The England women's squad poses with the Ashes trophy

England Women at The Oval with the Ashes trophy

© Getty Images

I Was There

'Nothing can describe that feeling when you've won a Test match with your team'

A 42-year wait against Australia ended in 2005. Katherine Brunt, Isa Guha, Arran Brindle, Lisa Keightley and Shelley Nitschke look back at a hard-fought series

Alan Gardner  |  

Remember the 2005 Ashes? Of course you do. But this time we're not talking about the men's series. Although it didn't receive the same level of coverage, the 2005 women's Ashes was just as dramatic - and arguably even more significant. England had not held the Ashes since the 1980s and had not beaten Australia in a Test series since 1963; they hadn't even managed to get the better of the old enemy in an ODI since 1993. Led by Belinda Clark, Australia were the dominant side of the time, featuring several confirmed or soon-to-be greats - the likes of Clark herself, Karen Rolton, Cathryn Fitzpatrick, Alex Blackwell and Lisa Sthalekar. But England were just beginning to bring through a new generation of players, and there had already been signs that they were ready for a scrap.

The 2002-03 Ashes had gone Australia's way, as expected, but not without England putting up a fight, bowling Australia out for 78 at the Gabba and digging in for a draw on the last day in Sydney.

Still, Australia, just crowned world champions, arrived in England as favourites to maintain their hold on the Ashes - not least because the home side had to overcome a mental block, as well as their opponents on the field.

Isa Guha, England bowler: When I made my debut for England [in 2001], there were a lot of senior players there who had been psychologically damaged by playing Australia. Just all the baggage of having lost to them consistently for years, [feeling that] beating them is unobtainable.

Katherine Brunt, England bowler: I'd only just started with England and I didn't really know what the Ashes was. I'd watched men's cricket but not much. I think just before [the series] was the first I had ever heard about the fact that it was 42 years since we'd last won. We used to get hammered by them. But I'd never seen us play Australia in my life, so my first experience was playing them. I had stories but nothing to go on. When you're an introverted 19-year-old and someone's telling you that the fastest bowler ever is coming to kill you, you do kind of get a bit scared about that, but in my head I was like, it actually cannot be any worse than my brother-in-law bowling at me off ten yards in the back garden, at my head.

So I think rocking up to that series I was probably the only one without any scarring.

Brunt to Rolton: Australia No. 3 Karen Rolton made 71 and 97 in Hove, dismissed by Brunt in both innings - caught in the first and run out in the second

Brunt to Rolton: Australia No. 3 Karen Rolton made 71 and 97 in Hove, dismissed by Brunt in both innings - caught in the first and run out in the second Clive Rose / © Getty Images

Lisa Keightley, Australia batter: When you play for Australia, you just expect to win. We definitely came over thinking we wanted to win everything we played. I think both teams are very proud of their history, and there was no doubt we knew how long it had been for England, and we were definitely working hard to make it even longer.

I think it was really similar to the men's: we were getting old as a team, and England, in both the men's and women's, were a lot younger and had a sniff. They got to a position where they started to believe and put us under pressure.

Although they had lost to Australia in the World Cup semi-final in Potchefstroom a few months before, England took encouragement from it. Fitzpatrick - the "fastest bowler ever" that Brunt had been warned about - reduced them to 21 for 3 but they recovered to post 158, and in the end it was Clark's measured 62 from 105 balls that was the difference between the sides.

Arran Brindle, England allrounder: We felt we were getting ever closer. We felt like we could have scored more, and we nearly defended it anyway. No matter what the game situation, if you can't cross the line, it feels like it's never going to happen. Agony. Groundhog day.

Despite local optimism, Australia made the running in the first Test, in Hove. England gave a debut to 15-year-old left-arm spinner Holly Colvin, who picked up three wickets as Australia slipped to 191 for 8. But Shelley Nitschke, the No. 10, on Test debut, made 81 not out and helped add 164 for the last two wickets.

Shelley Nitschke, Australia allrounder: I was opening the batting for South Australia but batting [here] at No. 10, so it was great to go in there and have a bit of time. I think they probably thought they were going to roll through us, but myself and the lower order dug in a bit.

There were some words with Katherine [Brunt]. That was good fun and the start of a contest that ran across a few years. We hadn't come across her a lot but we knew there were some pretty good raps on her.

Brunt, playing in her second Test, picked up three wickets - and five in the match - but despite half-centuries from Charlotte Edwards and Brindle, Australia took an 82-run lead on first innings. They then ground their way to 223 on the back of Rolton's 97. That left England with a notional target of 306 runs, or two and a half sessions to survive. At 14 for 3, only one result seemed likely.

