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Ashes 1993: Australia drown England to their lowest point in history

1993 Ashes, Headingley: Allan Border and Steve Waugh drown England to the lowest point in their cricketing history

Allan Border kisses the Ashes urn after winning the fourth Test against England at Headingley © Getty Images

On July 26, 1993, Australia retained The Ashes in a rather unforgiving manner as they humiliated England by an innings and 148 runs. Allan Border, Steve Waugh and David Boon hammered centuries before Paul Reiffel took eight wickets to mark England’s lowest point at the time. Karthik Parimal looks back at that eventful Test that unfolded at Leeds.
Although the English could boast of a few skilled apprentices, not many gave them a chance against the Australians, who were on the rise since they thwacked the hosts in 1989 to reclaim the urn. As a unit, they were galloping towards the top with huge margins of victory to show as evidence. Having lost the first two of the three Tests during the 1993 Ashes, it was imperative for England to win the fourth to have a chance of usurping the unflinching Australians. But, as was predicted, they went down without a fight, thereby confirming the fact that English cricket had indeed hit nadir.

Memories of 1989

Headingley, Leeds, was a happy hunting ground for England at the time, but they’d scraped through to the finish line more often than not. In 1981, they won by 18 runs and, in 1985, registered a five-wicket victory albeit being set a target of just 123. In 1989, though, one of the worst defeats was inflicted on them, owing to two youngsters — Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. Their centuries effectively shut England out of the contest within two days. On the eve of the fourth Test in the 1993 Ashes, these were the two names that were talked about in the confines of the press box, for they’d been pummelling the English bowlers quite nonchalantly in the lead up to it.

On the morning of July 23, 1993, Allan Border won the toss and chose to bat first and, by the time lunch was called, the Englishmen knew it was going to be a Dog Day afternoon. Michael Slater belted a fifty and, although Taylor fell for 27, David Boon walked in and carved a frail English attack. After Slater’s cameo, Mark Waugh scored a brisk 52 before Mark Iliot went past his defences. By the end of the first day’s play, the Australians were perched at 307 for three. Boon was unbeaten on 102 with Border at the other end. The worst for the English bowlers was yet to come.

After adding five more runs to his score, Boon was trapped in front of the stumps by Iliot, but he walked off a happy man, for this century was his third in successive Tests and propelled his series average to 100.80.

Graham Gooch, the English skipper who was celebrating his birthday, would not have predicted that this wicket was to be his only gift for the day. The Australian captain drifted into a zone that spelt doom for England. There was no urgency in his approach, but he didn’t refrain from punishing the loose deliveries. Meticulously, he broke the will of the bowlers and leaped his way to a century, 150 and then to his first double-hundred on English soil. With that innings, he equalled Sir Garry Sobers’s total of 26 centuries.

Another Steve Waugh classic

At the other end, 28-year-old Steve Waugh began using his willow proficiently and, another gritty innings ensued, one which would easily rank amongst his best, and arguably finest, since the runs weren’t all that easy to come by. The English were perhaps wondering if there was a way to get this tenacious bloke out, for he had become a thorn in their flesh. A streaky inside edge which narrowly missed the stumps early on was as close they could get to watch his back. Gooch set every possible field, ranging from defensive to cautiously-aggressive to aggressive, but Waugh operated on a different level. “The pickings, it has to be said, were just as easy. Nearly half his 157 came from boundaries, hit with wrists of flexible steel,” noted Wisden.

It was during this Test that Waugh’s famous ‘red rag’ was born. Sweating profusely, he signalled for the 12th man to bring out a cloth, but since there wasn’t any that was the size of a handkerchief, a big red towel was cut into a pocket-size portion and handed to Waugh. “It would accompany me to the crease for the next ten-and-a-half years, becoming a security blanket and somehow easing my mind whenever I pulled it out to wipe the brow,” recollects Waugh in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.

Australia’s first innings came to a halt at 633 for the loss of just four wickets. In 1989 at Leeds, they amassed a 600-plus score too, but the response from England was a respectable 430. Four years later, it was evident they didn’t have the artillery to stage such resistance.

England’s sorry reply

Merv Hughes and Paul ‘Pistol’ Reiffel opened the bowling for Australia and immediately accounted for the wickets of Mark Lathwell, Robin Smith and Alec Stewart. A young Michael Atherton and Gooch then put up some fight, but once the former’s stumps were castled by Reiffel, a dramatic collapse followed and the first innings folded for just 200. Reiffel finished with figures of five for 65 and Hughes pocketed three for 47 runs.

Still 453 behind, an innings defeat looked inevitable as England followed on. Although there was a little more resistance on offer from Lathwell, Smith and Stewart this time around, the middle-order failed yet again. Apart from Atherton’s 63 and Stewart’s 78, the English scorecard cut a sorry figure. They were humiliated by an innings and 148 runs, the Ashes were lost, and that signalled the lowest point in their cricketing history.

The outcome

Gooch had stated before the commencement of the series that if he failed to reclaim the Ashes, he’d step down as captain and allow young blood to take over. True to his word, he immediately resigned. The idea of waiting till the completion of the series, for a move as huge as this, hadn’t occurred to him. “Graham [Gooch] has always been an honourable man and he believed in doing things the right way. In the past he had asked to be dropped by England when he didn’t feel he was playing well enough, and I just think on this occasion he felt that the Ashes had gone, he had had four years at the job and it was time for someone else with fresh ideas to have a go,” wrote Nasser Hussain in his autobiography Playing With Fire.

1993 Ashes, Headingley: Allan Border and Steve Waugh drown England to the lowest point in their cricketing history

The Australian team celebrate after winning the fourth Test and thereby retaining The Ashes © Getty Images

The English were, no doubt, shocked by the unfolding of events, but like Hussain further states in his book: “There just seemed to be a general air of acceptance about the place that this is what Australia did to England captains, and Goochy was simply the latest victim.”

Australia won the series 4-1 and, till 2005, not once did England come closer to winning the coveted urn.

Brief Scores:

Australia 633 for 4 decl. (Allan Border 200*, Steve Waugh 157*, David Boon 107; Mark Ilott 3 for 161) beat England 200 (Graham Gooch 59, Michael Atherton 55; Paul Reiffel 5 for 65, Merv Hughes 3 for 47) and 305 (Alec Stewart 78, Michael Atherton 63; Merv Hughes 3 for 79, Paul Reiffel 3 for 87) by an innings and 148 runs.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)

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