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The greatest Ashes XI of all time

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18th November, 2017
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With the Ashes starting in Brisbane next week, all the talk at this stage is around who will and won’t feature in the first Test.

But with this series tipped to be one of the tightest in recent history, what better time than to taker a look back at one of the greatest sporting contests in the world.

Compiled below is the best XI for Ashes contests only. Yes there have been better players and yes this list will not please everyone. But from a pure Ashes point of view, there has not been a better eleven to grace this magnificent contest.

1. Sir Leonard Hutton
Statistics – 27 matches, 2428 runs, HS 364, average 56.46

What better way to start this side than with Sir Leonard Hutton, the holder of the current highest score in Ashes history? Hutton wrote himself into Ashes folklore in his first series against Australia with a masterful 364, in the fifth Test of the 1938 series.

Hutton, in that instance helped England to a first innings score of 903 as Australia were beaten by an innings and 579 runs, easily their worst statistical loss in history. Hutton was a master with the blade and regularly tore Australia’s bowling attack apart.

2. W. G. Grace
Statistics – 22 matches, 1098 runs, HS 170, average 32.29

W. G. Grace is widely considered to be the founder of cricket and took part in the very game where the Ashes were born. If it was not for Grace’s presence and dominant level of play back in the late 1800s, cricket may not be the game that it is today.

Grace’s number won’t blow anyone away, bit it was his towering presence which used to attract crowds from far and wide, wherever he played. His highest score of 170, scored in a game where Australia were bowled out twice for 68 and 149, highlighted how dominant the big man could be. Others who have come after Grace have produced far better numbers but no one has had quite the impact on the game that Grace had.

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3. Sir Donald Bradman
Statistics – 37 matches, 5028 runs, HS 334, average 89.78

Sir Donald Bradman, put simply, the greatest cricketer to have ever lived and probably will ever live. Bradman could take apart any bowling attack, on any day, on any wicket. Bradman lived for a contest and none more so than the Ashes. His total run tally of 5028 is the most by any batsmen ever in Ashes Test by more than 1000 runs.

Australia's greatest ever batsman, Sir Don Bradman

(AP Photo, File).

Bradman burst onto the Ashes scene with two centuries in his first series. He followed this up with scores of 254, 334 and 232 in his second series to completely annihilate the English attack in what is still the highest run tally in a single Ashes series. Bradman was and still is, the best ever.

4. Allan Border
Statistics – 42 matches, 3222 runs, HS 200*, average 55.55

Allan Border loved a scrap and there was no better stage for him to produce than in the Ashes. When Border was made captain, he inherited perhaps one of the worst Australian sides in history.

Before he retired however, he had dragged a whole nation on his back to the number one side in the world again. 

Perhaps Border’s finest hour as Australian captain was his 4-0 demolition of England in the 1989 Ashes series.

Widely tipped as one of the worst touring parties to ever grace English shores, Border led the Australians to a stunning upset win and catapulted Australian cricket back into the realm of relevance we see today.

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5. Steve Waugh
Statistics – 45 matches, 3173, HS 177, average 58.75

Perhaps Australia’s most courageous captain, Steve Waugh capitalised on the work Border had done before him and catapulted Australia into world beating side it is today. Waugh had been a bit parts player in the Australian side prior to the 1989 tour.

He quickly went about changing this view as he finished the tour with 506 runs at an average of 126.5.

Waugh’s finest hour however is perhaps the most famous moment in Ashes history. Waugh had entered the fifth Test of the 2002-03 Ashes series under all sorts of criticism and scrutiny following a string of poor performances.

He proceeded to put all these talks to bed in one of the finest knocks in Ashes history as he smacked a boundary of the last ball of the day to bring up a splendid hundred, under all sorts of pressure.

6. Sir Ian Botham
Statistics – 36 matches, 1673 runs, HS 149*, 128 wickets, best 6/95

One of the greatest all rounders of all time, Ian Botham always seemed to save his best for the Ashes. Botham was never the most consistent cricketer on his side, but on his day, he could beat just about anyone.

Botham’s most famous Ashes performance involves one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. In the third Test of the 1981 Ashes series, England had been dismissed for a poultry 174 and trailed Australia well in excess of 200 runs. Botham entered the field with England still trailing Australia by some margin.

