England in 2005

A new era has dawned. No longer are the Australians the sole bosses of the cricketing world. In 2005, the rebuilding process that started with Duncan Fletcher’s first tour to South Africa in 1999-2000 came to full blossom, and the greatest of cricket’s prizes, the Ashes, finally fell back into England’s welcoming clutches.

The year opened up with the seven match ODI series in South Africa, following England’s 2-1 victory in the Tests. If the Test series had proved England’s reputation of being a rising force, the shorter form of the game revealed weaknesses, and many of the performances were utterly unconvincing. They lost the series four games to one, though in hindsight, it was a crucial series in the context of the year. Kevin Pietersen, dubbed a ‘mercenary’, had immigrated to England from South Africa, disillusioned with the quota system in his native land. Now he unleashed a torrent of runs on his return, smashing hundreds at Bloemfontein, East London and Centurion, and pushing himself into Ashes contention.

England landed the first punches on the Australians at the Twenty20 International at The Rose Bowl, before Pietersen clobbered an unbeaten 91 to secure victory in the first ODI clash in the NatWest Series at Bristol. Although England could only salvage a tie in a slow-burn final, and conceded the unnecessary NatWest Challenge 2-1, the seeds of success had been sown.

The story of the epic battle for the Ashes will go down in history as a great showing of pride, and of passion; of glory, and of misfortune; and of pure human adrenaline that only a sporting contest can produce. Spectators flocked in great droves to see the cinematic climaxes at Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and The Oval, as the English public were encapsulated by the cinema on their cricket fields. Trafalgar Square played host to the most joyous scenes of recent sporting history, and Andrew Flintoff symbolised a nation’s mood when he staggered out of his hotel, drunken with success.

After the intensity of the summer, the tour to Pakistan was inevitably going to be an anti-climax, the ill-advised sequel to the blockbuster hit. Suffering from the most acute of hangovers, England had little answer to the express pace of Shoaib Ahktar and the monolithic run-machine that is Inzamam-ul-Haq. Likewise the ODI series was disappointing, and there is much work to be done before this year’s Ashes defence. The inexperience and impatience on the sub-continent requires addressing too, and the ODI side must be settled before the 2007 World Cup.

The year 2005 will be remembered for one reason, and the names of Marcus, Andrew, Michael, Ian, Kevin, ‘Freddie’, Geraint, Ashley, Matthew, Steve and Simon (and Paul) will live on in our memories.

Test Player of the Year 2005: Andrew Flintoff
ODI Player of the Year 2005: Kevin Pietersen
One to Watch in 2006: Ian Bell

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