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The Ashes: History of close encounters

The Ashes: History of close encounters

England is jubilant after beating Australia by 14 runs in the first Ashes Test match at Trent Bridge © Getty Images

Yet another Ashes humdinger ended at Trent Bridge on July 14, 2013. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at 11 remarkably close Ashes encounters down the years.

Yet another Ashes series. Yet another Test that went down to the wire. Predictions went awry. Brad Haddin came back. James Anderson sizzled. Ian Bell scored a hundred. Ashton Agar arrived. Stuart Broad did not walk. DRS [Decision Review System] messed it up. And everyone’s favourite cliché —”Test cricket is the ultimate thing” — made its customary appearance on the social network.
The Ashes — 13 decades worth of it — has never been short on cliff-hangers. Here’s a list of 11 (could there have been a better number?) close encounters from the history of the longest-living contest in international cricket.

1884-85, 3rd Test, Sydney Cricket Ground
England went into the Test 2-0 up, trying to seal the series. After Australia won the toss and elected to bat the openers put up a formidable 45. Things did not look good at 101 for nine, but Tom Garrett and Edwin Evans put up 80 for the last wicket —  a partnership that turned out to be decisive in the end.
Tom Horan and Fred Spofforth then gave Australia a 48-run lead before Billy Bates’ off-breaks skittled out the hosts for 165. Chasing 214 England ran into trouble, first at 29 for three and then at 92 for six. Wilf Flowers and Maurice Read added 102 for the seventh wicket.
With victory in sight, England panicked: Read was cleaned up by Spofforth for a chanceless 56; William Attewell was run out amidst the tension; England were eventually bowled out for 207, losing the Test by seven runs.

Brief scores:
Australia 181 (Tom Garrett 51*; Wilf Flowers 5 for 46, William Attewell 4 for 53) and 165 (Billy Bates 5 for 24) beat England 133 (Tom Horan 6 for 40, Fred Spofforth 4 for 54) and 207 (Wilf Flowers 56, Maurice Read 56; Fred Spofforth 6 for 90) by 7 runs.
Though Australia squared the series in the fourth Test, also at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), England claimed the Ashes winning the fifth Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

1886-87, 1st Test, Sydney Cricket Ground
The 1886-87 Ashes was a two-Test affair with both Tests scheduled at the SCG. Australia chose to bowl and bowled out England for 45 in 35.3 four-ball overs. The English bowlers toiled hard but Australia managed to scrape a 74-run lead.
The English openers added 30 and the lead was obliterated for the loss of one wicket. However, a collapse saw England reeling at 103 for seven before the last three wickets put up 25, 25, and 31. Australia had to chase only 111 — but it was at least a three-figure affair!
Billy Barnes and George Lohmann then came into business: Australia lost both openers with just five on the board but it seemed that they were on track at 58 for four. Barnes and Lohmann, however, bowled them out for 97, pulling off a sensational victory for England.
Johnny Briggs, with 33 in England’s second innings, made the highest score in the Test.

Brief scores:
England 45 (Charlie Turner 6 for 15, JJ Ferris 4 for 27) and 184 (JJ Ferris 5 for 76) beat Australia 119 (Dick Barlow 3 for 25, George Lohmann 3 for 30) and 97 (Billy Barnes 6 for 28, George Lohmann 3 for 20) by 13 runs.
England claimed the Ashes by winning the next Test as well.

