Ten most memorable Ashes Innings

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Australia's Ashton Agar (L) is congratulated by England's Graeme Swann. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES.

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In the spirit of the back-to-back Ashes series being played this year, this article goes through ten of the best Ashes innings of the last 30 years.

To avoid any conflict or disagreement, I’ve decided not to rank the innings, rather let you roarers decide for yourself. So without any further ado, in no particular order, here are the ten best Ashes innings played.

1. Ian Botham 149* Headingly 1981
Sir Ian Botham has played many memorable innings, both with bat and ball but none more memorable than his match saving turned into a match winning innings of 149 in the third Test of the 1981 Ashes series.

With Australia 1-0 up, they were almost certainties to win the Test match after Australia skittled England for 174 in response to their first innings of 9/401 declared.

Following on, England were in dire trouble at 5/105 in their second innings, still trailing by 122.

Enter Sir Ian Botham. With hopes of saving the Test almost lost, Botham began to have a slog.

He took the attack to the Aussie attack boasting the likes of Lillee, Lawson and Alderman and began hitting Australia to all parts and with handy support by Graham Dilley (56) and Chris Old (29), Botham registered a hundred off just 87 deliveries, and went on to be 149* and helped England’s total to 356, a lead of 129.

In the end, the slender 129 lead ended up being a match winning lead as Bob Willis bowled a magical spell and claimed 8/43 as Australia collapsed and fell 18 runs short.

This was the moment that turned Botham a hero. England went on to win the series 3-1 and went from from perennial laughing stock to national heroes.

2. Allan Border 196 and 41* Lord’s 1985
This was Border’s match. He scored 43% of the side’s combined total in both innings and led them superbly to maintain Australia’s unbeaten run at cricket’s headquarters.

Sure Border has played many other memorable innings but none more than this one. England were bowled out for 290 in their first innings thanks to six wickets for McDermott.

However at 4/101 in their first innings, Australia were in trouble. Allan Border was joined by Greg Ritchie and both combined for a 216 fifth wicket stand against a rampant Ian Botham, who was bowling faster and more aggressive than he had ever bowled.

Border’s score of 196 was his highest Test score at the time and he displayed a command and range of shot which few contemporary players could equal. Botham restricted Australia from running away with the match with 5/109 but Australia had a healthy lead of 135.

England managed to crawl their way to 260, largely thanks to a aggressive 85 from Botham. Their lead was only 127 but at 3/22, Australia were in all sorts of trouble when Border came to the crease.

Things didn’t get better when they slumped to 5/65 when Boon was bowled. However, alongside Wayne Phillips and Simon O’Donnell, Border safely guided Australia to victory with four wickets to spare.

3. Mark Butcher 173* Headingly 2001
Not quite the flair and aggression as Botham 20 years before this Test but certainly just as memorable.

After being flogged for the first three Tests, the trend was set to be continued as Australia piled on 447 thanks to 144 and 118 from Ponting and Martyn.

England were bowled out for 309 in their first innings, surrendering a 138 run lead to Australia, however a very spirited declaration from Steve Waugh, in a bid to end the game with a result allowed a whole day’s play for Australia to either bowl out England, or for them to chase down 307.

At 2/33, England were in trouble and Mark Butcher who had only averaged 27 from his 13 Tests, was under immense pressure.

However, like Botham, he took the attack to what was a world class bowling attack boasting the likes of McGrath, Warne, Lee and Gillespie. Butcher combined with Nasser Hussain (55) and Mark Ramprakash (32) to guide England to an emphatic six wicket victory.

It gave the English players and fans something to cheer about after poor performances by the team in the first three Tests.

3. Steve Waugh 157* Trent Bridge 2001
A man that many would have as no.1 on the list if they needed someone to bat for their lives. And Steve Waugh demonstrated that in one of the more courageous innings ever played in history.

Steve Waugh had ruptured his Achilles tendon in the third Test while batting and was desperate to return for the fifth and final Test at the Oval. Before the Test, Steve could barely run at the start of the innings, but he was not allowed a runner due to the Laws of Cricket.

On 99, he could barely stand without stumbling. He played a nice punch drive down the ground and took off. He limped to the non striker’s end and with only a couple of meters left, he ended up crawling on his knees and finally reached the other end.

Lying almost in disbelief on the pitch, Waugh raised his bat and couldn’t help but smile. It was one of the more memorable moments in cricketing history and showed the fighter that Steve Waugh was.

For all the guts he displayed, Waugh’s effort did him more harm than good. He developed a blood clot on the flight home, and had to undergo treatment for Deep Vein Thrombosis.

However, all that mattered to Waugh was winning that Test. He had defeated England on one leg, literally.

4. Brett Lee 43* Edgbaston 2005
England had seemingly sealed the match and levelled the series when Australia slumped to 8/175 in their second innings at Edgbaston chasing 282 for victory. However, Brett Lee had other ideas.

In probably the finest innings of his Test career, Brett Lee coped with a rampant Freddie Flintoff who had hit him several times on the gloves and arm, and with Michael Kasprowicz at the other end, almost guided Australia to victory.

However, a brutal Steve Harmison bouncer caught Kasprowicz fending at it, in which the ball ballooned off his gloves, and a desperate Geraint Jones dived to take the catch down leg side.

When the celebrations began, Brett Lee fell to his knees, gutted and distraught.

