psychology and mindset, that’s why I couldn’t understand, throw in McGrath going over on a ball, it’s like, surely we now bat first.
“If you look at the toss closely, Michael Vaughan actually cracks up laughing (he in fact drew a wry smile) and Mark Nicholas throws back to the commentators and says Australia has won the toss and elected to bat and the commentators actually had to correct Mark Nicholas and say, ‘no, Ricky’s won the toss and bowled,’ so no one could believe it. It was just a bad decision.”
Warne returned to the top of the mark in just the seventh over.
Six years earlier, at the very same venue, he had turned the World Cup semi-final on its head by bowling one of cricket’s greatest spells.
Warne took 4-29, taking four of the first five wickets including the scalps of Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, captain Hansie Cronje and Jacques Kallis, to pilot Australia into the World Cup final.
Recalling those memories, Warne fizzed one first ball.
Next ball, coming from around the wicket he bowled Andrew Strauss around his legs as the left-hander left it and was left stunned.
“There wasn’t that long left that night, so I wanted to plant a seed to give England something to think about and sleep on overnight before the fourth day,” Warne recalls.
“In the end I bowled that ball to Strauss, I just tried to turn it as far as I possibly could and tried to dump it in the pizza, the rubbish, the craters all outside the line of off-stump and I dumped it in there and it probably spun too far, but luckily it still clipped the stumps and luckily Andrew Strauss decided to try and leave it.”
Brett Lee joined the party early on day four, snicking off Trescothick with a ball that nipped away before bowling Vaughan with a leg-cutter.
Pietersen, as he did all series, swept powerfully but when Rudi Koertzen raised the finger after Gilchrist took a fine catch, Warne came into his own.
The leg-spinner’s curse over Ian Bell continued, as he snicked off the right-hander with a fine delivery.
Next Ashley Giles was forced to go in almost identical fashion.
“He made him play at that. Instead of the ball being down around the line of leg-stump, he has got it around middle and leg and produced a defensive stroke from Giles and Hayden has taken the catch,” former Australian leg-spinning all-rounder Richie Benaud said.
Then Harmison, who was caught at silly-point by Ponting, before bowling Flintoff for 73 to claim his 599th Test wicket.
Warne finished with the stunning figures of 6-46 from 23.1 overs to bowl England out, Lee took 4-82.
Australia, needing 282, were back in the match thanks to Warne.
Openers Langer and Matthew Hayden started well enough, putting on 47 for the first wicket.
But the loss of Langer and Ponting in the space of four balls changed the match again.
At 6-136, Gillespie was sent in to try and see Australia through to stumps on day three alongside Michael Clarke.
That plan lasted just three balls, as the right-handed stayer was trapped in front second ball to Flintoff.
Warne joined Clarke and the teammates, good friends on and off the field, recognised the importance of the partnership.
“Michael and I always batted well together, and I said, ‘mate, come on, let’s get through this and give it a crack tomorrow.’
“Steve Harmison, he was bowling like the wind, he was bowling over 90 miles an hour, six foot seven, steaming in and he bowls this crap slower ball and Pup plays all around it and misses it and gets bowled to what proved to be the last ball of the day.”
As stumps neared on day three, England’s fears grew.
“My asset wasn’t really a slower ball,” Harmison admitted, “but I had hit him a few times in that over and basically tried to get him to fend one down to fine-leg and get Warnie on strike.
“I think we knew even though 102-103, if he came out with Shane Warne the next morning they’re a good chance at getting this because of the character and the way Warnie had been performing and it was a last-minute job.
“I remember Fred (Flintoff) saying he could always see the slower ball as I was coming up and he used to stand at slip saying ‘no, no, no’ and he said he did that that day but then started saying ‘yes’.
“We threw everything at Michael Clarke to try and get Shane Warne on strike.”
After putting on 45 runs, Warne and Lee had reduced the deficit to 62.
Tensions were on a knife’s edge.
Then, the unthinkable as Warne on 42 stepped on his own wicket to Flintoff.
“Someone controlled my foot,” Warne spits out.
“So Andrew Flintoff was bowling 95 mile an hour big, inswinging reverses, so I thought the one way I’m going to get out is lbw, so I’ve got to get across my stumps so I’m hit outside the line of off-stump so I can’t get out lbw. If it swings I can just help it on its way and hopefully hit it on the on-side, but I went too far across and lost my balance and my foot just clipped stumps and I was like you’ve got to be kidding, I’ve never been out like that in my life, ever.
“I was walking off and thinking, are you serious, I couldn’t believe it, I was shattered.”
More pain was on its way.
After Lee and Kasprowicz had picked away at the total to require just one lusty blow, Lee smashed a ball out to the deep point boundary where Simon Jones was stationed.
“As we got into it, it’s getting tight and closer and I was thinking he’s (Vaughan) got to bring the field up closer, he has to, we only needed three to win, he’s got to bring the field up, but he left one or two out, I reckon he forgot he put someone out on the deep-cover boundary and Binga smashed one out, either side of that fielder it was four and we would have won, they get the single, Kaspa gets on strike, the bouncer comes, off the glove and (Geraint) Jones take it and they win the Test match.
“Had that been DRS back then, it would have been not out.
“That Test match had so many interesting things you could chat about and debate, whether it was right, wrong, whatever, but it was one of the great Tests.”
Warne finished with 10 wickets for the match and scored 42 in the second-innings, a total only bettered by Lee who was unbeaten on 43.
It was a truly masterful performance from Warne, who almost brought Australia back from the dead twice.
But it started with his ripping leg-break out of the “pizza” which knocked over Strauss’ leg-stump.
20. Matthew Wade, Edgbaston 2019
19. Mitchell Johnson, WACA 2010
18. Glenn McGrath, Gabba 2006
17. Nathan Lyon, Edgbaston 2019
16. Matthew Hayden, Gabba 2002
15. Peter Siddle, Gabba 2010
14. Ricky Ponting, Gabba 2006
13. Mitch Johnson, Gabba 2013
12. Steve Waugh, the Oval 2001
11. Adam Gilchrist, WACA, 2006
10. Ashton Agar, Trent Bridge 2013
9. Pat Cummins, Old Trafford 2019
8. Steve Waugh, SCG 2003
7. Glenn McGrath, Lord’s 2005
6. Shane Warne, Adelaide Oval 2006
5. Steve Smith, Old Trafford 2019
4. Mitchell Johnson, Adelaide Oval 2013
3. Ricky Ponting, Old Trafford 2005
2. Shane Warne, Edgbaston 2005