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Ashes through the ages: The last 50 years of the urn Down Under

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Roar Guru
7th December, 2021

With the first ball of the Ashes set to be bowled in Brisbane today, it’s timely to look briefly at the series played in Australia stretching back to 1970-71.

This series was a case of England’s solid core professionals playing an Australian side in transition to the Ian Chappell era, as reflected in the untimely and ungainly sacking of Bill Lawry during the series. England won 2-0 on the back of strong batting from Geoffrey Boycott, John Edrich and the like and the pace bowling of John Snow.

This series was notable for the debuts of Greg Chappell (100 on debut), Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee, and the manhandling of John Snow on the boundary by a spectator following the felling of Terry Jenner with a bouncer, and the subsequent walking off the field by Ray Illingworth and his men.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; if Thomson does not get you, Lillee must.” Words to that effect demonstrated the fearsome pace barrage that Australia unleashed to the tune of 4-1. Jeff Thomson’s 6-46 at Brisbane set the tone for a series notable for the fear factor, broken bones, Colin Cowdrey walking to bat wrapped around by what appeared to be a mattress, and the sandshoe crusher that sent Tony Greig’s stumps flying. It was the series that spelt the end for England skipper Mike Denness, who dropped himself from the fourth Test.

The tables were turned as an undermanned Australian side splintered by World Series Cricket fronted an England side under Mike Brearley. Despite the then record-breaking bowling of Rodney Hogg with 41 wickets and the solid batting of Graham Yallop and to a lesser extent Kim Hughes, Australia were well beaten 5-1. Yallop eventually lost the captaincy to Kim Hughes in the wake of this shellacking. The combination of solid England batting and probing seam bowling were too much for the second XI Australian side.

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The series, the last Ashes series played by Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee, saw Australia win comfortably 2-1. Lillee did not play after the first Test due to a knee problem. Australia had a strong batting line-up headed by Chappell, Kim Hughes, Allan Border and David Hookes and bowling led by man of the series Geoff Lawson, while for England David Gower was the leading run scorer.

The highlight of the series was the thrilling Boxing Day Test in which Australia almost got over the line thanks to a 70-plus-run last-wicket partnership between Allan Border and Jeff Thomson, foiled in the end by Ian Botham, a dropped catch and parry by Chris Tavare that Geoff Miller caught on the rebound.

A 2-1 win by Mike Gatting’s men over a depleted Australian side, due in part to the South African defections, was punctuated by an opening match century by Ian Botham, strong batting by David Gower, three hundreds in successive Test matches by Chris Board backed up by able seam bowling led by Graham Dilley. Australia won the final Test on the back of a six-wicket haul for Peter Taylor. This was a fine result for England, widely written off before the tour started, as exemplified by the ‘can’t bat, bowl or field’ jibe an England journalist labelled the side with.

This series, won by Australia 3-0, was notable for the exemplary bowling of man of the series Bruce Reid and the calamitous second=innings collapses of England. England skipper Graham Gooch performed well, as did David Gower – also famous for flying a tiger moth aircraft over the ground during a tour match – while for Australia Mark Waugh hit a sparkling 138 on debut at Adelaide.

The first ball of the series from Phil DeFreitas, which Michael Slater dispatched to the boundary, set the tone of the series. Australia comprehensively outplayed the tourists in all dimensions on their way to a 3-1 victory and to the prize of the Frank Worrell Trophy in the West Indies a few months later, which they have not relinquished ever since. The MCG Boxing Day Test of 1994-95 saw Shane Warne complete a hat-trick in bundling England out for 92.


The series was won by Australia 3-1. It was a confident Australian side led by Mark Taylor that won against an England side that could not cope with Glenn McGrath, most notably skipper Michael Atherton. Australia were denied a victory in the first Test in Brisbane due to weather but won the second, third and fifth Tests, with England having a consolation victory by just 12 runs at the Boxing Day Test, led by a fine and seemingly endless Dean Headley bowling spell. For Australia, Glenn McGrath and Stuart MacGill had fine series.

This was another comprehensive series win by Australia to the tune of 4-1, bolstered by the inexplicable decision of England captain Nasser Hussain in the first Test to bowl first on a docile Brisbane deck, handing Australia an immediate advantage, which it ruthlessly hammered home over the series. Glenn McGrath was outstanding for Australia, while Michael Vaughan shone for England with three centuries and player of the series. A highlight was the previously out-of-form Steve Waugh century at Sydney, with the exclamation mark of a boundary off the last ball of the day to bring up the ton.

Still smarting from relinquishing the Ashes in England in 2005, Ricky Ponting’s men came out firing led from the front by the skipper himself, who notched up a big ton in Brisbane in the first Test, scoring 196. The side never looked back from then, completing a 5-0 whitewash. England’s shambolic series was encapsulated by the first delivery, which Steve Harmison literally bowled to his captain, Andrew Flintoff, at second slip.

England were mesmerised by Shane Warne in Adelaide, losing the Test match from a seemingly unloseable position, having notched up more than 550 in the first innings. This series was notable for the retirements at the end of the series of the other big three: Glen McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer.

England retained the Ashes with a fine 3-1 victory after securing a draw in the first Test, in which they were behind for most of the game, a match notable for Peter Siddle’s hat-trick and Alastair Cook’s double hundred in the second innings. After a reasonable first half of the series, squaring the series at Perth in the third Test after losing in Adelaide in the second Test, Australia simply fell away in the last two Test matches in Melbourne and Sydney. Australia were bundled out for just 98 in the Boxing Day Test, undone by the probing and relentless accuracy of England’s seamers.


This series was effectively the Mitchell Johnson show. Bowling at terrifying pace and extreme bounce, Johnson took 37 wickets at a staggering average of 13.97 to win player of the series. He was ably supported by Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon, while Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers and David Warner were excellent with the bat. Australia again completed a 5-0 whitewash For England, Jonathan Trott went home during the series and Graeme Swann retired in the middle of the series. However a sign of things to come for the tourists was the emergence of Ben Stokes, who scored a fine hundred at Perth.

Australia dominated this series from go to whoa, 4-0, to regain the Ashes, winning comprehensively in Brisbane in the first Test by ten wickets and rounding it off in Sydney in the final Test by an innings and 123 runs. Apart from the turgid draw of the Boxing Day Test and the night Test in Adelaide, generally Australia were little challenged in the series against a Stokeless England, who were missing their premier all-rounder.

Steve Smith dominated with the bat the whole series with 687 runs, while Mitchell Marsh scored his maiden Test century in Perth. Smith was simply unmoveable at the crease, while the bowling honours were shared between Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.