When Australia face England in the 2010-11 Ashes series, beginning 25 November, they will have the unfamiliar tag of being underdogs at home. The two teams have been regularly trading the urn in the last five years—England added it to their trophy cabinet in 2005 with a thrilling series win which went down to the last Test; Australia bounced back with a thumping 5-0 series win in 2006-07; and England fought back again to claim the 2009 series. This time, Australia’s Test squad is severely depleted, losing some of their biggest names after a steady stream of retirements. England will be happy to have their full-strength squad for the defence, though the 5-0 drubbing they received the last time they toured Australia will be at the back of their minds.
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We look back at some of the defining moments of a rivalry that has given cricket its most amazing stories consistently for over a century. From Don Bradman to Len Hutton, from Jim Laker to Shane Warne, the biggest names in cricket made their mark at the Ashes, and set records by the dozen.
It’s the series which threatened political relations between England and Australia, and left a legacy that forced changes in the laws of cricket. Employed by English captain Douglas Jardine to stop Don Bradman, who had scored 974 runs in the previous series, the strategy was to bowl short-pitched bouncers at the batsman’s body, and pack the close-in field on the on-side to catch any deflections. Bradman could hardly get off the blocks, and England won the series 4-1. At the end of the series, Harold Larwood, England’s most lethal bowler, was asked to apologise by English cricket’s governing body but he refused, saying he was only following his captain’s orders. Larwood never played for England again, and ironically, moved to Australia to escape harassment in his own country.
Shane Warne: The former Australian spinner is the highest wicket taker in the Ashes.
2. Run machine
Len Hutton was a 22-year-old rookie, having made his debut for England a year ago, when he faced Australia in the last Ashes Test before World War II. He turned the match into a statistician’s dream. Batting for over 13 hours, Hutton amassed 364 runs, breaking Bradman’s Ashes record of 334 (a performance Hutton had witnessed as a 14-year-old in Leeds), and his captain Walter Hammond’s record of the highest individual score in Tests. England declared at 907 for 3, and won the Test by an innings and 579 runs. Though Hutton’s individual records have been broken, England’s victory margin remains the highest in Tests.
3. Final farewell
It was the easiest of challenges for Don Bradman—score four runs in his last Test innings, and end his career with the perfect average of 100. The crowd at the Oval stood in ovation as “The Don” walked out to the pitch one last time. The second ball he faced from wrist spinner Eric Hollies was a googly, and Bradman was bowled for a duck, freezing his Test average at 99.94, a number that symbolises the most astonishing batting career in the sport.
4. Australia ‘Lakered’
Jim Laker had dismissed Australia for 84 runs in the first innings with 9 wickets for 37 runs—already the best bowling figures in the 20th century. Australia were 84 for 2 going into the fifth and final day, and the pitch was crumbling. Laker slowly worked away at the Australian batting, and ended with 10 for 53, the first bowler to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings. Anil Kumble matched that feat 45 years later in Delhi against Pakistan, but Laker’s match figures of 19 for 90 remain the best bowling figures for not just Tests but also first-class matches.
5. A clean-up job
What do you do without supersoakers or hovering helicopters when a thunderstorm floods the outfield on the last day of a Test match? It’s the fifth and last of the series, Australia are 1-0 up, but stuttering at 86 for 5 chasing England’s lead of 352 runs, when rain turns the outfield into a swimming pool. The Australians thought they had won the Ashes, but the crowd thought otherwise. Using towels, blankets, buckets, and cups, the spectators at south London turned into groundsmen, hundreds of them working in unison to soak up the water. The match resumed, and England spinner Derek Underwood captured the last Australian wicket with 5 minutes remaining in the match.
6. The greatest comeback
In the third Ashes Test, Australia declared at 401 for 9 and then skittled out England for 174 in the first innings. As England followed on, British betting company Ladbrokes offered odds of 500-1 against an England victory. Australian wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh and fast bowler Dennis Lillee both placed bets on England, just for laughs. In the second innings, England were reduced to 135 for 7—an innings defeat loomed. With a little help from the tail-enders, all-rounder Ian Botham blazed away to an unbeaten 149, giving England a slender lead of 124 runs. Bob Willis then turned the odds on their head, picking up 8 wickets for 43 runs to dismiss Australia for 111 runs. England won by 18 runs—only the second time a team following on had won a Test—while Marsh and Lillee made some unexpected money.
7. Botham’s Ashes
After Headingley, Botham turned up the heat again, this time with the ball. At 105 for 5, Australia needed 46 to win the fourth Test. Once England captain Mike Brearly handed the ball to Botham, in the space of 28 balls, the beefy and bearded all-rounder had run through Australia, picking up five wickets for one run, handing England yet another improbable win.
8. The ball of the century
Shane Warne was a rookie—11 Tests old, with nothing to show for it. When Australian captain Allan Border handed him the ball, no one expected a miracle. The first ball Warne sent down was his first ever in the Ashes. It drifted wide from batsman Mike Gatting’s body, going down left of the batsman. Gatting assumed the standard position for such a ball—on the forward defensive, with his front leg thrust out to the line of the ball. What looked like a wide, instead, bounced outside the leg stump, spun almost perpendicularly across Gatting’s bat and body, and gently dislodged the off-stump. Gatting was gone and Warne had arrived.
9. Century squared
The series was level at 1-1. In the first innings of the third Test at Old Trafford, Australia was at 42 for 3 when Steve Waugh walked in to bat. The score soon read 160 for 5 just before tea. With the tail-enders in support, Waugh batted for 4 hours, and scored 108 out of Australia’s 235. Waugh followed it up with 116 in the second innings, becoming the first Australian to score a century in each innings since 1889, and leading them to a 268-run win. Australia won the series 3-1.
10. Demolition man
Cutting, driving, and pulling savagely, Australia’s most successful wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist toyed with the English bowlers at Perth. Gilchrist slammed 12 fours and 4 sixes to score a century off 57 balls, the second fastest in Test history, and Australia were on the path to regaining the Ashes.
Graphic by Raajan/Mint
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