Hang ten: Shelley Nitshcke's unbeaten 81 frustrated England in the first Test, taking Australia from 191 for 8 to a total of 355

Hang ten: Shelley Nitshcke's unbeaten 81 frustrated England in the first Test, taking Australia from 191 for 8 to a total of 355 Clive Rose / © Getty Images

Brindle: It didn't start that well and I remember being in quite early. But one of the bits I liked about my own game was that I could concentrate for long periods of time, having played men's cricket. I said to myself I was just going to bat as long as possible. Didn't have to worry about trying to score.

Guha: Arran was always really good at cutting the ball, and I remember she cut a lot in that innings. Fitzy was bowling quite quick and any time there was a bit of width, Arran would just smash it through the off side. I just remember a lot of resistance. That set up the series for us, the way she played the bowlers.

Brindle fashioned vital partnerships with the captain, Clare Connor, Jenny Gunn and Beth Morgan, as England edged towards safety. But there was still work to be done when Brunt walked out at No. 9, with Fitzpatrick steaming in.

Brindle: I said, "Which end do you want?" We're not looking to score. Katherine didn't have a great record against spin, because she had a tendency to try and smack it into next week, so she said she'd prefer to take on Fitzy, and I'd take the spinner at the other end. And we kept working down, six balls at a time.

Brunt: I wasn't wearing a thigh pad. I used to get self-conscious about wearing big things under my trousers, looking like I had big legs. I felt like, it's only women's cricket, I only really have to wear this for men's cricket. And then she [Fitzpatrick] hit me on the inside thigh. She obviously had a bit of an appeal, and I was like, "No, love, that's pure flesh", it's going over. And in her follow-through, she said, "Cheer up, Charlie", or something like that. I've obviously given it a bit of a rub, trying not to show any pain. She was bowling close to 80mph down the hill at Hove; it wasn't my most favourite experience.

She actually hit me in the exact same place about 15-20 minutes later. I thought it was hilarious because this scary-looking woman with a mullet was charging in, meant to be the quickest bowler in the world, and she couldn't get out a non-batting No. 9. It made me feel so good, not letting her do anything. I knew it must have been chewing her inside. I got an enormous amount of satisfaction from that, and I knew that's all the girls needed from me.

Lisa Keightley is stumped for 11 in Hove

Lisa Keightley is stumped for 11 in Hove Clive Rose / © Getty Images

Brindle: Somehow I ended up getting up into the 90s, and Katherine said to me, "Are you going to go and get your hundred now?" And I was like, "I've got no interest. I'm not going to get out." There were only a few overs left, but I wasn't interested. It got down to the last over and I was on 97, and she said, "Go for it", and I was like "No!" It wasn't until I knew it was the last ball, and it was Sthalekar bowling - I was just going to hit her down the ground, if I got a four, great; if I got out, I didn't really care, because we'd managed to draw. It went over the top and off for four. A nice personal milestone, but literally until that last ball I had no interest. It just happened that I was in touching distance of it.

Nitschke: We were throwing the ball around and she was just digging in. Looking back now, she did that a few times to us in different games, whether it was ODIs or Tests.

Brindle: It was that sheer bloody-mindedness. I want to prove that I deserve to be out here against them. They were the pinnacle, the ones you wanted to measure yourself against. I wasn't out there to look pretty, in terms of technique. I had to work hard, had to train hard, knew my game. I suppose that would be what others saw as one of my strengths, that I would leave it all out there, I wouldn't give up. Apart from the four, I can't remember any other shot or any other thing in that innings, other than talking to Brunty about what end she wanted. I'm going to leave the ball well, I'm going to play defensive - and yeah, you get me out.

England eventually made it to the close on 172 for 7, having batted out 95 overs for the draw. Brindle spent more than four hours at the crease for 101 not out from 249 balls - her maiden Test hundred. With the Ashes alive ahead of the second, deciding Test in Worcester, England celebrated accordingly.

Brindle: Up the balcony at Hove, the team were obviously excitable. Me and Brunty came together and were like, "Yes, get in." And I just remember Cathryn Fitzpatrick going, "Jeez, you'd have thought they'd won the bloody game." I was like, hang on a minute, you absolute piece of work. Batting out a day against you lot is a fair effort. And then the arrogance, to just presume that actually it was inevitable anyway what was going to come next. That made me think we've got our foot in the door - a) they've taken notice that we've celebrated, and b) she doesn't really like it.