1894-95, 1st Test, Test, Sydney Cricket Ground
Australia chose to bat in what turned out to be one of the greatest Tests of all time. Though they were reduced to 21 for three Australia recovered through some excellent batting from George Giffen (161), Frank Iredale (81), and Syd Gregory (201). Jack Blackham then hit a quickfire 74, putting up 154 with Gregory for the ninth wicket and Australia eventually scored a mammoth 586.
Not content with his performance with the bat Giffen kept on taking wickets. The English fought hard, and recovered from 155 for five and then 211 for seven to score 325. Giffen picked up four as Blackham enforced the follow-on, 261 runs ahead.
This time England put up a better show with Albert Ward leading the way with a solid 117. From 217 for two, however, England lost quick wickets and were reduced to a hopeless 296 for six — once again — thanks to Giffen. England were bowled out for 437 after an 89-run seventh wicket partnership, leaving Australia to chase 177. They ended Day Five on 113 for two with Giffen at the crease.
The sixth morning, however, belonged entirely to Bobby Peel. The Yorkshire left-arm spinner picked up six for 67 as Australia collapsed to 166 from 130 for two. It was a miraculous victory — the first a side had achieved after following-on. Giffen’s heroics had gone in vain.
Brief scores:
Australia 586 (Syd Gregory 201, George Giffen 161, Frank Iredale 81, Jack Blackham 74; Tom Richardson 5 for 181) and 166 (Joe Darling 53, George Giffen 41; Bobby Peel 6 for 67, Johnny Briggs 3 for 25) lost to England 325 (Albert Ward 75, Johnny Briggs 57, Bill Brockwell 49; George Giffen 4 for 75) and 437 (Albert Ward 117, Jack Brown 53, Francis Ford 48, Johnny Briggs 42; George Giffen 4 for 164) by 10 runs.
Once again England took a 2-0 lead before Australia squared the series. England claimed the Ashes with the fifth Test at MCG, though.

1902, 4th Test, Old Trafford
The 1902 Ashes is considered by many as one of the greatest ever. After the first two Tests at Edgbaston and Lord’s were drawn by rain (Australia were bowled out for 36 in Edgbaston) Australia won the third Test at Bramall Lane comfortably. The sides then moved to Old Trafford where Joe Darling won the toss and elected to bat.
The match began in the most sensational of manners with Victor Trumper becoming the first batsman to score a hundred before lunch on Day One. Australia, however, collapsed after Trumper’s dismissal and sank from 175 for one (and later 256 for four) to 299 thanks to some exceptional bowling from Wilfred Rhodes and Bill Lockwood.
England began poorly, losing five wickets with 44 runs on the board. Stanley Jackson and Len Braund then put up 141 for the sixth wicket; Jackson shepherded the tail brilliantly and was last out for 128 out of a team score of 262. Starting their innings 33 runs ahead Australia succumbed to 86 in the hands of Lockwood and Rhodes. The score included a 54-run partnership between Darling and Gregory.
Chasing 124 England were comfortably placed at 68 for one and then at 92 for three. It was unbelievable that they could lose the Test from there. However, Hugh Trumble and Jack Saunders bowled out England for 120, resulting in a slender three-run victory.
Despite the superlative performances the Test is generally referred to as “Tate’s Test”. Fred Tate did not take a wicket in the first innings (though he picked up two for seven in the second). However, he is generally remembered for dropping the catch of Darling when he was 17 in the second innings (Darling scored 20 more, which turned out to be decisive). Then, with only four runs to win for the last wicket, he was cleaned up by Saunders and broke down into tears — “I’ve got a lad at home who’ll make up for this.”
Though it turned out to be Tate’s only Test his son Maurice picked up 155 Test wickets, 83 of them in Ashes encounters.

Brief scores:
Australia 299 (Victor Trumper 104, Clem Hill 65, Reggie Duff 54, Joe Darling 51; Bill Lockwood 6 for 48, Wilfred Rhodes 4 for 104) and 86 (Bill Lockwood 5 for 28, Wilfred Rhodes 3 for 26) beat England 262 (Stanley Jackson 128, Len Braund 65; Hugh Trumble 4 for 75, Jack Saunders 3 for 104) and 120 (Hugh Trumble 6 for 53, Jack Saunders 4 for 52) by 3 runs.
Australia had won the Ashes, but that was certainly not the end of the drama.

1902-03, 5th Test, The Oval, London
The Ashes already won, Darling won the toss again and elected to bat. Australia managed to score 324 despite being 175 for seven at one stage. Hugh Trumble then picked up eight for 65 to bowl out England for 183. Lockwood came into action and Australia were bowled out for 121, leaving England to score 263.
Trumble and Saunders then reduced England to 48 for five, making a victory seem impossible. Gilbert Jessop then produced one of the greatest fourth-innings scores of all time, scoring 104 in 80 balls with 17 fours and an all-run five and added 109 with Jackson.
The match, however, was far from over as England still needed 76 from the last three wickets. This was when George Hirst took centrestage and played a brilliant cool-headed innings. Rhodes eventually walked out to join his Kirkheaton mate Hirst with England still requiring 15 for the final wicket. Hirst greeted Rhodes with the words “we’ll get ‘em in singles” and went on to do exactly that.
Brief scores:
Australia 324 (Hugh Trumble 64*, Monty Noble 52, Victor Trumper 42, Bert Hopkins 40; George Hirst 5 for 77) and 121 (Bill Lockwood 5 for 45) lost to England 183 (George Hirst 43; Hugh Trumble 8 for 65) and 263 for 9 (Gilbert Jessop 104, George Hirst 58*, Stanley Jackson 49; Jack Saunders 4 for 105, Hugh Trumble 4 for 108) by 1 wicket.
PG Wodehouse, present at the ground on the final day, had to leave for work before the real action began. In the process he missed Jessop’s innings and the last-wicket heist. He shortly quit his bank job and became a full-time author.

1907-08, 2nd Test, MCG
Noble decided to bat after Australia won the first Test at SCG by a narrow two-wicket margin. Noble himself top-scored as Australia scored 266 before England took a formidable 116-run lead thanks to Kenneth Hutchings’ hundred and a remarkable 83 from a debutant Jack Hobbs. The Australians then pulled themselves together despite Sydney Barnes’ probing performance and England were left to score a difficult 282.
England began well, adding 54 for the first wicket, but wickets kept falling at a consistent rate, and from 121 for two they slowly slumped to 209. Barnes then added 34 with the debutant Joe Humphries and then polished off the remaining runs with Arthur Fielder for company. The match could well have ended in a tie had Gerry Hazlitt not missed the stumps from cover-point as the batsmen had scampered for a virtually impossible single.

Brief scores:
Australia 266 (Monty Noble 61, Victor Trumper 49; Jack Crawford 5 for 79) and 397 (Warwick Armstrong 77, Monty Noble 64, Victor Trumper 63, Charlie Macartney 54, Sammy Carter 53; Sydney Barnes 5 for 72, Jack Crawford 3 for 125) lost to England 382 (Kenneth Hutchings 126, Jack Hobbs 83, Len Braund 49; Tibby Cotter 5 for 142, Jack Saunders 3 for 100) and 282 for 9 (Frederick Fane 50; Warwick Armstrong 3 for 53) by 1 wicket.
Australia, however, won the remaining three Tests comfortably, winning the series 4-1.

1924-25, 3rd Test, Adelaide Oval
Australia led the series 2-0 but ran into trouble in the third, being reduced to 22 for three and then 119 for six. Batting at seven, Jack Ryder then pulled off an amazing 201 not out, adding 134, 55, 92, and 73 for the last four wickets. Australia finished with 489.
England reversed their batting line-up after a shower and Hobbs, coming out at five, scored 119, adding 90 with Herbert Sutcliffe. Batting at eight, Patsy Hendren scored 92, and England managed to reach 365. There was another shower towards the end of Australia’s innings and they folded to Roy Kilner and Frank Woolley for 250 from 215 for three.
Chasing 375 Hobbs and Sutcliffe then added 63 but the wickets kept falling. England did not lose hope on a difficult wicket even at 264 for six and the tail batted magnificently. Arthur Gilligan and Tich Freeman added 45 for the ninth wicket, taking the score to 357. However, both batsmen fell in quick succession and England lost the Test by 11 runs.

Brief scores:
Australia 489 (Jack Ryder 201*, Tommy Andrews 72, Arthur Richardson 69, Bert Oldfield 47; Roy Kilner 4 for 127) and 250 (Jack Ryder 88, Bill Ponsford 43; Roy Kilner 4 for 51, Frank Woolley 4 for 88) beat England 365 (Jack Hobbs 119, Patsy Hendren 92; Jack Gregory 3 for 111, Arthur Mailey 3 for 133) and 363 (Dodger Whysall 75, Herbert Sutcliffe 59, Percy Chapman 58; Charles Kelleway 3 for 57, Arthur Mailey 3 for 126) by 11 runs.
Australia clinched the Ashes with this Test and eventually won the series 4-1.

