Authors: John Miller
Tags: #Sports & Recreation/Cricket
In 1977, a few months after the World Series Cricket ‘revolution’, the Australian team, including thirteen with WSC contracts, toured England. The drawn first Test at Lord’s, staged to commemorate the 25-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, saw Mike Brearley as England captain, replacing Tony Greig who was stood down for his WSC involvement. Bob Willis took his Test best of 7–78 in Australia’s first innings while Bob Woolmer scored 120.
Woolmer was again to the fore in England’s nine-wicket win at Old Trafford, scoring 137. They repeated the dose in the third Test by seven wickets. The match featured the comeback of Geoff Boycott after three years of self-imposed exile and the Test debut of Ian Botham, who took 5–74 in Australia’s first innings of 243. Knott’s score of 135 in England’s first innings was the highest by an English wicketkeeper against Australia while Boycott was the first player to bat on each day of a five-day Ashes Test. At Leeds England confidently regained the Ashes, and the Oval Test was drawn thanks mainly to the weather.
Australian fears that the 1978–79 team, depleted by the WSC exodus, would be no match for England without Knott, Underwood, Greig and Woolmer, were borne out in the opening session in Brisbane, when captain Graham Yallop won the toss and batted. Australia was 6–26 before the lower order dragged them to 126. England also struggled against new paceman Rodney Hogg (6–74) but the effort of Derek Randall with 75 took them to 286. When three second-innings wickets were lost for 49 Australia seemed doomed, but then came the sturdy resistance of Kim Hughes (129) and Yallop (102), whose century marked a unique feat in that it was by a player not only in his first Ashes Test, but captaining his side. England’s target was 170 and at 3–74 it looked tricky but Randall (74 not out) and David Gower (48 not out) saw them home.
England went two up in Perth and Gower went even better with 102 in a first innings of 309 in which Hogg took 5–65. Australia’s batting was abysmal as Willis took 5–44. Hogg’s 5–57 restricted England to 208 in its second innings but the lead of 327 proved too much. The victory that gave Australia new hope was secured in Melbourne and inspired by a painstaking century to opener Graeme Wood as well as Hogg, who took ten for the match. Alan Border, on debut, made 29 and a duck. England returned to its winning ways in Sydney, despite Boycott being dismissed first ball for the only time in his Test career. This was the first Ashes series to feature protective helmets and it was probably just as well for Botham, who was struck while fielding close to the wicket, chipping his helmet.
In Adelaide Yallop sent England in and his fast bowlers reduced them to 5–27 before Botham (74) saw them to 169. Australia was stunned when the fifth ball of the innings from Willis struck Rick Darling just above the heart and he collapsed. He was taken to hospital but later returned to the field. Botham took 4–42 as Australia trailed by five and when England had slid to 6–132 it seemed a thriller was developing, but a seventh wicket stand of 135 by Geoff Miller and wicket-keeper Bob Taylor took them to 360. England’s all-round superiority was again shown as Australia was dismissed for 160.
England completed its biggest ever series win over Australia, 5–1, with ease in the Sydney Test. For the eighth and ninth times in the series Australia failed to score 200 while opening bowlers Hogg and Alan Hurst both set records: Hogg completed his first series with 41 wickets, an Ashes record, while Hurst made six ducks, the most by a batsman in a single Test series. The cry across Australia was in favour of unifying the game and sending the best eleven cricketers into the field.
WSC and the Australian Cricket Board reached a truce in May 1979 with the board agreeing to increase players’ payments, grant exclusive television rights and introduce more one-day cricket. The game then needed to restore its credibility. A three-way series of one-day matches involving Australia, England and the West Indies was scheduled and three Tests each against England and the West Indies were to be played by Australia. The six-ball over was restored after 46 years of eight-ball overs.
Australia won this home series 3–0 but authorities at Lord’s regarded it as makeshift and declared that the Ashes were not at stake. Lillee hit the headlines in Perth when he scored Test cricket’s only runs with an aluminium bat, which was thereafter banned. At the MCG Graham Gooch (99) became the fifth player in the series to finish in the nineties, while Botham (119 not out) hit his maiden Test century against Australia.
The only Test of the 1980 tour to England was at Lord’s to celebrate the centenary of Test cricket in England. Ten hours were lost to rain and the Test was drawn. Wood scored 112 while Hughes (117) became the first Australian to bat on all five days of a Test. Needing 370 in 350 minutes, England was content to see the match through to a chorus of slow handclaps. There were some ugly scenes in the Lord’s Long Room when umpires and captains were jostled by members frustrated at the long delay caused by poor covering of the wicket square.
While Botham captured the imagination of the cricket world with his all-round displays and had earned the appreciation of selectors by being made Test captain, it was his Herculean efforts in the 1981 series that gave him legendary status. Single-handedly he turned around a series which Australia appeared to have won after three of the six Tests, and in the history of the Ashes only Don Bradman’s performances in the 1936–37 series would rank higher.
The first Test at Nottingham was the first in England with play on a Sunday and the first without a rest day. Terry Alderman took nine wickets on his Australian Test debut while the inclusion of Trevor Chappell represented the first instance of three brothers having played Test cricket for Australia. Hughes won his first Test as captain against England by four wickets. The Lord’s Test was drawn and was Botham’s final match as captain as he was replaced by Brearley after an unhappy reign of four defeats and eight draws.
The Leeds Test saw Botham at his best, giving England an 18-run win. Australia made 9–401 (Botham 6–95) and then bundled England out for 174 (Botham 50). Following on and with the side at 5–105, Botham blasted his way to 149 not out with his century coming off 87 balls. He took England to 356 and became the first England player to score a century and take five wickets in an innings of an Ashes match. After holding a 227-run lead on the first innings, Australia faced a target of 130 for victory. Willis, motivated by Botham, took 8–43 as Australia was all out for 111.
After being criticised for his weight, his form, his apparent lack of leadership and his attitude, Botham was suddenly a national hero; he was just the sort of player the English loved to see beat the Aussies. Botham was six years old when he told his parents he was going to be a professional sportsman. At nine he was playing with adults in Somerset and at twelve made the Yeovil Second XI. A year later he captained the under-sixteen team at Buckler’s Mead Secondary School and was soon picked for the Somerset schools team. At fifteen he was just as keen on soccer and Crystal Palace wanted to sign him, but his ultimate desire lay with cricket.
Botham spent two seasons as a Lord’s ground staff boy and continued to develop but without recognition, particularly of his bowling. His determination was strong and his attitude was that he would ‘show them’. Botham was blooded in two Sunday league games for Somerset at the end of 1973 and made the step up to first-class cricket in 1974 at age eighteen. His effort in a one-day quarter-final against Hampshire typified his career: he bowled the best batsman in county cricket at the time, South African Barry Richards, and then came in at 7–113 with fifteen overs to go and 70 to win. West Indian Andy Roberts, the fastest bowler in England that year, hit him in the mouth with a bouncer and the helmet-less Botham spat out blood and teeth, continued and dominated the final overs, hitting the winning runs. In 102 Tests he scored 5200 runs at 33.54, took 383 wickets at 28.40 and made 120 catches.
Following the Leeds miracle, a demoralised Australian team ran into a spirited England in Birmingham and lost by 29, as Botham demolished them in the second innings, taking 5–1. In Manchester, Border made an unbeaten 123 batting with an injured finger but his efforts were not enough to save Australia, who lost by 103. Botham’s 118 included six sixes.
Australia regained the Ashes 2–1 in the 1982–83 series at home. After capturing a record 42 wickets in the 1981 series, Alderman claimed one in this as he was forced out of the first Test in Perth after dislocating his shoulder when he tackled a spectator who had run onto the ground. Australia took the lead with a seven-wicket win in Brisbane. On debut the South African-born Kepler Wessels scored 162 and Marsh took an Ashes record of six catches in the second innings. Greg Chappell made his ninth and final hundred against England in Adelaide as Australia won by eight wickets. The visitors won a thriller in Melbourne by three runs.
