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The A to Z of Ashes

As another battle for the coveted urn begins, HT looks at the finer points of the rivalry down the ages.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2006 13:22 IST
AR Hemant
AR Hemant


Though it started in 1877, Test cricket between England and Australia came to be known as The Ashes only in the 1880s, after England’s seven-run loss at the Oval in 1882. The hosts had been set only 85 to win but lost their last six wickets for 11 runs. So shocked were the spectators at this sudden collapse, one died of a heart attack.

Afterwards, one Reginald Brooks wrote a satirical obituary in The Sporting Times, proclaiming the “death of English cricket” and that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” [See ‘O’ and ‘U’]

The next series between the two in 1822-83 was dubbed ‘The quest to regain the Ashes’ by the media. England won 2-1. The expression caught on, and since then, all Test cricket between the two nations has been know as The Ashes.


Touring Australia for the 1932-33 Ashes, England captain Douglas Jardine devised a vile plot to counter Donald Bradman, who had scored an unbelievable 974 runs in the previous Ashes. Jardine employed two fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce to bowl a fast leg-stump line at the batsmen’s bodies with a packed leg-side field. The Australian batsmen couldn’t deal with this — they either took painful blows or fended off rising balls to close-in fielders.

The Australian crowds were incensed and diplomatic relations strained. England won 4-1, Bradman averaged 56 and this remained the worst controversy to hit cricket before match-fixing.

Ball of the century

“How can anyone spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind,” The Independent said. It was the loudest entry into an Ashes. In 1993 at the Old Trafford, Shane Warne sent down his first ball against England, to Mike Gatting. Bowled over the wicket, the ball swerved away, pitching well outside the leg stump. As Gatting prepared to let it go, it pitched, spun viciously and hit the top of off-stump. A shocked Gatting walked back failing to believe what had just happened. Though many bowlers around the world have delivered equally sensational wicket-taking balls, the tag of ‘The Ball of the Century’ stuck to the one by Warne.


A group of English cricket fans who follow their team around the world. Known to be extremely loud, at times annoying, but generally seen as a fun-loving group.

Cmarsh b Lillee: Caught Rodney Marsh Bowled Dennis Lillee figured in Test scorecards around the world a record 95 times. A staggering 39 of those are against England alone.

Donald Bradman: Do you really need an introduction to Sir Donald Bradman?

Eric Hollies: Hollies is the England bowler who, by bowling out Bradman for a duck in his farewell innings, denied him a chance to finish with an average of 100. The Australian later said that speculations of him not being able to see the ball due to tears in his eyes were rubbish. “To say that would only belittle the bowler,” he said.

Freddie: What Andrew Flintoff, England’s current captain, is also known as. He’ll be the first England since David Gower in 1989 to defend the Ashes.

Grace: William Gilbert Grace, one of the great all-rounders to have played cricket, was England’s top scorer with 32 of their 77 runs in fourth innings in that 1882 Test at the Oval. Grace, after the loss, reprimanded Ted Peate, who was the last man out, for not letting Charles Studd, the better of the last two batsmen, take more strike. “I had no confidence in Mr Studd, sir, so thought I had better do my best,” Peate replied. Just like that anecdote, Grace, one of the more colourful characters of cricket, has many wonderful quotes attributed to him, like the one about batting first. “When you win the toss — bat,” he said. “If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague — then bat.”

Heavy Metal: Dennis Lillee had all intentions of pulverising the Poms on the 1979 Ashes and so he thought nothing of going to play with an aluminium bat. In Perth, Lillee on day two, Lillee walked out with a bat made of aluminium — it was meant to be a cheap substitute for wooden bats in developing countries. The trouble started when England captain Mike Brearly noticed the ball had gone out of shape after Lillee came out. On his complain, the umpires intervened. In the argument that ensued, the game got held up as Lillee refused to part with the bat. Captain Greg Chappell stepped in, handed a wooden bat to his fast bowler, who threw the metal one away in disgust, and play resumed.

Ian Botham: In the 1981 home Ashes, England were walking the plank — they were 0-1 down going into the third Test and following on. The score was 135-7 when Botham launched a savage assault on Australia, finishing with a run-a-ball 149. Australia, chasing 130, folded up for 111. In the next game, Australia bowled well and needed just 151 to win. Botham took 5-11 in a spell and the tourists collapsed from 87-3 to 111 all out. In the fifth game, Botham walked in to bat in the third innings with the score at 104-5 and England 205 ahead. He was the next man to go, having contributed 118 of the 149 runs scored during his stay. England won the game by plenty. The series ended 3-1 in favour of England and is remembered as ‘Botham’s Ashes’ for his 399 runs and 34 wickets.

