Over the years, the Ashes have lent themselves to spells of bowling that have gone a long way in deciding the fate of the series, and in some cases, defining a generation. Here are eight defining bowling spells through Ashes history.

Shane Warne—“the ball of the century," Old Trafford (1993)

Also known as “That Ball", Warne’s famous dismissal of England’s Mike Gatting undoubtedly heads the list. On Day 3 of the first 1993 Ashes test at Old Trafford, just as Gatting looked set against the Aussie pacers, captain Allan Border turned to his new leg-spinner, Warne. With his first ball in (and against) England, or for that matter, first ball of an Ashes spell, Warne produced a delivery that would be reminisced forever. And mind you, Gatting was regarded as a good player of spin-bowling, having tamed the likes of Abdul Qadir.

A 22-year old Warne, in a full-sleeve shirt, takes his typical walk towards the bowling crease, Gatting his prey. The ball is flighted on middle and leg, an attacking line to a right-hander, and just as Gatting pressed initially to the leg-side, the ball dipped on him and drifted sharply (right) from middle to leg. At this stage, Gatting is pushing forward, and when the ball dips in, the length changes just enough to bamboozle the batsman. The other remarkable thing about that Warne delivery is how the ball, seemingly headed straight down, drifted late from middle to outside leg stump. What the ball did, however, is opened Gatting up completely, leaving him with no other option, except to watch his off bail dislodged. Warne, had well and truly arrived on the scene.

Ian Botham—five wickets for one run, Edgbaston (1981)

After his heroics in the Headingley Test, the cult of Botham was picking up and only getting stronger. At Leeds, his outrageous rescue act innings of 149* changed the course of the Test match, with England emerging victorious through Bob Willis’s devastating spell of fast bowling. The stage now moved to Edgbaston nine days later, where Botham’s miracles came to the fore yet again. England won the toss and opted to bat first. Their batsmen, who had been struggling against Terry Alderman and Dennis Lillee, failed again, only coming up with a low first innings tally of 189. England’s wrecker-in-chief Willis went wicketless in Australia’s first innings, with John Emburey, who replaced Graham Dilley, picking four wickets in Australia’s 258. Batting second, England underwhelmed yet again, only managing a meagre total of 219, with slow left-armer Ray Bright picking up a fiver this time. The target for Australia was a mere 151 runs.

Australia were cruising at one stage and looked certain to overhaul the score at 87/3 but that’s when the ever shrewd Mike Brearley called on Botham to try and sneak a few more wickets. In the very third ball of his new spell, when Australia were on course at 105/4, Botham snared Rod Marsh, swinging across the line and the ball crashing into his middle stump. That got the crowd going, and England were suddenly back in it. Next ball, Botham trapped Bright leg-before, and was on a hat-trick. Though Lillee survived the hat-trick delivery, he was soon caught behind by Taylor off Botham. Soon after, debutant Martin Kent followed his mates after being clean bowled by Botham. Ditto, with Alderman. That spell by Botham read 5 overs, 4 maidens, 1 run and 5 wickets. England dismissed Australia for 121, winning the Test by 29 runs. Two Tests, two miraculous performances, this was truly “Botham’s Ashes" as they called it.

Bob Willis—Headingley (1981)

Staying on with the 1981 Ashes, after Botham’s heroics in the second innings in Leeds, it was over to paceman Bob Willis. After following on, England scored 356 and in the process, managed a slender lead of 129 runs. But what followed was a devastating spell of fast bowling that would catapult Willis into folk hero status. In their chase of 130, Australia were comfortably placed at 56/1 at one stage. Enter Willis. In what was a hostile spell of fast bowling, Willis sent back Trevor Chappell, captain Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop in quick succession. 56/1 became 58/4. Chris Old snared Allan Border at 65, opening up the lower-middle order for Willis to wipe. Suddenly, Australia were losing the plot.

Opener John Dyson, who held fort for most of the innings was the next to go, with Willis getting him out caught behind. Rod Marsh didn’t offer much of a resistance either, gone for 4. Willis got his fiver. But he wasn’t done just yet. He accounted for the last three wickets, including Lillee, Geoff Lawson and Bright, before finishing with figures of 8/43 to give England a famous win. It was, after all, the only second such occasion where a team following on had won a game.

