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Photo: Shaun Curry/AFP
Photo: Shaun Curry/AFP

Key to the Ashes

The England-Australia cricket rivalry through the decades

As the third Test of the current England-Australia series starts on Thursday in England, with the hosts leading 2-0 amid murmurs of a “whitewash", it’s time to peek into the history of the Ashes.

After Australia won a thrilling Test at the Oval on 29 August 1882—chasing 77 in the second innings, England fell short by eight runs, with Frederick Spofforth taking 14 for 90 in the match—a young journalist, Reginald Brooks, wrote a mock obituary on English cricket in The Sporting Times on 2 September.

Later that year, when England visited Australia, English captian Ivo Bligh said his team had come to “beard the kangaroo in his den and try to recover those Ashes".

Since then, the teams have played 66 series—Australia have won 31 and England, 30. Five were drawn. Here we list the key performers in the Ashes from each decade.

Frederick Spofforth

England won all seven series played against Australia, with Spofforth as the stand-out bowler for Australia with 77 wickets at an average of 19.61.

Spofforth “The Demon", the first true Australian fast bowler, took 7 for 46 and 7 for 44 in the 1882 series. Spofforth played a total of 18 Tests and took 94 wickets at an average of 18.41.


Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji

Ranjitsinhji made his debut for England in the mid-1890s.

He was the highest run scorer for England in that decade, with 970 at an average of 53.88. In the 1896 season, when Australia toured England, he averaged 78.33.


Victor Trumper

Australia’s Trumper scored 1,714 runs in 30 matches at an average of 32.96.

He was considered the best Australian batsmen in adverse conditions like an uneven or wet pitch. He averaged 63.77 in the 1903-04 series, though England won the series 3-2.


Sydney Barnes

A tall man with big hands, Barnes’ career statistics are 189 wickets in 27 Tests at an average of 16.43—till date the best average for bowlers with over 25 Tests.

In his last 13 Tests, Barnes took 100 wickets at an average of 12.71.


Jack Hobbs

Rated by many as the greatest English batsman ever, Hobbs finished with 61,237 first-class runs.

Hobbs played two of his most celebrated innings on wickets that favoured bowlers—at the Oval in 1926 (37 and 100), and the MCG in 1929 (142 and 65).

Between 1920 and 1928, Hobbs scored 20,028 first-class runs.


Donald Bradman

In 1930, Bradman averaged 139.14 against England—974 runs in five Tests, including a world record 334, of which 309 were scored in a single day.

It was to stop him that England arrived in Australia in 1932 armed with the tactic referred to as “bodyline".

He played 37 Tests against England and scored 5,028 runs at an average of 89.78, with 19 hundreds.


Ray Lindwall

The most artistic fast bowler of that era, Lindwall joined Keith Miller to lead the Australian attack.

In 29 Tests against England, he took 114 wickets at an average of 22.44.


Alec Bedser

Bedser took 30 wickets in five Tests in 1950-51 at an average of 16.06.

His 10 wickets in Melbourne lifted England to its only victory of that series. In 1953 in England, he was instrumental in the host’s victory, with 39 wickets at an average of 17.48.


Ken Barrington

Barrington’s career average of 58.67 is the seventh best in the world.

Only two players with more than 50 Tests did better: Bradman (99.94) and Herb Sutcliffe (60.73).

He played 23 Tests against Australia and scored 2,111 runs at 63.96 with five 100s.


Dennis Lillee

He is the only fast bowler not from Bradman’s era to have been included in Bradman’s “dream team".

In the 1970s, Lillee took 119 wickets against England.

In his career he took 355 wickets at an average of 23.92.


Ian Botham

Botham dominated the Ashes in 1981 like Don Bradman in 1930 and Jim Laker in 1956.

Of his 148 Ashes’ wickets, 34 came in the 1981 series and 31 in 1985.

Botham’s 149 not out at Leeds, his first Ashes century, is rated as one of the greatest comebacks in Test history.


Shane Warne

On Day 2 of the first Test in 1993 at Manchester, Warne brought leg spin back into cricket with the “ball of the century".

With 195 wickets, Warne holds the record for the two countries.

He was the first cricketer in the world to reach 700 wickets.


Ricky Ponting

Since his Ashes debut century (127) at Leeds in 1997, Ponting became a prize wicket for English bowlers till his retirement last year.

In the 2006-07 series, he scored 576 runs at an average of 82.26.

■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Short takes

u In 190 innings, including 57 against England, David Boon hit just one six; a deliberate up-and-under cut off England’s Devon Malcolm at The Oval in 1993.

u Englishman Walter Read’s 117 in 1884 remains the highest score by a No.10.

u R.E. Foster’s 287 in Sydney in 1903-04 is the best on Test debut.

u England didn’t have even one leg before wicket (lbw) decision in their favour in the 1970-71 series.

u England’s Chris Tavaré’s 89 and 9 came in almost 10 hours at an average of 10 runs per hour in 1982-83.

u Brothers-in-law Darren Lehmann and Craig White were on opposing sides for the first Ashes Test of 2002-03.

u The last drawn series between the two teams was 41 years ago.

u Jim Laker’s 10 for 53 at Old Trafford in 1956 remains the best bowling figure.

u After almost a century, Bradman still holds the record for the maximum runs in the Ashes—5,028 in 63 innings.

u The Adelaide Oval is Australia’s best Ashes venue. Of the 28 Tests played, they have won 15, lost eight and drawn five .

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