The Ashes still ranks as one of the greatest sporting rivalries in the world. Competed by the two traditional cricket teams, it has its additional charm and the notoriety from the fact that these sides also happen to be two of the fiercest sporting nations with strong presence in world’s sports map, unlike other cricket dedicated nations.
Each clash in the Ashes is an enduring experience for everyone involved, especially for the opposing fans. And as expected, the 2015 edition of the world's oldest cricket rivalry produced some fascinating clashes with plenty of individual feats, underlining its top billing.
Despite the negative press vis-a-vis the reinstalling of an otherwise out of favour Alastair Cook as the captain and the recent overhaul in the support-cast, which dominated their preparation for the series, England have exceeded all expectations by regaining the 'urn'.
Here's how a topsy-turvy 2015 Ashes Test series unfolded, with England winning 3-2 in a five-match contest, before the competition shifts to limited overs cricket. Strangely, none of these matches lasted five days despite plenty of weather-induced delay starts, stoppages and early closes.
1st Test at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (July 08-11)
England won by 169 runs
Man of the Match: Joe Root
The series opener at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff provided the perfect platform to a fledging England squad. After enduring an endless barrage of criticisms from all known quarters, skipper Alastair Cook and newly appointed Aussie coach Trevor Bayliss defied all logic to help England start the series with a convincing win.
The Ashes whitewash they suffered Down Under six months ago was not to be forgotten soon! Cook & Co. entered the field at Cardiff knowing well that in their last meeting, the Australians have taught them a lesson or two in every aspect of the game. And it was time for pay-back.
After choosing to bat first, England struggled at 43 for three, before Joe Root made a valiant 134 to help Three Lions post a good total of 430 runs. It's noteworthy that Root was dropped on nought by Australia wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, probably in his last Test match.
The 24-year-old England Batsman then made another 60 in the second innings to set an improbable 412-run target for Australia. Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali took six wickets between them as England coasted to a morale boosting 169-run win inside four days.
Australia`s unlikely hero with the bat in the losing cause was Mitchell Johnson, who made 77 in the fourth innings. Only other Aussie batsmen to make 50+ scores in the match were opener Chris Rogers (95) in the first innings and the other opener David Warner (52) in the fourth innings.
2nd Test at the Lord`s, London (July 16-19)
Australia won by 405 runs
Man of the Match: Steven Smith
After losing the first Test inside four days, Australia needed a strong reply. Michael Clarke won the toss and elected to bat first at the Home of Cricket, where they have always played good cricket. With wicket-keeper Brad Haddin granted leave on family grounds, Peter Nevill received his baggy green, from none other than Steve Waugh. And what a Test match it turned out for the visitors.
Australia`s captain in waiting and arguably the hottest batsman currently in world, Steven Smith, played a gem of an innings to compile 215 runs. In company of veteran opener Chris Rogers, who made 173, Smith produced a 284-run partnership to lay a solid foundation to the Aussie innings. Clarke declared the innings at 566 for eight.
England captain Alastair Cook tried to force a draw, but his lone effort – a sturdy 96-run knock – failed to inspire his team and their total fell short by 254 runs behind the mammoth Aussie total. Instead of enforcing a follow-on, Clarke allowed his confident batsmen to plunder runs. As a result, England were given five sessions to chase a target of 509 runs in a seemingly lifeless pitch.
The fourth innings was folded little too quickly for England's comfort, with Mitchell Johnson – the bowling hero of the previous series – taking three wickets in a spell of ten overs. England were dismissed for 103 runs in 37 overs. And another Ashes Test ended inside four days, as Australia levelled the series 1-1 with a comprehensive 405-run victory.
The match will also be remembered for many more records, but the most prominent among them will be that of debutant Nevill’s. By taking seven catches, the 32-year-old created the record for most dismissals by a wicket-keeper on Ashes debut.
3rd Test at Edgbaston, Birmingham (July 29-31)
England won by 8 wickets
Man of the Match: Steven Finn
With the first two Test matches ending inside four days – many would have probably wondered how many days the Edgbaston Test would take. Not so surprisingly, the match ended inside three days, off which the Day 1 action was limited to 66 overs only, due to rain. England hit back, hard at Australia.
Australia captain Michael Clarke won the 'all-important' toss and opted to bat first. Doomed! Probably, the best word which would have described the ensuing scene once the Aussies took guard against the English new-ball bowlers. One by one, Australian batsmen took the long walk back to the pavilion as Birmingham sky sported an overcast condition helping the ball move, dart whichever way the hungry English bowlers wanted.
James Anderson, who failed to take a wicket for the first time in 59 Test matches at the Lord's, bowled with vengeance and rocked Australia with an Ashes-best personal spell – 6/47. If it was not for opener Chris Rogers`52 stroke-full runs off 89 balls, Australia would not have reached 136.
