It is time to mark up a holy biennial tradition of Test cricket that in reality requires no hype. The Ashes is here.
The ICC's efforts to tag the context of World Test Championship to the Ashes is a meek attempt of embellishment to a sporting rivalry that is now nearly 137 years old.
The two familiar foes are set to reunite to vie for the treasured urn for the 71st time from 1 August.
With less than a week remaining for the rivalry to resume, we now pick 10 of the most cherished bowling performances of the 21st century (thank my editor for the trimmed selection criteria); having already looked at the most memorable moments of the Ashes and the top 10 batting displays between Australia and England, it is now the turn of the bowlers to take centre stage.
Steve Harmison, 5/43, 1st Test, 2005 at Lord's
The opening session of the 2005 Ashes series and Steve Harmison's brutal opening salvo. Even before the crowds at Lord's could gather their breath, they were left gasping with the Durham quick leaving a resounding mark on opener Justin Langer's elbow with a sharp lifter off the second ball of the morning. Harmison pounded the perfect short length, which after Langer, forced Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting to take their eyes off the fireballs that he hurled down. Hayden copped one on the badge of his helmet, while Harmison's virulent bouncer pierced the Australian captain's helmet grill drawing blood from Ponting's slashed right cheek. A bruised Ponting was soon caught edging in the slips off Harmison, which opened the door for England bowlers to dominate. Harmison claimed his sixth five-wicket haul in Tests as Australia were bundled out in the second session for 190. Harmison's hostility in the first hour of play was a clear indicator that England meant business in 2005 series, thereby setting a perfect opening act of what would then end into the greatest Test series of all time.
Glenn McGrath, 5/53, 1st Test, 2005 at Lord's
You would expect a few entries in this list from the 2005 series, but the first two picks belong from the same day. After Harmison's hostility, it was the turn for McGrath's mastery. McGrath's legend at Lord's was well-established with his heroic spell of 8/38 during the 1997 series, but in 2005, the 35-year-old veteran turned back the clock. In what could have been another pre-series mind games, McGrath had predicted Marcus Trescothick as his 500th Test wicket and his prediction turned into a prophecy. Off the first ball of the evening session, Trescothick's leading-edge went straight to Langer in the slip cordon for McGrath's landmark wicket. Four balls later, Trescothick's opening partner Andrew Strauss edged McGrath to Shane Warne at first slip to become his 501st victim, sending some restless pangs in the English dressing room. Making rather exceptional use of pronounced slope at Lord's, 'Pidge', as he is fondly called, had clean bowled Michael Vaughan, forced Ian Bell to play one onto his stumps and flattened Andrew Flintoff's off stump. Such was McGrath's brilliance that it prompted Richie Benaud, the doyen of cricket commentary, to mumble, "I don't know if I've seen him bowl a better spell." England were reduced to 5 for 21 with all five wickets taken by McGrath. His bowling figures read a stunning 8.1-4-7-5 at the time of Flintoff's wicket.
Andrew Flintoff, 4/79, 2nd Test, 2005 at Edgbaston
Flintoff's incredible performance during the 2005 series immortalised his name in the annals of Ashes history. Flintoff's jaunt during the series was a tryst with cricketing greatness. He carried a sense of invincibility every time he bustled into bowl and sauntered out to bat. His bowling comprised searing pace, prodigious swing, unreal reverse swing, vicious bounce, and more. It was almost as if Freddie Flintoff couldn't land a ball wrong. The clanging of metal when he uprooted the stumps, the snapping of fingers, staring into the crowd with his arms afloat after snuffing out a wicket – there was never a moment on a cricket field when you could take your eyes off him. It was a sight of a self-assured cricketer attaining the heights of his powers and recognising them. Of course, he also bowled, what many consider the greatest over that included a front foot no-ball in the second innings of the Test in Birmingham, that inspired England to pull off a dramatic two-run victory to square the series 1-1.
Shane Warne, 4/49 2nd Test, 2006-07 in Adelaide
The Gatting Ball. The Strauss Ball. Hat-trick at the MCG. Forty wickets in the 2005 series. Shane Keith Warne can be remembered for more moments than possibly the tricks that the wizard possessed. However, one of his spells which sticks out from this millennium is the one he delivered on the final day of the second Test at the 'Amazing Adelaide' in his swansong series of 2006-07. Seldom do teams lose a Test match after amassing 550 runs in the first innings and declaring it. Right at the fag end of the fourth day's play, Warne as he had done so many times in the past, picked a wicket in the last over of the day. It was Strauss, who was once again dumbfounded by Warne's trickery. With England still in the lead with nine wickets in hand in the third innings at stumps on Day 4 – draw looked the only plausible result. Warne, a bowler not bounded by the realm of possibilities, told a young Michael Clarke over dinner on the eve of the final day of the Test that Australia would win the Test. Warne, as so often as he had done in his career, had outthought his opposition. He truly believed the home side could spring a surprise against a team that had decided to play for a draw. He bowled Kevin Pietersen round his leg, forcing England to press the panic button and flipping the game on its head, paving the way for an unlikely win. England were shot out for 129, setting Australia 168 to win on a frantic final day. The Aussies get to the target with six wickets in the bank derailing England's bid to retain the Ashes as Australia went on complete a 5-0 clean sweep.