Alan Border’s touring side of 1985 lost the Ashes as England won three Tests and Australia one. England won at Headingley, with Tim Robinson scoring 175 in his first Ashes Test. Australia levelled the series with a four-wicket win at Lord’s, Border scoring 43 per cent of the side’s runs. The Nottingham Test was drawn with English captain Gower (166), Wood (172) and Greg Ritchie (146) scoring centuries. The Manchester Test was also drawn with Mike Gatting (160) scoring his first Test century at home. Gower helped secure an innings victory in Birmingham, making 215, assisted by swing bowler Richard Ellison, who took ten wickets. Gower continued in the sixth Test, taking part in his second successive triple-century partnership and steering England to another innings victory. Gooch (196) hit his maiden Ashes century and Gower made 157.
England retained the Ashes by winning the 1986–87 series in Australia 2–1. Another Botham assault, in his final series, helped England to a seven-wicket win in Brisbane; in the first innings he belted 138, including 22 runs in one over. The Perth Test was drawn with some big scores tallied, including Chris Broad (162), Bill Athey (96) Gower (136) and keeper Jack Richards (133) for England and Border (125) for the hosts. The series then moved on to Adelaide where spectators were treated to a unique sight—a woman had taken her ironing board to the ground and took the time to iron her clothes in between deliveries. After a draw in Adelaide, England retained the Ashes with an innings victory in Melbourne with Broad (112) scoring his third hundred in successive Tests. Australia saved face with a 55-run win in Sydney, a Test which marked the surprise selection of New South Wales off-spinner Peter Taylor after six first-class appearances. He justified the headlines ‘Peter who?’ by taking 6–78. It was Australia’s first victory in fifteen Tests and marked the start of a long period of Australian domination. A one-off Test was played at the SCG in 1988 to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary. Broad scored 139 in the drawn match while David Boon hit 184 not out.
Border’s team toured England in 1989 and won four Tests, the first of eight successive Ashes series victories. Australia won in Leeds by 210, highlighted by an effortless display from Steve Waugh. His 177 not out was his maiden Test century, while Mark Taylor scored 136 and Alderman took ten wickets. Australia won by six wickets at Lord’s as Waugh scored 152 and 21, both not out, taking his series aggregate to 350 without being dismissed. The Birmingham Test, in which Angus Fraser became the first English bowler to dismiss Waugh, was drawn. Australia regained the Ashes in Manchester with a nine-wicket win. They pushed home the advantage in Nottingham by an innings and 180 runs with Geoff Marsh making 138 and Taylor 219. The sixth Test at the Oval was drawn but not before Australia had made 468 in its first innings, passing 400 in the first innings of all six Tests.
England again failed to win a match in the 1990–91 series. Brisbane was a low-scoring Test, England making 194 and 114 and Australia 152 and 0–157. The home side, captained by Border for a record twentieth time, went two up in Melbourne in a match that belonged to Australia’s Bruce Reid for his hauls of 6–97 and 7–51. Gower made a century in the first innings and a duck in the second, his first in 119 innings against all countries. The drawn third Test was not helped by slow scoring; English opener Mike Atherton’s first Test century against Australia took 424 minutes, the slowest in Ashes history, while Australian bowler Carl Rackemann took 72 minutes to score his first run. Steve Waugh’s twin brother Mark was finally given a chance at Test level in the drawn Adelaide match at the expense of Steve and did not disappoint, scoring 138. They were the first twins to play Test cricket. Australia made it three wins in Perth as Craig McDermott took 8–97.
