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The Ashes at the Gabba: The best individual performances

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Roar Guru
3rd December, 2021
23

The Gabba has been Australia’s happy hunting ground since 1946, including 12 wins in Ashes contests. It has also been the location for four English victories.

This article names a team for each nation, comprising players who recorded outstanding personal performances there. The 22 performances would make for a magnificent game of cricket.

The Australian team

Perhaps understandably, this side is dominated by players from the modern era. It includes a top order that has relished the ground’s true pitches, and a bowling line-up packed with all-time greats.

1. Michael Slater, 1994-95
The right-handed New South Welshman maintained his habit of dominant early-series innings. He viciously square-cut Phil DeFreitas’ first delivery of the summer for four, and from that point his team never relinquished the momentum.

Slater was eventually dismissed for 176 from 244 deliveries, well before play ended with his side’s score at 4-329. They reached 426 the following morning, dismissed England for 167, then batted again.

He contributed a further 45 runs in a second-innings total of 8(dec)248, as part of a 109-run opening stand with Mark Taylor. The visitors were set 508 in 11 hours for victory, and were dismissed for 323.

Michael Slater

(Photo by Andy Kearns/Getty Images)

2. Matthew Hayden, 2002-03
The home-town left-hander’s 300-run aggregate is the most by an Australian in a match at the Gabba. His innings of 197 and 103 included 38 fours and three sixes.

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Visiting captain Nasser Hussain had elected to field. Unfortunately when Hayden’s score was 40, Simon Jones caught him cleanly but in doing so fell over the boundary rope. Soon after, Jones suffered a knee injury that ended his tour and left his side a bowler short.

Hayden and Ricky Ponting then added 272 in 253 minutes and 61.1 overs, in an end-of-play score of 2-364 and eventual team tally of 492. When Australia batted again with a 167-run lead, Hayden added a second century in a score of 5(dec)296. Facing a 464-run victory target, the visitors succumbed for 79.

3. Don Bradman (captain), 1946-47
Cootamundra’s favourite son began the post-WWII era just as he had ended the 1930s. In doing so he exacted revenge for humiliating defeats in each of Brisbane’s previous three Ashes contests.

The Australian captain began his innings scratchily. He controversially survived an appeal for a catch at second slip from Bill Voce’s bowling, with his score just 28.

Bradman then shared a 276-run third-wicket partnership with his deputy Lindsay Hassett. His own contribution was 187 runs from 313 deliveries, with 19 boundaries.

The home side’s innings finally ended on a score of 645. Voce, a noted previous tormentor, returned 0-92. England could only reply with 141 and 172, after being caught on a wet pitch following a series of thunderstorms.

Australia's best-ever Don Bradman

(PA Images via Getty Images)

4. Ricky Ponting, 2006-07
The Tasmanian right-hander was set on regaining the Ashes. Winning the toss and batting was a good start. Opponent Steve Harmison then famously sent the series’ first delivery wide of second slip.

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Ponting and Ashes debutant Mike Hussey shared a 209-run fourth-wicket partnership, while each of the other four top-order stands exceeded 50. Ponting scored 196 runs himself, and Australia converted a first-day score of 3-346 into a final one of 9(dec)602.

Despite England scoring just 157 to concede a 445-run first-innings deficit, he did not enforce the follow-on. Instead the home side added a further 1(dec)202 with his contribution 60 undefeated runs. The visitors were given two days to score 648 runs to win, and ultimately made 370.

5. Neil Harvey, 1954-55
The Victorian left-hander was one of six Invincibles in a team seeking to recover the Ashes. Visiting skipper Len Hutton did not select a slow bowler, and chose to field first.

Harvey and Arthur Morris shepherded their side to 2-208 at the end of the first day’s play. Their stand was ultimately worth 202 runs and enabled Australia to bat into the match’s third day before declaring at 8-601. Harvey’s share was 162 in 380 minutes, including 17 boundaries.

England could only reply with 190 and 257 to lose by an innings and 154 runs. A catch by Harvey ended the match. The tourists did subsequently recover to retain the trophy, with pacemen Frank Tyson and Brian Statham dominant for the remainder of the series.

Norm O’Neill and Neil Harvey.

Norm O’Neill and Neil Harvey. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

6. Doug Walters, 1965-66
The dashing right-hander from Dungog made a spectacular debut aged just 19. Most of the first two days’ play was lost to rain. His side then slumped to 4-125 early on the following day.

