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Ashes countdown: Boonie's beers, Gilly's glory feature in part 1 of our 40 biggest moments from past 40 years

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3rd December, 2021
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It’s so close you can almost smell the linseed oil and freshly mown wicket at the Gabba, almost hear the excited bellows of a XXXX fuelled gallery of rogues.

Over the next four days The Roar’s Tony Harper, Robert Smith and Benjamin Conkey count down the 40 best moments of the past 40 years of Ashes combat, starting with Nos. 40-31.

40. David Boon’s 52 cans of beer

David Boon scored 21 Test hundreds, including seven against England but he also may (or may not) have posted the most famous half-century of all.

While Boon has always refused to talk about it, several teammates swear he downed 52 beers on the way to the 1989 series, breaking a record of 44 set by Doug Walters and Rod Marsh on earlier tours.

While Boon told Inside Cricket magazine that reports of his record were “a Hans Christen Andersen fairytale” that’s not the way Geoff Lawson and the late Dean Jones remembered it.

Lawson says he was keeping score on airline sickbags and Jones claims to have paced Boon through 22 beers, just the other side of Singapore.

Jones once recalled he went upstairs and fell asleep, waking loud applause and the announcement from the plane’s captain that Boon had reached 52.

“I know there are plenty of stories flying around about me that have been greatly embellished over the years,” Boon said.

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“But that’s how it is… we played our cricket in an era where blokes learned never to let the truth get in the way of a good story.” He averaged 55 as Australia won the series 4-0.

39. Glenn McGrath’s 500th wicket

Glenn McGrath had a long time to think about how he might get his 500th Test wicket but when it came he didn’t dwell on it.

After finishing his previous series on 499 scalps, McGrath had plenty to look forward to – almost like an expensive meal at a favourite restaurant – and who he might devour played a major role in TV ads ahead of the series.

Lord’s was where McGrath took his then best figures of 8-38 in 1997, ripping out the top order and then the tail, and it was there, late on the first day, that he got his chance to break through 500.

After getting Marcus Trescothick to edge to Justin Langer at third slip, McGrath held the ball aloft to mark the milestone and then got right back to work. After 13 overs bowling down the slope from his beloved Pavilion End, McGrath had reduced England to rubble with 5-21.

“I couldn’t have hoped for a better opening start to the Ashes series, and for me personally that first spell was probably up there with the best spells I have ever bowled,” McGrath said.

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38. Michael Slater’s 123 off 184 balls

Slats doubtlessly had the talent to score more than his 14 Test centuries but many of those he did post were extraordinary. This firestorm of an innings had it all.

He survived some controversy, smashed the bowling on a dire wicket and set up Australia’s victory, guiding them to a 3-1 series result. His 123 came out of a team total of 184, an incredible percentage of 66.85, the second highest share of runs by a batsman in a Test innings after Charles Bannerman’s 67.35 percent (165 out of 245) in the first ever Test in 1877.

Mark Waugh, with 24, was the only other Australian to reach double figures on the wearing deck, yet Slater roared to his runs off 189 balls with 11 fours and three sixes sweetly struck off spinner Peter Such. Yet Slater enjoyed a moment of good fortune, when he survived a run out call on 35.

Simon Taufel, as TV umpire, ruled Slater not out after extended viewing of three camera angles. Many thought the decision wrong and Slater cashed in on his luck magnificently.

37. Peter Taylor’s debut Test

Australia had lost the series and had failed to win against any team in 15 attempts when the teams arrived in Sydney for fifth Test. David Boon came out of the side and Taylor was one of the men who came in for a debut, stoking rumours that the selectors had named the wrong man.

Future Australian skipper Mark Taylor was piling up the runs in state cricket while off-spinner Peter had only played six first class matches. A newspaper dubbed him ‘Peter Who?” and even he thought a mistake had been made, albeit not one by the selectors.

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“It was a complete surprise when I was called up,” recalled Peter. “My brother-in-law heard the news on the radio and rang to tell me. I told him that he must be mistaken, that he had obviously heard the name of Mark Taylor. I still don’t know whether the myth that they meant Mark but picked me by mistake is true.”

Peter had a dream debut, taking 6-78 in England’s first innings and scoring a crucial 42 to claim man of the match honours in Australia’s victory – his only Ashes match.

36. Nasser Hussain’s toss woes 2002

Nasser Hussain wasn’t the first or last Ashes captain to take a gamble after winning a toss. Mark Taylor batted on a greentop in 1997 when England held the edge in the series, and only twin centuries from Steve Waugh saved his blushes.

Ricky Ponting had less fortune in Edgbaston in 2005, after deciding to bowl first without injured Glenn McGrath.

But neither of those came, as did Hussain’s decision, as the opening gambit of a series.

England had arrived in Australia with restrained confidence yet it was all shattered on the opening day. The hosts went to stumps on 2-364 following centuries by Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting and Simon Jones suffered his tour-ending knee injury in stomach-turning style.

“In earlier times, inserting the opposition and seeing them finish the day on 364 for two would have been enough for a captain to summon his faithful hound, light a last cigarette and load a single bullet into the revolver,” wrote Derek Pringle.

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“It’s obvious, blatantly obvious, that the decision I made to send Australia in to bat in the first Test was wrong,” said Hussain. “As England captain, I am paid to make decisions and I am big enough to admit that this one was a big mistake.”


