Lawrence Booth's 10 best Ashes Tests

Thrills, spills, Beefy, Benaud and Ben! From Stokes’ Headingley heroics to Botham in 81, LAWRENCE BOOTH takes you on a thrilling trip down memory lane with his 10 best Ashes Tests

  • England and Australia will do battle once again in the Ashes, starting on Friday
  • There have been several memorable moments down the years in the rivalry
  • Lawrence Booth looks at some of the most exhilarating games over time 

The Ashes begins on Friday, with England and Australia ready to do battle once again in one of cricket’s greatest rivalries.

Ben Stokes and Pat Cummins will lead their sides into battle with the hope of not only securing victory, but making their respective nations proud and putting on a show for all to enjoy.

Here, Mail Sport’s Lawrence Booth takes a trip down memory lane in picking out his 10 best Ashes Tests ever. 

1 Headingley 2019 – England won by one wicket 

Six weeks after leading England’s heart-stopping World Cup win against New Zealand at Lord’s, Ben Stokes was at it again.

Ben Stokes played perhaps England’s greatest Ashes innings to secure victory at Headingley in 2019

The now-England skipper, perhaps ironically, scored the winning runs off now-Australia skipper Pat Cummins

When James Pattinson trapped Stuart Broad for a duck, Australia needed one wicket to retain the Ashes — England 73 runs to deny them. But with Jack Leach a bystander at one end, Stokes hit six after six at the other. Australia used up their reviews, Nathan Lyon bungled a run-out, and umpire Joel Wilson rejected a strong lbw shout.

Finally, to a deafening roar, Stokes cracked Pat Cummins through the covers to finish with 135 not out. Leach’s contribution to a record run-chase of 362 was a precious single.

2 – Edgbaston 2005 England won by two runs

This result changed the summer, and Ashes history. Michael Vaughan’s England had lost the first Test at Lord’s, but looked set to square the series when Australia began the fourth morning eight wickets down and 107 short of victory.

Then, with three required, Steve Harmison dug one in at Kasprowicz, who gloved the ball down the leg side, where a diving Geraint Jones held on. Kasprowicz’s glove had been off the bat handle — but DRS was yet to be invented.

3 Headingley 1981 – England won by 18 runs

When bookies offered odds of 500-1 against an England win, the Australian pair of Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh had a flutter — a move that nowadays would have cost them their careers.

Following on, England — already trailing 1-0, and captained by Mike Brearley after Ian Botham’s resignation— were seven down and still 92 behind when Botham decided to ‘give it some humpty’.

Ian Botham took matter into his own hands at Headingley in 1981 as he steered England to victory

Bob Willis, pictured hear at the Oval in the same series, took eight for 43 to secure the win

He added 117 with Graham Dilley, 67 with Chris Old and 37 with Bob Willis, and finished with an outrageous 149 not out from 148 balls. Even so, Australia needed just 130 for victory. But Willis, widely written off, charged in like a madman and took eight for 43 to skittle them for 111.

4 The Oval 1882 – Australia won by seven runs

Technically, the Ashes did not yet exist when Australia won on English soil for the first time. But this was the game that spawned them.

Chasing 85 to win a low-scoring affair, Monkey Hornby’s England team were nearly there at 51 for two. Instead, Australia’s fast bowler Frederick ‘Demon’ Spofforth — infuriated by gamesmanship by WG Grace, who had run out Sammy Jones when he left his crease to repair a divot — demolished them for 77, finishing with figures of seven for 44.

The Sporting Times declared the death of English cricket (above) and the Ashes were born.

5 The Oval 1902 – England won by one wicket

Gilbert Jessop’s name has popped up repeatedly since the start of the Bazball era, because his 76-ball hundred in this game is the England record today’s crop of batsmen keep threatening to break.

Archie MacLaren’s side had collapsed to 48 for five in pursuit of 263, when Jessop — nicknamed ‘The Croucher’ because of his stance — embarked on a remarkable innings, scoring 104 of the next 139 in barely an hour and a quarter. The Yorkshire duo of George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes then put on 15 for the last wicket to take England home, having supposedly promised each other to ‘get ’em in singles’.

Gilbert Jessop, who still holds the record for England’s fastest Test century, helped his side to victory in 1902

6 Sydney 1894-85 – England won by 10 runs

For the first time in Test history, a team won after following on — a feat that would not be repeated until Botham and Willis joined forces at Headingley.

When Australia reached stumps on the fifth day (games were played to a finish back then) on 113 for two in pursuit of 177, England’s players took solace in beer.

But it rained overnight: in an age of uncovered pitches, the surface became treacherous. Slow left-armer Bobby Peel sobered up under the shower, then helped dismiss the Australians, who had made 586 in their first innings, for 166.

7 Adelaide 1924-25 – Australia won by 11 runs

England were 2-0 down when Australia set them an apparently ungettable 375 to fight their way back into the series.

Everyone chipped in. Herbert Sutcliffe made 59, Percy Chapman 58 and Dodger Whysall — who five years later would die after injuring his elbow on the dance floor and contracting septicaemia in hospital — 75.

At 357 for eight, they could sense victory, only for Jack Gregory to remove captain Arthur Gilligan for 31, and Arthur Mailey to dismiss fellow leg-spinner Tich Freeman for 24, as England fell just short.

8 Melbourne 1982-83 – England won by three runs

This was the definitive nail-biter. Australia needed victory to regain the Ashes, England to keep the series alive. And when play resumed on the fifth day, Australia — chasing 292 — were 255 for nine, with the last-wicket stand between Allan Border and Jeff Thomson already worth 37.

Botham was the man of the moment again in 1982 in Melbourne as he helped England to a three-run win

They had extended it to 70 by the time Botham (inevitably) tempted Thomson into a rash stroke outside off. The ball flew to second slip, where Chris Tavare juggled the catch, parrying it behind him. An alert Geoff Miller swooped round from first slip to hold on, and England ran jubilant from the MCG.

9 Adelaide 2006-07 – Australia won by six wickets

This was Australia’s answer to Headingley ’81. When Andrew Flintoff declared England’s first innings on 551 for six, Australia’s ambitions seemed limited to a draw. But they replied with 513, then stunned England on the last day, as Shane Warne wove his magic.

The batsmen retreated into their shells — Paul Collingwood’s 22 not out lasted over three hours — and were bowled out for 129 in 73 overs. Warne took four for 49 from 32.

Shane Warne wove his magic as Australia recorded a shock victory at Adelaide in 2006

Warne was one of the heroes of the series as the hosts secured a 5-0 whitewash 

Needing 168, Australia raced home inside 33 overs to complete the second leg of what proved a historic whitewash.

10 Old Trafford 1961 – Australia won by 54 runs

At 150 for one chasing 256, and Ted Dexter in full flight, England were hot favourites to take a 2-1 lead to the final Test at the Oval.

But Richie Benaud (above) decided to bowl his leg-breaks from round the wicket — an unusual tactic in those days — and England fell apart, including captain Peter May bowled for a duck. Nine wickets tumbled for 61, as Benaud took six for 70. Australia had retained the Ashes.

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