Enter Walters, to accompany Bill Lawry. The pair shared a 287-run fifth-wicket partnership, to enable Australia to reach 6(dec)443. Walters’ share was 155 from 315 deliveries, with 11 fours and two sixes. Exhibiting superb footwork he struck four boundaries from one over by leg-spinner Bob Barber.

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England were forced to follow on but salvaged a draw. Walters’ deceptive swing bowling yielded two wickets, while he also claimed a catch.

7. Ian Healy, 1994-95
The Queensland wicketkeeper was following in the footsteps of local greats Don Tallon and Wally Grout. In this match he contributed with both bat and gloves.

Healy claimed five catches in England’s first innings, and four of his victims were top-five batsmen. His busy 45 not out then assisted Australia to declare its second innings at 8-248, and set a victory target of 508 runs in 11 hours.

A further four catches in the visitors’ eventual score of 323 took Healy’s match aggregate to nine. That tally equalled Rod Marsh’s then-Australian record.

(Photo by Getty Images)

8. Mitchell Johnson, 2013-14
The Queensland-born left-armer claimed man-of-the-match honours with an intimidating all-round display. First he contributed 64 to a 114-run partnership with Brad Haddin to take his side from 6-132 to 295. He then claimed 4-61 in the visitors’ response of just 136.

England’s Kevin Pietersen subsequently wrote:

“Boom: First ball from Johnson hits Trotty (Jonathan Trott) on the glove as he jumps back and tries to shield his face. It was a violent bumper that jumped up at him like a startled rat. Everybody watching says, whoa, shit. WTF? A shudder ran through the dressing room.”

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Johnson then scored a quick-fire undefeated 39 in a 95-run stand with Haddin, which took Australia’s final score to 7(dec)401. Set 561 with more than two days’ play remaining, England could manage only 179. His share was 5-42 for a match aggregate of 9-103.

Home skipper Michael Clarke famously threatened Jimmy Anderson with a broken arm. Trott returned to England immediately afterwards. Australia would reclaim the Ashes by a 5-0 margin.

9. Shane Warne, 1994-95
The Victorian leg-spinner was playing his first home Ashes match after mesmerising England in 1993. He and fellow spinner Tim May enjoyed ideal circumstances for a pair of spin bowlers. Australian batted first and scored 426, and bowled last with a lead of 508 runs and 11 hours of play still remaining.

In the visitors’ first innings, Warne played a supporting role. He took 3-39 from 21.2 overs, including two of the final three wickets to fall.

(Photo by Getty Images)

When England chased their unreachable target, Warne became the key figure. England lost their final eight wickets for 104 runs, after reaching 2-219.

Warne claimed 8-71 from 50.2 overs, while partner May delivered 35 wicketless overs. On the match’s last day, Warne took 4-27 from 25.2 overs. His final match figures were 11-110.

10. Geoff Lawson, 1982-83
Wagga Wagga’s most famous paceman was the spearhead of a team seeking to regain the Ashes. The series had commenced in Perth with a draw. Locals Jeff Thomson and Carl Rackemann completed a useful fast-bowling trio.

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Australia elected to field, and restricted the visitors to 219. Lawson claimed 6-47 including each of the top-four batsmen, and added two catches for good measure. The home side replied with 341 for a useful 122-run lead.

England’s second innings was a more competitive 309. Thomson and Lawson took five wickets apiece. The latter bowler’s figures were 5-87 to complete a match haul of 11-134. Australia went on to reclaim the Ashes, and Lawson was named man of the series.

11. Jeff Thomson, 1974-75
The Sydney-born express bowler made a triumphant return, after a disappointing debut two seasons earlier. He and new-ball partner Dennis Lillee were instrumental in the Ashes trophy’s return.

On an uneven pitch, the home side reached 309 and then limited England to 265. Thomson’s share of 3-59 comprised the first three batsmen in the visitors’ batting order, while he also broke Dennis Amiss’ thumb.

Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson together in England

Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Australia’s second innings of 5(dec)288 set England a seemingly-achievable 333 in 400 minutes. Their response was just 166. Thomson clean-bowled four opponents in claiming 6-46, for match figures of 9-105.

Before the match, Thomson had stated: “I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch.” Afterwards he said: “The batsmen were clearly surprised by how quick I was. They thought ‘We’ll keep Lillee out and then work on this bloke’, but they got the shock of their lives.” Keith Miller wrote: “He frightened me, and I was sitting 200 yards away.”

