In this review of cricket, golf and rugby in the latter half of the decade that is passing through our grasp, England’s Ashes triumph of 2005 rated as probably the most exciting and satisfying collective national event (if you are English!!). However, for sheer pathos, for sheer poignancy, nothing matched Tom Watson nearly but not quite winning the 2009 Open Championship at the majestic age of 59.
England beat the Australians to regain the Ashes in a series of high drama and memorable quality. The England guys were fantastic. The left-handers Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick developed a strong opening pairing; KP, Michael Vaughan and to a lesser extent Ian Bell made runs at 3,4 and 5; Flintoff was exceptional with both bat and ball; Stephen Harmison was fast, bouncy and hostile; Simon Jones’s reverse swing was at points devastating; Mathew Hoggard swung it both ways with intelligence; Ashley Giles chipped in with runs and wickets and Geraint Jones did a decent job with bat and gloves. The Aussies didn’t play badly either, which is what made for such an amazing series: two excellent sides playing at the peak of their powers.
Adam Gilchrist hit the fastest ever ODI century for Australia, off 67 balls. Kevin Pietersen equaled Viv Richard’s record of the fewest innings (21) to make 1000 ODI runs. Brian Lara was appointed for his third stint as West Indies captain. Jason Gillespie batted through nine and a half hours to make 201 not out in the second Test against Bangladesh, the highest ever score by a nightwatchman.
English jubilance at their home 2005 Ashes triumph was emphatically crushed by a 5-0 whitewash down-under, as Flintoff’s team was trounced. The Australians went on to win the 2007 World Cup, beating Sri Lanka by 53 runs in the final, thus re-asserting the dominance over world cricket that they had held for many years.
Rajastan Royals won the 2008 Indian Premier League. I am not mentioning any other cricket statistics for the year in order to emphasise this: the formation of the Indian Premier League and the rise of commercialized 20:20 was a seismic shift in the global structure of cricket.
England won an Ashes series that had its moments, but struggled to compete with the memory of the epic encounters of 2005. Nonetheless, Freddie Flintoff bowed out of international cricket with an excellent 5-for at Lords and Stuart Broad emerged out of the shadows to produce a series-winning performance at the Oval.
Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam continued to dominate the men and women’s professional games. Brian McElhinney became Britain’s amateur champion.
Rory McIllroy, who has enjoyed significant recent professional success, emerged into the public eye by winning the European Amateur competition.
Padraig Harrington entered the big-time by beating Sergio Garcia in a play-off to claim the British Open title. Zach Johnson claimed the Masters; Angel Cabrera won the US Open and Tiger Woods won the PGA to claim his thirteenth major championship.
Trevor Immelman won his first major by triumphing at the Masters. The United States defeated Europe in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Course in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Open Championship brought high drama. In a return to Turnberry, the site of his legendary 1977 win, 59 year old Tom Watson led for most of the tournament, before losing in a four hole play-off to Stewart Cink. In the PGA, South Korean Y.E Yang became the first Asian-born player ever to win a men’s major championship.
In rugby league, the World Club Challenge was won by the Leeds Rhinos, who defeated the Bulldogs 39-32. However, the Rhinos fell just short of the double, losing the Challenge Cup to Hull by a mere point, 24-25. In rugby union, the Welsh completed a stylish Grand Slam, but northern hemisphere rugby faired badly down-under, with the Lions suffering a 3-0 whitewash to the All Blacks, as well as losing to the New Zealand Maori side, making them the first Lions side in 22 years to lose every match on tour.
In rugby league, the Super League XI culminated in a win for St Helens RLFC over Hull RLFC in the Grand Final before a massive crowd of 72,582. In rugby union, France won the Six Nations Championship, Sale Sharks won the Guinness Premiership and Munster won the 2005-6 Heineken Cup.
In rugby league, St Helens and the Leeds Rhinos were again the teams on top at club level. At international level, the 2007 All Golds Tour, a repeat of the first ever international rugby league tour held 100 years before, ended in a win for New Zealand over France. In rugby union, the French won the Six Nations for the second year in a row, but it was England who again claimed a place in that year’s World Cup Final, where they lost to a South African side that had played superior rugby throughout the tournament.
In rugby league, The Golden Boot Award for best international player was won by Billy Slater of Australia. The rugby league World Cup was won by New Zealand and Leeds Rhinos won the Super League XIII. Wales won the rugby union Six Nations.
In rugby league, Australia triumphed over England as usual. The rugby union Six Nations was won by Ireland, who went on to beat South Africa and draw with Australia in an interesting series of internationals held only a few weeks ago.