Australian players grab the stumps as souvenirs after beating England by 70 runs

Bizarre in Brisbane: the souvenir hunt at the end of the madcap 1950 Test

© Getty Images

The Jury's Out

The greatest Ashes Test

Close finishes, ruthless captaincy, weird scorecards and Beefy heroics: all this and more as our experts choose their greatest England-Australia clashes

December 1950

By Malcolm Knox

Test cricket scorecards can, like collections of shells or cacti, seem to have grown from nature. Some are beautiful, some light up the imagination, some are the model of perfection, and some are so strange, so misshapen, that you keep asking how they could have grown this way.

The beginning and the end of the Brisbane Test of December 1950 are straightforward. Australia posted 228, the highest total of the match, and England the lowest, 122. The toss was important, perhaps decisive. By 70 runs, Australia won. It is what happened in between that poses questions. England's first innings: seven declared for 68. Australia's second innings: seven declared for 32. What did happen there?

The captains, Australia's Lindsay Hassett and England's Freddie Brown, embodied cricket's slow transition from pre- to post-war sensibilities. They had crossed paths on a services cricket field in Cairo in 1941, anti-aircraft gunner Hassett against Lieutenant Brown at the Gezira Sporting Club. Hassett fought in Palestine and New Guinea. Brown was captured at Tobruk in Libya and held by the Germans until 1945.

Cricket in 1950 was full of men who had lost their best years to military service, men of an advanced cricketing age who wanted to enjoy themselves. These men gave 1950s cricket a sense of perspective that had been delayed during the immediate post-war Bradman period.

England had not won an Ashes Test since Len Hutton and The Oval in 1938; nor had they, since the war, dismissed Australia for as little as the 228 the hosts had squeezed out by the time Alec Bedser had Bill Johnston caught at leg slip by Hutton late on the Friday. Soon Cyril Washbrook and Reg Simpson appealed successfully against the light. It was England's best day, Jack Fingleton wrote, since the war.

Some scorecards are beautiful, some light up the imagination, some are the model of perfection, and some are so strange that you keep asking how they could have grown this way

Two days would pass before the Test could resume, and when it did it was a quite different beast. On the Saturday, the teams sat in their dressing rooms while 16,000 waited in the rain at the gates, before throwing pies at the turnstile attendants who told them the day had been abandoned. More thunderstorms blew in on the rest day.

The pitch had been protected by covers, but during the two days it sweated profusely and on the Monday morning it was dampened further by a shower, delaying play until shortly before lunch.

That the nature of the game had changed was not immediately evident. Ray Lindwall felt sore, and a cautiously relieved Simpson and Washbrook held off Johnston and Keith Miller for half an hour. Then Hassett's fielders, crowding the bat, caught Washbrook, Godfrey Evans, Denis Compton and John Dewes. Seeing Hutton and Trevor Bailey jumping around for a few overs was enough for Brown. At 3.22pm, he called them in. At the gate, Brown put his arm around Hassett. "It's up to you now, skipper. The ball's at your feet."

Most cricket scorecards tell their story within the same fundamental parameters. It can be assumed that each team has aimed to score more runs than the other. Not so in this exceptional Test. Brown didn't want to score runs on the Monday afternoon, not even when he was 160 runs behind and had Hutton and Bailey in. He wanted the Australians batting.

Within an hour Australia were 32 for 7. Hassett looked at the clock and saw 70 minutes still available. It had taken Australia less than that to lose their seven wickets. He didn't want to score more runs either.

"Your move now, my dear Brown," Hassett said.

Jack Iverson couldn't catch, couldn't bat, but he could bamboozle batsmen with a flick of his middle finger

Jack Iverson couldn't catch, couldn't bat, but he could bamboozle batsmen with a flick of his middle finger © Getty Images

England would be chasing 193. But 36 overs on the Monday had already brought 14 wickets, 100 runs and two declarations. Brown told Hutton and Compton they would not be batting: the openers would stonewall until stumps, and if they got out they would be replaced by bowlers.

Lindwall, half-fit, had other ideas. His first ball yorked Simpson. Washbrook and Dewes held out until the light began to fade. Lindwall and Miller eventually got them, before - for the first time in Test cricket - the ball was thrown to Jack Iverson.

The tall, footballer-sized Iverson had been an ordinary ex-cricketer when posted in the war to New Guinea. In his downtime in Port Moresby, he experimented with flicking ping-pong balls with his middle finger. Returning to sub-district cricket, he tried it on cricket balls with stunning results. He could hardly bat, could not catch, and had not one neurone of what might be called a cricket brain. But he was metronome-repeatable and his variations were cryptic.

