Five Classic Ashes Test Series
The countdown is on to the Ashes and it should prove to be another electrifying encounter between two fierce rivals.
There have been many thrilling clashes between the two nations over the years, and the record is currently neck and neck: in 69 series since the inaugural 1882 contest, Australia and England have each won 32 and there have been five draws. Along the way there have been laughs, tears, drama and intrigue, and it remains one of the foremost sporting events in the global calendar. Here we analyse five classic series from its long and glittering history:
England went into this series full of confidence after destroying New Zealand and securing a 3-0 ODI victory, and they started brilliantly. The home team swept Australia aside in the first test as Nasser Hussain hit a double century and walked off with the man of the match award. But the Aussies battled back in the rain-affected second test: Andrew Caddick went 4-71 and it ended in a draw. From there on in it was all Australia as they gained a stranglehold on the series and did not let go. Shane Warne took a six-wicket haul in the third test and Steve Waugh hit a pair of centuries to guide them to a comfortable victory at Old Trafford and level the series. Australia then won by an innings and 69 runs as Matthew Elliott hit 199 to take a 2-1 lead in front of 66,000 fans at Headingley. They wrapped up the win in style by taking an unassailable lead with a 264-run victory at Trent Bridge, and England’s thrilling 64-run win in the sixth test was a mere consolation.
The last iteration of the Ashes was compulsive viewing and not because of the quality on either side. Both teams were poor, but it led to an unpredictable, topsy-turvy series full of thrills and spills. England had been whitewashed in 2013-14 and were not given much hope of regaining the Ashes on home soil. But England, despite their faults, were dogged and ruthlessly punished flaws in the tourists’ bowling to eke out a nail-biting 3-2 series win. A star was born in the first test as Joe Root hit 134 and then 60 to inspire his team to a 169-run victory. Australia hit back with a crushing 405-run win in the second test, with Steve Smith in sensational form, and England looked to be in serious trouble. But up stepped Steve Finn to lead his team to a sensational eight-wicket rout in the third test, and then Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad were too hot for the Aussies to handle in the fourth and England won it with a test to spare. Cue jubilation among the home fans, and even a huge win for Australia in the final test could not dampen their celebrations. The batting was frequently poor and England yielded far too many runs, but they dug in and found a way to win. Root and co are underdogs when you consider all the cricket odds for the upcoming series, and they will need to grind out results in a similar fashion if they are to have a chance. The series saw the emergence of Ricky Ponting and cemented the greatness of Glenn McGrath, and will go down in history as one of the most exciting contests ever.
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The legendary Don Bradman came into his own in this series, inspiring Australia to one of the greatest comebacks of all time. The hosts found themselves 2-0 down after a crushing defeat in the second test, which saw England win by an innings and 21 runs as Wally Hammond was unplayable. But then Bradman decided it was time to drag his team to victory through sheer talent and willpower. The great batsman had already made history in 1930, when he hit three double-centuries and scored 974 runs, an average of 139.14, the best performance ever by an overseas player in England. His numbers were not quite as impressive in 1936, but his contribution was even more crucial as without him his team would have been obliterated. He hit 270 in the third test to pull it back to 2-1 and then got 212 runs in the fourth to lead Australia to a 148-run victory and level the series. The pressure was on in the final test, but Bradman hit 169 as Australia destroyed England and wrapped up a 3-2 series win.
Australia made it eight series wins in a row in 2002, when they beat Hussain’s tourists 4-1. It equalled the record for the most consecutive wins in Ashes history – set by England from 1882 to 1890 – and such dominance has not yet been seen again, as the two teams have won intermittently ever since. The Gabba was rocking in the first test as Matthew Hayden’s brilliance inspired the hosts to an easy win, and fans will hope for a similar atmosphere next month when the 2017 series begins. The Aussies destroyed England in the next three tests to take a 4-0 lead, and their defeat in the final test did not matter one bit as they had already proved their utter dominance over their rivals.
This was surely the most competitive and entertaining Ashes series of all-time, contested by two great teams operating at the peak of their abilities. Ponting was sublime throughout and Warne produced heroics like they were going out of fashion. McGrath and Brett Lee were brilliant, and so too were Andrew Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Kevin Pietersen. Australia went into the series as the world’s number one test team and England had not won the Ashes since 1986-87, so the Aussies were expected to win it at a canter.
The first test went to script, as McGrath was on fire and Australia won by 239 runs. The second test was arguably the greatest in Ashes history as England won by just two runs. They became the first team to hit 400 runs against Australia in the first day of a test match since 1938, with Trescothick leading the charge, hitting nine boundaries off Lee. Australia battled back to reduce the deficit to 99 runs, and then Warne and Lee ripped through the England order in the second innings. Warne finished 6-46 in a phenomenal display. At one point England lost four wickets for six runs and were just 31-4 with Pietersen and Ian Bell at the crease. That duo put up a brave resistance and a magnificent stand from Flintoff made the numbers a bit more respectable, but England ended up being bowled out for just 182, setting the Aussies are target of 282.
Australia got to within a whisker of hitting that target and needed just three to win the match, with Michael Kasprowicz at the crease. But Steve Harmison delivered a short ball, Kasprowicz fended and Simon Jones leaped to catch it. Replays showed the ball contacted Kasprowicz’s glove while not in contact with the bat handle, so the decision should not technically have stood, but England were celebrating a two-run victory – the narrowest in Ashes history. The third test ended in a draw in rain-affected Old Trafford as Ponting’s superb 156 clawed his team back into the match in the second innings. Then it was Flintoff’s time to shine as he hit 102 to give England a commanding lead in the fourth test, one which they never relented. Flintoff was named man of the match and England took a 2-1 lead into the final test.
Australia dug deep in a bid to level the series, but Pietersen’s 158 put England in a commanding position and the match ended in a draw as rain affected play, sparking scenes of joyous rapture across the country. Flintoff and Warne shared man of the series honours and the new Compton-Millar Award went to Flintoff after the all-rounder became the first Englishman to take over 20 wickets and score 400 runs in a test series. The series has now assumed a place in English folklore, but Australia could easily have won it as they were brilliant throughout, and it remains one of the best series the world of cricket has ever seen, if not the best.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has been covering cricket for many years.