A 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka and a drawn series with India offered encouragement to an England side tasked with beating one of the greatest Australian sides to take the field.
Despite a rousing finale in Sydney, the tourists were outgunned for much of the series - the results proving that England were as far as ever from being able to compete with their Ashes rivals.
Trouble began before the tour even started...
First Test, Brisbane
Australia (492 & 296-5d) beat England (325 & 79) by 384 runs
A thumping defeat was on the cards once Australia closed day one on 364-2 after being put into bat by Hussain. Four of England's top five made fifties in reply but Matthew Hayden (103) took his tally for the game to 300 runs and with the pitch deteriorating, a victory target of 464 was purely notional as Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne set to work...
NASS: "We were up against an Australian team at the height of their powers and even if we were at full-strength it would have been a struggle. There was so much going on in the build-up to that series off the field: the Zimbabwe issue and whether we should go to the 2003 World Cup was rumbling away and on the player front there was uncertainty as to whether Graham Thorpe would tour or not. I was in constant communication with him but in the end he didn't come due to personal reasons and then, over time, our worst fears over the fitness of Darren Gough and Andrew Flintoff were confirmed. You need good, big-hearted bowlers in Australia and we were desperate to get them fit. The week leading up to the first Test was absolute chaos and a few of us, myself included, had a completely scrambled brain when it came to what would be our best side.
"It all led to that fateful morning at Brisbane where I got it wrong and put Australia in. A lot of people have made a lot of it and I laugh about it now but even Steve Waugh has said that he would have bowled first that morning. It nipped around that morning in the nets and I was just trying to reinvent the wheel - I was trying to make a very simple game pretty complicated. I thought our best chance of bowling them out was to have an early go, ignoring the fact that it looked a very flat pitch. Within five overs I realised it was a bad decision when the ball didn't move around at all and then Simon Jones suffered a horrendous injury in the outfield sliding to stop a ball and it didn't improve from there. Our ground fielding left a lot to be desired and Michael Vaughan dropped Matthew Hayden, who went on to make 197. It was a chaotic day and I remember going to see Simon Jones in the evening; his knee was in two pieces and we all felt really bad for him."
Second Test, Adelaide
England (342 & 159) lost to Australia (552-9d) by an innings and 51 runs
England's casualty list grew longer when Ashley Giles was hit in the nets by Steve Harmison and had to go home with a broken wrist. Michael Vaughan dominated early proceedings with a majestic 177 only for Ricky Ponting (154) to power Australia into a 210-run lead. England were still 170 behind when they lost their fourth wicket and the game was done inside four days...
NASS: "Vaughan was exceptional on the tour in general. He played that exquisite cover drive when the ball was pitched up to him but the shot that stood out came when they dragged their length back a little bit; Vaughan would pounce off that front foot and pull the ball away for four or six like he was Gordon Greenidge. At times their great bowling attack, the seamers in particular, didn't know what length to bowl to him. When Vaughan plays well, he doesn't score ugly runs; he just got better and better as that series progressed.
"In general some of our batters did ok during that series. Vaughan (633) was way in front but Butcher (318) and I (382) got some runs. However, we just couldn't work out a way to get 20 wickets without the likes of Flintoff, Gough and Giles. In contrast, McGrath and Warne were in their element and we simply had no answer in our second innings."
Third Test, Perth
England (185 & 223) lost to Australia (456) by an innings and 48 runs
England's defeat in the evening session of the third day meant that Australia had retained the Ashes for the eighth consecutive time in just 10 days' play. By lunch on day two the home side already had a first-innings lead and solid contributions around Damien Martyn's 71 took the game away. Lee inflicted more pain with a hostile spell of bowling that Hussain (61) weathered before getting a limp decision...
NASS: "It was a really good pitch that got quicker and quicker, as Perth sometimes does, and the cracks started to open up. We had to bat for a short period towards the end of the second day - about 40 minutes - and the Fremantle Doctor was blowing straight down the ground. Brett Lee took full advantage and was steaming in. That was as quick a spell of bowling as I've seen, to be honest. Richard Dawson had been playing second XI cricket leading up to the tour and when I pushed him out the door as our nightwatchman he turned white! The following day Alex Tudor wore one from Lee and was knocked over, leaving him quite badly shaken up. Things were going from bad to worse. It was fiery stuff but it's also what Test cricket is all about. It was why I played the game and in a funny sort of way it was very enjoyable!
"Lee bounced me out in the first innings and in the second Rudi Koertzen gave me out caught behind off Warne. It was a dreadful decision but I can understand why he gave me out because I went to jab down on a very full delivery and I hit the ground, which being Perth was very hard and it made a noise, but I must have missed the ball by a good six inches. Nevertheless the dreaded Rudi finger of doom, which took ages to come up, was raised and I couldn't believe it. Bumble still laughs about what happened next to this day. I went into the dressing room and kicked over a pair of crutches that, given our injury problems, could have belonged to anyone! I looked at the monitor with Fletch, shouting at him 'Have a look at the replay! This tour's bad enough without being given out when I've missed the ball by so much' - or words to that effect! Bumble loves Fletcher's reaction - he just stood there looking at the screen, going 'yep - it doesn't look like you've hit it'."
Fourth Test, Melbourne
Australia (551-6d & 107-5) beat England (270 & 387 f-o) by five wickets
Justin Langer (250) and Matthew Hayden (102) batted Australia into a dominant position with a stand of 195 and once the inevitable declaration arrived an unbeaten 85 from Craig White saved England from embarrassment, if not the follow-on. Vaughan's dashing 145 deserved a better outcome and despite a wobble, Australia eased home...
NASS: "I told the guys before the match that the MCG is a massive ground so if you're fielding on the boundary don't go all the way back because the Aussies will run us ragged. Just come in a couple. Early on in the match, when Hayden didn't have many, he hooked a bouncer that went over whoever was at fine leg and it landed short of the boundary and went for four. I couldn't quite work out how that had happened but I do know that it cost us dear. Then in the second innings Steve Waugh nicked one and no-one appealed. Remarkably, James Foster forgot to go up. Steve was hard enough to get out in that series without forgetting to appeal for caught behind! I was at mid-off and couldn't understand why no-one had gone up! It was another fiasco in the tour of shambles."
Fifth Test, Sydney
England (362 & 452-9d) beat Australia (363 & 226) by 225 runs
NASS: "We played so well; for some reason we like the conditions at Sydney and even though we were 4-0 down at this stage the large English contingent in the crowd was fully behind us. Butcher's century and a couple of seventies from Stewie and myself helped us to be on a par with Australia on first innings and then another brilliant Vaughan (183) hundred got us in front. The pitch turned out to be perfect for Caddick (7-94); there were some holes starting to develop and with the top breaking up I knew he'd be too much for Australia, particularly chasing a target of 452. They sent in Andy Bichel at three to have a bit of a swipe and he got 49, but despite some quick runs from Gilchrist and Lee down the order we wrapped it up on the afternoon of day five.
"Many people, of course, will remember the Test for Steve Waugh's first innings century - and the manner in which he got there. The build-up was all about him and whether he'd retire afterwards and there was an element of theatre to the end of day two when he reached his century. He needed two runs off the final ball of Dawson's over to get there and match Sir Donald Bradman's record of 29 tons. I tried to delay things by having a chat with Daws before he bowled it - I didn't have anything deep and meaningful to say to him, I was just playing mind games - and he bowled a wide half-volley that Waugh smashed for four. Looking back, that was one of the good moments of the Test but obviously Caddick bowling Australia out in the second innings was more special for us."
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