The Ashes: 10 moments that define the greatest rivalry in cricket

We take a look back at some of the best moments in Ashes folklore, a history born in 1882 and alive today.

The Ashes is one of the oldest and most competitive rivalries in world sport today and as we countdown to the Australian summer of cricket and the next chapter of the long story that is the Ashes; I take a look at ten moments in time throughout the history of The Ashes.

  1. 1 The first delivery of the series

    After the dramatic series in England in 2005 which was some of the best cricket a series could ever produce, a victorious and bullish England travelled to Australia with the Ashes in hand and a point to prove that this series could be just as good. 

    The hype around the series was of epic proportions as you would imagine the scenes of 2005 the cricketing world were glued to the screens when it came around to the 23rd of November 2006 at a picturesque Brisbane. 

    England captain Andrew Flintoff lost the toss as Ricky Ponting batted first on a brilliant-looking Gabba wicket.

    So the stage was set for the first ball of what was hyped as a series for the ages. Andrew Flintoff gave the pill to Durham quick Steve Harmison. 

    Flintoff’s field was set, umpire Steve Bucknor announced play, and the match was ready to go. But what followed can only be described as the worst first ball of a Test match ever seen as Harmison came steaming in and in full stride delivered a ball that nearly missed the wicket completely and flew into the hands of Flintoff at second slip. 

    That delivery summed up England’s tour as Australia completely dominated the series and reclaimed the Ashes with a thumping 5-0 series whitewash.

  2. 2 The ball of the century

    From one of the worst deliveries ever sent down in a Test match to one of the greatest.

    Forever in the history of world cricket and the Ashes, there never will be a delivery that will be replayed as much as the 'ball of the century' delivered by Australia’s spin king Shane Warne. 

    At Old Trafford in 1993, Australia had posted a modest total of 289 thanks to a century by Mark Taylor and a half-century by debutant Michael Slater. England captain Graham Gooch and Michael Atherton had given England a solid start before Atherton was dismissed with the score on 71. Warne had been warming up for a couple of overs on Day 2 of the first Test before Australian captain Allan Border threw the ball to his leg-spinner.

    Captain Border hoped that Warne would try to settle into a rhythm and that was achieved with his very first delivery. Gatting, batting on a middle-leg line faced Warne who ripped in what seemed to be a simple leg break. The ball drifted sideways to pitch outside leg stump, only to then rip sideways to avoid a defensive stroke attempt by Mike Gatting and remove his off bail so delicately that no sound was made when the ball made contact. 

    Gatting had to check with the umpire if he had been bowled, and captain Graham Gooch quipped “If it had been a cheese roll, it would never have got past him.” 

  3. 3 The Laker show

    Old Trafford features again this time in 1956. The wicket prepared for the contest was described by the great Australian spinner “Tiger” Bill O’Reilly as an absolute disgrace due to its dusty nature. 

    At the time, no bowler in the annals of Test or first-class cricket had taken over 17 wickets in a game until Jim Laker’s one-man show against Australia after claiming a match haul of 19/90. 

    It was a Bradman-esque type performance but with the ball, as Laker and England won by an innings and 170 runs after posting 459 runs and then dismissing Australia for 84 in the first innings with Laker taking 9/37 and 205 after following on with Laker claiming all 10 wickets for 53 runs. 

    Tony Lock was the spoilsport in the first innings by claiming the other wicket that was available.

  4. 4 Bosanquet introduces a new delivery

    Few people would know the name Bernard Bosanquet but he was responsible for introducing a particular skill that no leg spin bowler is without. It was first introduced in an Ashes Test match in Sydney in 1903/04 – the 'Googly.'

    Bosanquet was described as unpolished and unpredictable which made him a dangerous weapon for the English to have at their disposal. His mystery delivery, which is now known as the googly, claimed six vital Australian second innings wickets in less than an hour’s play, helping England pick up the victory in the fourth Test of the series.

    His source of trickery that gave Australian batsmen nightmares, Bosanquet would bowl what would appear as a standard leg break delivery for it to spin in the opposite direction bamboozling the batsman. 

  5. 5 Gough’s milestone 100 years in the waiting

    One of England’s unluckiest bowlers, Darren Gough entered the English record books for the first time in 100 years when he completed the feat of claiming a hat-trick in an Ashes Test Match. 

    The reason for him being one of the unluckiest bowlers England has produced was because of the number of catches his slip cordon.

    However, at the end of a long day of England bowling to the Australians in Sydney in 1999, Gough would claim the successive wickets of Ian Healy, “The Sweet Prince” Stuart MacGill and Colin “Funky” Miller with brilliant and what was best described as majestic bowling. 

    Healy was caught behind by keeper Warren Hegg off a beautiful swinging ball that caught Healy in two minds to find his edge. What followed were two precise out-swinging full yorkers that disturbed the castles of Stuart MacGill & Colin Miller.

    The last Englishman to take an Ashes hat-trick was Jack Hearne in Leeds in 1899 when Hearne dismissed Clem Hill, Syd Gregory & M.A Noble on England’s way to dismiss Australia for 224.  