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With some of the most brutal hitting the game has ever seen, Botham rattled off 149 not out in an innings which willed England across the line. It is, to this day, one of the greatest ever Ashes innings. Not bad considering Botham had taken 6/95 in the first innings with the ball.

7. Adam Gilchrist
Statistics – 20 matches, 1083 runs, HS 152, average 45.12, 96 dismissals

Considered the greatest keeper batsmen of all time, Adam Gilchrist find his way into this side through his batting ability. On any day, Gilchrist could turn a Test match with his power hitting, often saving his best for the Ashes. Gilchrist’s keeping ability should be underestimated also, boasting the highest dismissal/innings ratio for any Ashes keeper with over 20 matches.

Australian opening batsman Adam Gilchrist celebrates his century during the one day international match against Sri Lanka at the WACA ground in Perth on February 15, 2008. The two teams are participating with India in a tri-nations series and it is Australia's Adam Gilchrist's last international match at his home ground. AFP PHOTO/Tony ASHBY

(AFP PHOTO/Tony ASHBY)

Gilchrist’s undoubted greatest Ashes moment came in the 2006-07 series when he scored the second fasted hundred in Test history. Coming into the side under the pump, Gilchrist confessed later that he was considering retirement after this Test match as he was no longer enjoying the sport. 57 balls was all it took for Gilchrist to reach the milestone and with it, crushing any hope England had in that series deciding match.

8. Shane Warne
Statistics – 36 matches, 195 wickets, average 23.25, best 8/71

A common theme of this list are players who lived for an Ashes contest. No one on this list lived for the Ashes quite as much as Shane Warne. Whether it was with the bat, the ball or at first slip, Warne took pride in dismantling the English in any way he could.

Warne boasts so many Ashes highlights including an eight wicket hall in 1994 or his day five exploits in Adelaide in 2006. But ironically, Warne’s defining Ashes series came in a losing effort in 2005.

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Warne scored 249 runs, including a best of 90, but ultimately it was his bowling which kept Australia in the series. Warne took 40 wickets in the series, often keeping the English assaults at bay. Warne was adjudged to be player of the series with Andrew Flintoff in an effort which will love in the memories of all Australian and English fans.

Shane Warne bowls

(Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

9. Jim Laker
Statistics – 15 matches, 79 wickets, average 18.27, best 10/53

Jim Laker produced the best bowling performance in Test history against Australia in the 1956 Ashes series. The Australian’s were all at sea as Laker took 19/90 for the match, as England won by an innings and plenty.

No bowler in the history of First Class cricket has taken more than 17 wickets in a match. For Laker to have taken 19 in an Ashes Test match is particularly special.

While Laker is mostly remembered for this one match, it’s important to note that Laker was more than just a one hit wonder. In his other 14 Ashes matches, Laker took three five wicket hauls and was often used as a controlled spinner to compliment the quicks down the other end.

10. Dennis Lillee
Statistics – 24 matches, 128 wickets, average 22.32, best 7/89

Dennis Lillee is one of the greatest bowlers to have ever lived and he always saved his best for the Ashes. The lethal combination of Lillee and Thompson still strikes fear into the hearts of English fans. Lillee was the perfect line and length bowler when he needed to be, but also had an extra gear to kick into, if the time saw fit.

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Lillee’s greatest Ashes exploits came in 1981 when he took an incredible 39 wickets, including a seven wicket haul. Lillee was superb all series and was often called upon to keep the Australian’s in the fight that series, as they ultimately lost 3-1. Lillee’s 39 wicket haul was the equal sixth highest in Ashes history.

11. Frederick Spofforth
Statistics – 18 matches, 94 wickets, average 18.41, best 7/44

Frederick Spofforth, one of the meanest fast bowlers in Test history and the literal creator of the Ashes. Spofforth’s efforts in the 1882 series helped change the course of cricket history. In the only Test of that series, England has dismissed Australia cheaply twice and were chasing a meagre 85 for victory.

Enter Spofforth who tore through the English like a hot knife through butter, on his way to figures of 7/44 and 14 wickets for the match. England were bowled out for 77 and lost the match by seven runs.

The English were so bitter they had been beaten that a stump was taken, burnt and placed into an urn, along with an obituary being written into the local newspaper claiming the death of English Cricket. Alas, the Ashes were born and Spofforth now lives long in the memories of all English and Australian fans.

Many years later, Spofforth was reincarnated as Dennis Lillee to continue tormenting the English.

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