Top 10 Ashes Tests of All Time
10. The Oval, 1882: The Ashes are Born
Australia: 63 & 122, England: 101 &77
What better place to start than the legendary test that started it all? Australia, then a dominion of the British Empire, travelled to England to take on their colonial masters at The Oval. History favoured the English as they had never been beaten on home soil.
Australia won the toss and elected to bat first, but were efficiently bowled out for just 63 runs. England came into bat next and quickly built up a decent lead, but then entered Aussie bowler Fred Spofforth, who would take 7 wickets to spoil England’s initial good work and leave the hosts with a score of just 101.
In the second innings, England bowled out Australia for just 122, meaning that they merely had to score 85 to win their Test match. But Spofforth rescued Australia and spoiled what should have been a comfortable England win. He took another 7 wickets, helping to restrict England to just 77 runs. The Aussies won the match by 8 runs and thus claimed their first ever victory in England.
The loss of course bitterly hurt the English. For Australia, it was a landmark moment, and their leading sporting newspaper, The Sporting Times, jokingly proclaimed that English cricket had died, the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. In response, the English media dubbed England’s next tour of Australia a quest to regain those lost ashes. Thus the Ashes as we know it was born.
9. Headingley, 1948: The Epic Chase
England: 496 & 365, Australia: 458 & 404
This match would bear witness to another landmark in Ashes history. In their 2nd innings, England had amassed a total of 365 runs for 8 wickets, putting them 404 runs ahead of Australia. England captain Norman Yardley, rightfully confident of victory, declared the innings over and put Australia into bat. However, Australia’s Arthur Morris and Sir Don Bradman would cement their place in history by smashing a century apiece and guiding Australia to their seemingly unreachable target. They were in part aided by England’s haphazard bowling and fielding. Nevertheless, the epic chase remains the largest total that an Ashes team has managed to reach.
8. Sydney, 1894: Twists and Turns
Australia: 586 & 166, England: 325 & 437
Back into the 19th century again for another historic Test match, this one marks the first instance where a team emerged victorious after being forced to follow on. In their first innings, Australia amassed a staggering 586 runs to put themselves in a commanding position. In response, England could only manage 325, which brought about the follow on. The 2nd innings would see England post a score of 437, including a century from Albert Ward. Still, Australia only had to score 177 to win the match.
However, Australia hadn’t counted on slow left arm bowler Bobby Peel coming into the English attack. He took 6 vital wickets for just 67 runs, leaving the Aussies 10 short of their target, and the English with an unlikely victory. To this day, it remains one of the greatest Test matches of all time.
The Ball of the Century
7. Old Trafford, 1993: The Ball of the Century
Australia: 289 & 432, England: 210 & 332
Nearly 100 years after the previous entry, we reach a pivotal point in both Ashes and cricketing history. The first Test of the 1993 series would herald the arrival of a future all time great. Nobody in England at that time had really heard of Shane Warne, but he didn’t take long at all to make his mark. On his very first ball of his very first Ashes Test, he bowled out England’s Mike Gatting, one of the best batsmen around and a known expert in dealing with spin bowlers.
However, Warne’s ball pitched outside leg and somehow gripped with the surface before clipping the bail off the stumps. Needless to say, everyone inside Old Trafford was stunned, including Gatting. That particular ball would later become known as ‘The ball of the century.’
England lost this Test match by 179 runs, but the arrival of ‘The king of spin’ was a worrying development on the England side of things. It certainly wouldn’t be the last time that Warney would torment England, but that solitary delivery was enough to cement this Test in Ashes history forever.
The Don's Last Innings
6. The Oval, 1948: Bradman Falls Short
England: 52 & 188, Australia: 389
This Test match should be remembered as a humiliating innings defeat for the hosts, but unfortunately it has gone down in history for another far more significant incident. Australian legend Sir Don Bradman, arguably the greatest batsman of all time, was a mere 4 runs away from achieving the staggering career average of 100 runs. No one else before or since has even come close to achieving that feat.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly for the Aussies as they bowled England out for just 52 runs. Then their opening batsmen, Morris and Barnes, quickly put the Aussies in a commanding position. After the wicket of Barnes fell, in came the great Bradman who surely wouldn’t take long to get those 4 precious runs. The world watched in horror though as Warwickshire and England bowler Eric Hollies dismissed the great batsman for a duck, meaning that Bradman’s career average would forever sit at 99.94.
5. Adelaide 1933: A Shameful Moment
England: 342 & 412, Australia: 222 & 193
England has always been renowned for their sense of sportsmanship and fair play. But the 1932/33 Ashes series would see that reputation evaporate in front of a stunned audience. In order to counter the lethalness of Australia’s opening batsmen, England’s bowlers decided to use so-called bodyline tactics. Essentially, the bowlers deliberately aimed for the upper bodies and heads of the Aussies. A tactic rightfully considered abhorrent in any day and age.