  6. 6 When Waugh declared on England

    It was the eve of the Fourth Test in 1991 when the rumours circulated that, after 42 Test appearances, Steve Waugh was on the verge of being dropped for the Australia Day Adelaide Test Match. With Australia Leading the 5 match series 2-0 after wins in Brisbane & Melbourne and the New Year Test in Sydney played out to a draw the Selectors confirmed that Waugh was to be dropped for the Test. His replacement was none other than twin brother Mark, brought into the side to make his Australian Test debut. 

    This moved proved to be an instant success after captain Allan Border won the toss and elected to bat first. Australia were reeling at 4/104 when Mark Waugh strolled to the crease at six after Phil DeFreitas tore apart the top order. Mark steadied the innings with partner Greg Matthews on his way to a sensational Test debut ton scoring 138 off 188 deliveries. 

    Mark became one of the finest batsman in the world with his brilliant eye and his flowing style. The match ended up in a draw with Australia retaining the Ashes with that result.

  7. 7 Tugga’s toughest ton

    It was during the third Test in the 2001 series at Trent Bridge when the Australian captain Steve Waugh tore his calf muscle and initial fears and diagnosis had suggested that “Tugga’s” Ashes tour was over. But, much like the man and the way his sides played throughout his tenure as Australian captain, his series was not over until the final ball. 

    He spent three weeks in intensive rehab and missed the Fourth Test in which England claimed victory, but Australia had an unassailable 3-1 series lead. Miraculously, Waugh had recovered and was named to play the fifth and final Test at the Oval. While his decision to play was a tricky one and he had returned being nowhere near 100% fit, he made one of the toughest centuries in his career. 

    During his innings, Waugh appeared to re-aggravate his calf injury and, on one leg, produced a stunning 157 not out as Australia declared at 4/641 off 152 overs, before completing an innings and 25 runs win. The iconic dive to the line to just make the crease for his milestone with him laying flat on the ground but his bat raised embodied the grit and toughness Waugh displayed during his career.

  8. 8 Hutton bats and bats and bats and bats...

    The Oval 1938, England broke many records when captain Sir Walter Hammond won the toss and elected to bat in the fifth Test against Sir Donald Bradman’s Australia side.

    England lost an early wicket when Edrich was trapped in front off the bowling of Bill O’Reilly with the score 1/29. That was just about as good as it got for Australia as England went to bat on for 336 overs, declaring at 7/903 with opener Len Hutton scoring a record-breaking 364 off 847 balls. Hutton's innings included 35 boundaries but not one six. Maurice Leyland and Joseph Hardstaff both picked up centuries as well scoring 187(438 balls) & 169(400 balls) respectively. 

    The Australian bowlers bore the brunt of the work with Leslie Fleetwood-Smith, Bill O’Reilly and Mervyn Waite bowling 87, 85 and 72 overs respectively with Bill O’Reilly the pick of the bowlers picking up 3/178. Sir Donald Bradman was so out of ideas he bowled himself to end the English Innings which backfired on him when after only bowling 2.2 overs he broke his ankle and ruled himself out of the rest of the Test match. 

    It was no surprise that England won the Test match by an innings after dismissing a depleted batting Australian side for 201 & 123. The margin of victory to this day remains the largest ever margin at an innings and 579 runs.

  9. 9 Gilly WACA’s Monty

    The late, great Richie Benaud described Adam Gilchrist as the purest striker of a cricket ball he has ever seen and on one afternoon in Perth in the 2006/07 Ashes series, England, and specifically Monty Panesar, made it hard for anyone to argue against Benaud’s assessment.

    On day three of the third Test of the series, Adam Gilchrist joined Michael Clarke at the crease with the score at 5/365 in the 92nd over and it didn’t take long until Gilchrist got going. Gilchrist brought up his half-century in 40 balls. Gilchrist then went to town on Panesar with some of the most deadly striking the world of cricket had ever seen. Gilchrist took Panesar for 24 off one over then brought up his century which was the second fastest at the time in 57 balls. 

    Australia declared after 112 overs at 5/527 with Gilchrist unbeaten on 102 off 59 balls which overshadowed fellow centurions Michael Hussey (103) and Michael Clarke (135*). Australia claimed victory in the Test and reclaimed the Ashes taking an unassailable 3-0 lead in the best of five series after Shane Warne tore apart the batsmen who, chasing a world record 557 to win, were dismissed for 355.

  10. 10 Spoilt Pratt

    A calm afternoon at Trent Bridge in 2005 turned into storm as the name Gary Pratt would stamp his name into Ashes folklore.

    Australian captain Ricky Ponting had found form after coming off a century in the second innings at Old Trafford and continued that momentum on day three of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. During day three, little-known fringe Durham county player Gary Pratt had been summoned as a substitute fieldsman for quick bowler Simon Jones who was off the field receiving treatment for an ankle injury. 

    Fielding at cover point, Damien Martyn had blocked a Matthew Hoggard delivery out towards Pratt and called Ponting through for a quick single only for Pratt to spring into action, pick up and throw with one stump to aim at and claim a direct hit to dismiss the Australian captain.

    Ponting was vocal and animated when leaving the Trent Bridge field, gesturing at the English dressing room about the tactics used by England as he felt that the constant use of substitute fielders was against the spirit of play.

    That moment was a huge momentum swing in the series and England went on to claim a famous series win.

    What are your favourite Ashes moments? Let us know in the comments below.

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