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Opinion

The 1970-71 Ashes: 50 years on

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25th November, 2020
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Here are seven reasons why the 1970-71 Ashes series was significant.

50 years ago, today, one of the most intriguing Test series began in Brisbane.

Appearances can be deceptive. The build-up was not promising as the aged touring MCC side was dubbed “Dad’s Army” and Australia’s most recent series was a 4-0 drubbing by South Africa.

In addition to this, that summer half a century ago included five draws and two English victories in Tests in which the scoring rate was often funereal.

Is it even worth remembering such a dull series between two seemingly second-rate teams?

Yet, the drama in the series and the impact that it had on cricket make it worthwhile to look back at the 1970-71 Ashes series. Here’s why.

1. The only seven-Test match series
Hang on, why were there seven Tests in a series for the only time ever?

Originally six were agreed to, but the scheduled third Test at the MCG was abandoned without a ball being bowled after three days of rain. In place of the match against Victoria in January another Test was included.

In addition, on the scheduled fifth day of the original Test, the first-ever one-day international match was hastily organised.

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It proved a success as 46,000 turned up and the attitude of the batsmen was much more positive. In the 40 over-a-side game, Australia chased the target of 190 and in losing only five wickets and they had their only win of the summer.

2. The contrasting tale of two captains
Ray Illingworth was selected as captain for the tour over Colin Cowdrey. The latter had difficulty with the role of vice-captain as his highest score of just 40 in the series suggests. Illingworth became the first captain to retain the Ashes in Australia since Jardine in the bodyline series.

Not that this was achieved with ease. He led a walk-off in the final Test in Sydney. After John Snow had felled Terry Jenner with a bouncer, the English fast bowler was manhandled by a spectator while fielding on the boundary. Illingworth had had enough.

Bill Lawry was averaging 40.5 with the bat up to the final Test when the series was still alive. He had carried his bat for 60 not out as all fell around him.

Yet, the selectors chose to drop an Australian captain during a series for the first time. Infamously, Lawry found out about this via the radio and his replacement Ian Chappell declared, “The bastards will never get me like that.”

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3. Umpiring controversies
Only three umpires officiated in the series. The accusations of home-town bias by Lou Rowan, Tom Brooks and Max O’Connell were aired especially when it was realised that the English failed to have one LBW decision ruled in their favour.

The not out decision when Keith Stackpole was clearly run out on 18 in the first Test in Brisbane set the scene for acrimonious relations between the tourists and the umpires. When he went on to score 207, the decision seemed even more controversial.

Rowan was forced to apologise to Illingworth after his incorrect refusal to allow for the roller to be used in the second Test in the first-ever Test match at the WACA in Perth. Geoffrey Boycott’s throwing his bat on the ground after being given run out in the sixth Test was further evidence of the problems.

4. The debuts of three Australian cricket legends
Greg Chappell made 108 in his first Test, while Dennis Lillee captured five wickets on his debut in the fifth Test.

Rod Marsh played all six Tests and despite equalling the highest score for an Australian Test wicketkeeper when he was left on 92 not out, his unreliable keeping earned the nickname “Iron Gloves”.

5. Australia used 19 players
One Test wonders included Ross Duncan who made 3 and took 0 for 30; Ken Eastwood replaced his fellow Victorian Lawry and scored just 5 and 0 (but received two baggy greens by mistake).

Tony Dell debuted in the final Test and played just one other. Kerry O’Keeffe was just 21 when chosen. The most interesting of all was perhaps Allan “Froggy” Thomson whose unusual bowling action earned him cult status but his 12 wickets at 54.5 meant this was a short-lived Test career.

Cricket generic

(Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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6. England’s stars
The Sussex poet, John Snow, whose 7 for 40 at the SCG can easily be forgotten amidst the drama of the walk-off; Boycott averaged 93.85 while compiling 657 runs. He and John Edrich and Brian Luckhurst proved difficult stumbling blocks for the Australian attack.

7. The legacy of the series
Snow proved that England teams with at least one fast bowler like himself, Larwood and Tyson are necessary for a successful Ashes campaign in Australia. The English eyes are on the 2021 Ashes down under with the Jofra Archer and Mark Wood being prepared to assault the home team.

Most significantly, Ian Chappell’s ascendancy to the captaincy led to the Chappell era. A more aggressive and united Australian team resulted under his leadership which was going to show fight in the 1972 Ashes series at home and then a period of great success leading up to the start of World Series Cricket.

And then there’s the matter of international one-day cricket being born among everything else that occurred in that summer.

The appearance of a dull, forgettable series fails to tell the full story of the 50-year-old series. What are your memories of the 1970-71 series, Roarers?