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Ashes countdown: Two England miracles, Mitch Johnson's fire and Warnie's magic moment in our top 10

Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates after taking the wicket of Alastair Cook of England during day three of the Fourth Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 28, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
6th December, 2021
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With the Ashes starting on Wednesday, The Roar is counting down the top 40 Ashes moments from the past 40 years and we’ve come to the business end of the assignment.

Our writers Tony Harper, Rob Smith and Benjamin Conkey have picked and ranked the 40 moments and while there has been plenty of debate over the order, the No.1 pick shouldn’t come as any surprise.
ASHES MOMENTS: 40-31

ASHES MOMENTS: 30-21

ASHES MOMENTS: 20-11

10. Mitchell Johnson conjures Lillee-Thomson hostility with 7-40 Adelaide, 2013

Mitchell Johnson was irresistible with a new ball ferocity to take 7-40 and leave mental scars as England were tumbled for 172 on the way to the Australians seizing a 2-0 series lead with a thumping 218-run romp in Adelaide.

He captured 5-12 in four frightening overs after lunch, before finishing with 7-40. Twice the left-armer was on hat-tricks after both Stuart Broad and James Anderson were bowled first ball. Johnson had an electrifying series, capturing 37 wickets at 13.97 and was reminiscent of the fearsome 1970s duo of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in their pomp.

Lillee proclaimed Johnson as a “once in a generation” fast bowler. “These are the days you can sit back and have a look at and be really proud of,” Johnson said. “It was really emotional for me, coming into Brisbane for another Ashes series after not playing before and being able to back it up, it was really exciting for me and something I’m really proud of. It’s definitely nice when it comes out like that, the reverse swing definitely came into it.”

Michael Clarke’s Australians annihilated England and swept the series 5-0.

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9. Kevin Pietersen’s 158, The Oval, 2005

KP dropped six catches during the gripping 2005 series but it was two he survived which made all the difference. With Australia pressing for a victory on the final day at The Oval and Pietersen on nought, he edged through Adam Gilchrist’s gloves and past Matthew Hayden at slip. Just 15 runs later another snick flew to his mate Shane Warne at slip. Regulation height, stunning drop. A lesser talent might not have made the most of his fortune, might not have carried the game and the Ashes away from the world champions.

But Pietersen, born in South Africa, dug in for almost five hours, scoring a maiden Test century and reaching 158. His stand with Ashley Giles, who scored a defiant 59, put the series beyond Australia and breathed new life into a waning contest.

“We’ve witnessed one of the great innings,” said teammate and man of the series Andrew Flintoff. “I can’t find enough words to describe the pressure going out there and the way he played.”

Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates after taking the wicket of Alastair Cook of England during day three of the Fourth Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 28, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Mitchell Johnson celebrates after taking the wicket of Alastair Cook. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

8. Ricky Ponting’s 156 at Old Trafford

IT was a captain’s innings of Steve Waugh proportions and one the ice man himself considered a major moment in Ricky Ponting’s career. With Australia outplayed and on the ropes in the third Test, Ponting batted almost seven hours for a flawless 156 to save the match and keep a tense series at 1-1.

“In time, Ricky will look back and see this as his graduation as a Test captain,” said Waugh.
Ultimately, the innings did not help Ponting’s team retain the Ashes, as many Australian critics predicted it would, but it helped harden the current captain, who was under fire for poor decision making earlier in the series.

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He showed remarkable composure when coming in with more than a day of batting required to save the game. Ponting faced 275 balls and didn’t give a chance, although he left the ground with some work still to do, edging a catch to be ninth down with 24 balls for Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath to survive.
Sitting with hands over his head in the dressing room, he struggled to watch the dying overs.”I had a little tantrum and sat there with my head down,” said Ponting. “I really thought the game had slipped away from us.”

7. Allan Border and Jeff Thomson in heroic failure, 1982

AUSTRALIA were 2-0 up in the series when the teams met for the fourth Test. After leading by three runs on the first innings, Australia were set 292 and all seemed lost when the ninth man fell at 218, bringing Jeff Thomson in to partner Allan Border.

Yet, when play ended early on day four the pair had knocked off half the 74 runs required. With the game just one ball, or 37 runs, from a finish, fans were allowed in free on day five and more than 10,000 turned up to chant and bang on the MCG fence as the Australians edged towards the target.

England bungled a run out chance and Thomson played and missed and stepped away to prod singles. Then, somehow, the pair were four runs from victory. Ian Botham returned and struck. Thomson edged to Chris Tavare at slip but he muffed it, only for Geoff Miller to sweep up the rebound. The crowd fell silent while those at home were still watching an advertisement for Sidchrome spanners. The station crossed back and the image was of Botham, fists pumping and face covered in ecstasy charging off the field.

6. Steve Waugh final ball century, SCG 2003

With the Ashes decided there was only one story in the lead up to the final Test of the 2003 series in Sydney: Steve Waugh’s impending retirement. A long run of outs and increasing arguments about his position were a heavy weight on Waugh’s shoulders.

Just before tea on day two Waugh sat in the rooms “with a millon thoughts racing around in my head” finding it hard to focus on one between “don’t make a duck and Jeez, it’d be great to peel off a hundred.”

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The longer Waugh waited “the more the dark forces seemed to gather.” His arrival at the crease, cheered by fanatical home support, dissipated the cloud and in the maelstrom he found the joy that batting had brought him so often before.

With a final ball from Richard Dawson to end the day, Waugh needed two runs for a record-equalling 29th Test hundred. Waugh wiped his face with his famous ragged red cloth as Nasser Hussain made him sweat, but eventually it came, a quicker ball outside off which was smashed away to the fence.

“The next hour was a period I wish everyone could experience once in their life,” wrote Waugh of his joy and “total and utter contentment”.