Ryan Harris, 6/47 at Perth in 3rd Test, 2010-11
Ryan Harris was never going to be the part of the series, in fact by his own admission he wasn't sure if he was going to be a part of any cricket during the 2010-11 Australian summer. Like many fast bowlers, playing through the pain was a routine for Harris, but his fantastic performance in the second innings for the third Test at WACA surely deserves a place in the list. Harris registered remarkable figures of 6/47 as he broke the back of England's middle-order leading Australia to an enormous 267 runs victory.
Chris Tremlett 4/26, 4th Test, 2010-11 at MCG
The series is best remembered for Alastair Cook's run gluttony, but there were many other performances in the series that slipped under the radar, one of which was from the six-foot and seven inches giant in the form of Chris Tremlett. England came into the fourth Test with the rubber all square at 1-1. After winning the toss in Melbourne, the visitors required a good start if they wanted to keep their hopes of a series win alive.
Enter Tremlett, who came into the side in the previous Test in place of an injured Stuart Broad and an eight-wicket haul in the Perth Test helped him secure his spot for the Boxing Day Test. Tremlett shared the new ball with James Anderson and wreaked havoc early in the Australian innings getting rid of Shane Watson and Ricky Ponting. The Surrey pacer claimed figures of 4/26 as Australia's innings was wrapped up for 98. England went on to win the game by the massive margin of an innings and 157 runs to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
James Anderson, 5/73, 1st Test, 2013-14 at Trent Bridge
After having Australia on the ropes at 117 for 9, England lost the chance of grabbing a lead in excess of 100 as the visitors found an unlikely hero in the form of a 19-year-old debutant batting at number 11. Ashton Agar, riding on the exuberance of his youth, slammed 98 runs in 101 balls before holing out in the deep. Anderson till then had bowled beautifully to have bagged a five-wicket haul, his unplayable delivery to Michael Clarke standing out among all his wickets. However, it is the fifer in the second innings that proved to be more instrumental from England's perspective, the shifting of the balance of the match only added to the drama of the contest. Chasing 311 for victory, Australia were reeling at 164/6 but the lower-order put up a doughty performance as Australia inched closer. Anderson struck regularly to ensure England had a firm grip on the game until once again the 11th wicket partnership turned out to be irksome for the hosts. The last-wicket pair of Brad Haddin and James Pattinson forged 65-run partnership taking the Aussies within 15 runs of victory when Jimmy Anderson stepped up to find the inside edge of Haddin's bat through to Matt Prior, it required DRS to confirm the wicket and put an end to the tense mood in Nottingham. Anderson capped the game with a 10-wicket haul and claimed the Player of the Match award.
Mitchell Johnson 7/40, 2nd Test, 2013-14 in Adelaide
It a travesty to select one spell from what was a complete simply Mitchell Johnson's summer. If there isn't already then there should be a warning issued for graphic content every time anybody tries to access the highlights reel of Johnson's ruthlessness. Even if the selection criteria wasn't restricted for spells post-2000s, Johnson's spell would have made a strong case for a spot in all-time great spells from the Ashes.
It was one of the most brutal displays of fast bowling by Johnson who had already rattled England's batsmen with nine wickets that he took in Brisbane, while he followed it up with five wickets in five overs after lunch in Adelaide on the second day. Johnson played a starring role in Australia's 5-0 annihilation of England in that edition. The left-arm quick topped the bowling charts with 37 wickets at an average of 13.97. Johnson's ferocity was so much that four years later when England toured Down Under, it gave off-spinner Nathan Lyon some fodder to remind his foes of how Johnson ended the careers of many players during that series and how he wanted to replicate it.
Stuart Broad 8/15, 4th Test, 2015 at Trent Bridge
Stuard Broad produced a mesmerising spell on the morning of the fourth Test where he single-handedly demolished the Australian batting line up. He made most of the swinging conditions on offer at Trent Bridge, finishing with the jaw-dropping or as Broad would like – mouth cupping – figures of 8/15. He regularly hit the perfect areas and got the ball to swerve around in the air as well as from the deck. The tourists had no answers to Broad's genius and were dismissed for a paltry 60 in the morning session of the first day, and there was no coming back from thereon. Australia lost both the Test as well as the series in the process.
Josh Hazlewood 5/48, 3rd Test, 2017-18 at Perth
It was the last day of international cricket at the WACA with Australia needing six wickets to regain the urn while England stood no chance of winning with over 120 runs in deficit in the second innings going into the final day. The only option was to battle for a draw. With overnight rain and early morning showers resulted in the water seeping into the pitch through covers causing a three-hour delay at the start of the day. England had to still survive 70 overs with the cracks wide opened. Hazlewood with his immaculate line and length had made early inroads by removing openers Cook and Mark Stoneman in the final session of the fourth day. Exploiting the conditions further, the right-arm seamer first knocked Jonny Bairstow over and then had first innings top-scorer Dawid Malan caught behind to douse any England hope of stretching the series further. Australia won the Test, took an unassailable 3-0 lead and regained the Ashes, but not before Hazlewood celebrated his first five-wicket haul against England.