1928-29, 4th Test, Adelaide Oval
England had already won the Ashes 3-0 (starting with a 675-run margin at Gabba where a young Don Bradman had made his debut). Here, too, they began confidently with Hobbs and Sutcliffe putting on 143. However, a collapse followed and though Wally Hammond stood firm with a hundred, England managed only 334.
Archie Jackson then stunned the world with his famous hundred on debut. The others chipped in and Australia managed a 35-run lead. Hammond (scoring his second hundred of the match) and Douglas Jardine then added 262 for the third wicket before another collapse occurred: England were bowled out for 383 leaving Australia 349 to chase.
The first wicket yielded 65 and the fourth 147 but wickets kept on falling as Australia were reduced to 258 for six. Bradman then added fifty with Ron Oxenham Jack White ran through the tail (he picked up 13 wickets in the Test) but after the partnership was broken and Bradman was run out. England won the Test by 12 runs.

Brief scores:
England 334 (Wally Hammond 119*, Jack Hobbs 74, Herbert Sutcliffe 64; Clarrie Grimmett 5 for 102) and 383 (Wally Hammond 177, Douglas Jardine 98, Maurice Tate 47; Ron Oxenham 4 for 67) beat Australia 369 (Archie Jackson 164, Jack Ryder 63, Don Bradman 40; Jack White 5 for 130, Maurice Tate 4 for 77) and 336 (Jack Ryder 87, Don Bradman 58, Alan Kippax 51; Jack White 8 for 126) by 12 runs.
Australia won the last Test. Bradman and Jackson both made impressive debut series; their lives, however, took different courses.

1982-83, 4th Test, MCG
With Australia leading the series 2-0 going into the fourth Test they simply needed a draw to regain the Ashes. Greg Chappell put England in and the tourists reached 284 thanks largely to a fourth-wicket 161-run stand between Chris Tavaré and Allan Lamb. Australia managed a three-run lead before bowling out England for 294. All three innings had ended a day’s play.
Set out to chase 292 Australia were reduced to 71 for three before Kim Hughes and David Hookes put on exactly a hundred. Wickets, however, kept on falling, mostly to Norman Cowans, and Australia were reduced to 218 for nine when Jeff Thomson joined Allan Border. Border, displaying typical grit, added 37 with Thomson as the duo reached 255 for nine at stumps with 37 still to score.
Runs kept coming in a trickle on Day Five. Wisden estimated that a total of 29 comfortable singles were turned down during the entire partnership. Then, with the score on 288, Thomson edged one off Ian Botham that went straight to Tavaré’s hands at second slip and popped out; the ball flew behind Tavaré, but Geoff Miller ran in from first slip and completed the catch.

Brief scores:
England 284 (Chris Tavaré 89, Allan Lamb 83; Rodney Hogg 4 for 69, Bruce Yardley 4 for 89) and 294 (Graeme Fowler 65, Ian Botham 46, Derek Pringle 42; Geoff Lawson 4 for 66) beat Australia 287 (Kim Hughes 66, David Hookes 53, Rodney Marsh 53, Kepler Wessels 47; Bob Willis 3 for 38, Geoff Miller 3 for 44) and 288 (David Hookes 68, Allan Border 62 not out, Kim Hughes 48; Norman Cowans 6 for 77) by 3 runs.
With this Test MCG became the first ground to host 75 Tests. This was also the first Test ever where all four innings ended within ten runs of each other. Australia regained the Ashes with a keenly contested draw at SCG.

1998-99, 4th Test, MCG
Just like the 1982-83 Ashes Australia had taken a 2-0 lead going into the fourth Test requiring only a draw. Alec Stewart, however, defied the strong Australian attack with 107 as the visitors reached 270. Steve Waugh then counterattacked his way against a rampant Darren Gough to take Australia to a crucial 70-run lead. England scraped 244 as the tail did not wag and Australia were left to score 175.
Despite the early losses Australia were cruising along at 130 for three with the Ashes in sight. Enter Dean Headley: in a short burst of twelve balls he picked out four wickets and then took another one to make it six. Gough then polished off the tail and England won by 12 runs.

Brief scores:
England 270 (Alec Stewart 107, Mark Ramprakash 63; Stuart MacGill 4 for 61, Glenn McGrath 3 for 64) and 244 (Graeme Hick 60, Alec Stewart 52, Nasser Hussain 50, Matthew Nicholson 3 for 56, Stuart MacGill 3 for 81) beat Australia 340 (Steve Waugh 122 not out, Justin Langer 44; Darren Gough 5 for 96, Alan Mullally 3 for 64) and 162 (Mark Waugh 43; Dean Headley 6 for 60) by 3 runs.
Australia won the final Test at SCG to retain the Ashes thanks to Michael Slater’s famous 123 and Stuart MacGill’s 12-wicket haul.