In the last ten minutes of that mad Monday, Iverson's offbreaks, topspinners and proto-doosras befuddled Bailey and Bedser, and put Arthur McIntyre in such a state of confusion that he ran himself out. By stumps England had lost 6 for 30, McIntyre the 20th batsman to perish in a two-session day.

This bizarre match was still breathing: England had Evans, Compton, Brown and Doug Wright to partner Hutton, and only 147 runs to get. On the Tuesday morning, Brown had the horse-drawn roller maximise the allowable seven minutes on the damaged wicket. A staunch opening was cut short when Johnston drew catches from Evans and Compton on successive balls. Hutton's "wonderful batsmanship on tricky turf", as Wisden put it, still gave England hope. Brown helped him add 31 and Wright 45.

Iverson, who had come back into the attack to remove Brown, took the last over before lunch. On the final ball, Wright pulled a half-tracker to Lindwall in the outfield. Hutton remained 62 not out and Wisden, similarly unfulfilled, recorded sourly that "on the play [England] were superior" but: "Virtually the game was won and lost at the toss of the coin." A phlegmatic Hassett agreed, characteristically underplaying his own intelligence. He had kidded England out of the game, and would kid them out of the series.

Malcolm Knox writes on cricket for the Sydney Morning Herald. His latest cricket book is Bradman's War


Trent Bridge
August 2005

By Rob Smyth

Trent Bridge 2005 is the greatest Ashes Test for one simple reason: it was a classic contest in the pivotal Test of the greatest Ashes series. We know all about the deranged brilliance of Edgbaston, and anyone who doesn't think that was a great match should seek urgent medical attention. But the stakes were so much higher at Trent Bridge.

Edgbaston meant everything at the time; of course it did. Yet had England gone 2-0 down their fans would have got over the initial trauma much quicker than if they had lost two Tests later at Trent Bridge. While Edgbaston was happening, we knew nothing other than Australian triumph, even if that would have been a particularly twisted example of the genre.

A decade on, Trent Bridge, day four, still terrifies

A decade on, Trent Bridge, day four, still terrifies © Getty Images

At that stage, we were having a summer romance with the 2005 Ashes; by the time things got round to Trent Bridge, we were truly, madly, deeply in love. Had England lost then, as they so nearly did, our hearts would have broken into a thousand tiny pieces. It was a perfect example of the gossamer margins between triumph and abject disaster. Take the pain of Adelaide 2006, multiply it by a thousand and you're still nowhere near what you would have felt had England lost at Trent Bridge. At times it seemed this would be a modern take on Old Trafford 1961. Given how much England - the country, never mind the team - had invested in the series by that stage, this was a twist that even Hitchcock would have deemed too sadistic, too cruel. A decade on, the highlights of that final afternoon are still absolutely terrifying.

In essence Trent Bridge gave us two Tests in one. The first, which lasted 11 sessions, was an England procession to a 2-1 lead, with their dominance so great that Australia followed on for the first time in 17 years. The second was the 12th and final session, in which England, chasing 129, were dragged into a desperate fight for life from the moment Shane Warne took a wicket with his first ball. There was a short interlude of calm until Brett Lee dramatically dismissed Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, at which point the unthinkable become unavoidable.

At that stage, we were having a summer romance with the 2005 Ashes; by the time things got round to Trent Bridge, we were truly, madly, deeply in love

There were no second chances: had Australia won, they would have retained the Ashes with a game to spare. The whole summer, wiped out just like that. The innings lasted only 31.5 overs, yet it was so traumatic that many fans were left with thousand-yard stares after the match. And they were supporting the winning team.

I was writing the Guardian's over-by-over coverage that afternoon; in those days there was scarcely any internet coverage at weekends, so I was alone in the office. Nobody heard the screams. A few read them, though. Every single run was a rare and beautiful thing. One entry - "28.5 overs: England 119-7 (10 to win; Giles 3, Hoggard 2) No ball! A no ball!" - shows just how desperate and ridiculous we had become. Now, it reads like the diary of a nervous breakdown.

Warne produced a performance of average greatness: he took eight wickets in the match, part of his 40 in the series, and gave England a collective coronary in that fourth innings with his unique combination of mischief, defiance, personality, psychology and genius. To tweak a phrase from the football manager Steve McClaren: Warne didn't lose, he just ran out of runs to play with.