He decided to bat on for another year, and no one argued.

5. Gilchrist’s fastest 100 in 2006

The memory of England captain Andrew Flintoff looking up into the sky with his mouth open in astonishment will be etched into the minds of cricket fans. He was of course looking at yet another six struck by Adam Gilchrist high up into the stands at the WACA.

Gilchrist always threatened to produce an innings like he did on that day in 2006. He once held the record for the fastest double century in Test cricket which was overtaken by Nathan Astle just a few weeks later.

Against England, Gilchrist produced something magical and almost surpassed the great man Viv Richards in the process.

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What made the innings even more remarkable was the fact Gilly was out for a duck in the first innings and some even questioned whether he still had it in him.

He scored his first 50 off 40 balls but what followed next was batting of the highest quality. Every ball came off the middle of the bat and his strike power was so effortless.

Spin bowler Monty Panesar copped the brunt of Gilly’s bludgeoning.

Gilchrist had the chance to beat Richard’s record (at the time) of 56 balls but fell just short. His 57-ball century included 12 fours and 4 sixes and etched Gilly into the pantheon of Ashes moments.

Geraint Jones of England looks on as Adam Gilchrist of Australia celebrates reaching his century during day three of the third Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at the WACA on December 16, 2006 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

4. The Edgbaston thriller, 2005

The closest match in Ashes history was a story of memorable moments from before the start to the controversial, gut-wrenching finish. When Glenn McGrath was injured in the warm-up, treading on a cricket ball, Australia lost their spearhead. Ricky Ponting won the toss and took that less travelled road of sending in the opposition. It was a losing punt, although it took four amazing days to unravel, capped by the wildest moment of them all.

After Australia finished 99 behind on the first innings they required 282 in their second – a ground record fourth innings target and a mile away when Michael Clarke was the eighth down with 107 needed. Brett Lee added 45 with Shane Warne before the spinner fell hit wicket and exposed last man Michael Kasprowicz. Lee and Kasper put on 59, taking Australia to the brink of victory. Then, with the crowd hushed and seemingly resigned to its fate, Harmison made one rear on Kasper, catching the glove through to Geraint Jones. TV replays suggested ZKasper’s glove was off the bat handle, a wrong decision, but all that was left was a final moment, one shared mid-pitch between man of the match Andrew Flintoff and devastated Lee.

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3. Headingley from miracle Ben Stokes, 2019

Swashbuckling all-rounder Ben Stokes conjured one of the greatest Test innings with an unforgettable century as England incredibly chased down 359 runs to nick the fourth Test and keep alive the Ashes series at Headingley.

Stokes produced a masterclass unbeaten 135 to squeeze England home by one wicket on the back of a gripping last-wicket stand of 76 with Jack Leach – England’s highest 10th-wicket partnership to win – and deny the Aussies of 2-0 series lead. It was shades of Ian Botham’s legendary counter-punching century to get England home from a losing position on the very same ground with a pulsating 149 back in 1981.

Australia looked home and hosed after routing England for 67 and then consolidated a 112-run innings lead into a 358-run target, seemingly beyond the home side. Yet Stokes came up with a belligerent knock that will be spoken of in awe down the ages. Australia had their chances to win in the heart-pumping climax. Australia led by just one run in what turned out to be the penultimate over, when Stokes pushed behind point, there was a mix-up and Nathan Lyon standing over the stumps fumbled to cleanly gather the throw at the bowler’s end with Leach stranded halfway down the pitch. Next ball Stokes was trapped plumb LBW, but umpire Joel Wilson refused to raise the finger and Australia was unable to challenge, having wasted its last review on an ill-advised LBW shout in the previous over. Was this England’s greatest Test innings by Stokes?

2. Ian Botham Headlingley, 1981

Rewind 10 days and Ian Botham was skulking off Lord’s with a pair to his name. Selectors responded to a second Test draw, which left Australia 1-0 up in the series, by replacing Botham as captain with Mike Brearley. Botham, happy to be free of the millstone, took six wickets as Australia declared at 9-401, and then made 50 as the hosts were rolled for 174.

England fell to 5-105 in their second innings yet Botham, with his team at odds of 500-1 (snapped up by Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh), came out intent on action. “I just thought if we go down, let’s go down burning,” he said.

His innings started as a hopeless slog but a lucky hand of 56 from Graham Dilley allowed Botham the time to plunder 149, the century coming off 87 balls. Australia needed 130 and were cruising at 1-56. Bob Willis changed ends and grabbed amazing figures of 8-43 as Australia collapsed 18 runs short.

The England players won the series 3-1 and went from perennial laughing stock to national heroes. Still to this day if it’s raining during an Ashes Test there’s short odds on what game is being shown in perpetual replay on English TV.

1. Shane Warne’s ball of the century, 1993

Shane Warne bowled 10,757 balls in Ashes Tests but his most famous was his first. On June 4, 1993, a slender, blond-topped Warne, his face covered in glee and zinc cream, embarrassed England’s Mike Gatting and shocked the world with his “ball of the century”.

Gatting, a good player of spin, prodded forward to Warne’s loosener. The ball drifted in, landed wide of leg stump then ripped back and took off, leaving Gatting blinking and befuddled and making a lasting impression on a generation of English batsmen.

Graham Gooch was watching from the non-striker’s end. “Can I remember Gatt’s face?” he recalled. “It looked like someone had nicked his lunch! I don’t think Gatt could quite believe it.”

“I suppose it was just meant to be,” explains Warne. “I enjoy it and every time I see it and it puts a smile on my face.”

Warne took 34 wickets in the series and took 195 overall against England. There have been flippers, sliders, zooters and wrong ‘uns but nothing quite so dramatic as his first regulation leggie.

How did we go? Agree with our top 10?

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