Australia won the 1993 Ashes series in England 4–1 in a series best remembered as the debut of Australian leg spinner Shane Warne. He delivered the most famous delivery in cricket history with his first ball in an Ashes Test. That ball curled with a left-to-right drift and landed well outside former captain Mike Gatting’s leg stump. Gatting lunged forward to block it but the ball gripped, spun and darted behind him, clipping the off stump. It had spun about 58 centimetres back and Gatting stood frozen for what seemed an eternity, before finally walking. Since then Warne has taken more than 700 Test wickets and bowled thousands of amazing deliveries, though none as famous as the first.
Australia won, by 179 runs, the Old Trafford Test in which Warne’s first ball was bowled. For England, captain Graham Gooch made 133 but became the first English batsman to be dismissed ‘handled the ball’. Shortly after ‘that ball’, Warne also captured the wicket of Robin Smith with another sharply turning delivery.
Always the larrikin, Warne attracted plenty of media attention for his behaviour on and off the pitch. But there can be no denying his extraordinary ability. A talented junior cricketer and Aussie Rules player, Warne failed in an attempt to make the St Kilda Football Club’s list and then travelled to England in 1989 to play league cricket. He took many wickets and started to develop the deliveries that would later bring him fame, but he was also getting fat on junk food and beer. He came back to Melbourne thinking he would get a run with St Kilda Cricket Club firsts but was dumped to thirds, owing to his figure.
Although contemplating throwing in the towel, Warne knew he could spin a cricket ball like nobody else. So he decided on one more season with St Kilda, which, like all club teams, was becoming more conscious of fitness. He shed enough weight to let the club know he was serious, and then the injuries of other players allowed him to slip into the firsts. It was the turning point, as he gained the eye of state selectors and even Test captain Border, who had spent five years dragging the Test team out of the doldrums and wanted to take them to the top. Border knew he couldn’t match the champion West Indies team for pace so it had to be spin.
Warne made the Victorian team towards the end of the 1990–91 season. He spent another season in England in 1991, was selected for a tour of Zimbabwe by an Australian Second XI captained by Mark Taylor and then took seven wickets in a match in Hobart against the West Indies late in 1991. At 22, a tubby Warne was selected to play against India in the third Test at the SCG starting on New Year’s Day, 1992. It was not a brilliant debut (1–150) and he was told to lose more weight otherwise he would be discarded. He succeeded with a gruelling fitness routine. The new-look Warne played Tests in Sri Lanka but was not overly successful and was dropped for the first Test against the West Indies in the 1992–93 season. Border asked publicly for his return and he was selected for the Melbourne Test. On the last day he delivered one of his beauties—a flipper that bowled an in-form Richie Richardson. He took 7–52 in that match and Australia won. Shane Warne had arrived.
In the 1993 series Warne took thirteen wickets, and twelve years later in the 2005 Ashes win to England he easily topped the list of wicket-takers with 40 for the five Tests. In his final Test series in 2006–07 Warne took 23 wickets to take his Test tally to a world record 708.
After Warne’s heroics in the first Test of the 1993 series, Australia repeated the dose at Lord’s as Taylor (111) and Michael Slater (152) put on 260. David Boon (164 not out) scored his first Test century in England, the first time Australia’s first three batsmen had scored a century in the same innings of a Test in England. The third Test at Trent Bridge was drawn as Graham Thorpe (114 not out) made a century on debut for England. Australia retained the Ashes with an innings and 148-run win at Leeds after scoring 4–653 in its first innings. Border (200 not out) hit his first Ashes century in six years, Steve Waugh (157 not out) posted his third Ashes century and Boon’s 107 was his third century in successive Tests. In the fifth Test at Birmingham, Mark Waugh (137) scored Australia’s tenth century of the series and shared a 153-run stand with his brother as their team won by eight wickets. England’s 161-run win at the Oval brought to an end a record run of 18 Tests against Australia without a win.
