By Rob Barnett
England went into the 2007 one-day series in Australia on the back of suffering an Ashes whitewash and produced an unlikely victory that Liam Plunkett rates as one of “the best times” of his career.
Seven years ago the tourists were involved in a triangular rubber, also featuring a strong New Zealand side, with best-of-three finals awaiting the top two teams after eight round-robin games each.
England, with a mix of those that had played in the Ashes and fresh faces including skipper Michael Vaughan back from a knee injury, heavily lost the tournament opener to Australia at the MCG, and in doing so lost Kevin Pietersen to a cracked rib for the rest of the series.
However, they rallied to narrowly defeat the Black Caps at Hobart in their next match thanks to an unbeaten 72 from Andrew Flintoff, released from the shackles of Ashes captaincy.
Yet Vaughan’s knee gave way again and, with Flintoff back at the helm, England suffered three bad losses with progressively worse batting displays culminating in being skittled for 110 by the hosts on Australia Day in Adelaide.
A score of 260 for eight versus New Zealand at Perth could not prevent another setback, leaving England needing to win their last two games to reach the finals. The odds on them doing so were long.
Plunkett can take much credit for the reversal of fortunes that followed. Defending Ed Joyce’s century-inspired 292 for seven in Sydney, the seamer bowled dangerman Adam Gilchrist with the first ball of the innings to set up a 92-run win with format-best figures of 3-24.
Three more Plunkett strikes aided a winner-takes-all 14-run victory over the Black Caps at Brisbane, underpinned by a Paul Collingwood hundred, that meant Flintoff’s side would face Australia in the finals.
Against the world champions who would defend their title two months later, an unbeaten Collingwood ton secured a four-wicket triumph in Melbourne before rain aided victory at Sydney that remarkably meant the third match was not needed.
Plunkett, then 21, showed consistency to take three wickets in four of England’s last five contests.
Speaking exclusively to ecb.co.uk, he reflected: “It was one of the best times of my career so far, playing against Australia in Australia. It was good.
“I look back at that and it was a great time. I was fresh in the team and playing with guys like Freddie (Flintoff) and KP (Pietersen). I’ve got really fond memories and it was great beating Australia. I really enjoyed that.”
Plunkett, who went on to play in the 2007 World Cup and has 29 one-day international caps, recalls the important, if brief, influence of Vaughan.
“I was in the Ashes party and we got beat on that tour as well. At the time everyone was a bit down in the dumps but I remember Michael Vaughan came over and we had a meeting, and it was just as case of being more positive,” Plunkett said.
“He came over and put some energy into the team and there was some new faces in. We just went out and played some good cricket and enjoyed it.”
Plunkett had not participated in the Ashes and, along with others who had not featured in the whitewash, breathed life into the tourists.
“There was a few guys who hadn’t played so much like myself, Sajid Mahmood, Ed Joyce, Jamie Dalrymple, Mal Loye and Paul Nixon,” he recalled.
“When you first get put in the team you’re not so sure whether you’ll sink or swim, but at that time everyone stood up and enjoyed the cricket. The lads put in good performances. Joycey got a hundred in a game and he batted nicely. It just clicked.”
Plunkett, England’s joint-leading wicket-taker in the series alongside Flintoff with 12 scalps, tried not to be intimidated when bowling at the likes of Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting.
“You see these guys on TV, your Gilchrists, your Haydens, your Pontings, for me it was a bit surreal. So running into bowl I was thinking, like any other game, just run in and enjoy yourself,” he added.
“I think that’s what happened with the other guys as well. We just took it game by game, we started winning and we got onto a roll, and it was massively enjoyable after the Ashes defeat.”