Some moments, you always remember where you were when they happened.
On the last day of the Adelaide Test in 2006, I was at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne waiting for a flight to Sydney. With the cricket playing in the departure lounge, I was watching idly. After four days of batting, the draw was inevitable. Except no one had told Shane Warne.
Both teams had made over 500. England’s second innings on the fourth evening had them 97 runs in front and one wicket down. The pitch was still good.
There was no way they could pile on enough to declare, no way they could leave enough time to bowl Australia out, and no way Australia could bowl them out cheaply enough to chase a target. Except no one had told Shane Warne.
He got Andrew Strauss to a shocker of a call, to be fair, given out at bat-pad. But he ran out Ian Bell two overs later. Things were getting interesting.
His next ball was to Kevin Pietersen: England’s star batsman, their inspiration and energy, just as much as he was Warne’s kryptonite.
Even the great bowler had endured struggles against the young batsman. This time he floated the ball up, ripped it, and bowled Pietersen around his legs.
Interesting didn’t cover it anymore. The first boarding calls were coming over the PA, but England’s captain Andrew Flintoff was out there at number five. Brett Lee came back on to fling the ball down. Flintoff was playing and missing.
I hung back until the staff started paging me over the loudspeaker. Then it came. Last ball of an over. Flintoff flashed a big drive and edged it behind.
Five down for 77. Paul Collingwood and wicketkeeper Geraint Jones battled Warne and Lee. I lingered at the top of the ramp, then flew to Sydney. We got off the plane just after the second session started. I didn’t leave the airport for the rest of the day. The cricket was on in the arrivals lounge.
It was absurd that this game could end with England vulnerable. Australia may have started the match knocking over the tourists’ openers within 45 runs, but this was Adelaide, one of the most pristine batting surfaces in the world.
England had won first use of it thanks to the fall of the coin. Ian Bell, then a young stylist, stroked a pretty 60 runs from first drop. Paul Collingwood, the opposite of anything described as young or stylish or pretty, fought hard from the other end.
When Bell was bounced out by Lee, next came Pietersen. England’s central figure in Ashes contests of the era. He had entered the 2005 series, brash and bold, and had partly broken Warne’s psychological stranglehold over his team.
England batsmen fell apart when Warne came near. He took a remarkable tally of 40 wickets in the 2005 Ashes, and nearly dragged Australia over the line. But Pietersen wasn’t afraid to take him on, and at times took him down.
By the final Test of that series at The Oval, when Australia needed a win to retain the trophy, Warne dropped Pietersen at slip early in his innings, and the batsman went on to smash 158 and make sure the Ashes were England’s.
Pietersen came out in Adelaide with the same attitude. No batsman before or since has better deserved the verb of ‘larruping’. Tall and rangy, Pietersen skipped down the pitch or opened up his stance to slap Warne wherever he liked.
He whacked the ball like a kid with a stick lopping the top off dandelions. Hearty swipes from an absurd backlift. Over long-off, over cover. Stepping out, making room, clearing his front leg so outrageously that you worried it might dislocate.
If he miscued, he carried on anyway. He thought that against Warne, you just had to dominate. “It was one of the few times I bowled purely to dry up an end,” Warne wrote in his book, No Spin.
Collingwood was sticking in as well, blocking and thumping, and the partnership swelled past a hundred, past two hundred. Warne began to lose his length. Collingwood, approaching his hundred, kept going onto the back foot and pulling, shifting back in his crease. Pietersen would slap the same balls through point.
Collingwood passed a double century, the partnership passed a triple.
In a way, there were no two worse players for making Australia unhappy. Collingwood was the one they loved to condescend to. A tough, stolid, journeyman all-rounder, the sort of player English teams liked and Australians scoffed at.
Then Pietersen, the one who got right up Australian noses for serving their own prickly attitude right back to them.
Once Collingwood had finally nicked Stuart Clark for 206, and Pietersen was sent back by a diving underarm throw from Ricky Ponting for 158, Australia had Flintoff and the more-than-handy number eight Ashley Giles club them around. England declared after nearly two days at 551 for 6.
Australia had been punished. In a Test career spanning 243 bowling innings, the great fast bowler Glenn McGrath conceded a hundred runs in only nine of them. Adelaide was the only one of those nine to go wicketless.
