Looking back at a surreal prelude to an Ashes watershed
Take a look back at the chaotic NatWest Trophy final on July 2, 2005, the prelude to an epic Test bout and the precursor to the tied 2019 World Cup decider
Immediately before the greatest Ashes series of modern times came the curious and, at times, similar bizarre ODI tournament that was crowned by a suitably unprecedented and portentous showpiece at Lord's.
No multi-team one-day event before the chaotic 2005 NatWest Trophy had finished with a deadlocked final and until last year's unforgettable World Cup decider at the same venue, which was awarded to England on a contentious boundary countback rule that has since been scrapped, it was one of just two ODI finals that had finished all square.
Prior to his team's opening match of the tri-series against England and Bangladesh, Ponting sought out ICC match referee Jeff Crowe to check if his interpretation of the rules matched and they agreed, laughing at the likelihood of the play-off two weeks away ending in a tie.
That was the eve of Australia's opening match against Bangladesh in Cardiff, a day that was to wipe any trace of a smile from Ponting's face after allrounder Andrew Symonds was deemed too inebriated to play when match morning dawned, and a calamitous loss to the world's lowest-ranked team duly followed.
From there, things only got stranger.
Pummelled by England's new batting bruiser Kevin Pietersen at Bristol the day after the Bangladesh nightmare (yes, they played ODIs on consecutive days back then), the Australians had to traverse the length and breadth of England to Chester-le-Street.
Where they resided at Lumley Castle, the 14th Century fortress-turned-hotel, to plot the return bout with their Ashes rivals.
Legend claims a former lady of the manor was hurled down a well to her death in the pre-Reformation days of religious persecution, and the Castle's hotel staff - replete in their medieval attire - would regale the story of her ongoing ghostly presence at the slightest behest from guests.
It was a tale that clearly haunted Shane Watson, who became so unnerved he refused to sleep in his room, preferring temporary lodgings with teammate Brett Lee, and aggrieved him even more when details of his unease were splashed across a national tabloid newspaper.
Prompting England fast bowler Darren Gough to launch his famous 'spook' routine in Watson's bemused face as he walked past the allrounder during the ensuing match at Durham's county ground, at the foot of the supposedly spectral edifice.
A week later, and having strung together a couple of wins, the Australians again tackled Bangladesh at the quaintly village Spitfire Ground in Canterbury, where their pursuit of the Tigers' below-par 250 began in bizarre circumstances when Adam Gilchrist gave himself out caught at slip to a fresh-air shot.
In jamming down on a yorker-length delivery from seamer Tapash Baisya, Gilchrist believed his bat had made simultaneous contact with ball and pitch and – seeing it lob into the hands of Khaled Mahmud at first slip - turned for the pavilion in keeping with his fair-play philosophy.
At the non-striker's end, his captain Ricky Ponting was not convinced Gilchrist had hit it and conferred with umpire Jeremy Lloyds who was equally unsure, with subsequent television replays confirming ball had missed bat and instead deviated out of a footmark on the crease line.
"I was going to shout to Gilchrist, who by this stage was halfway back to the pavilion, and tell him to come back and let the umpire make a decision or refer it to the television official, but I decided against it – if the replays showed it was a straightforward edge, I would look a goose for making a fuss," Ponting later wrote in his Ashes Diary 2005.
"I would never ask Gilchrist to change his policy of walking – every player has to be true to himself when he plays the game – but I did ask him to be absolutely certain he is out before he walks next time."
For his part, Gilchrist vowed that he didn't intend to make a habit of walking when he needn't, and by the time Australia and England squared off for the tri-series final under low cloud at Lord's two days later, normal service looked to have resumed.
The reigning world champions blasted from the blocks, Gilchrist and Hayden thrashing 50 in the first seven overs before both fell in quick succession and Australia's frailties against England's pace attack – which was to ultimately decide the Ashes series that followed – were exposed.
Andrew Flintoff, bowling around the wicket at Gilchrist, denied him the free bat swing he craved and brought about a mishit, a precursor to the Test template that Australia's greatest wicketkeeper-batsman rates as the abject low point of his cricket life.
Steve Harmison's first delivery brought the wicket of Ponting rather than the derisive laughs to come at Brisbane in 2006, signalling he was on target and a force to be tamed.
And Simon Jones' capacity to generate express speed but still gain late movement off the pitch and in the air caught Michael Clarke in front, and the Australians' attention.
It was only a typically defiant 62no from Michael Hussey – at that stage still regarded as a white-ball player only and not a member of Australia's Ashes squad – that turned a parlous 5-93 into a defendable 196 all out.
A total that looked more than sufficient when Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee reduced England to 5-33 and a typical shambles, although Lee was rebuked by umpire David Shepherd for letting fly a potentially lethal beamer that seared dangerously past opener Marcus Trescothick's chest.
Australia's frustrations then compounded as allrounder Paul Collingwood and Antipodean-born wicketkeeper Geraint Jones added 100-plus for the sixth wicket, targeting once-feared speedster Jason Gillespie in what was yet another clear pre-emptive strike for the Ashes ahead.
But Collingwood's run out and Brad Hogg's removal of Jones to scenes of trademark ebullience left bowlers Ashley Giles and Darren Gough with the task of scoring 10 from McGrath's final over to grant England their first win over Australia in the grand final of a multi-team ODI competition for two decades.
In another moment that was to become emblematic of the Ashes campaign to follow, McGrath over-stepped with his first delivery of the ultimate over, the bonus run and the extra delivery (in the days prior to the 'free-hit' rule) crucial to the eventual outcome.
Or the absence of one.
The seamer's mood darkened faster than the fading London light when his lbw shout against Giles from the final ball – with England needing three runs to win - was turned down by umpire Billy Bowden.
The umpire's decision not to call leg byes on the two runs the deflection yielded to tie the scores provided some immediate salve, until he then changed that decision post-match when replays confirmed no bat was involved.
To this day, McGrath believes the lack of an inside edge meant he should have earned a wicket and Australia the trophy, but as England's last pair scrambled the vital second run, the home team celebrated on the Lord's balcony as if they had triumphed, and the tailenders ran from the field with arms raised.
Perhaps they believed - as is the case in most tournaments before and since - that given the existential point of a final being the declaration of a winner, some fail-safe method surely existed to deliver that outcome should scores finish equal.
If a countback system that rewarded the team losing least wickets in the match, or winning the most matches in the tournament prior, was in place then England would have hoisted the silverware by either measure.
However, if the boundary countback rule that so favoured England in their World Cup win 14 years later had been in use, Australia would have lifted the trophy.
As it was, and as Ponting was fully aware having asked the question a fortnight earlier, he and Michael Vaughan made a suitably uncomfortable pair at the end of most peculiar event as they posed with the shared spoils, each waving their souvenir silver stump with neither triumph nor conviction.
Ponting's notes jotted in his diary at game's end – that after the initial anti-climax he felt buoyed by the knowledge his team had played its worst ODI under his captaincy while England had produced their best and yet they still remained on a par – would haunt him far longer than The Lily of Lumley did Watson.
With a further three-game ODI series wedged into the schedule before the gripping Ashes campaign began at Lord's, he predicted: "I believe we can win the remaining one-day matches and the Test series comfortably".