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History gives England fans hope

As England prepare for the second match of the series against Australia, some home fans still remain optimistic about their team's chances.
By Julian Guyer (AFP) | PTI, London
UPDATED ON AUG 06, 2005 03:34 AM IST

England may have lost the first Ashes Test by the crushing margin of 239 runs at Lord's last month but as they prepare for the second match of the series against Australia some home fans still remain optimistic about their team's chances.

That's because despite the fact that England have lost the last eight Ashes series, according to an e-mail message doing the rounds in offices across the country everything is going according to plan.

The message draws comparisons between events that have happened this year and those that took place in 1981 when, as now, England lost the first Test of the Ashes only to take what was then a six-match series 3-1 with two draws.

In 1981 the United Kingdom, as it has done this year, took over the rotating presidency of what was then the European Economic Community, now the European Union.

The year also saw Prince Charles marry Lady Diana Spencer while 2005 witnessed the heir to the British throne's marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles.

English football too has offered its own 'repeat' performances. In 1981, Liverpool won the European Cup for the third time, beating Real Madrid in the final while 2005 saw them lift the trophy for a fifth occasion after AC Milan were defeated on penalties.

Then, as now, Norwich and Crystal Palace were both relegated from the top tier of English football while West Ham were promoted to what was the old First Division, now the Premier League.

And the sixth coincidence linking the two years, although one unlikely to reasonate much outside Britain, was that Ken and Deirdre, characters in the long-running soap opera Coronation Street, got married in 1981, something - after each had got through several 'partners - they did again in 2005.

What the e-mail didn't say, because it was sent out before the Ashes got underway, was the similar start to both Ashes series.

As happened at Lord's last month, England lost the first match of the series after dropping several catches at Trent Bridge. However, the margin of defeat was far smaller - four wickets.

And it is at this point that historical comparisons start to unravel. For 1981 was the year of 'Botham's Ashes' when England all-rounder Ian Botham almost singlehandedly turned the series on its head.

At Lord's, in what was then the second Test, Botham, England's captain, got a pair, his entry into the Pavilion after his second nought marked by silence.

Although the match was drawn Botham, who was being given the captaincy on a game-by-game basis, resigned as skipper.

But with the return of former captain Mike Brearley, an astute tactician, an unburdened Botham turned in several of the greatest solo performances cricket has known.

In the next Test at Headingley, England were 135 for seven in their second innings following-on on the fourth afternoon and 500-1 to win. But Botham's blistering innings of 149 not out kept England in the game.

Even so Australia were left just 130 to win. But a haul of eight for 43 from fast bowler Bob Willis on a spiteful pitch saw England to an 18-run victory.

Almost as implausible was England's fourth Test victory, where pace bowler Botham's five for one in 28 balls, wrecked Australia's run chase.

Botham then played a commanding innings of 118 at Old Trafford as England won by 103 runs.

Andrew Flintoff, the latest in a long line of England all-rounders to be labelled the 'new Botham', managed just three runs at Lord's.

But the second Test, which starts on Thursday, is at Edgbaston where last year the big-hitting Flintoff made a Test-best 167 against the West Indies.

However, unlike 1981, such is the strength of the current Australian side one man alone may not be able to change the destiny of the Ashes.

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