Not since 1981 had England been captivated by cricket. At best feelings towards the sport had been ambivalent among all but leather and willow fanatics. But when Michael Vaughan's side rose to the challenge of the Australians on home soil in 2005, cricket was the word on everyone's lips.
A huge amount of credit for that must go to Michael Vaughan, England's most successful captain of all time. The most elegant English batsman since David Gower, the Yorkshireman was a consummate tactician in the field, restlessly innovative and doggedly determined. Above all else, he had a love affair with the Ashes, and the feeling was mutual.
In the 2002/03 season Vaughan got his first chance to face the old enemy on their own turf. On the back of his demolition of the Sri Lankan and Indian bowling attacks (he hit 900 runs in just seven tests), confidence was not a problem. But still there are countless cases of batsmen in form failing down under. But not Vaughan. After a poor start in Sydney he put his first of three hundreds on the board in Adelaide, hitting 177. In Melbourne he made 145 before winning England a consolation test in Sydney almost single-handedly with a flawless 183.
For England fans the only happy image they could take from the series was Vaughan time and again unleashing his two trademark shots – the cover drive and the pull – to dispatch the Australian bowlers to the boundary rope. In 2002 he was the world's number one batsmen with 1,481 Test runs.
By the time the Ashes came around again Vaughan's importance to the England team had grown still further. Taking over from Nasser Hussain as captain in 2003 it had taken him some time to find his feet but in 2004 the team he had built with coach Duncan Fletcher went the entire year unbeaten in Tests and in the winter of 2005 sealed their first series win in South Africa since apartheid.
In four days at Lord's Australia burst that bubble, cantering to a 239-run victory. England hit back to win the Second Test and in the third Vaughan answered the criticism being levelled at his batting, with 166 as Australia got out of jail and claimed a draw. A gutsy 58 in the first innings of the Fourth Test helped England take a lead in the series which they protected with a draw at the Oval to claim the Ashes for the first time in almost 20 years.
A knee injury sustained in Pakistan the following year would trouble him for the rest of his career as he fought to regain the heady heights of 2004 and 2005. In 2008 he resigned the captaincy, with a record 26 Test wins to his name. Although many questioned his batting towards the end of his career, he averaged 41.44 in Tests and most impressively, 47.95 against Australia, the finest team in the world and the one that defined his illustrious career.