2005, 2nd Test, Edgbaston
Things seemed to be going the usual way when Australia won the first Test at Lord’s by 239 runs. England, however, turned things around at Edgbaston: following an injury to Glenn McGrath just before the match started Marcus Trescothick led the way with a 102-ball 90 and Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff put up a 105-ball 103 for the fifth wicket in a breathtaking 62-minute partnership. England were bowled out for 407 on Day One.
Australia responded well with partnerships of 88 and 76 for the second and fourth wickets respectively. However, they collapsed to 308 from 262 for six. England, however, could not cash on the 99-run lead and were bowled out for 182 largely due to Shane Warne’s six for 46 which gave him a ten-wicket haul in the Test. Flintoff, however, blasted his way, hitting four massive sixes, and finishing with 141 runs from 148 balls in the Test.
After a 47-run opening stand the steam seemed to have gone out of Australia with the English bowlers chipping away with wickets at regular intervals – the pinnacle reached during Flintoff’s sensational over to Ricky Ponting. Things seemed over at 137 for seven but Michael Clarke and Warne fought defiantly before Steve Harmison ran through Clarke’s defence in the last ball of Day Three.
Australia required 107 with two wickets in hand. Warne and Brett Lee, however, fought gallantly, and when Warne was hit wicket off Flintoff as his right foot hit the off-stump. Then followed the bravest of fightbacks from Lee and Michael Kasprowicz. With only three runs left and England slowly giving up hope as the old ghosts sank in, Harmison bounced one to Kasprowicz; the ball ballooned to Geraint Jones who did the rest and England levelled the Ashes.

Brief scores:
England 407 (Marcus Trescothick 90, Kevin Pietersen 71, Andrew Flintoff 68, Andrew Strauss 48; Shane Warne 4 for 116, Michael Kasprowicz 3 for 80) and 182 (Andrew Flintoff 73; Shane Warne 6 for 46, Brett Lee 4 for 82) beat Australia 308 (Justin Langer 82, Ricky Ponting 61, Adam Gilchrist 49*, Michael Clarke 40; Andrew Flintoff 3 for 52, Ashley Giles 3 for 78) and 279 (Brett Lee 43*, Shane Warne 42; Andrew Flintoff 4 for 79) by 2 runs.
Flintoff sealed the Test with his brilliant all-round performance. Australia got away with nine wickets down at Old Trafford but conceded the series at Trent Bridge. England regained the Ashes after close to two decades following a draw at The Oval.

Honourable mention: Only Test, The Oval, 1882
Not technically an Ashes Test, but still the Test that gave birth to the urn. Spofforth struck back after Australia were bowled out for 63, restricting England to a 38-run lead. Hugh Massie then hit a 60-ball 57 to take the fight to the English camp but Australia collapsed from 70 for one to 122. England were left to score a paltry 85.
Spofforth reduced England to 15 for two before WG Grace and George Ulyett added 36. It was a no-brainer with England requiring only 34 with eight wickets intact. It was then that both batsmen fell and Spofforth, in tandem with Harry Boyle, put a stranglehold on England.
The spectators almost forgot to breathe as 12 successive maidens were bowled with the score on 65 for four. Alfred Lyttelton then managed a single (some say that the Australians allowed it deliberately for the batsmen to change ends); this was followed by four maiden overs before Spofforth cleaned up Lyttelton.
‘The Demon’ then ran through the lower middle-order and Boyle finished off things with two wickets in four balls. England were bowled out for 77 and lost the Test by seven runs. It still remains the lowest Test total that was successfully defended.

Brief scores:
Australia 63 (Dick Barlow 5 for 19, Ted Peate 4 for 31) and 122 (Hugh Massie 55; Ted Peate 4 for 40) beat England101 (Fred Spofforth 7 for 46) and 77 (Fred Spofforth 7 for 44, Harry Boyle 3 for 19) by 7 runs.
Shortly afterwards The Sporting Times ran an obituary that ran: “In Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket which Died at The Oval on 29th August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. RIP. NB: The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”
The British media called the return series as ‘the quest to regain the Ashes’ triggering off a cricket contest like none other.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at He can be followed on Twitter at

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