England rekindle Ashes but Australia still on top

Published: Friday, December 23, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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London:England may have at last regained the Ashes in 2005 but their recent series defeat in Pakistan showed how much work they still had to do before they could be considered Australia's successors as the best team in the world.

Nevertheless, the Ashes was the central contest of the year.

England's 2-1 series win, their first over Australia in 18 years, gripped fans at home and abroad.

"The response the public has given us throughout the whole summer means I am not too sure cricket will ever get to the same level again," England captain Michael Vaughan said.

England's two-run win in the second Test at Edgbaston saw Andrew Flintoff's all-round display equalled only by his sportsmanship as he consoled Brett Lee at the end after the tailender had so nearly guided his side to victory.

The Ashes saw Flintoff prove his talent with 402 runs and 24 wickets.

Just as impressive, was the endurance and skill of legendary Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne, who went on to break fellow Australian great Dennis Lillee's record of 85 Test wickets in a calendar year.

Warne was also the first Australian to applaud Flintoff's efforts at Edgbaston and Kevin Pietersen's series-clinching 158 at The Oval.

"The one thing I'll remember from this series is the way it's been played and the spirit it's been played in," Warne said.

Australia's batting in England faltered to such an extent that by the end of the year Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke had all lost their places in the Test team.

Losing the Ashes was one thing but minnows Bangladesh's one-day victory over Australia in June was an astonishing result, Mohammad Ashraful's hundred setting up a win against the 1-500 rated world champions.

And there was more one-day embarrassment for Australia earlier this month when New Zealand made 332 for eight, the highest winning score by a team batting second in a one-day international.

Although the West Indies, hampered by an ongoing dispute between players and officials, were swept aside in Australia, the way South Africa, thanks to Jacques Rudolph's patient hundred, hung on a for a first Test draw in Perth was perhaps a sign that the still-strong Aussies were coming back to the pack.

In Pakistan, the odd couple of coach Bob Woolmer and captain Inzamam Ul-Haq helped revive Shoaib Akhtar's career as Inzamam himself led from the front with the bat in the 2-0 Test series win over England.

Boldness served England well against Australia but a lack of batting grit cost them the first Test as their spinners failed to make an impact.

Elsewhere Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, the outstanding batsmen of their age, set new records.

Lara broke Allan Border's world-record of 11,174 Test runs during the course of his 226 against Australia in Adelaide last month while Tendulkar's 35th Test hundred, against Sri Lanka in Delhi, put him at the top of the list of Test century makers.

Off the field Jagmohan Dalmiya's grip on the Board of Control for Cricket in India was broken when his nominee failed to be elected president while former skipper Sourav Ganguly, after clashing with new coach Greg Chappell, was dropped from the side.

Pakistan also visited India for the first time in six years and salvaged a 1-1 draw in the three-Tests series winning the last match by 168 runs in Bangalore.

After a draw in the opener, India had edged ahead with a 195-run triumph in Calcutta.

By the end of the visit, Pakistan were claiming the bragging rights after a 4-2 success in the one-day series.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan's astonishing stamina showed no signs of flagging.

He kept in sight of world-record holder Warne, so far the only bowler to take 600 Test wickets, with seven for 100 against India in Delhi in December to take his tally to 584.

Elsewhere the crisis within Zimbabwe cricket worsened. Tatenda Taibu, the country's first black captain, quit to play in Bangladesh while on Thursday his old team-mates went out on strike.

The ICC also saw its 'supersub' and 'powerplay' one-day innovations widely mocked while the notion behind the inaugural and lacklustre Super Series between Australia and the Rest of the World - that no side could give Australia a game - was undercut by the Ashes contest which preceded it.

'Throwing' had been a key issue when popular English umpire David Shepherd, who retired this year, was entering the game and so it remained as Pakistan quick Shabbir Ahmed became the first bowler to banned for 12 months for an illegal action.

The ICC had tried to find a way round the problem by allowing bowlers 15 degrees of straightening and introducing new testing procedures.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the case or the ICC's new policy, derided as a "chuckers charter" in some quarters, it was hard not to feel sympathy for the 29-year-old Ahmed as he contemplated the end of his career.

"I am heartbroken and once you are repeatedly embroiled in such a situation you are compelled to think about quitting," said the Pakistani.

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