History of The Ashes & Famous Moments

History of The Ashes & Famous Clashes

The Australian Test team secured a first ever victory on English soil when they defeated Ivo Bligh’s men at The Oval in 1882. The Sporting Times reacted by publishing an obituary for English cricket, stating that it had died, the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. A year later, Bligh and his troops set out to regain those ashes, and they were presented with a small urn after winning a thrilling series Down Under.

It marked the birth of the fiercest and most intriguing rivalry in the history of cricket. There have been dozens of Ashes series since then and both teams have had their fair share of triumph and despair. We have witnessed laughs, tears, dazzling feats of individual brilliance, moments of tremendous heartbreak and all manner of controversy along the way. These are the 10 most famous clashes in the history of this intense rivalry:

Adelaide, 1932-33 Series

The 1932-33 series was delicately poised at 1-1 when the teams headed into battle at Adelaide. A strong England touring party stormed to an emphatic 10-wicket triumph in the opener, but Australia were missing star player Don Bradman during that showdown. He returned for the second Test and duly led his side to a 111-run victory at the MCG. The Aussies went into the third Test full of confidence, and that only grew when they reduced the visitors to just 30-4 on the opening day.

Half-centuries from Maurice Leyland, Eddie Paynter and Bob Wyatt led the fightback and England ended up posting a relatively respectable 341 in the first innings. Harold Larwood sparked immense controversy when he launched a rough ball over Australian captain Bill Woodfull’s heart. Woodfull went down clutching his chest, but his opposite number, Douglas Jardine, simply congratulated Larwood on his fine bowling. The fielders then came across to the leg side like a swarm of hungry sharks and they left Australia psychologically broken by removing Woodfull and Bradman in tame fashion.

Woodfull refused to speak with the English management due to the Bodyline tactics they were using – bowling rough and short on the line of leg stump and waiting for deflections on the leg side – and many still view it as a shameful lack of sportsmanship from England. It marked a real escalation in the tensions between the two countries, as England wrapped up a comfortable victory at Adelaide and ended up leaving Australia with a 4-1 series win.

Old Trafford, 1956 Series

This match will forever be known as the Laker Match, thanks to an utterly spellbinding performance from England spinner Jim Laker. The modest Yorkshireman entered the fray with his team already in the ascendancy, as England had put up a first innings total of 459. Australia looked like they might just make things interesting at 48-0, but any hopes of a comeback were quickly dampened when Laker put up an incredible first innings haul of 9-37 to leave the visitors all out for just 84.

It was an astonishing display of off-spin, but Laker went one better in the second innings as he took all 10 wickets for just 53 runs. In a mere 51.2 overs, he had taken out the entire Australian team, leaving him with the most iconic of match figures: 19-90. No bowler has ever come close to matching that performance before or since. The closest is England’s Sydney Barnes, who once went 17-159, while the best performance since Laker’s was the 16-137 that Australian Bob Massie managed. Anil Kumble in 1999 matched Laker’s feat of a clean sweep second innings, but nobody has ever taken 19 wickets and no bowler’s figures come close to Laker’s.

After the match, Jim Laker famously drove back to Derbyshire and had a pint and a sandwich in his local pub, where nobody recognised him. Yet he will always go down as a legend of the sport and anyone trying to belittle his achievement by pointing to the poor quality of the pitch would do well to remember that England made 459 on it.

Headingley, 1981 Series

Many historians agree that this was the greatest Ashes match of all time. The first test was tied, while Australia took the second leaving them 1-0 up in the series and Ian Botham had been replaced as captain when the action headed to Headingley.

The Australian team was surging with confidence and opener John Dyson fuelled that even further when he calmly hit 102 for the visitors. Jim Hughes then formed a 112 partnership with Graham Yallop before Ian Botham finally removed them both. Botham made mincemeat of the lower half of Australia’s batting, but they declared at 401-9.

England’s batsmen then gave an abject performance and ended up all out for 174, with Botham’s 50 the only positive from a disastrous innings. The hosts were forced to follow on, and no team had ever won when following on in Ashes history. England were 135-7 and 92 runs short of even making Australia bat again when Graham Dilley joined Botham at the crease. An England victory was priced at 500/1 and if you take a look at the cricket betting odds you will see that teams seldom triumph in such situations.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Botham smashed through the Australian attack during a magical display of defiance. He hit 27 fours and a six en route to finishing on 149 not out, while Dilley added 56 to leave the hosts 356 all out. The Australians were set a target of just 130 to win it, but Bob Willis stepped up and took 8-43 to leave Australia all out for just 111. It was Botham’s crowning glory, but nobody should forget the heroics that Willis performed on that magical afternoon either.

