AS we reeled away from Edgbaston following the most thrilling climax to a Test ever seen, the question for everyone at Old Trafford was: "How can we improve on that?"
Possibly after the Birmingham drama, Manchester would stage the anti-climax, an Aussie performance which would knock the stuffing out of Michael Vaughan's revitalised side, or maybe a 'bore-draw' to quell the cricket fever sweeping the nation. Well, it was a draw, alright. But the word 'boring' had already been scratched out of the Ashes dictionary, and Old Trafford 2005 became etched in cricket history as a the great lock-out where Lancashire had to turn away at least 20,000 fans on the last day.
The scenes outside the ground on that Monday morning may never be seen again. Some supporters had camped outside the ground from 2.30am hoping to witness another sensational England triumph. By 5.30am, the queues were stretching around the stadium, thousands more were heading towards Old Trafford with the promise of £10 entry for adults and £5 for juniors One said: "It's the bargain of the century."
Capacity crowds of over 22,000 had watched the first four days with England on top after Michael Vaughan's inspirational 166. But Monday was something different. Roads around the ground became blocked - Lancashire's scorer Alan West needed a police escort to travel the last 100 yards and get to his post in time.
As Old Trafford threatened to buckle under the strain, officials were forced to take the decision which broke so many hearts.
The announcement that the gates were locked, with more than 20,000 inside, was greeted with groans of despair, looks of bewilderment, and even tears down the cheeks of a couple of youngsters.
It was estimated that 10,000 in the vicinity of the ground had to make their way home, and possibly another 10,000 were warned against travelling The total attendance of 108,993 was the second highest for any match in Old Trafford’s 148-year history behind the 120,417 that attended the 1961 Ashes encounter.
Edgbaston had put cricket on the front pages. But Old Trafford hit the top of every news bulletin in the country. Millions tuned in from around the world. Where Manchester could not quite match Birmingham was in the finish to the game. But it wasn't far behind. Tension, excitement, individual heroics - the match had the lot, and must count as one of the best draws of all.
Vaughan and Ricky Ponting produced Captain Courageous performances. Both needed to be at their best, and both were. The England skipper's 166 included 20 fours and a six off 215 balls, and he seemed destined to record his first Test double century when he surprisingly fell to the part-time bowling of Simon Katich.
By then, however, he had built a platform for a good England total. Andy Flintoff did not disappoint his admirers with 46 off 67 balls, sharing in a valuable stand with Geraint Jones, and England put 444 on the board. They tightened their grip thanks to magnificent bowling from Simon Jones (6-53) and Ashley Giles who removed both openers Justin Langer and Matt Hayden after they had piled up 58 in 16 overs, only for Shane Warne to rescue the Aussies.
Warne, fighting all the way to preserve Aussie pride in his last series in England, had already taken four wickets including his 600th in Test cricket, and he was within touching distance of his maiden Test century when he fell to Jones. Old Trafford rose to him.
England scored quickly as they built on their lead of 142. Andy Strauss, targeted by Warne through the summer, carved out a century, and although Glenn McGrath took 5-115, Vaughan was able to declare at 280-6 leaving a target of 423 and what seemed to be plenty of time to bowl the Aussies out Ponting, however, stuck to the crease for almost seven hours for his 156, a wonderful innings, the injured Michael Clarke made a valuable contribution, and the last wicket pair Brett Lee and McGrath hung on for five nail-biting overs after Ponting had fallen to Steve Harmison.
As the dust settled, 22,000 fans were able to say: "I was there." And 20,000 more groaned: "We wanted to be there."
Photos: John Dawson
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd