In an extract from his new book 'Under the Southern Cross – The Heroics and Heartbreak of the Ashes in Australia', Andrew Ramsey reflects on the famous 2006 Adelaide Test.
Stung after surrendering the Ashes for the first time in a generation on their England tour of 2005, Australia’s greying warriors vowed revenge to rectify their aberrant failing and to future-proof their collective legacy.
A team strewn with cricket’s all-time greats made the appropriate statement in the first Test of the 2006–07 series but, with the second match in Adelaide just two days old, found themselves in uncomfortably familiar terrain.
As was the case 18 months earlier, England rebounded from a first-up loss to pummel Australia’s ageing bowling line-up in Adelaide and newspapers proclaimed a repeat of 2005, where England rallied from a Test down to win 2-1.
Revelling in the dual opportunity to flatten their rival as well as humble the press, Ricky Ponting's team began a comeback victory that even the success-spoiled greats among them rated the equal of anything in their trophy-laden careers.
Plotting to regain the urn had begun within hours of Australia surrendering it in London at The Oval in 2005.
A military style endurance camp for players was followed by intensive training sessions to simulate high-intensity match conditions. The rules of engagement off-field were equally uncompromising.
"This time we’ve got to try and impose ourselves on these guys every chance we get," Ponting decreed at a team meeting prior to the first Test in Brisbane.
"If you run into any of them in the hotel, at the ground, in mid-pitch, even walking down the street, I want you to look them in the eye and call them by their given name. No nicknames."
England, it appeared, were immediately unnerved.
Fast bowler Steve Harmison's first delivery of the series veered so far off the Gabba pitch it landed in the lap of his skipper Andrew Flintoff at second slip.
Australia's eventual 277-run victory seemed an inevitability from that moment and, with just four days' break before the second Test in Adelaide, the tourists were deemed in disarray.
Yet it was Australia feeling the squeeze on a most obliging Adelaide pitch, as England piled on 6-551 before Flintoff declared late on day two, with allrounder Paul Collingwood the first visiting batsman to reach 200 in an Australian Ashes Test since Walter Hammond, 70 years earlier.
Shane Warne collected the worst bowling figures of a career in its twilight, his 1-167 adding credence to assertions from England coach Duncan Fletcher that the genius leg spinner was on the wane and that batsman Kevin Pietersen — who had helped himself to 158 — held Warne's measure.
The sight of Warne churning through 57 overs, many of them in uncharacteristically negative mode around the wicket and aiming outside Pietersen’s leg stump to frustrate the aggressive right-hander's scoring, brought more scornful headlines.
Which, in turn, riled Ponting to challenge his troops before the third morning's play by fulminating: "There’s not one person in the world that thinks we can win this Test from here, so let’s see about that."
Given the match scenario at that point — Australia still 523 in deficit with nine wickets intact and three days remaining — it was a bold assertion, verging on certifiable when the score slipped to 3-65 an hour later.
But the Test, and more than a few reputations, swung violently soon after, when Ponting was on 35.
One of Ponting's beloved swivel pull shots flew towards the backward square leg boundary, where England spinner Ashley Giles, known as a reliable outfielder, reached above his head and spilled the priceless chance.
Ponting's reaction was immediate and unflinching.
"Start again," his internal monologue demanded.
"Make them pay."
Ponting still kicked himself metaphorically (and a plastic chair literally) on his way back to the dressing room, when dismissed late in the day for 142.
A century from Michael Clarke limited Australia’s deficit to 38 but, with a day to play, England had pushed the margin to 97 for the loss of a solitary batsman and went into day five content to bat out a draw.
Again, Ponting refused to yield.
As Australia warmed up prior to the resumption, and then in the team address before they took the field, he asserted they were the only team capable of forging a win.
Warne then took up the narrative and went into compelling detail of how that absurd outcome might be achieved: strangle England’s scoring from the outset, claim a wicket or two in the first hour, knock over Pietersen before he settled, watch them implode.
Warne's advice proved spookily prescient as events played out over the ensuing four hours.
England dropped anchor, scoring 11 runs from the morning's first 13 overs, and then sank with hardly a ripple.
The first ball Warne delivered to Pietersen behaved just as the 37-year-old leg spinner had foreseen at dinner the night before.
"I might try to bowl him round his legs, because he’ll come out and play a big sweep first up," Warne had told Clarke, before executing the plan with a precision only the most gifted would dare attempt.
By the Test’s final lunch break, England were 4-89 and 127 runs in front, having added a glacial 30 runs in two hours.
A further two hours on, they were skittled for 129 and Australia's task to deliver the morning’s prophecy was 168 scored from 36 overs. On a fifth-day pitch and without the advantage of field restrictions, this was an equation not as straightforward as it might appear in the Twenty20 era.
However, from the moment opener Justin Langer dragged the third ball of the initial over from outside off-stump and through mid-wicket for four, the outcome seemed pre-destined.
Australia's victory, achieved with three overs to spare, defied history as well as logic.
Not since Sydney's first Test of 1894–95 had a team posted 550 batting first in an Ashes contest and then known defeat.
The moment that Michael Hussey stroked the winning runs on a sun-soaked Adelaide evening, the members of a team so used to winning over so many years stormed the field in unabashed euphoria to celebrate a victory only they had believed possible.
As they embraced and bellowed and back-slapped, hollow-eyed England players tried to comprehend how four days of such diligent toil had brought them nothing but numbness and confusion.
England's Ashes defence demanded they somehow regroup before the decisive third Test in Perth a week later, while their minds searched for any hint as to where or when they might find a means to beat Australia.
It eluded them for the remainder of that summer, the first 5-0 Ashes whitewash since 1920–21, and that winless streak was finally broken at Lord's in London — July 2009.
This is an extract from ‘Under the Southern Cross – The Heroics and Heartbreak of the Ashes in Australia’ published by Harper Collins and licensed by Cricket Australia. It is available for purchase here
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21