Edgbaston, 1981 Series

The action then shifted to Edgbaston, with the series tied at 1-1. New England captain Mike Brearley hit 48 in a below par first innings total of 189, in which none of the top seven made a meaningful score and Terry Alderman bagged 5-42 during a rampant bowling display. Australia’s 258 left them firmly on top after the first innings. Once again England’s top five surrendered their wickets cheaply and Alderman destroyed the tail to leave the visitors with a target of just 151.

Once again Australia were the heavy favourites to surge to victory and take a crucial lead in the series. Rod Marsh and Martin Kent were standing and the Australians looked secure at 114-5, so should have cruised to victory. But once again Botham’s brilliance proved to be their undoing. The burly all-rounder took the ball from Brearley and took five wickets for just one run, wiping out the tail and handing England a 29-run win, snatched from the jaws of defeat.

The fifth Test took place at Old Trafford and Botham hit a century off just 86 balls to steer England to a victory that saw them retain the Ashes. He then took 10 wickets in another brilliant performance in a drawn sixth Test, leaving England with a 3-1 series victory. Botham played with a lot more freedom after being relieved of the pressure of captaincy, and he ended up scoring 399 runs and taking 34 wickets during a series that will always be known as Botham’s Ashes.

Melbourne, 1982-83 Series

Australia held a 2-0 series lead when The Ashes resumed for a fourth Test at the MCG on Boxing Day in 1982. England were left to rue their decision to bat first when ferocious bowling from Jeff Thomson and Rodney Hogg ripped them apart in front of a partisan crowd. Alan Lamb and Chris Tavare managed a 161-run fourth wicket partnership, but the rest of the batting folded like a house of cards once they were removed within 10 runs of one another. England ended up all out for 284, and Australia smelled blood.

Yet the hosts could only beat England’s tally by three runs. Hughes, David Hookes and Rod Marsh battled to half centuries, while Willis, Botham, Derek Pringle, Norman Cowans and Geoff Miller took wickets. Both innings were completed in a single day, and that trend continued on the third day. England were in trouble at 45-3, but Graeme Fowler dug them out of a hole with 65, while Botham hit 46 off 46 balls and the visitors finished with 294.

Australia needed 292 to win, and they edged their way to 71-3 on a nervy morning in Melbourne. Hughes and Hookes added 100, but then the next five wickets fell for just 47 runs. It left Australia needing 74 from the final pairing of Allan Border and Thomson. They strung together 70 to gasps of astonishment from the crowd, and the tension inside the MCG became unbearable. But that man Botham took out Thomson with four remaining to get, and England edged arguably the closest match in Ashes history. It pulled the series back to 2-1, but the final match was drawn and the Australians regained the Ashes.

Edgbaston, 2005 Series

The 2005 Ashes series is revered as the greatest of all time and every single Test within it was a classic. In the build-up, Australia captain Ricky Ponting declared that it would be the closest since his country’s dominance began in 1989. The Aussies had won eight Ashes series in a row and they arrived in England with a team packed full of superstars in 2005. Fast bowler Glenn McGrath was inclined to disagree with his captain, as he suggested his team would secure a 5-0 whitewash and extend their long winning streak.

His claims looked bang on the money when Australia – the world’s top ranked team – secured a 239-run victory in a pulsating opener at Lord’s. The war of words ramped up ahead of the second Test at Edgbaston and fans were anticipating a phenomenal battle. Ponting won the toss and put England in to bat first, a decision that backfired spectacularly. Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss hit a 112-run opening partnership. The prodigious Kevin Pietersen clobbered 71 and Andrew Flintoff added 88, with six four and five sixes, to leave Edgbaston rocking, while Ponting’s face was a picture throughout.

Justin Langer managed 82 for Australia as they gave chase, but Flintoff took 3-52 and the visitors ended up 308 all out. England therefore carried a 99-run lead into the second innings, but they struggled to replicate the magic they had previously displayed. Captain Michael Vaughan and Matthew Hoggard were removed for singles, Strauss could only manage six and in the end England were thankful once again to Flintoff as he managed 73 runs off 86 balls, including six fours and four sixes.

