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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 09:18 GMT 10:18 UK
Ashes star men
By Paresh Soni

Before a ball had been bowled in the Ashes, Andrew Flintoff and Shane Warne were under pressure for different reasons.

Andrew Flintoff and Shane Warne
Flintoff and Warne were the stars of a superb Test series

Flintoff had never played a Test against Australia and while his role in England's resurgence had been well recognised, some doubted whether he had the temperament or nous to impose himself on the world champions.

Warne's worries were nothing to do with cricketing ability: the question marks against Australia's master leg-spinner related to his frame of mind in the wake of his off-field problems.

But by the final afternoon at The Oval both had answered their doubters.

And how.

The duo enjoyed success with bat and ball, took vital catches, were trusted lieutenants for their captains, and epitomised the amicable spirit in which the contests were played out.

It was no surprise when they were named each side's man of the series by rival coaches Duncan Fletcher and John Buchanan

FANTASTIC FREDDIE

After an inauspicious start at Lord's, where he and England performed horribly, this series was a career-defining one for Lancashire all-rounder Flintoff.

FLINTOFF'S ASHES
Andrew Flintoff
Runs: 402 at 40.2
Wickets: 24 at 27.29

It is no exaggeration to say that in the 27-year-old the nation finally has a worthy successor to Ian Botham.

We all knew about his power - and he showed plenty of that with some characteristically massive sixes - but the caution he demonstrated when his team needed it, particularly at Trent Bridge and The Oval, stood out.

It was his bowling which really surprised Australia, however: they never came to terms with the pace and bounce he generated when the ball was new or the swing he found as it got older.

The way he subdued Adam Gilchrist, so often a tormentor of England, was symbolic of the shift in power.

Prior to the Tests there were worries about how much bowling Flintoff's body could cope with, but his efforts over the past two months have been nothing short of colossal.

The 194 overs he sent down in total were surpassed only by Warne, and whenever Michael Vaughan's troops were flagging, he could be relied on for another burst of aggression.

Nothing typified his contribution more than the fierce spell he produced at Edgbaston in Australia's second innings, including one awe-inspiring over to Ricky Ponting.

At the end of that game, after Australia's agonising defeat, he shared a special moment with Brett Lee - a sign of the mutual respect between Flintoff and the Aussies.

With glory beckoning, England were in real trouble at The Oval when Australia were 281-2 but he revived them with a truly heroic effort, bowling 14 overs unchanged for a five-wicket haul to earn a first-innings lead that had seemed implausible.

Flintoff may not have taken the highest number of wickets, or scored the most runs.

But the fact that he was the only genuine all-rounder in either side tipped the balance in the end and made him a worthy winner of the inaugural Compton-Miller award for overall man of the series.

WIZARD WARNE

The Melbourne magician was quite simply magnificent with the ball in his hand.

WARNE'S ASHES
Shane Warne
Runs: 249 at 27.66
Wickets: 40 at 19.92

That England did not win the series more comfortably was largely down to the 35-year-old's tally of 40 wickets, which overtook Dennis Lillee's career record of 167 Ashes victims.

It was all too easy for him against a feeble England at Lord's but when the home side finally stood up to be counted, he was virtually the only one slugging it out with them.

Although he used his googly sparingly, and the deadly flipper was replaced by the slider, the results were no less impressive.

None of the England batsmen, save for Kevin Pietersen, were ever that confident against him, and it took plenty of courage and luck to keep him out most of the time.

Very rarely does the burden of carrying an attack fall on a slow bowler - but that is precisely what Warne had to do after McGrath was injured in the warm-up at Edgbaston.

With Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz lacking potency, and Lee and Shaun Tait struggling for accuracy, the Victorian whirled away for incredibly long stints.

At Trent Bridge, with all seemingly lost as England began their second innings, he joined the attack early and dismissed Marcus Trescothick first ball.

That began a spell that took Australia within three wickets of retaining the Ashes and making the final Test meaningless.

His rescue efforts extended to the batting side of his game, which has always promised without quite materialising.

But this time it almost helped snatch an unlikely win at Edgbaston and flourished at Old Trafford when he was 10 short of a maiden Test century.

There were several other cameos which frustrated and threatened to undo the home side's good work.

The abiding image of Warne in his final Ashes series in this country, though, will be that familiar shock of blond hair bobbing up and down in appeal and celebration.

His team ultimately fell short - and he was the first to admit they had not been good enough - but no blame can be attached to him personally.

Just as Flintoff did for England, he brought class, charisma and character to arguably the finest Test series the game has ever known.

Indeed this duo, as much as anyone, were responsible for helping cricket become the sport of choice for the nation.




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