England finally won the Ashes when the fifth and final Test match was drawn at the Oval cricket ground in London before a packed and delirious crowd. Outside the ground spectators hung precariously to rooftops and watched from tower blocks some way off through binoculars, any vantage point to take a peek at what would be a historic day.And yet it could once again have been so different as the Australians came out breathing fire and brimstone on the final morning, skittling the English batsmen out in the early session. And when England's talisman Freddie Flintoff was out for just eight, a win for Australia was very much on the cards.
But Kevin Pietersen steadied the ship with a record-breaking innings of 158, he passed Ian Botham's record of the highest number of sixes against Australia and also finished as the highest scoring batsmen in this close fought series. Shane Warne finished top wicket taker with 40 wickets in the series, and received a huge ovation from the knowledgeable crowd, many of the English players among them.In a match plagued by rain and bad light delays it was clear that the draw was always going to be the favourite result, and so it turned out, as Australia struggled to bowl out England a second time. The final series result of two to one to England with two drawn was just about the right result with even many Australians agreeing that the home side just about deserved to take the trophy.
But after such a thrilling and hard fought series Cricket is the undoubted winner. Cricket bat sales have reached record levels and cricket can be seen played on public parks all over the land, parks and public land where cricket has not been seen played for many years. The series was shown in dozens of new countries throughout the world bringing a whole new audience to the game.And while all five games have been fought to the death in a never to be forgotten style, the sportsmanship shown by both sides throughout the summer has been immense. Huge credit is due to the Australian players who played the game with a dignity and style that is unfortunately a rare event on the modern day sports field.No one who witnessed any of the matches will ever forget them, and now England have just 14 months to dwell on their victory before they travel to Australia to commence the battle all over again in Brisbane in 2006.
Tickets will be on sale soon and they will be snapped up.The England supporters, the self styled Barmy Army, will travel down under in record numbers to support their side, and with the average age of the England side being well below that of the Australians, the current England side still have improvement in them. It will be interesting to see if Australia can and indeed do decide to replace some of their aging stars with younger players of an equal calibre.In the meantime England head off to the sub continent for what are bound to be closely fought matches against India and Pakistan this winter.
But that is for the future, for now England is basking in the glow of taking back the Ashes after almost twenty years, and the country has gone cricket mad after the biggest sporting occasion seen in England since the football World Cup win of 1966. And the public have been desperate to back their team with hard cash too. Over £38 million was matched on this game with Betfair alone. You can still have a free $30 bet with Betfair.
com by entering the promotional code 6CHE3VPWJ when prompted.So it's farewell to the great Australian bowlers Glen McGrath and Shane Warne who will not play Test cricket in England again, but neither of them rule out playing in the return series at the end of 2006, and as long as their bodies hold up, the English expect to see these old foes facing them again next year.Your correspondent has been watching cricket for nearly 50 years and this has unquestionably been the greatest series of all, but don't take my word for it, Richie Benaud the former Australian captain and worldwide commentator for the last forty two years retired in England on the final afternoon of this match and he said exactly the same thing. He intends to continue commentating in Australia. It has been wonderful listening to you Richie, have a long and happy retirement with you lovely wife.So England have the Ashes, did I mention that? Perhaps it's because I still can't quite believe it.
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By: David Carter