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Australia still top dogs despite Ashes woe
Ed Osmond | December 15, 2005 12:05 IST
Australia's domination of world cricket was seriously challenged in 2005 for the first time this century after the most dramatic series in living memory.
England's 2-1 victory over Ricky Ponting's team wrested the sport's oldest prize out of Australian hands for the first time since 1989.
Although Ponting's men recovered quickly to crush West Indies 3-0 and consolidate their position at the top of the world rankings, the defeat by England showed up clear chinks in their armour.
Elsewhere in 2005, the global pecking order remained largely unchanged with South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies vying for the minor placing and Zimbabwe plunging further into trouble on and off the pitch.
In the Ashes series in England the hosts fought back from heavy defeat in the first Test at Lord's to force a nail-biting victory at Edgbaston.
Australia clung on for a draw at Old Trafford but England would not be denied at Trent Bridge, where they scrambled home by three wickets after being set just 129 for victory.
The hosts therefore needed only a draw in the final Test at the Oval to win the series but Australia, their pride wounded, quickly established control of the match.
England dug deep, however, and on a tension-filled Sunday inspired by the bowling of Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard they fought back to leave the match precariously balanced.
Going into the final day's play all three results were still possible but Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne grabbed a flurry of wickets to leave England staring at defeat.
Enter Kevin Pietersen to play one of the most extraordinary innings in Ashes history.
In fading light the Australian openers began a futile run chase and shortly after the players were forced off the field the umpires returned to the middle and removed the bails, sparking scenes of unprecedented joy around England.
As England celebrated, Australia were forced to face the fact that Warne and McGrath were nearing the end of their illustrious careers.
Warne, 36, snared 40 victims in the series to consolidate his position as Test cricket's leading wicket taker.
He had moved on to 645 by the end of the West Indies series, well ahead of Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan and 111 clear of the third-placed McGrath who missed the two Tests England won because of injury.
The 35-year-old passed the 500 milestone in July and looked as good as ever against West Indies but apart from Brett Lee Australia's fast bowling resources look thin.
The major individual records in 2005 fell to Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the two finest batsmen in the modern game.
Lara passed Allan Border's mark for aggregate Test runs in November, taking his tally to 11,187 with a brilliant 226 against Australia in Adelaide.
"Inevitably someone will break it but actually to be the leading scorer in Test cricket history is a momentous occasion for me," he said.
Tendulkar ended an injury-ruined year with a century against Sri Lanka in December, his 35th hundred in five-day cricket eclipsing the record of his compatriot Sunil Gavaskar.
"When a record is taken there is a tinge of sadness, but when it is broken by a talent as prodigious as Sachin and a fellow Indian that tinge is forgotten in a trice and one rejoices at a new benchmark being set," Gavaskar said.
The year also brought an end to Sourav Ganguly's five-year reign as India captain, Rahul Dravid taking his place, and South Africa enjoyed a run of 20 one-day matches unbeaten, just one behind the all-time record set by Australia in 2003.
With the 2007 World Cup in West Indies looming on the horizon all the countries are starting their preparations in earnest.
Apart from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh they are all capable of beating each other on their day but lack Australia's consistency and, despite the Ashes defeat, Ponting's side are still strong favourites to defend their title.