As for Warne, he took a wicket when Jones slapped a ball to point in the search for declaration runs. But, with 1 for 167, it proved his most expensive Test innings.
Australia’s hopes should have been dead. Sure, they had one of the most powerful batting line-ups of all time. But it had been a long two days in the field. With nine overs to face on the second day, Justin Langer sparred Flintoff to gully.
England’s swing specialist Matthew Hoggard got the ball singing the next morning, and Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn duly provided catches from hard-handed drives.
Their team was three down with 65 on the board, so far adrift that they needed a Search and Rescue chopper to haul them back to land. The compulsion to dominate was bringing them unstuck.
It should have done so permanently: in Hoggard’s next over, Ponting hooked a short ball to Giles at deep square leg. The ball came flat and hard and burst through the spinner’s hands. Ponting was on 35.
He would add another 107, hooking with impunity, slamming drives through cover, darting a single to reach his century. The symbolism was there: Australia’s leader had made his 33rd Test hundred, passing the Australian (and formerly world) record of his predecessor, Steve Waugh.
Ponting finished on 142, one of the most commanding tons of his career. For company, he had Mike Hussey in the form of his life, a livewire presence at the other end.
Hussey had been denied an Ashes opportunity in 2005, and was cashing his chance in now. He bettered his 86 from the first Test with 91 in the second, the left-hander pulling sixes and lacing fours as though this was the easiest caper in the world.
Still and all: by the time they were both dismissed, Australia had 286 on the board, barely a Bon Jovi halfway there. Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist reached stumps five down, before Gilchrist returned on the fourth morning and whacked a typically quick 64, but it was 6 for 384 when he holed out.
Clarke had an even 50, but a deficit of 167 and only the tail to bat with. Out came one Shane Warne. Always capable with the bat, he was also capable of slogging one up in the air for nought. This was a man who nearly made a Test century on four occasions but also sits fourth on the list for most ducks.
Warne was a man who nearly made a Test century on four occasions but also sits fourth on the list for most ducks.
England brought on Pietersen, who had started his career in South African domestic cricket as an off-spinner. Only later had he recognised his batting ability and worked on it enough to make it flourish.
As it had been when Pietersen was batting, this was a clash of egos. The talisman for either side, head to head. England thought Warne would not be able to help trying to dominate his rival, and would do something indiscreet. Instead, Warne laced a sweep for four, as if to prove he could, then sensibly collected singles through his opponent’s spell.
Pietersen’s book, On Cricket, gives some insight: “As much as Warnie loved the battle, he also loved the art of battle, and he was brilliant at it because he’s a special person as well as a special player. He just understands people and how they work, so had the knack of really zoning in on their vulnerabilities; it was all part of his genius.”
The psychologist was at work. He liked Pietersen: the two had developed a friendship playing for Hampshire. Warne was also close to his batting partner, Clarke. The two brash young cricketers had an energy that Warne enjoyed. But on this day he was determined to support one and beat the other.
He batted till lunch, then well over an hour after it, reining in his impulses and playing second fiddle as Clarke moved to his third Test century with a series of ebullient drives. The partnership was 118, the score 502, and the deficit 49 by the time Warne was out.
Clarke soon followed, trying to slash quick runs, as did Clark and McGrath. Australia had totalled 513, only 38 behind England.
It could have been a lead if not for Hoggard. After his early wickets of Hayden and Martyn, he had bowled with intelligence and endurance all through England’s long stint in the sun.
He’d used swing from the second new ball to nick off Ponting. He’d denied Hussey a ton by confusing him with a length the batsman couldn’t decide whether to play or leave, so chopped onto his stumps.
He’d used reverse inswing when available, trapping Warne leg-before, drawing Clarke to chip to midwicket, then thunking Clark’s leg stump. After a marathon 42 overs, the bowler finished with 7 for 109.
He was the reason Australia’s fightback hadn’t been even more remarkable. Still, England held the lead and all the aces.
So the finale was set up: Alastair Cook edging Clark before stumps on the fourth day, Strauss and Bell resuming the next morning.
There are many more dramatic Warne bowling figures than 4 for 49. He took that many wickets in an innings on 46 occasions in his Test career. Some of them would have been pretty pedestrian: one decent ball, one outfield catch, and a couple of tailenders in a doomed second innings. But this was something else.