35. Terry Alderman’s tackle

It’s a good thing Terry Alderman could bowl because he would have made a lousy Wallabies flanker.

Alderman’s most famous tackle ended in disaster, when he tried to apprehend a pitch invader during the first Test of the series. Perhaps bored by the draw unfolding before them, many in the crowd were chugging down Emu Bitter at an alarming rate.

England posted 400 and a group of fans, some holding Union Jacks, came onto the field to celebrate. One fan clipped Alderman on the head as he ran past and the swing bowler set off in chase, catching his target after about 20 metres. Alderman fell awkwardly and badly dislocated a shoulder, while his teammates gathered in the spectator.

“It was an instinctive thing to do,” Alderman said. “You get hit in the back of the head and you want to apprehend the person.”

It was also a costly decision, as the injury kept Alderman out for more than a year.

34. Adam Gilchrist’s 152 at Edgbaston

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The climax was pure Gilly. He was perched on 99 as Andy Caddick ran in, the bowler intent on putting the final ball of the over out of Gilchrist’s reach to make him sweat for a little longer.

Gilchrist may have had to wait an age to replace Ian Healy in the Test team but once he arrived nothing could slow him. Caddick dug it in short and Gilchrist was ready. He moved back, raised his bat above his head and angled the ball over the keeper’s head for four and a ton on his Ashes debut.

“It wasn’t planned until he started to run in,” said Gilchrist. “I’m glad Caddie didn’t try the reverse malarkey and bowl a yorker because there might have been stumps everywhere! It was a great moment for me.”

Gilchrist has always backed his sublime talent and immense power, and his 152 came from 143 balls 20 fours and five sixes. Along the way he smashed a record 22 from an over by Mark Butcher, sending balls one, three and six for six, the fourth for four and second back for a difficult caught and bowled chance. Gilchrist’s plunder helped set up victory in three days and England never recovered.


33. Archer thunderbolts and concussion to Steve Smith

The 2019 Ashes reached flashpoint in the second Test at Lord’s when firebrand Jofra Archer made it a Test debut to remember with an all-out assault on in-form Steve Smith that left the champion batsman concussed.

Smith, coming off centuries in both innings of the first Edgbaston Test win, jousted with fired-up Archer in an intense hour after lunch on the fourth day. Smith was twice struck sickening body blows.

Smith did not react after the first impact to his forearm, but was forced to retire hurt after the second hit just below his ear which left him poleaxed on the pitch. Chillingly, it was around five years before that Phillip Hughes was hit on the neck, collapsed, and later died from the blow.

Smith showed plenty of pluck to come out to bat again at the fall of next wicket to resume his innings and fell short of his third consecutive ton in the series on 92. Archer finished with 2-59. It was a gripping Test, Australia managing to bat out for a draw at 6-154 with Smith’s concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne topscoring with 59.

“He’s come in and made a massive impact,” skipper Joe Root said of Archer. “He’s added a different dynamic to our bowling group and given Australia something different to think about.” Player of the match Ben Stokes gave promise of what was to come with an unbeaten 115 to put England in the ascendancy.

32. Mark Taylor’s century under fire 1997

Mark Taylor was travelling so badly in the lead up to the 1997 series a British tabloid newspaper presented him with a metre-wide bat on his arrival in England.

While Taylor led a winning team he was locked in an 18-month horror stretch. He continued to struggle in the early tour matches and had started to face up to the fact that his career might be coming to an end.

A dropped catch in the final pre-Test game, by Dean Jones, allowed Taylor to scratch together an ugly 63. During his innings, recalls Steve Waugh, Taylor told his batting partner Justin Langer: “I just can’t play!”

The self doubt followed Taylor into the opening Test and when he was out for seven in the first innings his miserable streak had been extended to 21 innings without a 50. Yet out of nick and facing the abyss, Taylor made a courageous 129 in the second innings.

“Ours was highly emotional viewing room when he reached three figures,” wrote Waugh. “We so admired his resilience and courage to turn things around.”

Australia lost the Test but won the series, along with Taylor’s reprieve. Sixteen months later Taylor equalled Donald Bradman’s innings record of 334 in Pakistan.


31. Glenn McGrath’s catch in Adelaide

Steady cricketer Glenn McGrath. Perfect line, perfect length, day after day. Looked like his hair was cut by a barber, refreshingly free of bling. And then, for a moment, he’s flying like Superman.

McGrath had targeted Michael Vaughan ahead of the series but his stunning catch on the final day was a sadistic twisting of the knife.

Vaughan, having added 41 to his first innings 177, smashed a sweep from Shane Warne, who scowled as the ball disappeared deep towards the boundary fence and well out of reach of Glenn McGrath. Except . . .

The shot startled McGrath like a pigeon and then he was off galloping, making up ground but never enough. He knew he couldn’t get there – we all knew it – but then, as the ball plunged to earth, McGrath took flight.

The ball, now both past him and ahead of him, hit his left hand and was safely cradled by his right.

“It was a miracle. We weren’t expecting him to catch it and neither was he,” said captain Steve Waugh. “I would probably have to agree with him,” added McGrath.

Tomorrow we count down 30-21. What are your favourite Ashes memories and what’s your tip for number one?

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