LONDON (Reuters) - Memorable Ashes series between England and Australia:
England’s autocratic captain Douglas Jardine loathed Australians; they thoroughly detested him. Jardine’s particular target was Don Bradman, who by sheer weight of runs had threatened to tilt the balance of power towards Australia as long as he chose to play test cricket.
To this end, Jardine used Harold Larwood, who had started his working life down a coal pit, and Larwood’s Nottinghamshire team mate Bill Voce to bowl bouncers at the Australians to a cluster of fielders on the leg-side, the so-called bodyline strategy.
Larwood’s extreme pace and accuracy from a beautifully rhythmic action disconcerted all the Australians, including Bradman who had become a national hero as the Great Depression began to bite.
Australian spectators were outraged and diplomatic relations between the countries were briefly threatened when the Australian Cricket Board accused the England team of unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Jardine did not care. The Ashes were regained and Bradman was reduced for a season to the ranks of the mortals with an average of 56.57. As an historical footnote that figure is almost identical to the current mark of Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian, who has been rated by some as Bradman’s equal.
On his farewell tour at the age of 40, Bradman led a unbeaten team who brought a glimpse of antipodean sunshine and optimism to grey, war-ravaged Britain.
Bradman watched appreciatively as Ray Lindwall, master of all the new ball arts, and the glamorous and gloriously gifted Keith Miller bounced the English batsmen without mercy.
His own powers were scarcely diminished by time and the six years lost to war and he went into the final test at the Oval needing only four runs to ensure a lifetime test average of 100. Instead he was bowled second ball by a googly from Eric Hollies to finish with cricket’s best-known statistic, 99.94.
Len Hutton, England’s first professional captain of the 20th century, delivered the Ashes in Coronation Year for the first time since World War Two.
After four draws, England won a decisive victory at the Oval where Denis Compton, a cavalier to Hutton’s roundhead and an equally great batsman, swept the winning runs.
Australia enjoyed a golden sporting decade during the 1950s in most of the global sports formulated in Victorian Britain. An exception was their cricket team, who lost three successive Ashes series; succumbing to the late swing and cut of Alec Bedser in 1953, the terrifying pace of Frank Tyson in 1953-4 and the prodigious finger spin obtained by Jim Laker and Tony Lock in 1956.
Richie Benaud had yet to play in a winning series against England when he inherited the Australian captaincy for a series against a team led by Peter May, including Tyson and Laker and widely heralded as the best to leave English shores.
Hard toil and thought had turned Benaud into a great leg-spinner and test class all-rounder. He proved an innovative and sometimes inspired captain, leading Australia to a sweeping victory, while his background as a journalist made him an early master of the increasingly important craft of public relations.
Ray Illingworth was an uncompromisingly gritty Yorkshireman in the Hutton mould.
Illingworth blossomed late as a test all-rounder and proved a surprisingly successful international captain when he took the England job in the absence of the injured Colin Cowdrey.
Largely through the efforts of another Yorkshireman in opening batsman Geoff Boycott at his most prolific and the moody but often magnificent fast bowler John Snow, England reclaimed the Ashes comfortably.
Australia unleashed the saturnine Dennis Lillee and a floppy-haired surfer Jeff Thomson against an unsuspecting England side.
Lillee possessed a glorious action, wonderful skills and deep hatred of opposing batsmen, especially if they were English. Thomson, an athletic marvel with his unorthodox slingshot action, joined Larwood and Tyson as the fastest bowlers in Ashes history.
The result was an emphatic victory for Ian Chappell and his swaggering henchmen, a side who embodied all the brash vibrance of modern Australia.
Against a background of record unemployment and inner-city riots, English spirits were lifted when the sun began to shine and Ian Botham, who had resigned as captain after the second test, put the Australians to the sword.
The grey-haired sage Mike Brearley returned as leader and Botham responded by crashing the Australian bowlers to all parts of Headingley with 149 not out after England had been forced to follow on. Bob Willis produced his greatest bowling feat with a demonic spell and England stole a famous victory after being quoted as 500-1 to win at one stage.
Thereafter it was all Botham, with a startling spell of five for one at Edgbaston and a majestic century at Old Trafford. Brearley, the only captain of the modern era to command a place for his leadership alone, bowed out after leading his country to three series victories over their fiercest rivals.
Allan Border was consistently Australia’s best batsman in a grim period after the remaining giants of the 1970s retired and others took the tainted kruggerand to join lucrative unofficial tours of white-minority-ruled South Africa.
Border was initially a reluctant captain and threatened to resign in disgust when his side lost successive series to their lowly neighbours New Zealand.
Victory in the 1987 World Cup showed the tide was turning and a team forged in his own unrelenting image thrashed an initially complacent England side. A new era of Australian supremacy was born.
The greatest series ever. England under Michael Vaughan and including the mighty Andrew Flintoff looked ready at last to challenge an Australian side boasting Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and captain Ricky Ponting, five of the greatest cricketers to don the baggy, green Australia cap.
McGrath was unplayable in his last test at Lord’s to back up his prediction of a 5-0 series victory. Flintoff then strode to rescue at Edgbaston with bat and ball as England squeaked a nerve-shattering, two-run victory.
Thereafter England dominated a series that seized the national imagination to an unprecedented extent. They still, though, needed a draw at the Oval to seize the Ashes.
Warne by sheer force of will throughout a match which encapsulated all that had gone before in five days of gripping suspense threatened to deny Vaughan and his men.
However, South African-born Kevin Pietersen provided the perfect ending for his team and his adopted nation with a century of staggering audacity. England had their draw and the Ashes after 16 bleak years.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury
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