“It wasn’t just the batters and umpires who were caught up in it all,” wrote Pietersen. “When Warne was bowling, his teammates knew they could get a wicket every single delivery, so the enthusiasm just went up 10, 20 per cent. The chat around the bat changed as well; everyone was at it. It was just a really good phase of the game when he was involved.”
Attitude was first and last with Warne. He later described the team meeting that morning where he “was listening while having a dart out the window of the rooms”. Hearing defensive talk, he interjected “that it was a mindset thing and ours was better than theirs, so if we rotated quicks from one end and I got it to rip from the other, the Poms might well panic if we got a couple of early wickets. We agreed that unless KP got in, they couldn’t hurt us on the scoreboard…”
“Punter said, ‘Okay, let’s go hard with the mindset of winning the game, not letting it peter out.’ So we headed onto the field to prepare for the day and there was a very obvious change of mood from how we’d felt in our cars on the way to the ground. Everyone was more buoyant. Suddenly there was a plan”.
Warne had correctly predicted England’s mindset. They had a draw there for the taking, which would leave them firmly in the series with three Tests left to play, but it would be much more comfortably achieved if they scored. Instead, they decided to stall. Through the first ten overs of the morning, none went for more than two runs.
Warne was immediately on, for the first over of the day. All he wanted was to create a sense of threat. “When I faced him in the nets, I realised straight away that I could pick him, but then, most people could – that wasn’t the key with Warnie,” wrote Pietersen. “It was all about the theatre he created in the middle. He was an absolute performance artist.”
Warne had correctly predicted England’s mindset… they decided to stall.
Bowling to Strauss, with the prospect of spinning balls big-time from outside off stump back into the left-hander, Warne created just that theatre of threat. Looking to neuter the turn, Strauss charged while trying to work a ball off his pads. But it dipped on him and he was nowhere near the pitch.
Instead, it bounced high into his pad-flap to short leg. Hussey appealed without full conviction. But Jamaican umpire Steve Bucknor had heard bat clip pad.
“He’s given him! Oh, and he didn’t hit that,” yelled Tony Greig on the television. “Well, the replay will tell us. It just seemed to me that the reaction of the batsman there was such that he didn’t hit it… I didn’t think the appeal was that convincing anyhow.”
Strauss stood at the crease with his head tilted down for a long moment before trudging off.
With Bell, Warne had tried picking a fight on the fourth evening with a fairly uninspired sledge based on the less-than-classic piece of cinema American Pie. He continued this tack on the final day.
Warne’s sledges were “nothing very special,” wrote Gideon Haigh after the game, but they are “seldom about his likes or dislikes among opponents; they are almost always about motivating himself, stimulating a little conflict, then feeding off the adrenalin. He wouldn’t have intimidated any of his English opponents on Monday, but he probably got a few juices flowing”.
Strauss had gone from the last ball of a Warne over. From the last ball of Warne’s next, Bell cut to Clarke behind point and took off. Clarke ran to his left – his preferred throwing and bowling hand – picked up cleanly, and launched a lob across his body to the non-striker’s end. It was metres wide of the stumps but Warne was there waiting, receiving, throwing underarm into the timbers.
England were suddenly 3 for 70, and in came the main man. Everything was down to this. Pietersen, always a nervous starter, took off for his classic Red Bull run, hitting straight to the field and sprinting. He collected another single later in Clark’s over, meaning he would face the first ball of Warne’s next.
This was the contest. For Australia to have any hope, they needed Pietersen. For England, skies were sunny while he was there. Even if he only lasted half an hour, he might put the game out of Australia’s reach.
He loved to score, to get moving early. So Warne floated down one of those deliveries that he produced so many of through his career. Full and floating, it looked like a juicy full toss. On leg stump, it looked like a leg-side pie.
Pietersen wanted to smash it. He got down low, on one knee, and aimed the sweep. This wasn’t a paddle – his bat was coming from miles outside off stump. He was going to smash this into the fence. No doubt about it.
Except it drifted, kept drifting further outside leg. And as it approached the batsman, the work Warne put on the ball began to tell. All these years later, you can almost hear the fizz of its revolutions in the replays.
That spin made it dip sharply. It was still a full toss as it passed Pietersen’s bat, but only just: dropping so sharply and wider than expected, he was nowhere near it. It burrowed under his shot, a puff of dust exploding beneath his gloves while his horizontal bat flailed uselessly outside leg stump.
