Who fancies a Proustian rush? Actually, who fancies three-and-a-bit days of Proustian rushes? From 10.30am on Thursday, the BBC is replaying the full Test Match Special commentary of the second Ashes Test of 2005. It appears Sky Sports are also repeating the whole thing, though I can’t quite work out why the programme begins at 12.30pm on Thursday. Those five syllables – Edgbaston ’05 – have already sent me to several happy places and the re-listen hasn’t even started yet.
This column isn’t long enough to tell the story of the whole game, and this needless sentence isn’t doing me any favours with the word count either, so let’s focus on the day life changed: 4 August 2005. The exponential drama of the match, culminating in England’s heart-stopping two-run win on the Sunday morning, sometimes obscures a first day that should never cease to astonish.
England were all out for 407, their highest first-day total since the second world war. And that was from 79.2 overs; the pro-rata total was 462 in a day. England’s captain Michael Vaughan later said that “the manner in which we played on that first day was the turning point of the entire series”. You can probably see it now: Marcus Trescothick pinging a stream of the sweetest cover drives, Andrew Flintoff heaving sixes all over the gaff, Kevin Pietersen bringing up his 50 with the dreamiest cuff past mid-on off Brett Lee.
Even without Glenn McGrath, this was against a team with a 16-year aura and a four-man attack who had 1,083 Test wickets between them. Where did England get the effrontery?
It stemmed from a chat between two blokes in a deserted field on the edge of the Leeds outer ring road. In the 10-day break after the first Test, the coach Duncan Fletcher drove up to do some technical work with Vaughan at the New Rover cricket club in Adel.
When they chatted between net sessions they kept coming back to how submissive the batsmen had been, Pietersen aside, in the defeat at Lord’s. They knew they had to tell the top six to be hyper-aggressive, however scary a prospect that might be, but Fletcher also stressed the need for “total conviction” in their delivery. They even discussed the tone of voice they would use.
Although there was far more to Vaughan’s captaincy genius, at its heart was a simple message: attack, except in times of trouble, when you should attack even harder, because it’s by far your best chance of stealing momentum.
We know all about McGrath’s injury and the toss when Ricky Ponting made the errant decision to bowl first. “He didn’t rate the English batting and it cost him and us,” said Shane Warne in No Spin.
The morning session went by in a blur of boundaries, and by lunch England were 132 for one after 27 overs. They got so far ahead of the game they were able to repel the inevitable Australia fightback and they also established an undeniable template for the rest of the series. “Marcus’s 90 was worth vastly more than many big hundreds,” said Flintoff in his autobiography Second Innings. “It announced we had come to play.”
Even without McGrath, Australia had Warne to apply control and he was on inside the first hour. Yet even he went at a run a ball for most of the day. While he was defending Warne’s first three deliveries, Strauss kept thinking back to Vaughan and Fletcher’s team talk. And so he boffed the next ball back over Warne’s head for four, a symbolic statement of his and England’s intent.
Two overs later, Trescothick saw Strauss’s shot and raised it with the quiet fulfilment of a 14-month fantasy. During the previous summer, Warne suggested in his newspaper column that England should drop Trescothick. “I did something I had wanted to do ever since he told the world I had been found out as a Test player,” wrote Trescothick in Coming Back to Me. “I didn’t say a word; I just hit him back over his head for six. It was a completely sublime moment.”
England ran with the mood for the rest of the day, with Flintoff’s exhilaratingly rustic 68, including five sixes, coming from only 62 balls. Like England, Flintoff had moments of fortune; he got off the mark with a mis-hit boundary off Warne that just cleared mid-off. Had that been caught, he would have had three runs in three innings in the series. Soon after he muscled Warne down the ground for six and then, in Warne’s next over, chipped him over midwicket. He was aiming for four but timed it so well it went into the crowd. “That was when I thought: ‘I’m in here,’” he wrote in Second Innings. “And things just started happening. It all came back.”
Flintoff said he “bottled it” in the first Test at Lord’s. If he could have bottled how he played at Edgbaston – seven wickets, two mighty half-centuries, nine sixes, one legendary over – he would have been one of the greatest players in history.
Thinking about Edgbaston 2005 triggers so many vivid memories: having a minor breakdown while writing the Guardian’s over-by-over coverage on that final morning, giddily hugging my colleague Sean Ingle when England took the final wicket, even going to see an outdoor screening of Donnie Darko in Kensington Gardens, London, the previous night.
It evokes all those little details – irrelevant to anyone else, with meaning that is impossible to convey – that stimulate a kind of ephemeral, bittersweet time travel. I can remember so much about that long weekend: what was on my iPod, what I was wearing, where I drank, who I kissed.
Most of all, I remember the desperate, dizzying and ultimately euphoric experience of watching the greatest Test match I will ever see.
• This is an extract from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions.