(Photo: Getty Images)
By Sam Pilger
England had arrived in Australia for the 2010-11 series determined to find redemption after the embarrassment of being whitewashed 5-0 in the previous series there four years earlier.
Several of the touring party, including the captain Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood, and Kevin Pietersen, still had the scars from that miserable tour but rather than act as a burden, they wanted to use it to inspire them on their return.
“It was the toughest tour I had ever been on, seven weeks of relentless humiliation and defeat, and by the end of it I was utterly demoralised; bitter, beaten, and exhausted,” says Collingwood.
“But it fuels your determination for the next time you face them. I was monumentally p****d off we had allowed this to happen.
“There was no way I was going to put myself through this again, so the only thing to do was to win there. I resolved to come back there and win the Ashes.”
In contrast to the current tour, under the captaincy of Strauss and management of Andy Flower this was a focused and united England.
They had had the better of the drawn first Test in Brisbane, by making 517-1 declared in their second innings before taking the lead in the series with a comprehensive victory by an innings and 71 runs in the second Test in Adelaide.
But Australia had drawn level in the third Test at the WACA with a large victory of their own by 267 runs.
As they headed to Melbourne for the fourth Test it was 1-1, and England needed to win there, or in Sydney, to retain the Ashes.
“Despite losing our lead in the series we never got too despondent,” says Collingwood. “We had been beaten by a side who were better than us on this occasion, but we knew we could come back.”
And England spectacularly did just that on the first day of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG when they bowled Australia all out for 98, and then finished the day on 157 without loss in reply.
“It was a dream day, a day where everything went right,” recalls Collingwood. “The lads were all shaking their heads in disbelief and saying, ‘if Carlsberg did Boxing Days …’ It was the perfect day, and we knew we had hurt them. This felt like revenge for everything the Australians had put us through. It was a day that was meant to happen. It was just all too good to be true.”
Australia had been blown away by England’s pace attack, with Jimmy Anderson and Chris Tremlett taking four wickets each, and Tim Bresnan helping himself to the remaining two.
“The bowling performance was absolutely outstanding,” Strauss has recalled. “Tremlett hit a length and got some decent bounce, Anderson was swinging it both ways, and Bresnan, who was under pressure to keep it tight bowled a magnificent first spell.”
Michael Clarke was Australia’s leading scorer with a mere 20, as six of their batsmen failed to reach double figure in an innings that lasted less than 43 overs.
After finishing the first day on 157-0 England pressed home their advantage by batting for the entire second day until they were eventually all out for 513 on the third day.
The innings was founded on Jonathan Trott’s unbeaten 168, with vital contributions from Alastair Cook (82), Andrew Strauss (69) and Matt Prior (85), which gave England a lead of 415 in front of a stunned MCG.
“It should have been a cauldron of noise, but you have never heard such a large crowd go so quiet,” says Collingwood. “I think they were struggling to understand what had happened, and I don’t think we could grasp it either.”
There was no way back for Ricky Ponting’s side, who were utterly demoralised, and by the end of the third day they had slumped to 169-6 and were on the brink of defeat.
On the fourth day, Australia had been stripped of all hope, and with Ryan Harris not batting because of an ankle injury, England only needed three more wickets to secure victory.
England removed Mitchell Johnson in the second over of the day, but then had the frustration of Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle surviving for 16 overs as they built an unlikely partnership of 86.
But Graeme Swann dismissed Siddle for 40, and when Tim Bresnan took the wicket of Ben Hilfenhaus for a duck Australia were all out for 258, and England had won by an innings and 157 runs to retain the Ashes.
“The feeling was pure euphoria. We had conquered Australia in Australia, something if I am honest I thought I might never do,” says Collingwood.
Afterwards, England completed a lap of honour around the MCG before stopping in front of the Barmy Army and doing their sprinkler dance, which would become the defining image of the series.
“At the time I can remember Andrew Strauss being worried it might look too triumphant,” added Collingwood. “You have to respect your opposition, but at the same time the sprinkler had become so special to us, it was like our team motto, our team war dance if you like.”
“It was something we were doing for our fans, it wasn’t to take the mickey out of our opponents. We had such a laugh doing it with Graeme Swann leading us, and me just tucked in behind him.”
England would retire to a hotel in Melbourne accompanied by champagne and cigars to celebrate banishing the painful memories of four years earlier, and so becoming the first English side to retain the Ashes in Australia for nearly a quarter of century.