You could tell Pietersen had been done, because he almost fell over to the leg side, trying to yank his movement at the last second to get something on the ball. No such luck. It tunnelled him like a German sapper, pitched, and those revs made it spin back.
From well outside leg, it didn’t just turn back to hit the woodwork. It turned back to hit off stump flush in the centre.
Pietersen’s stumble continued as he hopped up from his drop crouch, turning that movement into a walk straight off the ground.
Warne would take four wickets, but this was the one. England’s triumphs were built on Pietersen besting Warne. Back in 2005, as we said. Then in Australia in 2010-11, when Pietersen was still at his peak and Warne had retired.
But in Adelaide in 2006, lopped off for two runs, one team’s talisman had vanquished the other. Suddenly, all confidence was gone.
So it was with Flintoff, driving and prodding with no sure idea of how to proceed. The swing, the nick, and Lee celebrating as soon as he saw umpire Rudi Koertzen’s shoulder twitch. By the time Rudi’s slow finger of judgement reached its zenith, Lee had long turned away into a huddle of teammates.
The lunch score was 5 for 89, the lead 127. Collingwood was there with Jones. They should have been able to get through the game safely. But they were spooked. They approached the break with Lee pinning them down, Warne testing them out. Every ball he lobbed looked like a grenade, every movement of their feet seemed close to a tripwire.
Really, all England needed to do was score. Every run would be one Australia had to make back. Every run would take time out of the game. They could block out a session and still leave Australia enough time for a chase.
Jones tried – or couldn’t help himself – flashing a wide ball from Lee to let Hayden take a flying gully catch. But Collingwood, the double-century man, seeing it beautifully, didn’t get it. He tried to shut up shop, as Warne predicted.
Warne’s work wasn’t done. Giles had so often been a thorn in Australia’s side, including some stubborn innings in 2005 that helped seal the Ashes. Warne got him for a duck. He was shredding it, one ball just missing leg stump from behind the pads. The next one outside leg finished at slip via the edge.
“Rips across him,” said Mark Taylor on the telly. “That is just about unplayable, when Warne bowls this well.”
Hoggard could be stubborn as well, but Warne pinned him to the crease like a moth to a board. Beat the edge and the stumps time and again before a rare wrong ‘un forced the batsman to chop on.
It took another 15 overs, but McGrath eventually winkled out Steve Harmison and James Anderson. Those 15 overs added 24 runs. Warne had the chance to finish it and earn five, but Hayden dropped Collingwood at slip.
Instead, Collingwood ended on 22 not out from 119 balls. What was the value, having batted with the tail for company and two sessions to play? Another 40 or 50 runs could have put the game out of Australia’s reach. Collingwood, the man who’d brought England the chance for a win with his double-century, becomes the man whose tactics might have cost them the loss.
It wasn’t simple even as things were: Australia had 36 overs to make 168, meaning they had to go at four an over at the end of a fifth day. But England were cooked. The prospect of losing the unlosable Test had shaken them.
So while Langer and Hayden fell cheaply, Ponting and Hussey went into one-day mode, threading the gaps and running the twos and hitting the boundaries. By now a small crowd had gathered in the airport lounge where I’d spent the past four hours, all of us fixated on the television.
Ponting gave up a catch on 49, while Damien Martyn made five and walked straight out of Test cricket. But Clarke was welcomed with seven runs, when Pietersen’s throw at the stumps gave up a boundary after the batsmen had run three.
It symbolised England’s Test. Teams don’t make 551 declared in the first innings and lose. They don’t start a last day so comfortably placed and throw it all away. But there was Hussey, 61 not out, that famous image of his cheer as he charged for the winning run.
It couldn’t have happened. Australia should have been nowhere near it. But like so many human achievements, the first step was someone deciding it was possible. Warne had convinced those around him, and led the way. Australia had won with three overs to spare.
Dusk approached in Sydney as I walked down tiled concourses to the exit, extremely late and completely lost for words. I would make my excuses later, when I had time to think on the airport train.
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Written by Geoff Lemon
Geoff Lemon is a writer and radio broadcaster on sport, politics and literature. He’s on Twitter @GeoffLemonSport.
Design and editing by Daniel Jeffrey
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