From Ashes to Ashes – Best of the Rivalry Since 1981 – Part 4

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5. Alistair Cook Marathon 235* at Gabba,1st Test, 2010-11 and Adam Gilchrist blistering 152 at Edgbaston, 1st Test 2001Alastair-Cook

Two innings that defined the Ashes of 2001 and 2010-11 came at no. 5. Both were opposite in the circumstances but had a severe impact that demoralised the confidence of the opposition in such a way that it was difficult for them to make a comeback. Importance of a great inning gets manifold when it comes right from the den of opposition.

In 2010-11, England made history by winning the Ashes in Australia after almost 2 and half decades. There were many reasons for the win, but probably the biggest and the most sound was 766 runs by Alistair Cook and above all his marathon 235* which changed an almost inevitable defeat into a miraculous draw.

After England were rocked back by a Peter Siddle hat-trick on Day 1 at Brisbane, they were left to play catching game. England started their second innings with a deficit of 221 runs and 200 overs of play still to go. Under quite unfavourable circumstances Cook and Strauss opened the innings and took on the Australian attack adding 188 runs in the opening partnership.

By the time Strauss got out,  England were only 33 behind but not out of danger. In such a moment Jonathan Trott joined Alistair Cook, and both of them started to grind the Australian attack. Cook batted whole day, and at stumps, he was playing at 132* with England ahead now by 88 runs. On the fifth day, the maestro was an epitome of concentration, leaving balls after balls, highly judicious in his shot selection he continued to pile on the misery for already tired Australian attack.

The cut and straight drives by Cook were eye soothing, and it looked almost impossible to breach his defence. He continued to cross milestone, 150 then moving to 200. By the time Strauss decided to declare he has scored 235* runs off 428 balls and have been on the pitch for almost 10 and half hours (625 minutes). The inning made everyone remember Mike Atherton’s great 185* at Johannesburg in 1995-96 nearly similar and near superhuman effort.

Adam Gilchrist was a famous entity by the time he landed in England for his first Ashes Series. In the first Test at Edgbaston, Australia Oval, 336-5 in reply to England’s first innings of 294. The visitors were in a strong position but considering England’s revival under Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher in recent years and Australia’s batting last almost equalled the position until Adam Gilchrist arrived and demolished the English attack which an led them to overseas victory previous winter in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The master blaster bludgeoned 5 sixes and 20 boundaries in his innings of 152 that flattened the hosts and left them demoralised for rest of the summer. It was the innings that made the world acknowledge Gilchrist’s geniuses. The kind of the impact it had on the opposition is the reason I have ranked the innings at no.5

4. Bob Willis stuns Australia with 8-43 at Headingley, Leeds,3rd Test, 1981Bob Willis England

The 1981 Ashes series is famously known as Botham series, who was brilliant throughout the series and especially at Leeds. However, the astonishing victory couldn’t have been completed without one of the most excellent spells ever bowled by Bob Willis. Despite magical innings from Ian Botham Australia were set up only 130 to win the test. However,  Willis, who was almost dropped due to fitness concerns had other ideas. Australia who were sailing smoothly at 56-1, requiring mere 74 runs with into wickets in hand, were rocked by a fearsome spell of fast bowling from England’s pace spearhead.

Willis first broke the partnership by getting Trevor Chappel caught by Bob Taylor and then knocked the opposition skipper Kim Hughes on the same score, and when he had Graham Yallop caught by Mike Gatting, England were back in the game. Australia were 58-4, and when Jhon Dyson after his fighting 34 was dismissed along with Marsh and Lawson, Aussie fans were left as their team slipped from 56-1 to 75-8 in a stunning turn around of scenario. While Bright and Lillie tried to fight it out but Willis was determined to bring the glory for England, and he did it by knocking both of them and bringing England home to one of its most significant victories.

3. Glenn McGrath 5-53 and 4-29 vs England at Lords 1st Test,2005 and Shane Warne’s 40 Wickets in Ashes 2005Glenn McGrath

Glenn Mcgrath and Shane Warne were two great performers who had many performances to remember in Ashes. At no 3 comes what we deem as the best performance from Glenn McGrath and second best from Shane Warne. Ironically, it was in the only Ashes they lost.