For the next ten days, the focus of the tour switched. Three ODIs were scheduled between the Tests, as part of the five-match NatWest series - unlike with the multi-format system used now, the one-day games didn't have a bearing on the Ashes. Or rather, they weren't supposed to have a bearing on the Ashes. But in the third match, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England held their nerve in a tense finale to claim a two-run win - their first against Australia in any format for more than a decade.

In her eight Tests against Australia, Arran Brindle scored 373 runs at 26.64, with one hundred and two half-centuries

In her eight Tests against Australia, Arran Brindle scored 373 runs at 26.64, with one hundred and two half-centuries Darren England / © Getty Images

Keightley: That was huge for them, because that was the first time in my career, and some of the England players' careers, that they'd ever beaten us.

Brunt: There's a picture of us all piling on each other in the middle of the wicket, trying to steal the stumps. It was a great day. I didn't know what those kind of feelings were, in a cricket match - to have never had something where it means so much to everybody, and where you celebrate like that, it was mad.

The teams moved on to Worcestershire's New Road ground for the second Test, where England made two changes - Guha and Lydia Greenway came in for Colvin and Rosalie Birch. Guha, another schoolgirl prodigy, had made her England debut aged 16 and was playing her fifth Test, but her first in the Ashes, having had to turn down a call-up in 2002-03 because of her studies. With 19-year-old Gunn in the side, and three 20-year-olds in Brunt, Guha and Greenway, England continued to trust in youth.

Guha: I wanted to play Test matches so badly. I just loved the feeling of it once I had that taste in 2002. To be there, against Australia…

There must have been a green tinge [to the pitch]. And with the red ball in hand, I always felt I could get the ball moving.

They're probably the best times in cricket because you're the youngsters, so there isn't as much expectation on you to perform. You can just go out there and enjoy yourself. There was this feeling of excitement every time we went out there, and to play with Lydia, who I'd known since we were children. To be part of the team against Australia, especially after Arran had done what she did in Hove, there was just a belief - and I certainly had a belief that I could take wickets.

With rain around (only 55 overs were bowled on the first day), Connor won a helpful toss and duly inserted Australia. Guha provided the breakthrough - although not perhaps via the expected route, as Keightley was run out cheaply.

Guha: It's annoying, when I speak to the guys who've retired, they remember things clearly, because obviously it's all been recorded on television. But I can't remember that moment at all, no idea. I'd need someone else to tell me what happened.

The Fitz blitz: Cathryn Fitzpatrick was always a thorn in England's flesh

The Fitz blitz: Cathryn Fitzpatrick was always a thorn in England's flesh Daniel Berehulak / © Getty Images

Keightley: Oh gosh, I can remember. It was terrible. We had a rain delay, I remember just sitting around and it was pretty much like, "You're on." It was so not a run. I was at the non-striker's and I called, and it just went straight to Ish. Belinda charged off. I could have said, "Look, sorry, no, go back", but I just ran through. It was a couple of balls after the break, and I just wasn't switched on, made a huge judgement [error]. All Ish had to do was pick it up, throw it to the keeper and I was out by two or three metres - that's how bad it was. I remember walking off thinking that was the worst call ever.

Brunt then picked up the key wickets of Clark and Rolton in the space of a few overs.

Brunt: Thanks for coming. They were probably two of the biggest wickets ever for me. Legends.

Australia limped to 126 for 7 at the end of day one. This time there would be no lower-order fightback, as Brunt cleaned up the tail in the morning for her maiden international five-for.

Guha: She smashed it. That was what we were all expecting from her against Australia. She had the pace, she had the nip, movement off the pitch and in the air.

In reply, England went past Australia's total of 131 four wickets down. At 204 for 9, when Guha walked out to join Brunt, they had a handy but not intimidating lead - and experience said England would need every run going.

Guha: We just kept saying to each other, get your big left dog down. Just try to keep it out. I'm pretty sure a couple went through the slip cordon. But I was just so excited to be out in the middle with Katherine, as the two youngsters out there. It was like: "Come on, this is amazing, we're facing Cathryn Fitzpatrick, it's f***ing scary - but how cool." We didn't want to leave ourselves too much to do - or anything to do, really - in the fourth innings. Just knowing what Australia are like and how they fight back, and we didn't play that many Test matches, so we didn't want to be in a position where we had to survive again. We weren't playing shots a lot of the time. It was literally just grinding them down. And if it was there to be hit, generally the only time I ever hit anything was if it was a half-volley or full toss…

There was probably one I hit through the cover region. It might have been a full toss, and I think it was off Fitzpatrick. I still remember going, "That's the all-time best shot I've ever played." But Katherine hit a few lovely drives through the covers. She was definitely taking it to them a bit more than I was.

Brunt: My favourite shots were the cover drives, because it was really nice for the first time in my life, having no fielders at cover. So, literally, if they ever missed - which they did not often miss - it was just an easy run.

(from left): Isa Guha, Rosalie Birch and Clare Connor at a promotional shoot at the London Eye ahead of the 2005 Ashes

(from left): Isa Guha, Rosalie Birch and Clare Connor at a promotional shoot at the London Eye ahead of the 2005 Ashes Ian Walton / © Getty Images

The last-wicket pair made it to the close, and on the third morning they just kept going, stretching out England's lead.

Guha: We were rooming together, so we went to bed that night super giddy, because of what we'd done in managing to bat to the end of the day. And then even better was getting throwdowns from Clare Connor, Claire Taylor and Charlotte Edwards in the morning, because it was like they hadn't been able to stay out there but we had. So to have these legends in our eyes throwing down to us in the morning, we properly milked it, having throwdowns for a good hour, hour and a half.

Brunt: It was so funny, because we thought we were like opening batsmen, we thought we were really great. We were having the best time ever because we were normally the ones giving throwdowns. They were probably hating us but loving us at the same time because we were saving the game.

Brunt, who had batted at No. 11 on debut a year earlier, recorded a maiden half-century as her battle with Fitzpatrick continued. She eventually fell lbw to Sthalekar, with Guha left unbeaten on 31 from 100 balls.

Brunt: Fitzpatrick remembered the previous game, where I was practically smirking the whole way through, and she was like: it's payback. I actually found [left-armer] Emma Liddell harder to face, as she could swing it in and nip it away. Fitzy was more hit-the-deck, trying to terrorise you. If she had bowled inswing, I think everybody would have died.

Guha: I always thought I could definitely do better than that. My batting career for England dwindled from batting at No. 7 to batting at 10 or 11 on a regular basis. That was always a huge frustration of mine - that I couldn't get back up the order. Little did I know that innings was going to be my highest score for England.

Brunt and Guha had added 85 for the last wicket, giving England a lead of 158, and it looked like they were heading for an innings victory as Australia slumped to 67 for 7. Keightley was again the first to go, lbw for a 16-ball duck on her birthday, in her final Test innings, as Brunt claimed the first of four second-innings wickets.

Keightley: She doesn't remind me much, which I'm surprised about actually. Good ball, it swung and I was leaving it in my head - I was expecting it to swing out, it nipped back in. That's what I get for a mindset of "I'm going to leave a few here today."


Brunt: "[The team's] fighting spirit was born. I think they just lay down before that. I brought in a bit of Barnsley bastard" Julian Herbert / © Getty Images

Brunt: Should have been six - it was absolutely outrageous. I had a dropped catch - I won't name names - and I had couple of lbws that, honestly, were absolutely plumb, but the umpiring was very questionable. It still destroys me to this day, because it would have been my only chance ever to get a ten-for.

But Australia were not going to go quietly in both innings, and it was Nitschke who again provided the vital lower-order ballast, as she and Kate Blackwell put on a century stand to take the game into the fourth day and ensure England would have to bat again.

Brindle: I can remember waking up and just wanting to know what's going to happen by the end of the day. You know what you want to happen, and you know that you can make it happen, but these guys don't know when to give up. They'd never lost. So they aren't going to go down without us finishing this off. Can we finish it off? Until you do it, it's an unknown.

Brunt struck twice in two balls first thing in the morning, but to add to England's nerves, Nitschke dug in to frustrate them again, adding another half-century stand for the last wicket.

Nitschke: I was rooming with Emma Liddell, and she was in at No. 11. She said to me, "Shell, if you're in there when I get in there, I'm just going to block 'em and you can try to make a ton, and we'll not get out." She got in there the next day, and first or second ball she did this big cross-bat hack through midwicket and I thought, "This isn't going to last long." She was showing me the front-foot defence in the room that night, what she was going to do when she got in, but I think that went out of the window.

Brunt: Personally, I always believed it was going to happen, it was just a matter of time. Kate Blackwell was a proper fighter, and that was the beginning of Shelley Nitschke. They unearthed her as a really good batsman. But I didn't really start losing the plot or anything. I imagine a few of the girls did, because they were the ones who really, really wanted it. I just thought we can't possibly lose - but they were terrified of it not actually happening.

