It must be made clear that one-Ashes wonder aren’t the players who played in just one Ashes series.
Some of the players included here have featured in multiple Ashes series, but their success is confined to just one Ashes summer. In some cases it’s even only one or two Tests.
Although my list is dominated by the bowlers, I start with solid right-hand batsman.
A player with a pretty modest first-class record, 33-year-old David Steele was picked to bat at No. 3 against ‘Lillian Thomson’ – Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson – at Lord’s in the summer of 1975. Tony Greig, the new captain, was impressed by his solid technique against first bowling, and Steele didn’t disappoint his captain.
In three Tests and six innings he scored four 50s with a lowest score of 39. His effort would seem more impressive if we were to consider that he played in the pre-helmet days.
A year later he did equally well against Andy Roberts and Micheal Holding, scoring his only hundred at Trent Bridge, but then he was unceremoniously dropped for the ‘passage to India’ as the likes of Keith Fletcher and Derek Randall, known for their skills in playing spin bowling, came to the forefront.
Steele’s Test batting average of 42.06 is about ten runs more than his first-class batting average.
He made his debut at the Gabba in the summer of 1978, and although his team was soundly beaten, he impressed by taking 6-74. This started a memorable Ashes series for him, when he created a new Ashes record by taking 41 wickets. His ten-wicket haul at the MCG helped Australia win their only Test of the series. All this time his team was badly struggling in the series, and he was constantly at odds with his skipper Graham Yallop.
Later in the summer he took ten wickets in two Tests against Pakistan, but then he began to struggle with back pain during the difficult tour to India in the autumn of 1979. The return of the Packer rebels meant he was no longer an automatic choice in the team. Often he was picked as a third seamer, a role that didn’t suit his temperament.
Like Hoggy, Dymock featured in the disastrous Ashes series in 1978-79, but unlike Hogg, he struggled badly for wickets. Unusually for an Australian fast bowler he established himself in the team in India. Bowling with plenty of heart, he took 12-166 at Kanpur.
He remained a regular with Australian Test team for the home season of 1979-80. He played a big part in Ashes wins at the WACA and SCG. He took 6-34 in the second innings at the WACA as only Geoffry Boycott managed to handle him properly.
Despite this success, his Test career ended that season as he struggled in Pakistan. He was almost 35 at the time, and the selectors were looking for younger options.
Something of a surprise selection for the Ashes tour of 1982, the Jamaica-born Middlesex fast bowler took only one wicket in his first two Tests. Then everything clicked for him on a December day at the MCG. Bowling at his fastest, he dismissed Kepler Wessels and Greg Chappell in the morning session and ran through the lower order to leave Australia at 9-218.
The Allan Border-Jeff Thomson partnership brought Australia close to victory, but still Cowans was judged the man of the match.
Ironically, it’s the Thommo-Border stand that has ensured this Test’s status as one of the greatest Ashes matches, hence Cowan’s effort is remembered frequently.
He could never achieve similar success in international cricket. In his final Test at Headingley against Australia in 1985 he bowled too short on a seamer-friendly pitch and went for some easy runs.
At Sabina Park, Jamaica, on a February morning of 1986 Tim Robinson struggled for half an hour on a pitch with uneven bounce before becoming the first Test victim of Pat Patterson. In the four Tests of the series he reached double figures only twice, and 43 was his highest score. He returned home short of confidence and unsure about his England prospects. Despite a big hundred at Old Trafford against Pakistan in 1987 he never really got his international career back on track.
Until the disastrous West Indies tour his Test record was immaculate. After successfully negotiating the Indian spinners in the 1984-85 season he looked completely at ease against Geoff Lawson and Craig McDermott at home.
He was the man of the match in his first Ashes Test at Headingley for his solid 175, and he then added 148 at Edgbaston as England won by an innings.
He was overlooked for the 1986 tour and played two more Ashes matches. He scored 43 at the SCG in the bicentennial match. Then, at Old Trafford in 1989, in his final Test he scored zero and 12, each occasion trapped LBW by Lawson.
Ellison took 35 wickets in a short Test career of 11 matches. Almost half of those came in the last two Tests of the 1985 Ashes series. Recalled to the team at Edgbaston, he ran thorough the Australian middle order to take 6-77 in the first innings. Following on, Australian batting fared even worse, and he took 4-23. He was adjudged the man of the match despite a fine double hundred from David Gower. Ellison took seven more wickets at the Oval as England completed their series victory.
Surprisingly, Ellison’s Test career ended in less than a year, at Lord’s June 1986. He had a spell in Shield cricket with Tasmania and played against Mike Gatting’s England team during the 1986-87 season.
Though the Barbados-born Warwickshire seam bowler was a part of Mike Gatting’s team of 1986, England’s persistence with two spinners meant he had to wait until the Boxing Day Test at the MCG before getting his chance. Even then it was an injury to Graham Dilley that gave him his opportunity. On the opening day he took 5-48 and along with Ian Botham bowled Australia out for 141. To prove his effort was no fluke, he took 5-75 at the SCG, cutting through the Australian middle order before Dean Jones (184*) revived the Australian hopes.
Small returned to Australa in 1990 but by that time had lost most of his zip.
During the summer of 1993 Tim May took 21 wickets in five Tests in England. He started at Lord’s, where he used his variation in flight well to take 2-64 and 4-81. With Shane Warne taking eight wickets in the match, it was a rare case at the time of two Australian spinners winning a Test match together outside the SCG. May’s best effort 5-89 came at the Edgbaston.
He started the home season well, taking 5-65 and 2-45 in Hobart against the Kiwis, but after that, wickets well and truly dried out for him. Bowling from the opposite end of Warne, he bowled lots of maidens and kept up the pressure. While this certainly helped Warne, it definitely didn’t help the prospects of May’s career.
His Test career ended after the 1994-95 Ashes summer.