Indians in Ashes

All players of Indian origin to have played an Ashes Test represented England. Kumar Ranjitsinhji was the first, in 1896, and all his 15 Tests were against Australia. His nephew Kumar Duleepsinhji played Australia in 1930. Raman Subba Row, who played between 1958 and ‘61 batted prolifically in the 1961 home Ashes. He scored 468 runs in five Tests, including 137 in his final Test innings. The most successful of all these was Nasser Hussain, who played 96 Tests and even captained England.

Jim Laker: He holds a feat in bowling that may remain unmatched forever. His bowling figures of 68-27-90-19 against Australia at Manchester in 1956 during the fourth Ashes Test are the best in first-class cricket. The Test, won by England by an innings and 170 runs, is known as Laker’s Test.

Knocked-out cold: Glenn McGrath is clearly jumping the gun by pouting claims of knocking England out cold 5-0 in the forthcoming Ashes — there aren’t many precedents of whitewashes in the Ashes. Australia last won swept an Ashes 5-0 way back in 1921, at home. England did it twice in succession, winning 3-0 at home and then 3-0 away in 1886 and 1886-87.

Lawryism: The phrase “It’s all happening here!” can be traced back to former Australia captain Bill Lawry, an excitable commentator who was famously termed ‘corpse with pads on’ for his dreadfully slow batting.

Melbourne Cricket Ground: Hosted the first ever Test match, between Australia and England, in 1877. The hosts won by 45 runs. Hosted another game between the two countries in 1977 to mark the 100th year of Test cricket. Australia won.

Neville Cardus: Widely regarded as the finest cricket writer of all time. Was also a renowned music critic, and worked for the Manchester Guardian. Cardus found much to praise in the England side that won the ‘Bodyline’ Ashes in 1932-33. “Nobody will deny the better side won,” he wrote of England’s 4-1 win. On tours, he used to famously wire in his reports with words like ‘comma’ and ‘semicolon’ punctuating his sentences. His editor, worried at the added costs of extra words, returned him a cable saying “Please send the story; we’ll fix the punctuation.” Neville wrote back: “I’ll send the punctuation. Please fill in the words.”

The Oval: The venue of the first ever Test match in England, in 1880, against Australia. The game also saw WG Grace score a century on Test debut. The hosts won by five wickets.

Punter: What Ricky Ponting is also known as, because of his penchant for risk-taking. But is he winning many friends lately? Don’t bet on it.

How not to greet the Queen: During Australia’s tour to England in 1972, the team was to be introduced to the Queen and the Duke at their palace. The players indulged in drinking; Rodney Marsh and Doug Walters told Dennis Lillee, who wasn’t much of a drinker in those days, that all great fast bowlers drink beer. Lillee obliged. Ian Chappell, the captain, then introduced his fast bowler to the Queen: “Your majesty, this is Dennis Lillee.” Lillee replied, “G’day, how ya doing?”

Reverse Swing: The art, which many claim, won England the home Ashes in 2005. Also, what many English players termed as ‘cheating’ when Pakistan beat them black and blue
in 1993.

‘Stress-related illness’: What the England Cricket Board cited as the reason for Marcus Trescothick pulling out of this Ashes.

Text Messages: Now that Shane Warne’s back home, he might want to refrain from messaging his girlfriends in England — international texts are expensive.

Urn: When England captain Ivo Bligh won the 1982-83 series in Australia 2-1, a group of women in Melbourne handed him an urn, which supposedly contained the ashes of burnt bails. What the tiny terracotta urn contained is debatable — some say it was the bails, others think it was the ball and stumps used in a game England won on that tour. Due to its frailty, the urn remains at the MCC museum.

Victories: England and Australia have played 311 Tests against each other. While Australia have won 126 times, England have 97 wins, while 88 games were drawn. Australia have 36 series wins to England’s 28 and eight ended in stalemate. These include three games in a triangular series with South Africa as the third side, in 1912. England won one and two were drawn.

Waugh Twins: Steve and Mark — aka Tugga and Junior — are the most successful siblings in the game and intimidated England bowlers for long. While Mark scored a Test debut century against them in 1991, Steve hit one standing on one leg ten years later.

X’mas: That one final day of happiness for teams touring Australia — they usually go on to be pummelled by their hosts in the Boxing Day Test. Australia haven’t lost a December 26 Test since Melbourne 1998, when England stole a hard-fought 12-run win.

Yellow: The colour of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac, considered the Bible of cricket. It is the longest running annual sports publication in history. Recently brought out a special issue to mark England winning the Ashes for the first time since 1986.

Zooter: What Shane Warne calls his faster one. Last chance for him to deliver it in a home Ashes, for he might be too old — 40 to be precise — for the next one in 2009.

First Published: Nov 23, 2006 01:32 IST