We thought, ‘OK, we can save this’, but there was no talk at all about winning.
But even saving the Test appeared to be in jeopardy when we slumped to 65/3. Then Ricky played another captain’s innings to haul us back from the brink and went on to make 142.
Just like at the Gabba, Ricky and I batted well together, putting on a partnership of 192. It took me 212 balls to reach 91, a good knock, but I was disappointed not to reach a century, when I chopped a delivery from Matthew Hoggard on to my stumps.
But a century from Michael Clarke and good knocks from Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne pushed us on to 513 all out and only 38 runs behind England. At the end of the fourth day with England now 1-59 in their reply, we thought we had saved the Test.
But the next morning when we regrouped Ricky was bouncing around, full of energy. He was convinced we could still win, while Shane Warne kept muttering, ‘we can do this, we can do this’, but I could see some of the guys thinking, ‘Are you really sure?’
In the team meeting, John Buchanan said, ‘We can win this Test, but the only way it will happen is if we all believe it.’ The belief of Ricky, Shane and John was infectious, and we decided to go for it. They had sold us a dream and we bought it.
Walking out on to the field at the start of day five, I noticed there wasn’t much of a crowd in as they expected a draw. And this is what the England batsmen Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell clearly wanted by adding only 10 runs in the first 10 overs.
After 45 minutes, with England 1-69, Strauss appeared to get something on a delivery from Shane Warne and I held on to it at short leg. I saw the ball flick the pad, and Shane went up, so I went up with him even though I wasn’t sure, but Steve Bucknor lifted his finger.
England had only added another run when a panicking Ian Bell was run out, and suddenly you could feel the balance of the game shift. We now had the momentum. Dread and real discomfort was beginning to engulf England’s batsmen at the wicket.
Kevin Pietersen strode to the wicket, a few boundaries from him and England would again be reassured, but he lasted only five balls with Shane Warne brilliantly bowling him around his legs. England were now 73/4, and sinking into trouble.
Next in was Flintoff, and he looked as though he wanted to be positive, he wanted to take the game back, and if he could get a quick 50 then the game would be back in his favour. But Brett Lee quickly got him for two with his reverse swing and England were 77/5.
We could all sense something special was happening. We were looking around at each other, all thinking the same thing, Ricky and John’s plan and bold words were coming true right in front of us.
No one was working harder than Warne, who would bowl unchanged for two sessions, and take 4-29 from 27 overs. It was a superhuman effort, and he looked utterly possessed.
Warne kept up the pressure and took the wickets of Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard as England failed to rid themselves of their increasing panic and slumped to 129 all out, having lost their last nine wickets on this day for 60 runs in 42 overs.
This was more than just another series. For champion players like Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, nothing else mattered.
The win was now on. We needed 168 from 36 overs, but we had to do it on a deteriorating pitch on the last day. As we got ready there was an excitement in all of us, but it was tempered by a sense of anxiety and nervousness as well.
I was extremely nervous, hoping the openers would get us off to a good start, and maybe I wouldn’t even be needed, but at 2-33 I found myself walking to the middle batting at number four, still needing another 135 to win.
I had never known anything like this before. Here I was out in the middle with the task of bringing Australia home in an Ashes Test.
The nerves never left me, I just learned to deal with them, and the adrenaline actually brought the best out of me.
With just over 13 overs remaining we still needed another 47 runs after Ricky had fallen for 49, and Damien Martyn lasted just four balls to leave us 4-121 and bring Michael Clarke out to the middle.
As we got closer it was getting hard to stay calm, the crowd had grown and was getting louder, the emotion of the day was getting the better of us, we were so excited like little kids. Michael is a pretty nervous sort of guy too, so we were counting down the runs.
At around 6.45pm, when Jimmy Anderson came in to bowl and I hit him through the covers for the winning run, all the nerves and tension immediately evaporated to be replaced by sheer joy and relief.
I looked up to the dressing room where on the balcony the boys were punching the air and hugging each other, and then they ran onto the pitch to share the moment. The guys were patting me on the back and shouting, ‘You bloody beauty!’
Back in the dressing room, I cracked open a few beers, and slumped down on a chair, still finding it hard to believe we had won. We performed a boisterous rendition of our team song, ‘Under the Southern Cross’, three times and then the England players began to filter in.
A shattered Flintoff was the first through the door, it was a show of character to come in and share a beer, because I am not sure I would have had the courage to come in and say ‘well done’.
ALL OUR EARS PERKED UP
We woke up the next day with heavy heads, and went straight to the airport to fly to Perth for the next Test, but it soon became clear Damien Martyn wasn’t there with us. At first, we just thought he had a few too many beers the previous night and had overslept his alarm, but then the boys started hearing whispers he had retired.
It came as a real shock, it wasn’t something we were expecting, it wasn’t something he had even let on about. Damien and I got on well, we played a lot of state cricket together, but we were never especially close. I sent him a text, but he disappeared, he snuck off to Sydney for a few days to get away from the spotlight.
At 2-0 up in the series, we knew we now needed to win just one more Test from the next three to regain the Ashes, and we secured it at the WACA.
In our second innings I made 103, which in front of my home crowd, including my family, in an Ashes Test was the realisation of a dream.
Reclaiming the Ashes 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.
Shane Warne sat in the corner looking around at the celebrations 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 when he announced he would walk away from the Test side after the series.
He was the star attraction at the fourth Test in Melbourne.
Shane was fond of saying he had a great scriptwriter throughout his career, and he didn’t let him down again as it wasn’t long before he spun one through the gate of Andrew Strauss to celebrate his 700th Test wicket. It was the moment everyone had come to see.
The Test was all about Shane, who took seven wickets, as we triumphed by an innings and 99 runs in three days, and it ended with him being carried on the guys’ shoulders around the MCG.
He is the best player I have ever seen. I was lucky to field at short leg for several Tests, so had the best seat in the house to watch him at work. He was a really good guy too.
Following on from Shane’s retirement, two more champions, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer, announced they too would be retiring after the fifth and final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It had been mentioned we had a poor record in dead rubbers, and in recent years Australia had missed the chance to inflict a whitewash on England, the first one in the Ashes since 1920/21 so we wanted to achieve that, and send off Shane, Glenn and Justin on a high.
We granted them their wish and won by ten wickets with Matty Hayden hitting the winning runs to complete a 5-0 series whitewash.
We had done well not to let the emotion of the occasion overwhelm us, but afterwards it got to a few players. I had never seen Ricky so emotional, he was crying in the dressing room, because he had shared so much with the three guys retiring. I know Adam Gilchrist wore sunglasses onto the field to hide his own tears.
After a few beers in the dressing room the tears were replaced with laughter, and after celebrating at the ground we boarded a 32-metre yacht. It was on this, bobbing about on Sydney harbour, that we sang our team song, and surrounded by my teammates with the Sydney skyline twinkling in the background, I wanted the night to last forever.
This is an extract from the book The Ashes Match of My Life, edited by Sam Pilger and reproduced with permission.