What was to come would be one of the great moments as Andrew Flintoff came over to console Brett having loss the match and was titled one of the “Spirit of Cricket” moments.

It may not have been a big score, but Brett Lee’s effort is surely one to remember.

5. Ricky Ponting 156 Old Trafford 2005
Having dominated most of the match, England were looking to take a strangle hold on what is considered to be the greatest Ashes series of all time at Old Trafford after setting Australia a world record chase of 423 to win.

England looked destined for victory when Australia fell to 6/263. However, in a time where Australia desperately needed someone to stand up for them, there was no better person other than Ricky Ponting.

The knock was the embodiment of the matured Ponting, battling tooth and nail for his country.

It was a captain’s innings of Steve Waugh proportions and one the ice man himself considered a major moment in Ricky Ponting’s career. With Australia outplayed and on the ropes in the third Test, Ponting batted almost seven hours for a flawless 156 to save the match and keep a tense series at 1-1.

Some of his trademark shots including his cover drive and pull shot were on display. This innings demonstrated the fighting Aussie spirited and reminded everyone just how much taking part in an Ashes series means so much to the players.

6. Ricky Ponting 196 The Gabba 2006
It was an innings filled with determination, pure class and one of the best Ponting has ever played.

It was an innings where Ponting could do no wrong.

He played shots around the ground, none better than his pull shot and straight drives.

His celebration once he got to a hundred showed just how much it meant to him.

Having surrendered the Ashes 12 months before, Ponting was more determined than ever to regain that Urn.

It set the tone for the whole series not just for Australia, but Ponting personally as he top scored the series with 576 runs @82 and captained Australia to a 5-0 Ashes whitewash.

7. Michael Hussey 61* Adelaide 2006
In one of the greatest Test matches played all time, Michael Hussey led the way in the second innings in the second Test at Adelaide. The Test was destined for a draw after both teams registered huge first innings totals exceeding 500.

With England 1/61 early on day 5, neither team thought a result was possibly. However, when Shane Warne got on a roll, England choked and were bowled out for 129, leaving Australia to chase 168 to win in 35 overs.

Australia started their chase with a bang but fell to 2/33 in the sixth over. Michael Hussey came in and turned one-day mode played with a positive intent.

Mr Cricket himself dealt with the pressure in the best possible style with a well compiled 61.

When Hussey hit the winning runs, his cry of “yeah!” rang around the ground and led to emphatic celebrations in one of the more memorable ends to a Test match in recent memory.

8. Adam Gilchrist 102 Perth WACA 2006
One of the more brutal, electrifying and entertaining innings was registered by a once-in-a-lifetime player in Adam Gilchrist.

Coming into the match, Gilchrist’s form had been up and down over the last 12-18 months and a duck in the first innings of the Test put him under a little bit of pressure to perform.

However with Australia 5/365, he had a license to play his natural ways.

His first 50 came off a regulation 41 balls, for Gilly’s standards, but the next 50, came off just 16 balls.

When he reached 50, Gilly decided to take on Monty Panesar who had bowled so well all match, and boy did he ever.

Gilly would take 24 off one Panesar over, including three sixes and a four.

He continued the trend by smashing Hoggard down the ground for another six and the “Gilly” chant began echoing around the whole WACA ground.

He was one hit away from scoring the fastest ever hundred in Test match cricket, but missed a wide delivery off Hoggard on 98.

It wasn’t meant to be but in the end, Gilly would reach his hundred off just 56 deliveries, the second fastest in the history of Test cricket and everyone single one of the 20 000 fans in at the WACA stood and cheered their adopted hometown hero.

9. Alastair Cook 235* The Gabba 2010
Alastair Cook had struggled a great deal against Australia before this series started, averaging only 30 with one hundred in 10 Tests.

However, Cook’s fortunes were about to take a huge turn. With England 0/15 at the start of day 4, trailing by more than 200 runs, England were desperate for someone to stand up for them in order for the Test to be saved.

Cook’s innings started slowly but as he went in, he grew in confidence and played some magnificent strokes.

He ended up top scoring with 235* in a monumental second innings effort by England of 517/1.

Such high hopes of Australia winning the Test after day three were killed in the blink of an eye and that innings set the tone for Cook and England for the rest of the series.

He went on to score 766 runs @ 127 in the series, which played a big part in helping England retain the Ashes on Australian soil for the first time in 24 years.

10. Ashton Agar 98 Trent Bridge 2013
Who could ever forget this innings? Before the Test had even started, no one thought his chance of an Ashes debut were possible.

England had never even heard of the tall, skinny 19 year old.

Nevertheless, he was picked ahead of Nathan Lyon as Australia’s spinner for the Test, but his major contributions in this Test were with the bat, not ball.

Coming in at no.11 with Australia in dire trouble at 9/117, Agar decided to play some shots, as any tailender would.

However, these shots weren’t whirl wind shots or edges over the slips, they were proper cricket shots!

Combining with Phil Hughes (81*), they shared a world record partnership for the 10th wicket of 163.

Agar would embarrass the English bowling attack who had no answer to Agar’s brilliance.

The highlight of the innings was of Kevin Pietersen like “flamingo” flick down the ground.

He wasn’t batting anywhere near like a no.11 and Darren Lehmann’s claims that Agar could bat were certainly justified.

In the end, his fairytale debut was not meant to be but Agar walked off the ground to a standing ovation from the Trent Bridge crowd, a world record next to his name and having helped Australia from a match-losing position to a match-winning position.

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