England batted with an equal sense of carelessness. They somehow took a first innings lead of 145 runs, thanks to a late charge from Moeen Ali who scored 59 runs off 78 deliveries. Both Ian Bell and Joe Root posted individual half-centuries, but their overall batting lacked the conviction to kill off the contest, after bowling out Australia in 36.4 overs.
Luckily for England, Australian middle-order failed against a redeemed Steven Finn. The 26-year-old returned for the first time since a bad outing in the 2013 Ashes opener at Trent Bridge, to replace injured Mark Wood. The right-arm pace-man took six wickets in the third innings of the match to restrict the Australians to 265 in 79.1 overs.
Then, chasing a 121-run target, England won the match inside three days, with relative ease. Ian Bell, whose Test career was taking a winding road of late, once again played a crucial knock in the match to score 65 runs on his Warwickshire home ground.
During the match, Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson became the fifth Australian to take 300 Test scalps by taking the wicket of Jonny Bairstow. Spin great Shane Warne and fast bowlers Glenn McGrath, Dennis Lillee and Brett Lee had previously taken 300 Test wickets for Australia.
4th Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham (Aug 06-08)
England won by an innings and 78 runs
Man of the match: Stuart Broad
Leading the series 2-1, thanks to their emphatic bowling display in the previous match, England started the Trent Bridge Test without James Anderson, who was ruled out with injury. Despite the absence of his premier bowler, Alastair Cook opted to bowl first. The England skipper was too smart not to acknowledge the thick cover of cloud hovering over Nottingham skyline.
Then, another chapter was etched to the long and elaborate canon of Ashes folklore. Surely, the moment of the series!
After a delayed start, Stuart Broad took eight wickets conceding 15 runs in a non-stop spell of 9.3 overs, which also included a spurt of five wickets in 19 balls – which is the fastest five wickets for a Test opening bowler and joint fastest for any Test bowler (sharing with Ernie Toshack of Australia vs India in 1947). The 29-year-old bowler struck as early as the third delivery of his now-famous spell to send back Rogers, which was also his 300th Test wicket.
Australia were eventually dismissed for just 60 runs in 18.3 overs (111 balls) in 93 minutes. It was the shortest completed first innings in Test history in terms of balls. Australia`s batting can be summed up with the fact that the extras (14) contribution was more than their highest-scoring batsman (Mitchell Johnson with 13).
In reply, England plundered runs at will. Sensing a series win and of course buoyed by the exemplary performances from his bowlers and the crowd support, Alastair Cook declared England innings at 391 for nine after watching Joe Root scored his second hundred of the series. Root`s knock of 130-runs off 176 deliveries killed any other hope Australians had at that moment.
With a deficit of 331 runs, Australia got off their second innings to a promising start from the opening pair of Chris Rogers (52) and David Warner (64). But once the 113-run partnership was broken, Australia had no way back in the match and the series. Ben Stokes took six wickets for 36 in a controlled and disciplined bowling display even as Broad struggled with his length and line. For the record, it was the fourth instance in as many innings that an English bowler had taken six or more wickets.
Aussie middle-order batsman Adam Voges made a futile attempt to prolong the inevitable, playing 118 deliveries for his 51. England wrapped up the match inside three days, once again, to regain the urn. The margin of win, an innings and 78 runs, seemed to have painted a widening gap between the two sides.
Broad, in the process, also became the fifth English bowler to take 300 Test wickets, and second English player to reach 300 wickets and 2,000 Test runs, behind legendary Ian Botham.
Sadly, it prompted the end of Michael Clarke's international career. The 34-year-old announced his decision to retire after the fifth and final Test.
5th Test at The Oval, London (Aug 20-23)
Australia won by an innings and 46 runs
Man of the Match: Steven Smith
A dead tie for England, but one important match for Australia. The visitors wanted to set the record straight before witnessing the urn being embraced by their rivals. They also wanted to give Michael Clarke a victorious send-off, a gift many of his celebrated predecessors were denied off.
After winning the toss, Cook invited Australia to bat first, probably influenced by the visiting teams’ recent not-so impressive batting form and the overcast conditions again. Chris Rogers and David Warner, however, laid a strong foundation with their 110-run opening stand. Steven Smith played another innings of supreme confidence, hitting 143.
In reply to Australia`s 481, England could post only 149 with Moeen Ali`s 30 being the top score. Four Aussie bowlers, except Mitchell Starc, took at least two wickets each. This time, Clarke didn`t hesitate to enforce the follow-on, strangely for the first time as Australia captain.
Requiring another 332 runs in their second innings to force Australia bat again, England were folded for 286. Skipper Cook batted for almost six hours facing 234 deliveries but his 85 runs were still not enough to deny Australia the win.
Clarke retired with his team winning the match by an innings and 46 runs, inside four days.