England enter the fourth Test at Trent Bridge on the verge of a fourth straight home Ashes win.
Since England ended Australia’s 20-year dominance in 2005, they have won four from six series, home and away (though Australia has won more Tests, courtesy of the 2006/07 and 2013/14 whitewashes).
Let’s start with 2005…
2005: One of the greatest Ashes series in recent times, the Poms ended Australia’s run with some entertaining cricket. This was not the Australian team who’d won comfortably in 2002/03. Steve Waugh had retired and RIcky Ponting was in the early stages of captaincy. While Australia still had Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, there was a sense of vulnerability to this once-powerful team. Shane Warne had a hallmark series; with his private life falling apart, he took 40 wickets and made some crucial runs.
It was business as usual at Lord’s, with Australia winning by 239 runs. Michael Clarke’s second innings 91 took the game away and McGrath’s nine wickets sealed it. Cocky, skunk-haired South African Kevin Pietersen debuted for England, and showed his potential with 57 and 64*.
The Edgbaston Test was an Ashes classic. McGrath was a crucial omission, stepping on a ball during warm-ups. Leading by 99 on first innings, England set Australia 282 to win. Entering the fourth day, Australia were 8-175, with Michael Clarke crucially bowled by Harmison at stumps. English victory looked a formality. Warne’s fighting 42, supported by Brett Lee (43*) and Michael Kasprowicz (20) nearly got Australia home. The finish was dramatic, Kasper gloving Harmison to keeper Geriant Jones. England hang on by two runs. Replays suggest Kasper was unlucky, with his glove not holding the bat on impact.
Old Trafford was a run-heavy draw, with England captain Michael Vaughn, Andrew Strauss and Ponting scoring centuries. Shane Warne missed a coveted ton (90), but consoled himself with four first innings wickets. Ponting’s 156 saved Australia from defeat. Set 423, Australia finished at 9/371. While it didn’t quite banish the ghosts of Edgbaston, it did keep the series at 1-1.
England won by three wickets at Trent Bridge. Andrew Flintoff’s century helped England to 477. Australia’s reply was 218. Following on, Justin Langer gritted a fifty as Australia was dismissed for 387, a lead of 128. After taking four in the first innings, Warne took another four as he kept Australia in the game.
While the Oval Test was a draw, it was a glorious result for England. After a tight first innings, Pietersen’s 158 put the game out of reach, even with Warne’s six wickets.
2006/07: In hindsight, Australia were never going to lose this one. After the 2005 result, England had been treated like royalty while Australia went back to work, crushing a poorly-formed World XI, the West Indies and South Africa in the 2005/06 summer. England’s defence fell apart from the opening “Harmison Ball” at the Gabba. They fell apart in Adelaide and Gilchrist slayed them around the WACA. The series was over before Christmas, with Australia winning the “dead rubbers” in Melbourne and Sydney. These final Tests were remembered for Warne’s 700th wickets and the retirement of Warne, McGrath and Langer.
2009: Like 2005, the 2009 series ended in a 2-1 England win. Warne’s retirement had affected Australia, with a production line of spinners following. Nathan Hauritz was the latest. Unfancied by the public, he was more a steady roller than a genuine matchwinner..
The first Test in Wales ended in a tense draw. Ponting’s 150 gave Australia a 239-run first innings lead, which looked enough when England slumped to 7/159. James Anderson and Monty Panesar hung on for the draw, amidst alleged time wasting tactics. While Hauritz took three wickets, his inability to bowl Australia to victory would haunt him.
England won easily at Lord’s, the first time Australia had lost there since 1934. Leading by 210 on first innings, England set Australia 522. Michael Clarke’s century gave Australia a sniff, but they fell short by 115 runs.
The Edgbaston Test was a run-heavy draw. England took a 113-run first innings lead, with Clarke’s second innings century avoiding defeat.
Australia set up a decider with a crushing win at Leeds. Marcus North’s 110 gave Australia a 343-run first innings lead. Mitch Johnson took five wickets as Australia won by an innings and 80 runs.
England secured the Ashes with a big win at the Oval. Leading by 172 on first innings, Johnathan Trott’s 119 took the game away. Set a nominal 547, Michael Hussey’s 121 couldn’t prevent England winning by 197 runs, with Graeme Swann taking four wickets..
2010/11: England won their first series down under since the eighties. After a high-scoring draw at the Gabba, England won by an innings in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, with Australia’s only win coming at Perth. Even Clarke – now captain – was booed by his home fans.
2013: England continued their home dominance with a 3-0 series win.
They opened their account with an entertaining win at Trent Bridge. The game iwas remembered for Ashton Agar’s 98 from number eleven as Australia took a surprise first innings lead. Chasing 311, Brad Haddin nearly got Australia home, scoring 71 in a total of 296.
England took a 2-0 lead at Lord’s Leading by 233 on first innings after an Ian Bell ton and five wickets to Swann, Joe Root’s 180 set Australia an impossible target. Australia was dismissed for 235 to lose by 347 runs.
A high-scoring draw at Old Trafford meant England kept the Ashes for the third straight series. Clarke (187) and Pietersen (113) got some batting practice as rain on days four and five spoilt the contest.
England took a 3-0 lead at Chester-le-Street. In a much closer contest, Australia took a narrow first innings lead and Ryan Harris’ seven wickets meant they only needed 298 to win. While David Warner scored 71, they fell 74 runs short.
Australia had the better of a meaningless Oval draw. Typically, Shane Watson (176) cashed in when it mattered least. An abandoned fourth day forced the draw.
2013/14: Australia finally won back the Ashes after seven years with another whitewash. The series threw out the usual timeline, pushed forward due to the 2015 World Cup. Mitch Johnson, who had struggled in 2009, had remodelled his action and tore into the Poms, taking 37 wickets. It was a big series for Nathan Lyon, finally securing his spot as the frontline spinner, while Steve Smith fulfilled his run-scoring potential. England missed Pietersen, who had alienated the English selectors and former teammates. It was also a sad farewell for Swann, who quit after Australia secured the Ashes in Perth. The vivacious Swann was crucial after Ashley Giles was dropped during the 2006/07 series and Panesar underwhelmed. Luckily for England, all-rounder Moeen Ali is a steady replacement.
So what can be gathered from the last six series? England have had the better of close contents, with two 2-1 wins while Australia have twice blown away the Poms, which suggests Australia are brilliant front runners but struggle in a dogfight. We’ll see if 2015 reflects past trends.