Liddell finally fell just before lunch, leaving the unbeaten Nitschke stranded 12 short of a century. England needed just 75 to win, with more than two sessions left in the game - but they lost two wickets with a single run on the board before lunch, and then slipped to 39 for 4 as Fitzpatrick knocked over Edwards and Connor.

Guha on her partnership with Brunt, after which they got throwdowns from Clare Connor, Claire Taylor and Charlotte Edwards in the morning:

Guha on her partnership with Brunt, after which they got throwdowns from Clare Connor, Claire Taylor and Charlotte Edwards in the morning: "We properly milked it, for a good hour, hour and a half" John Walton / © PA Photos/Getty Images

Nitschke: In those situations, you have to have some hope. The elephant in the room was that we were in a pretty tough position. [But] there's always that sense of "You just never know" - especially in an Ashes Test. You get a few early ones and think, maybe, maybe.

Guha: If I'm needed to bat again, it's been a horrendous day! I remember it was Lydia and Arran in the middle for the winning runs. We had control and then there were a few quick wickets. Naturally, shivers down our spine. It is Australia, it's Fitzpatrick, Rolton, they are going to somehow win from nowhere, so we started to get a bit nervy. Especially the older players were going, "Oh no, is this going to happen again"… and then Arran Brindle, super calm, and Lydia keeping their cool.

Brindle: When you're out there, that was the easy bit. Sitting and watching I'm rubbish at. I hate watching cricket, to be honest.

As the fifth-wicket pair steadily ticked off the runs required, the tensions eased. Fittingly, it was Brindle who nudged the winning single, taking her series average to 99.50. Cue bedlam.

Brindle: Apart from the 2005 World Cup, my best cricket was always in Ashes series - certainly from 2005 onwards. I managed to contribute, whether that was pure determination to prove to them that I could, and I wanted to do that [against them] more than any others. I think there always was that little extra edge. I want them to feel like we felt.

Brunt: As I said, I didn't realise what it meant yet, or the enormity of it - so that was really special, watching just pure elation in these women that I'd never seen before. And obviously that became me then, because you invest your whole life into it, and it literally becomes the be-all and end-all. It brought us all together so much - like best friendships came from that moment, because you'd just experienced something together with these people. That was really, really cool.

It helped me grow as a person as well. From that moment on, it just gave me that belief that you can beat the best in the world. And also the [team's] fighting spirit was born. I think they just lay down before that. I brought in a bit of Barnsley bastard.

Guha: Those are some of the best moments that have ever happened for me. There's really nothing that can describe that feeling when you've won a Test match with your team.

Brunt (second from right) enjoys the victory parade at Trafalgar Square

Brunt (second from right) enjoys the victory parade at Trafalgar Square Tom Shaw / © Getty Images

The six-wicket victory was England Women's first in Test cricket against Australia since 1984-85, and it meant they had reclaimed the Ashes. Remarkably, it was their first Test series win over Australia in 42 years. For an encore, they won the fourth ODI as well, though Australia clinched the series 3-2 in the decider. No matter, less than two weeks later, England's men also won back the Ashes after a significant gap (in their case 16 years). The open-top bus parade featured both teams, whether those gathered in Trafalgar Square were aware of the women's achievement or not.

Guha: To be on the bus behind the boys, it was very surreal. The streets were packed, lined with people. It was just such an amazing, unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we didn't care that everyone was shouting out, "Are you the WAGs?" People were lining the streets, hanging out windows, climbing on lamp posts. It was just unbelievable. We finally get to Trafalgar Square and me and Lyd were just looking at each other, cannot believe what's going on. It felt like we were at a rock concert, singing along to "Jerusalem", side by side with the men. It's like, what the hell is going on? Just mind-blowing.

Brindle: That was a different level. It was just the most bizarre day. Nothing like that had ever happened in women's cricket.

While the men stumbled soon after, England's women were on an upward curve. Competitive in the Ashes again, the nucleus of the team went on to win the 50-over and T20 World Cups in 2009. Five years later, the ECB brought in professional contracts. A new era of the game was dawning.

Keightley: I think it was a defining moment in England women's cricket history to win the Test match and win back the Ashes. I don't think up until then they really believed they could beat us.

Brunt: People always ask me, what's your favourite cricketing moment, greatest achievement or stuff like that, and I always bring it back to that Ashes series. Which is funny because it was my very first experience of anything major, in a cricketing sense, and probably came with the best all-round performance I've ever made. It was innocent and not at the stage where you have anxiety about performance and expectation. I was basically just having a laugh, having a good time with my mates, not really knowing what I was doing or getting into, or the enormity of it. It was pretty cool.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick