Australia boasts its best spin combination of all time but is far from unbeatable. Seven of its first eight batsmen are drawn from the past 50 years, giving it a modern feel at the crease.
England’s top order is arguably the strongest – spoiler alert: June – of its 12 sides despite omitting some all-time greats. Its members have played and captained far more matches and scored far more centuries than those of its opponent. If it can score enough runs, an upset is possible. However, it lacks a matchwinning slow bowler.
The MCG has hosted 112 matches to date, including 56 – exactly half – against England. In total the visitors have won 20 games and lost 28. Australia’s overall batting average is 29.70 to England’s 27.69, equivalent to a 40-run margin. Perhaps appropriately, then, the inaugural and Centenary Tests were each decided by 45 runs.
41 Tests, 1909-26, 2469 runs at 40.47, six centuries
Bardsley is one of his country’s greatest left-handers. On his first Ashes tour he scored 136 and 130 at the Oval. On his last tour, 17 years later, he carried his bat for 193 at Lord’s. At home to South Africa in 1910-11 he scored 573 runs at 63.66. His career was shortened by World War I, which commenced when he was aged 31.
25 Tests, 1975-80, 1622 runs at 39.56, four centuries
He made his first-class debut at the age of only 26 after moving from regional New South Wales. He debuted for Australia the following season with 80 after scoring four consecutive centuries for NSW. In that 1974-75 series against England he scored 202 runs at 40.40. In England in 1975 he scored 414 runs at 82.80. His MCG highlights included centuries against the West Indies and Pakistan and 25 crucial runs in the Centenary Test with a broken jaw. But for two seasons of World Series Cricket, he would have played far more matches.
Ricky Ponting (captain)
168 Tests, 1995-2012, 13,378 runs at 51.85, 41 centuries
No other Australian has scored more runs or made more centuries. At the MCG he averaged 58.17 and scored four centuries, including 257 against India in 2003-04. He led Australia to World Cup victory in 2003 and 2007 but also to three Ashes series losses.
107 Tests, 1984-96, 7422 runs at 43.65, 21 centuries
Boon was a solid top-order batsman and short leg fieldsman. Against England in 1990-91 he scored 530 runs at 75.71. Against India in 1991-92 he scored 556 runs at 79.42. Against the West Indies in 1992-93 he scored 490 runs at 61.25. Against England in 1993 he scored 555 runs at 69.37, including three centuries. His other highlights included 184 in the Bicentenary Test at the SCG in 1987-88.
Greg ‘Mo’ Matthews
33 Tests, 1983-93, 1849 runs at 41.08, four centuries, 61 wickets at 48.22
Mo, as he was known, was a left-handed batsman and off spinner who polarised spectators and teammates. He debuted against Pakistan at the MCG with 2-95, 75 and 2-48. He scored three centuries during the 1985-86 season, including 100 not out against Pakistan at the MCG. In Australia his batting average was 48.76. His bowling highlight was 5-103 and 5-146 in the 1986-87 tied Test in Chennai. He has earnt selection over a number of specialist batsmen for also giving the bowling attack depth, variety, relief and insurance.
74 Tests, 1965-81, 5357 runs at 48.26, 15 centuries, 49 wickets at 29.08
Walters was a dashing batsman, crowd favourite, brilliant fielder and partnership breaker. He scored 155 against England on debut at age 19 and then 115 in the following match. Against the West Indies at the SCG in 1968-69 he became the first player to score a double-hundred and hundred in the same match. In Port of Spain in 1972-73 he scored 100 runs in a session. At the WACA against England in 1974-75 he scored a century in a session. At Christchurch in 1977-78 he scored 250. In Australia he averaged 57.83, including four centuries against England. If not for two years of national service and later two with World Series Cricket, he would have enjoyed even more success.
Tim Paine (wicketkeeper)
31 Tests, 2010-present, 1330 runs at 31.66, 133 catches, seven stumpings
Australia’s current Test captain, Paine led the retention of the Ashes in 2019. A finger injury in an exhibition match almost ended his career at only four matches after he had debuted against Pakistan at Lord’s, and he then scored 92 and 59 in India.
Geoff ‘Henry’ Lawson
46 Tests, 1980-89, 180 wickets at 30.56
A fast bowler and, at state level, an aggressive captain. Against England in 1982-83 he took 34 wickets at 20.20, including 6-47 and 5-87 at the Gabba. Against Pakistan in 1983-84 he took 24 wickets at 24.16. Against the West Indies in 1984-85 he took 23 wickets at 25.60, including 8-112 and 3-69 in Adelaide. In England in 1989 he took 29 wickets at 27.27 to spearhead the reclaiming of the Ashes.
Albert ‘Tibby’ Cotter
21 Tests, 1904-12, 89 wickets at 28.64
Tibby was a fearsome fast bowler with a Jeff Thomson-like action. In his second match he took 6-40 and 2-25 at the MCG. In England in 1905 he took 7-148 and 2-73 at the Oval. Four years later his series figures were 17 wickets at 21.47, including 5-38 at Headingley. He played his last match at 28 years of age due to a player dispute and then World War I. He was shot dead by a sniper at Beersheba in 1917.
Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly
27 Tests, 1932-46, 144 wickets at 22.59
Tiger was a medium-paced leg spinner who Bradman considered the greatest bowler that he had ever faced or watched. Of his 144 wickets, 102 were against England. At the MCG in 1932-33, in Australia’s only victory of the Bodyline series, he took 5-63 and 5-66. At Trent Bridge in 1934 he took 4-75 and 7-54. He and Clarrie Grimmett formed an outstanding partnership, sharing 124 wickets in the consecutive tours to England in 1934 and then South Africa in 1935-36. At Headingley in 1938 he took 5-66 and 5-56. After World War II interrupted his career he took 5-14 and 3-19 against New Zealand at the age of 40.
Clarrie ‘The Fox’ Grimmett
37 Tests, 1925-36, 216 wickets at 24.21
An accurate leg spinner and inventor of the flipper, his career was delayed by World War I and then by migration from New Zealand in his mid-20s. On debut at the age of 33, against England at the SCG in 1924-25, he took 5-45 and 6-37. He took 29 wickets in England in 1930, 33 against the West Indies in 1930-31, 33 against South Africa in 1931-32 and 25 in England in 1934. In the final series for which he was selected, in South Africa in 1935-36 at the age of 44, he took 44 wickets at 14.59, including two 10-wicket hauls and 13-wicket performance in his final three matches. Four years later he took a record 73 wickets in the Sheffield Shield. He was born on Christmas Day.
Usman Khawaja, Geoff Marsh, Ross Edwards, Travis Head, Brad Hodge, Matthew Wade, Ern Toshack, Jackson Bird, Ian Johnson, Colin McCool, Steve O’Keefe.
Sir Jack Hobbs
61 Tests, 1908-30, 5410 runs at 56.94, 15 centuries
Arguably England’s finest batsman, Sir Jack’s career spanned 23 years. He scored nine centuries in Australia, the last at 46 years of age. In ten matches at the MCG he averaged 69.29 and made five centuries. In all first-class cricket he scored 61,760 runs and made 199 centuries, both statistics records. He achieved these figures despite World War I interrupting his career when he was aged 31.
Sir Alastair Cook
161 Tests, 2006-18, 12,472 runs at 45.35, 33 centuries
Sir Alastair was a left-handed batsman who debuted at 21 and played his last Test aged 33. He is England’s leading run-scorer and century-maker, played a record 159 consecutive matches and led his side 59 times. In Australia in 2010-11 he scored 766 runs at 127.66. In four matches at the MCG he scored a double-century and two other centuries and averaged 87.00. He was born on Christmas Day.
Peter May (captain)
66 Tests, 1951-61, 4537 runs at 46.77, 13 centuries
One of the finest English batsmen of the modern era and captain for 41 matches, against South Africa at Headingley in 1951 Peter May scored 138 on debut. Against the West Indies at Edgbaston in 1957 he scored 285 not out. In three matches at the MCG his highest scores were 113 and 91. National service delayed his first-class debut by two years.
Lord Colin Cowdrey
114 Tests, 1954-75, 7624 runs at 44.06, 22 centuries
The first to play 100 Tests, Lord Cowdrey was captain on 27 occasions and a fine slip fieldsman. He toured Australia six times, scoring three centuries at the MCG, where he averaged 50.84. At the MCG in 1954-55 he scored 102 not out on a poor pitch against Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. Against the West Indies in 1957 he added 411 with Peter May at Headingley, and he scored 152 at Lord’s. Back at the MCG in 1962-63 he scored 113 and 58 not out. Flown to Australia in 1974-75 as an injury replacement at the age of 42, he immediately faced Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson at the WACA and scored 22 and 41. He was born in India.
92 Tests, 2012-present, 7599 runs at 48.40, 17 centuries
England’s current captain in 2015 scored 1385 runs in a calendar year, including Ashes hundreds at Sophia Gardens and Trent Bridge. His other highlights include 254 against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2016 and 226 in Hamilton in 2019-20. However, he has been criticised for converting so few of his 65 half-century scores into hundreds, of which only three have been against Australia.
Les Ames (wicketkeeper)
47 Tests, 1929-39, 2434 runs at 40.56, eight centuries, 75 catches, 23 stumpings
England’s first great wicketkeeper-batsman, Ames toured Australia three times and kept to Harold Larwood, Bill Voce, Bill Bowes and Hedley Verity in the Bodyline series of 1932-33. However, most of his batting highlights were against countries other than Australia, against whom he averaged only 27.00 with one century.
79 Tests, 1998-2009, 3845 runs at 31.77, five centuries, 226 wickets at 32.78
A Hard-hitting batsman and fast-medium bowler, Flintoff was an inspiration to teammates and home crowds. Despite scoring so few centuries and taking only three five-fers, he achieved more than his figures suggest. Against the West Indies at Edgbaston in 2004 he scored 167 with seven sixes. In 2005 he was arguably the world’s best cricketer and a key figure in the regaining of the Ashes after 16 years, with seven wickets at Edgbaston, 102 at Trent Bridge and 5-78 at the Oval.
12 Tests, 1906-08, 469 runs at 22.33, 39 wickets at 29.48
A hard-hitting batsman and medium-paced bowler, Crawford was one of the Golden Age’s finest all-rounders. In Australia in 1907-08, at 20 years of age, he took 30 wickets at 24.73, including 5-79 and 3-125 in the first MCG match, 5-48 and 3-72 in the second one and 3-52 and 5-141 in the second SCG match. He migrated to Australia a year later and represented South Australia. World War I commenced when he was aged 27, after which time he returned to live and finish his career in England.
22 Tests, 1931-53, 734 runs at 25.31, 45 wickets at 31.06
A hard-hitting batsman and popular captain, Brown was initially also a leg spinner but later became a medium-paced bowler. His first tour to Australia was the Bodyline series of 1932-33 and his last was as captain of the 1950-51 team. At the age of 39 in the latter series his performances included 62 and 4-26 at the MCG, 79 at the SCG and 5-49 at the MCG’s second match. His career was disrupted by World War II, during which he was a prisoner of war for several years. He was born in Peru.
46 Tests, 1973-81, 143 wickets at 28.11
A tall swing bowler, lower-order hitter and brilliant fielder, Chris Old was, however, prone to injury. Against Pakistan at Edgbaston in 1978 his 7-50 included four wickets in five balls. In 12 matches against Australia he took 40 wickets at 30.80 but never played more than three matches in a series. In the Centenary Test at the MCG in 1976-77 he took 3-39 and 4-104.
67 Tests, 2000-08, 248 wickets at 30.50
A fast-medium swing bowler who played a key role in many victories, Hoggard struggled when conditions didn’t suit him. In 2001-02 at Christchurch he took 7-63. In Barbados in 2003-04 he took a hat-trick. In Johannesburg in 2004-05 he took 5-144 and 7-61. When England regained the Ashes in 2005 he played all five matches and took 16 wickets. While his average against Australia was 29.56 at home, it was 45.31 away.
Possible tour party members
Archie Maclaren, Marcus Trescothick, Cyril Washbrook, Peter Parfitt, Trevor Bailey, Simon Jones, Jeff Jones, Arthur Gilligan.