All-rounder Glenn Maxwell has trained with Victoria’s Sheffield Shield squad as he edges closer to a return from a mental health break.
The last time Australia won the Ashes in England was in 2001.
Mike Hussey, Darren Lehmann, Stuart Law, Jamie Cox, Martin Love, Greg Blewett, Ian Harvey and Andy Bichel were running amok in the UK. Yet they weren’t even in Australia’s Ashes squad.
Australia thumped England 4-1 in that Ashes and may still have won the series even if they had fielded a second XI, such was the extraordinary depth they boasted at the time and the poor standard of the England team.
That summer, in English county cricket, Australians made up six of the top 12 runscorers across the two county divisions.
Bichel, meanwhile, was the second-highest wicket taker in division two with a haul of 66 scalps.
Then there was Harvey, who was the outstanding all-rounder of that county season, averaging 41 with the bat and 18 with the ball across 10 matches.
England would have loved to have been able to pick Harvey in their Ashes XI at the time. Yet he was far from even making Australia’s 17-man Ashes squad and never played a Test in his career despite first-class averages of 35 with the bat and 27 with the ball, which would make him a shoo-in for the current Australian Test side.
That 2001 county season underscores the jaw-dropping depth of talent Australia possessed the last time they won an Ashes in the UK.
This was Australia’s squad for that Ashes:
Steve Waugh (captain), Adam Gilchrist, Damien Fleming, Jason Gillespie, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Brett Lee, Simon Katich, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Colin Miller, Ashley Noffke, Ricky Ponting, Wade Seccombe, Michael Slater, Shane Warne, Mark Waugh.
With the bat, Gilchrist, Martyn and the Waugh brothers commanded that Ashes, together making nearly 1,500 runs at 82.
Ponting, meanwhile, chipped in with 338 runs at 42. With the ball, McGrath and Warne were unstoppable, combining to take 63 wickets at 18, one of the most dominant one-two acts ever seen in an Ashes series.
While Australia used just 13 players across the five Tests, England churned through 19 cricketers as they desperately sought a combination that could compete.
It is understandable, then, that the likes of Hussey, Lehmann, Law, Cox, Harvey, Bichel, Love and Blewett couldn’t get a look in, despite toying with their county opponents.
Hussey’s 2001 county season was particularly phenomenal. With 2,055 runs at 79 in division one, the left hander produced the second-highest scoring county season of the past 20 years.
That wasn’t just a purple patch either. Across his 60 career county matches, Hussey bulldozed that English competition, piling up 6,710 runs at 73, including 19 centuries.
The fact Hussey averaged only 41 across his Sheffield Shield career highlights the monumental gulf that existed between Australian and English first class cricket standards in that era.
Behind Hussey, in third spot on the division one runscoring list, Lehmann churned out 1,416 runs at 83 for Yorkshire.
That’s no surprise either given he’s one of the best-performed Yorkshire players of all time. In 88 county matches for Yorkshire, Lehmann scored 8,876 runs at 69, including 26 centuries.
Yet he, too, couldn’t get a go in the Australian Test team at this stage. Lehmann played just 27 Tests overall despite an astonishing first-class record of nearly 26,000 runs at 58, including 82 tons.
At least he got a reasonable crack at Tests, though. The same can’t be said for Law, Cox and Love who were also busy flaying county attacks in that summer of 2001.
Cox never got a baggy green, while Law played just one Test and Love five. Law batted once in his Test career, made 54* against Sri Lanka in Perth in 1996, and was promptly dropped for the next Test when Steve Waugh returned from injury.
Love, meanwhile, is on the very short list of Test cricketers to have been dropped after making a ton in their last innings. The Queenslander made 100* against Bangladesh in 2003 but was never seen again in Test cricket despite being just 29 years old.
While Australia were bossing the 2001 Ashes, Law made 1,311 runs at 66 in county cricket, Cox made 1,264 runs at 57, Love made 1,364 runs at 51 and Blewett scored 1,292 runs at 48.
Blewett, Cox, Love, Lehmann, Law and Hussey would have made a strong Test top six, one which probably could have led Australia to victory in that 2001 Ashes.
But they weren’t needed, such was the remarkable strength of Australian cricket the last time they won the Ashes in the UK. In fact, it’s arguable that top six might have been stronger than Australia’s current batting unit.