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The English team

Unsurprisingly given England’s recent lack of success, just three members are drawn from the past 40 years, and some played match-saving rather than match-winning innings. While the side lacks a specialist spin bowler, it boasts a pace attack the equal of any that England has ever fielded.

1. Alastair Cook, 2010-11
England commenced the match as Ashes-holders. They scored just 260 despite Cook’s dogged 67. Australia responded with 481 for a 221-run first-innings lead. Almost two days of play still remained.

When his team batted again, the Essex left-hander defied the home side for more than ten hours to score an undefeated 235 in a total of 1(dec)517. He added 188 with captain Andrew Strauss, and an unbroken 329 with Jonathan Trott.

His match aggregate of 302 runs is the most by any individual in an Ashes match in Brisbane. The visitors were able to draw the game, and ultimately retain the Ashes.

Alastair Cook celebrates reaching 200.

(Photo by Morgan Hancock/Action Plus via Getty Images)

2. Mark Butcher, 1998-99
While Butcher generally underperformed at Test level, he played several high-quality innings against Australia. This performance assisted the visitors to claim a rare draw at the Gabba. At the time, his match aggregate of 156 runs was a record by an English opening batsman in Brisbane.

After the home side had scored 485, the Surrey left-hander led the visitors’ response with 116 from 236 balls including 16 boundaries. At the time of his dismissal England was 4-240, and close to avoiding the follow-on. They eventually reached 375.

When Australia added a further 3(dec)237 to set the visitors 348 runs for victory, Butcher defied the home side again with a further 40 runs. The match was drawn after its final session was washed out, with England hanging on at 6-179.

3. Ted Dexter (captain), 1962-63
‘Lord Ted’ led by example. No English captain has ever scored more runs in a match in Brisbane. Cook is still the only compatriot to have scored more in a game at the Gabba.

After the home side totalled 404, the Sussex right-hander defied Alan Davidson, Graham McKenzie and Richie Benaud. His innings of 70 runs took just two hours, and included ten boundaries. England reached a competitive 389.

Australia then closed at 4-362 to set a 378-run target on the match’s last day. Dexter top-scored in England’s response with 99 in 169 minutes, including 13 boundaries. His innings ensured that England would save the match. He also took three wickets with his handy medium-paced bowling, and held two catches.

4. Maurice Leyland, 1936-37
The left-handed Yorkshireman played a crucial innings to put his side in a match-winning position. Wet weather after the match’s fourth day then sealed the home side’s fate.

Leyland arrived at the crease with his team reeling at 3-20 following a triple-strike by paceman Ernie McCormick, including Stan Worthington and Walter Hammond for golden ducks. He rescued his team with an innings of 126, including 11 boundaries. England reached 358, then dismissed the home side for just 234.

He then contributed 33 runs to an English second innings of 256, which set Australia 381 for victory. Following heavy overnight rain they capitulated for 58. Leyland also took a catch in each Australian innings.

Generic Ashes urn

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

5. Eddie Paynter, 1932-33
It was the Bodyline series’ fourth Test. Australia scored 340 then reduced the visitors to 6-216.

Paynter had been confined to hospital with acute tonsillitis. He returned to the ground by taxi, on captain Douglas Jardine’s instructions, still wearing pyjamas. After surviving until stumps, he promptly returned to hospital.

The Lancastrian left-hander defied illness, humidity and oppressive heat to score 83 with ten boundaries. Batting partner Harold Larwood wrote that: “He looked white and ill. At no time a great talker, he had even less to say that day than usual. He had the shakes. He remained pale throughout but never wavered.”

England reached 356 to secure a small lead. It then scored 4-162 in its second innings to win the match and regain the Ashes. Paynter scored the winning runs with a six. Sadly, Archie Jackson had died earlier that same day in a Brisbane hospital, aged just 23.

6. Tony Greig, 1974-75
The South African-born Sussex all-rounder experienced a baptism of fire and emerged with his reputation enhanced. England was ambushed on an under-prepared pitch by a pair of pace bowlers of whom it would soon be written: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if Lillee don’t get you, Thommo must.”