In 1994–95 England lost 3–1 in Australia. In Brisbane, Australia won by 184 runs and Warne was at his best. He took three wickets in four balls, took 8–71 in the second innings and 11–110 in the match. He was at it again as Australia won by 295 runs in Melbourne, taking 6–64. The SCG Test featured an innings from Graeme Hick. Heading for his maiden Ashes century, he was stranded on 98 when captain Mike Atherton declared England’s second innings at 2–255. Slater and captain Taylor scored centuries for Australia but spinners Warne and Tim May played out the final 113 balls to secure a draw. England won its only Test of the series by 106 runs in Adelaide. In the final Test in Perth the home team won by 329. Steve Waugh became the first Australian batsman to finish a Test on 99 not out after his brother Mark, acting as a runner for the injured McDermott, was run out.
Taylor led Australia to England in 1997 and retained the Ashes 3–2 despite losing in Birmingham. Taylor found form (129), and Greg Blewett (125) became the first to score centuries in his first three Ashes Tests, but the home side won by nine wickets. The Lord’s Test was drawn as rain intervened and brought to an end Australia’s run of eighteen consecutive Tests without a draw. Fast bowler Glenn McGrath destroyed England in its first innings with 8–38 as the home side were all out for 77, its worst total at Lord’s since 1888. Australia won in Manchester by an innings and 133. Three young players, each in their debut Ashes series, starred for Australia in the innings and 61-run win at Headingley: Matthew Elliott fell one short of a double century, Ricky Ponting marked his first Ashes Test with 127 and Jason Gillespie took 7–37 in the first innings. Two sets of brothers played in the fifth Test at Nottingham. Australian-bred Adam and Ben Hollioake made debuts for England and bowled in tandem to Australians Mark and Steve Waugh. Australia won by 264 runs to retain the Ashes but then lost a low-scoring sixth Test at the Oval by 19 runs in three days.
It was 3–1 to Australia in the 1998–9 series. In the drawn Brisbane match Steve Waugh scored his sixth century against England but his first on home soil, and Ian Healy (134) became the first Australian keeper to score four Test centuries. Australia won by seven wickets in Perth, and in Adelaide England was chasing 443 for an improbable win but slipped from 5–221 to all out for 237. The visitors won their only Test in Melbourne. Spin bowling ended up winning the Sydney Test for Australia and the Waugh twins starred with the bat. Steve (96) fell short of matching his brother Mark (121) and broke a record with his ninth Test match 90. English fast bowler Darren Gough took a hat-trick, the first in Sydney since 1891–92, while Slater (123) scored 66.85 percent of Australia’s second innings total of 184, just shy of the record of 67.35 per cent set in the first ever Test in 1877. Stuart MacGill took twelve wickets on his home pitch.
England was again humbled in the 2001 series at home, losing 4–1. England made 294 in its first innings at Birmingham and Australia responded with 576. Wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, on Ashes debut, scored 152. England lost 7–22 in the second innings to go down by an innings and 118. Australia won by eight wickets at Lord’s with McGrath taking 5–54 in the first innings and Jason Gillespie 5–53 in the second. Australia retained the Ashes with a seven-wicket win at Nottingham where McGrath took 5–49. Owing to an injury to Steve Waugh, Gilchrist presided over the Leeds Test and became the first Australian captain to lose a Test after making a declaration, despite McGrath’s eight wickets for the match. Mark Butcher was England’s hero, smashing an unbeaten 173 as England passed the victory target of 315. Australia bounced back to win by an innings at the Oval. Atherton’s final Test saw him dismissed for the nineteenth time by McGrath.
England lost 1–4 on the 2002–03 tour of Australia. The win of the toss by captain Hussain was about the only success for England in Brisbane. He sent Australia in and they made 492. England opener Michael Vaughan starred with the bat in Adelaide making 177 but the side went down by an innings. Australia again cleaned up with another innings victory in Perth. They made it four in Melbourne, set up by openers Langer (250) and Hayden (102). Australia’s bid for a 5–0 whitewash was foiled in Sydney where England won by 225. Captain Steve Waugh, despite suggestions that he should retire, hit a brilliant century brought up off the final ball of the second day, thrilling his home crowd.