The incident to this day is known as a shameful moment in English cricket and the crowd rightfully booed the English players. Some of the Australian players had even taken measures just in case the situation went totally out of control by deciding which stumps to use if blows were exchanged.
At the conclusion of the match, England team manager Plum Warner came to visit Australian skipper Bill Woodfull after he was struck on the chest. Woodfull was blunt with his visitor, saying, “I do not wish to see you Mr. Warner, one team is playing cricket out there, the other is not.” England would win the series 4-1, but it was a tainted victory, to say the least.
Kevin Pietersen's Series Winning Century
4. The Oval, 2005: KP Ensures Victory
England: 373 & 335, Australia: 367 & 4/0
At number four, we come to our first entry from an Ashes series widely regarded as the best of all time. Both teams were packed full of superstars, fighting tooth and nail for that little urn. It had been an evenly contested series, and coming into this match, England held a slender 2-1 lead. An Australian victory would result in a drawn series, meaning that they would keep possession of the Ashes for another two years.
On the final day, England spent most of their time batting, and thanks largely to an outstanding innings by Kevin Pietersen, were able to set Australia a target of 341. However, Ricky Ponting’s side only had 19 overs left, so the target was unattainable. A draw was declared, which gave England their first series win over Australia since 1987, and more importantly, they had brought that little urn back home to England.
England's Unlikely Heroes
3. Sophia Gardens, 2009: The Great Escape
England 435 & 252, Australia: 674
A little bit of history was made in 2009 with Sophia Gardens, home of Glamorgan Cricket Club in Cardiff, becoming the first Welsh venue to host an Ashes Test match, and it would certainly be a special introduction. England had built up a lead of 239, but Australia’s mammoth declared total of 674/6 wiped that out. England’s attempt to chase down the total quickly turned into a typically English collapse, and thus as the end of the final day drew nearer, only two batsmen remained—Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar.
Anderson is England’s all time wicket taker, and thus more of a bowler than a batsman. Panesar was far more skilled as a bowler as well. You often find in any typical batting order that the skilled batsmen come in first to rack up the runs, whilst the less skilled ones are at the lower end of the order. Remarkably though, both Anderson and Panesar were able to resist everything that bowler Peter Siddell threw at them and stayed at the crease until the close of play at 6:40 pm. Australia’s failure to bowl out either Anderson or Panesar meant that the match ended in a draw.
I remember watching this match, and I can’t remember a time before or since where I’ve cheered a dot ball or a defensive stroke. The draw saved England’s 2009 Ashes hopes, and unsurprisingly the media reported it as a victory. England’s stubborn resistance in the face of awesome Aussie firepower makes this one of the best Ashes Tests of all time, and certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen.
2. Edgbaston, 2005: Narrow Margins
England 407 & 182, Australia: 308 & 279
This was the second Test of the famed 2005 Ashes series. With Australia holding a 1-0 lead, an England win in Birmingham was crucial to preventing the Aussies from gaining a 2-0 stranglehold. The hosts had set the Aussies a reachable target of 282 for their final innings, but their middle order collapsed, leaving England virtually certain they had levelled the series.
However, Australia’s tail order had other plans. Spin bowler Shane Warne hit 42 runs, before final pairing Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz partnered for 59 to take Australia to within two runs of making one of the most remarkable comebacks in Test match history. England captain Michael Vaughan gambled on Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff to get the job done. Flintoff bowled short delivery to Kasprowicz, who only managed to nick the ball slightly, sending it into the grateful gloves of Geriant Jones. The crowd erupted with delirium. I remember jumping out of my seat shouting wildly with joy. I remember seeing images of Michael Vaughan jumping into Freddie’s arms, but the most enduring image of this Test match occurred in the immediate aftermath of that final wicket. Freddie Flintoff walked up to a despondent Brett Lee and consoled him. An iconic photograph emerged of Flintoff with his arm around the crestfallen batsman before sharing an embrace. Both men received praise for their exemplary sportsmanship, and us fans saw first hand the mutual respect that exists between the two teams.
1. Headingley, 1981: The Greatest of Them All
Australia: 401 & 111, England: 174 & 356.
The third Test of the 1981 Ashes is arguably the greatest Test match of all time. At times, England looked down and out, but they showed true bulldog fighting spirit against the old enemy. Australia had already built up a 1-0 lead and looked certain to win the second Test after forcing England to follow on. In fact, the bookmakers at the time were so certain of an Australian victory that they offered odds as long as 500-1 of England overturning the deficit.
Ian Botham cemented his place in cricketing folklore by scoring 149 runs and thus doing enough to force Australia to bat again. Botham, along with Warwickshire’s Bob Willis, were able to bowl out Australia for just 111, thereby remarkably winning the match by 18 runs and drawing level in the series.
This Test sits at number one purely down to England’s remarkable comeback. To this day, especially during an Ashes series, we are reminded of Ian Botham and Bob Willis’ heroics as they stunned what had been a very dominant Australian team.
© 2019 James Kenny