Australia scored 309, and Greig perhaps unwisely bounced out Dennis Lillee. The home side then reduced the visitors to 4-57. Greig counter-attacked in an innings of 110 runs from 229 deliveries, including 17 boundaries. He was ninth man out, his dismissal reading the now-iconic caught Marsh, bowled Lillee.

While he could not prevent a 166-run loss, he showed that Australia’s new-ball attack was not unplayable. He also took one wicket and held one catch. Unfortunately he would never again tour Australia with England.

7. Ian Botham, 1986-87
England’s team was described by journalist Martin Johnson as having only three problems: “can’t bat, can’t bowl, and can’t field”. England won the match, and ultimately the series, against a weak team.

(Photo by Getty Images)

The Somerset all-rounder commenced batting with his team’s score 4-198, and struck a brutal 138. His innings lasted just 174 deliveries, and included 13 fours and four straight-driven sixes.

Australia’s inexperienced attack was no match. He reached his century with 22 runs from one Merv Hughes over, evoking memories of Old Trafford in 1981.

England totalled 456, dismissed the home side for just 248 and 282 after enforcing the follow-on, and won the game by seven wickets. For good measure Botham claimed 2-58 and 1-34 with the ball.

8. Alan Knott, 1970-71
The Kent wicketkeeper is arguably his country’s best to date. He also played many fine innings for England.

Australia amassed 433 thanks to a double-century by Keith Stackpole, who controversially survived a run-out appeal when his score was just 18. He eventually fell to one of Knott’s three catches in the innings.

The supremely-fit Knott then backed up as nightwatchman after England lost their first wicket shortly before the end of the second day’s play. He scored 73 from 162 balls, to assist his side to 464 in reply.

The home side made 214 in its second innings, with his contribution one stumping and a fourth catch. Insufficient time then remained for a result in the match.

Alan Knott

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

9. Harold Larwood, 1932-33
In the Bodyline series’ fourth match, ‘The Nottinghamshire Express’ helped England to regain the Ashes.

First the fast right-armer took 4-101 to help restrict Australia to a total of 340. The Cricketer Magazine reported that: “Larwood began with his leg theory, and by clean bowling Bradman and (Bill) Ponsford in one over put his side in a much better position. Bradman, who hit 11 fours, was out trying to cut a ball on the leg stump, while Ponsford went too far over and made no attempt to play the ball which hit his leg stump.”

He then contributed a quick-fire 23 to the visitors’ reply of 356. When the home side batted again he claimed 3-49 and had Bradman caught at deep point. He also brilliantly caught Ponsford. Australia reached just 175, and England overhauled its 160-run victory target with six wickets to spare. His match figures were 7-150.

Larwood was even more destructive in Brisbane’s inaugural Test, at the Exhibition Ground in 1928-29. He scored 70 and 37, and took 6-32 and 2-30 with the ball, in a 675-run win.

10. Bill Voce, 1936-37
Larwood’s Bodyline and Nottinghamshire opening partner returned the best-ever bowling figures by an Englishman in Brisbane. Playing conditions were tailor-made for fast bowlers. They provided for bowlers’ run-ups to be protected from the weather, while leaving the pitch itself exposed.

The visitors scored 358, then restricted Australia to just 234 in reply. The fast left-armer claimed 6-41. His victims included the entire middle-order of Don Bradman, Stan McCabe, Ray Robinson and Arthur Chipperfield.

An ability to run the ball away from right-handers was a feature of his bowling. England’s second-innings 256 meant a 381-run victory target for the home side.

Any prospect of Australian victory was dashed by overnight rain on the uncovered pitch. They was dismissed for just 58. Voce’s share was 4-16 including Jack Fingleton for a golden duck, for match figures of 10-57.

Generic cricket ball

(Steven Paston – EMPICS/Getty Images)

11. John Snow, 1970-71
With 31 wickets, the published poet and intimidating Sussex paceman was a key factor in England’s eventual series win. Equally his omission from the 1974-75 tour contributed to the Ashes’ surrender.

Snow triggered Australia’s first-innings collapse from 2-372 to 433 all out with a haul of 6-114 from 32.3 eight-ball overs.

The home side’s last seven wickets fell for just 15 runs. He took the final four including those of Terry Jenner, Johnny Gleeson and Alan ‘Froggy’ Thomson for ducks.

He then added 34 useful runs in England’s reply, and claimed 2-48 in Australia’s second innings. His match aggregate with the ball was 8-162 from an equivalent 70 six-balls overs. The game was drawn.

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