McGrath tormented England for over a decade and bowled some of the greatest spells against them, but the way he bowled at Lords could be deemed as the best. Termed as the best English team in 15 years, Mcgrath took no mercy on them ripping them apart after Australia were dismissed only for 190. He reduced them to 21-5 in reply before lower order recovered slightly. In the second inning, he terrorised them with 4-29 and ending England’s misery as they lost embarrassing innings’ huge margin. His spell on the first day was lethal and English batsmen had no answer for him. Ironically, Australia years, two tests in 2005 and McGrath missed both of them due to injury.

Shane Warne was the magician who used to be at his best against England. His 196 wickets are a proof of his ability and how England never found him easy to play. In 2005 at the age of 36 and almost at the fag end of his career, Warne was at his best in his last series in England. After picking 6 wickets in the first test at lords, he picked up 10 in the second, bringing Australia back in the game with a sensational 6-46.

The Ball that spun to rattle Andrew Strauss’s stumps was one of the best of his Career if not best. At Nottingham, he almost singlehandedly took Australia close to a miraculous victory as England chased a meagre 129 to take a 2-1 lead. In the last test, he took 12 wickets and almost fought singlehandedly to snatch victory from England who escaped narrowly riding on Kevin Pietersen’s hundred to win the Ashes after 16 years. Warne finished the series with astonishing 40 wickets. 

2. Kevin Pietersen does it for England with his 158 vs Australia at The Oval, 5th Test 2005Kevin- Pietersen

Ironically the inning which beats Warne’s and McGrath’s genius of 2005 was the innings that brought back the Urn for England after 16 years. It was innings of substance that took some courage and defiance from 25-year-old Kevin Pietersen to stop a team of champions desperate to maintain their unbeaten record at Ashes. The Innings might not be the best but arguably the most critical innings ever played by an England batsman.

Knowing that the day was probably the most important in their cricket careers, Warne, Mcgrath, Lee gave it all they had left in the tank after a gruelling series. They increased the pressure on England who at 126-5, looked in danger of losing the test they only needed to draw. Pietersen was at the crease, and he seemed getting out anytime while being beaten continuously by Brett Lee and Shane Warne but he somehow survived those great spells.

Once he got into his groove, he didn’t spare anyone, and for next few hours, the world saw one of the most pivotal innings that defined the Ashes of 2005. Pietersen demonstrated geniuses, audacity and courage with every of his strokes, he first added 60 with Paul Collingwood and then a century partnership with Ashley Giles crucified all hopes of Australia to make it 2-2. Some of his shots were just breathtaking. He hit Warne for two sixes and then slaughtered Lee for 35 runs in only 13 balls. The runs become even more vital as Lee was bowling almost at 97 mph. While with Warne and McGrath in tandem he changed the gears and completed his 100 with a extreme but well-deserved celebration. By the time Pieterson was out, he had made most vital 158 runs in English cricket history which wiped out decades of scars within few hours.

1. Ian Botham 50 and 149*, 95-6 and 14-1 at Headingley, Leeds and Shane Warne’s Ball of Century with 51-4 at Manchester 1St test, 1993Shane Warne

At No.1 are arguably two of the most discussed performance of the Ashes history. Ian Botham’s magical performance at Leeds in 1981 and Shane Warne’s ball of the century in 1993 Ashes.

After taking 95-6 and making a useful 50 in first Innings, Botham played the innings of his life. With England 135-7 and still 92 behind, an innings defeat seemed almost on the cards, but Botham had other ideas. He added 117 runs with Dilley in just 80 minutes, turning the heat on Australians before adding another 67 with Chris old and further 37 with Bobs Willis on 10th Wicket. His innings left Australia shellshocked and under tremendous pressure as they collapsed chasing a tricky 130 in the last innings. Botham’s masterclass innings scripted one of the greatest comebacks in Cricket history.

After England started impressively dismissing Australia just for 289 and reaching to 80-1 on the second day of the first test of 1993 Ashes, Australia called 24-years-old blonde bloke from Victoria to bowl his first ball in the Ashes. As Warne bowled the ball, it pitched outside leg stump of Mike Gatting and turned miles to hit the top of his off stump. Gatting stood stunned, he couldn’t believe what has just happened and literally dragged himself to the dressing room. The impact that ball left was not only seen throughout the series but for next 13 years. Seldom did English batsmen were able to dominate Warne as he always enjoyed the psychological hold on them. The Magical ball was termed as the Ball of the Century.

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