Fred Spofforth—The Oval (1882)

Hailed as ‘The Demon Bowler’, Spofforth was considered as one of Australia’s best fast bowlers in the 19th century. He wrote himself into the record books by becoming the first bowler to take 50 wickets, and in fact, also was the first bowler to record a Test hat-trick in 1879. Spofforth in many ways is responsible for the Ashes being born in the first place. In that infamous Test match at The Oval, Spofforth wreaked havoc in England’s first innings, picking up 7 wickets for 46 runs, bundling out the home country for 101. In the second innings, after Australia set a fleeting 85 run target, England were cruising at 50/2. That’s when the demon struck. He ripped through the heart of the English middle order and within no time, they were reduced to 66/5. Spofforth picked up 7 wickets in all, conceding 44 runs in the second innings, but more importantly, his efforts went a long long way in Australia defending a meagre total of 84, triumphing by the closest of margins—7 runs.

That game also was England’s first ever Test defeat on home soil. And more history was to follow. The Ashes was thus born.

Jim Laker—Old Trafford (1956)

The scene is at Old Trafford in 1956, when England and Australia clash again. Only this time, a prodigious young English spinner, Jim Laker would make history by becoming the first bowler to take all ten wickets in a Test innings. He nearly pulled off the perfect sweep when he picked nine in the first, but his figures of 19 for 90 still remain right at the top, untouched for nearly six decades. England batted first and put a formidable 459 on the board, powered by Peter Richardson’s 104 and David Sheppard’s 113. In reply, Australia in reply were bundled out for 84, largely thanks to Laker, who through one of the greatest exhibitions of spin bowling—guile, length, turn, bounce, whatever, picked nine Australian wickets for a mere 37 runs. That innings, Laker picked 7 wickets for 8 runs off 22 deliveries. Tony Lock picked the only other wicket in that innings, that of opener Jim Burke. Australia followed on in their second innings, and Laker went one better this time. In a labourous spell of 51 overs that innings, Laker picked 10/53, with wicketkeeper Len Maddocks as his famous 10th victim.

Interestingly, Laker achieved this feat once against the touring Australians that summer. Playing for Surrey against Australia at The Oval, Laker picked all 10 wickets for 88 runs. Few expected him to replicate it in a Test match. Since Laker, only Anil Kumble has achieved the feat. In 1999, he took all 10 wickets against Pakistan at the Ferozeshah Kotla.

Shane Warne—Melbourne (1994)

By the time England arrived in Australia that summer, they were quite literally bruised and battered. Not just that, they were probably left scarred by *that* Shane Warne delivery that got Mike Gatting in the previous series. Warne previously left England reeling with a magnificent display of leg-spin bowling at the Gabba. This time, the Victorian, who had never previously taken a hat-trick in his career, turned to England’s nervy tailenders. England, needing an improbable 388 to win the Test at the MCG after in fact staying competitive for most of it, lost quick wickets to paceman Craig McDermott. Unlike the previous occasion, Warne didn’t have much of a say in the proceedings thus far. However, he chose to turn up, just as England’s tail came into the scene. With England at 91/7, Warne arrived at the scene and picked Phillip deFraitas straight away leg-before. Next to go was Darren Gough, one of the many caught Healy bowled Warne dismissals we’ve been used to over the years and lastly, Devon Malcom, caught neatly at short leg by David Boon. In doing so, Warne became the third Australian to pick an Ashes hat-trick.

Andrew Flintoff (2005 and 2009)

England’s best post-Botham all-rounder, Freddie Flintoff was just about hitting his peak by the time the 2005 Ashes came along. That series was typified by his taming of Adam Gilchrist, especially from around the wicket, where Gilchrist was left prodding at anything outside his off-stump. Flintoff was instrumental in England regaining the Ashes that time, with both bat and all. At Birmingham, where England prevailed by 2 runs, Flintoff was at it, picking 4 wickets in Australia’s second innings, including the last one to fall, that of Michael Kasprowicz. The next Test at Manchester, Flintoff led England’s victory charge, even though Australia just about hung on, chasing 423 for win, finished at 371/9. Flintoff finishing that innings with 4/71. He starred again in the fifth Test, claiming a fiver in Australia’s first innings. With 24 wickets, Flintoff finished as England’s highest wicket-taker in that series.

Four years later, as England again regained the Ashes following the humiliation of the previous series, Flintoff was at the forefront again, at least in the matches he played. At Lord’s he would prove inspirational, overcoming the pain barrier and bowling England to a famous win with figures of 5/92 in the second innings.

Glenn McGrath—Lord’s (1997)

Among the modern fast bowling greats, McGrath during his time has had a say in most Ashes contests, but his performance at Lord’s in 1997 would go down in the history books as one of his finest spells. Australia chose to field first at Lord’s and within no time, they had McGrath hitting his straps, the familiar line and length we’ve been used to for many years, with the English batsmen having no answers. McGrath went on to pick eight wickets, finishing with 8/38, which was the best Ashes bowling figures at Lord’s. England were bowled out for a paltry 77 in the first innings.

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