When Shane Warne bowled Monty Panesar with the second ball after lunch on the final day of the third Test at the WACA in 2006, Australia regained the urn they had traumatically lost to England the previous year.
Since letting the Ashes slip for the first time in 18 years at The Oval in 2005 Australia had been determined to take it back, and they had achieved it after just 15 days of this series against a listless England.
“It was a wonderful moment, it was my first Ashes win, and it just felt incredible to be a part of this team,” says Mike Hussey. “We made the most of it, but Ricky wanted us to always be humble, too.”
“It meant so much to the guys who had been through the pain of 2005. There were a few tears shed between Matty Hayden, Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting. They had regained more than just the Ashes; for them, they had now also had their redemption.”
This Australian triumph has been forged amid the pain of their defeat to England in the historic series of 2005 some 15 months earlier, and had kept three of their finest ever cricketers, Warne, Glenn McGrath and Langer, still playing until they had recaptured the Ashes. With the urn now safely back in Australian hands, all three would announce their retirements from Test cricket by the end of the series.
Just as they had in the current series this week, England arrived in Perth 2-0 down after a defeat in Adelaide, knowing they had to avoid another loss, or else the Ashes would be gone.
“We had to win one more Test from the next three to regain the Ashes, and we wanted to get it done quickly,” says Hussey. “Despite the crushing nature of their defeat at Adelaide [in the second Test], we never thought it would be easy. We didn’t believe England were vanquished, we thought they would still come at us hard.”
And so it proved when Australia were bowled all out for a modest 244 by England in the final session of the first day.
Panesar found some early turn to take 5-92, while Steve Harmison also cashed in with impressive figures of 4-48.
But England’s batsmen could not take advantage of the platform their bowlers had given them, and in their first innings slumped to a total of just 215 all out to give Australia an unexpected lead.
It would have been even worse for England had Panesar and Harmison themselves not combined for an improbable last wicket stand of 40 runs to budge England’s total in to the realms of respectability.
An irritated Ponting has since called this pair, “two of the worst batsmen in cricket history… it was frustrating at the time when we couldn’t shift them, but at least we knew the wicket was mellowing”.
The Australian captain was proved correct when Australia recovered from losing Langer to the first ball of the innings to build a score of 357-4 on the back of centuries from Hussey and Michael Clarke.
When Hussey was out for 103, Australia already had an imposing lead, but it was about to get a lot worse for England as Adam Gilchrist strode to the wicket and set about making history.
“Adam did what he always did best; transformed the game and took it away from the opposition,” says Hussey.
Gilchrist needed 22 balls to score his first 25 runs, a mere 32 balls to reach 40, and brought up his half century from 40 balls.
On the basis of a misunderstanding that Ponting was very close to making a declaration, Gilchrist proceeded to unleash some of the most destructive and powerful batting Test cricket had ever witnessed.
The Australian wicketkeeper went from 50 to 100 in 17 balls, to record the fastest ever Ashes century from a total of 57 balls, then the second fastest in Test cricket, just one ball short of Viv Richards’s then record. “It was some of the cleanest hitting I’ve ever seen,” Harmison has recalled.
“As a bowler, it’s an impossible situation. When somebody is in the zone like that, you’re nothing more than a spectator. I was bowling in a good place at speed and he was hitting it 10 rows back.”
When Ponting did finally declare with Australia on 527-5, and with a lead of 556 runs, Gilchrist was 102 not out, and almost unnoticed alongside him, Clarke had made an unbeaten 135.
“The series had barely started and it was all finished,” Harmison has said. “In just a matter of a few days we had gone from Ashes heroes to down and outs staring down the barrel of a 5-0 series defeat.”
Set the impossible task of scoring 557 runs to win, England recovered from losing Andrew Strauss in the first over to reach a promising 261 for the loss of three wickets, before Alastair Cook’s dismissal for 116 triggered a collapse and England were soon all out for 350.
Australia had won the Test by 206 runs to take a 3-0 lead in the series, and regain the Ashes with two more Tests still to play.
In the Australian dressing room, Ponting’s team enjoyed their celebrations, which Mike Hussey can still vividly recall.
“Shane Warne sat in the corner looking around and said to us, ‘you know, there are certain things I’m really going to miss about the game, and this is one of them, being a part of a winning team and celebrating with your mates’.
“All our ears perked up at that and we started to think he was going to retire soon, and three days later he made it official.”
Meanwhile, in the England dressing room, there was a more sombre mood as their stunned players reflected on yet another heavy defeat.
“It was torture,” recalls all-rounder Paul Collingwood. “We had lost all confidence in ourselves, and each other. It really was horrific.”
“I can remember sitting in an ice bath with Monty Panesar after we had lost the series at the WACA, both feeling devastated.
“I said, ‘Monty, we have to make sure we’re never in this position ever again. I can’t take this feeling again, it’s absolutely horrible’.”
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