When Steve Harmison smashed a delivery into Ricky Ponting’s face, it was, for me, the start of the summer – and an indication that England weren’t going to be bullied. The following is an extract from the book Ashes Victory, which gives some insight into what happened (you’ll remember that no England fielder went up to Ponting to ask of his health..etc)
challenge, [Ponting] attempted to hook Harmison, missed and felt blood dripping down his cheek after the metal grille of his helmet cut into his cheek. Play was delayed for five minutes while Ponting received treatment. England’s captain and fielders looked on from a distance, another signal that they were going to play this Ashes series tough. Ponting later criticised England’s lack of one of the game’s common courtesies and claimed it motivated him.
Simon Jones remembers: ‘No one wants to see a player hurt but they weren’t going to get any sympathy from us. We were there to do a job. It was about controlled aggression, not going over the top.’
Andrew Strauss admits to feeling conflicting emotions. Langer, after all, was a friend and colleague from their time together at Middlesex. ‘We wanted to let Australia know that they wouldn’t be able to bully us. We wanted to hit the ground running and really show them that we meant business and that our quick bowlers were going to cause them problems. Looking back on it now, though, I think we probably got a bit carried away with that. You know, if a guy gets hit, regardless of the situation, you should probably go up and see if they’re all right. But I think that first session, walking out there that morning and the sort of roar that went up in the Long Room as we walked through and realising the enormity of what lay ahead put us on edge a little bit more than we’d normally be.
‘It’s a tricky one. Langer’s a good mate of mine and I get on very well with him on and off the pitch, but that first morning, the first hour, it was all about setting the tone for the rest of the series. We were very keen to get under their skin and maybe that thing about being mates went out of the window for a session or so. I remember when Ponting got hit and we were just leaving him to it, Langer said to me: “This really is a war out here, isn’t it? You’re not even going up and seeing if he’s all right.” And no one said a word.’
Whatever the protocol, Ponting was dismissed soon after, with Kevin Pietersen’s drop in the gully counting for nothing as the………
 The first feedback I received – first and only, in fact! – at Cricinfo was from a Vietnamese expat, who took great offence at my use of the word “smashing.” He said it was an utterly inappropriate word for the gentleman’s game – or sentiments to the effect of. I’m still using it – how else can you describe a ball which causes blood to spill from a batsman’s face?