That set Australia a target of 282 to win, a tally that looked unlikely when they ended up 175-8 on the last day. Brett Lee, Shane Warne and Mike Kasprowicz set out to score 107 more runs against England’s devastating pace attack, and they came agonisingly close. Warne and Lee took it to 220 and then Kasprowicz helped the Aussies to within three runs of victory. A short pitch from Steve Harmison saw Kasprowicz glove it and then wicket-keeper Geraint Jones produced a sensational diving catch to hand England an unlikely 2-run triumph.

Trent Bridge, 2005 Series

England’s victory at Edgbaston left the series deadlocked at 1-1 and suddenly the Australian fans were not quite so cocky. Vaughan hit a majestic 166 during the first innings of the third Test at Old Trafford, but Warne was superb with both bat and ball, while McGrath was also excellent and Ponting managed 156 in the second innings to steer his team to a vital draw. They went into the fourth Test at Trent Bridge with the series score delicately poised at 1-1.

Flintoff was once again the standout performer as his attacking 102 set England on course for a first innings score of 477. Simon Jones, playing his final Test, then delivered a bowling performance for the ages, taking five wickets for 44 runs as the visitors were skittled for 218. That left them 259 runs behind, and they had to follow on. Yet the Aussies battled bravely in the face of adversity and mustered up 387 runs to make things interesting. The pivotal moment came when Ponting was run out for 48, but it was a strong performance from the visitors.

Warne then ripped through the England batting line-up, reducing them to 57-4 and sparking nervousness among the home fans. That turned to despair when Lee removed Flintoff. Ashley Giles and Hoggard were in at 116-7 and they had to deal with Warne in deadly form if they were to give England victory. They coped admirably in the face of adversity to carry their team over the line, and the stadium let out a giant breath of relief.

The Oval, 2005 Series

The 2005 series went down to the final Test, with England 2-1 ahead. However, a win for Australia would have seen the visitors retain the Ashes, so Vaughan’s men needed to fight tooth and nail to seize the urn for the first time since 1987. England looked to be in trouble in the first innings, but a partnership of 143 from Strauss and Flintoff settled the nerves. Strauss hit 129 and England put up a respectable 373, despite Warne taking six wickets and dazzling with his general brilliance.

Matthew Hayden’s 138 dragged Australia into contention and Justin Langer also hit a century on a rain-affected day. Flintoff took 5-78 to eventually leave them six short of the English total. It was then time for Pietersen to shine once more, as he whacked seven sixes en route to 158 as England’s haul of 335 left Australia with an improbable total to chase. There was not enough time for them to make up the 341 runs they needed and they accepted the light, meaning the Ashes were finally heading back to England.

Adelaide, 2006-07 Series

Australia’s bid to regain the Ashes began in perfect fashion the following year as they secured a 277-run victory in the opening Test in Brisbane. The action then shifted to Adelaide and captain Flintoff decided to bat first after winning the toss. It was an inspired decision, as England battled and bludgeoned their way to 551-6 before the innings was declared. Paul Collingwood and Pietersen managed a stand of 310 and England looked set to cruise to victory, as no team had ever lost after declaring on such a high total.

Yet Ponting’s knock of 142 sparked confidence among his men and the Aussies managed 513 runs, reducing England’s lead to just 38. A dodgy umpiring call saw Strauss given out for 34 and a run out stunned them in their second innings, before Warne took over. He took 4-49 and England slumped to a mere 129 all out. Australia made the chase with ease and Flintoff was reduced to tears as Australia took a 2-0 series lead. They went on to complete a 5-0 whitewash and totally reassert their dominance over the English.

Trent Bridge, 2013 Series

The 2013 series began with a bang as Australia rallied from just 117-9 to 280 all out. Debutant Ashton Agar hit a remarkable 98 and staged a brilliant, record-breaking 10th-wicket partnership with Phillip Hughes to hand Australia a 65-run lead at the halfway stage of proceedings.

Ian Bell hit a century during England’s second innings and the hosts ended up with 375 runs, setting Australia a tricky target of 311. Only 10 successful fourth innings run chases of more than 300 had ever been recorded in Test history, so England were clear favourites in the cricket spread betting. Australia slumped to 231-9 and they were staring defeat in the face, but Brad Haddin and James Pattinson counterattacked in sensational fashion.

Hadden marshalled the tail brilliantly and he dragged the visitors to within 15 runs of an unlikely victory before James Anderson finally removed him. It was the culmination of a dogged 13-over spell from Anderson, who took 10 wickets in the match to carry his team to victory. That put England 1-0 up and they went on to win it 3-0.

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