Warne was not the only man to touch the heights. Flintoff's 102 was the best innings of his career by an absolute mile. There were fewer eye-catching biffs - he hit only one six, for heaven's sake - but he played with what Wisden described as "murderous purpose". It was a truly great innings, something Edgbaston did not have. And Andrew Strauss' flying catch to dismiss Adam Gilchrist might be the most memorable catch ever taken by an English cricketer.

Flintoff was Man of the Match, just ahead of Warne. But in this wonderfully nuanced match there were kooky heroes, too: Matthew Hoggard loafed out to join Ashley Giles and see England home, with his cover-driven four off Lee straight into folklore. And there was Gary Pratt.

In a series drenched in symbolic moments, Pratt's run-out of Ricky Ponting stood out. Not because of the schadenfreude, an unnecessary and inappropriate reaction - it was about us winning, not them losing, and Ponting deserved far more respect - but because it told us one simple thing: Australia's heads had gone. That moment encapsulated a Test in which even the most hardened, pessimistic England fan had to acknowledge that his team was now in serious danger of winning this thing. And in which an already great series became the greatest series.

Rob Smyth is the author of Gentlemen and Sledgers: A History of the Ashes in 100 Quotations and Confrontations


March 1895

By David Frith

"The Queen evinces the keenest interest in the Anglo-Australian cricket matches which are now being proceeded with, and has all the telegrams brought to her the moment they are received."

In March 1895 there was no ESPNcricinfo for the elderly Queen Victoria to consult each morning. But the cabled news from Melbourne, when it finally came through, had her and her subjects awash with excitement. The fifth and deciding Test of the 1894-95 series was an absolute cliffhanger, not quite matched until the Oval Test of 2005.

Jack Brown: the man who blitzed a hundred in 95 minutes

Jack Brown: the man who blitzed a hundred in 95 minutes © Getty Images

England, under AE "Drewy" Stoddart, had won the first two Tests. Led by George Giffen, Australia won the next two. After three days and a Sunday of rest it was nervously balanced: Australia 414, England 385 (Archie MacLaren 120); Australia second innings 69 for 1 (98 ahead).

The fourth day brought some drama. A violent dust storm ripped away some of the awnings, and poor Johnny Briggs had an attack of leg twitches; Stoddart placed him at point, unable to bowl him. Red dust blotched the near-capacity crowd of 13,500 as well as the perspiring players in the field. With the scoreboard secured by ropes, the match continued.

England's muscular fast bowler Tom Richardson toiled away, finishing the match with 9 for 242 off 87.2 overs (unsupported by any analyst, dietician, trainer or psychiatrist). And Albert Trott's duck had dramatically halved his batting average for Australia against England to 102.50 in perpetuity.

So England's target to win the series and the Ashes was now known. It was a rather distant 297. The Test was timeless, so someone would win.

In March 1895 there was no ESPNcricinfo for the elderly Queen Victoria to consult each morning. But the cabled news from Melbourne had her and her subjects awash with excitement

Giffen held a return catch from Bill Brockwell that evening. As a drizzly fifth morning broke, a further 269 runs were needed. When Harry Trott's first ball went straight on to trap England's captain, Australians were cock-a-hoop. Stoddart left the field as if in shock, hand to his face.

With someone playing "Rule Britannia" over and over again on a tin whistle, the solid little Yorkshireman Jack Brown got down to business. Lancashire's Albert Ward kept him solid company. Brown, a 25-year-old with a drooping moustache, didn't wait to get a feel of things. He drove over cover's head, swept the next to the boundary, then chopped through slip, slammed through the covers, and threw himself into short-arm pulls.

It was noted that the Australians couldn't conceal their admiration for his strokeplay. The target was still a long way off, and this surely couldn't last.

But it did. After 12 minutes at the crease Brown was 26; after 18 minutes, 35. In what was decreed as 28 minutes, he had his fifty, the fastest to this day in Ashes Tests. Had Albert Trott not made a brilliant stop at cover it would have been slightly faster. As it was, Brown himself claimed in a letter to his parents in Driffield that it had been 27 minutes. Apparently he'd had his eye on the clock throughout.

The opener Ward remaining steady (he'd nudged five runs while his partner hit that fifty) a kind of miracle seemed in the offing. Against a varied and talented attack the pair surged on: Brown to his hundred in only 95 minutes, a feat bettered in the 100 years that followed by only Gilbert Jessop, Joe Darling and Victor Trumper.

Stoddart controlled his excitement as he sat with Lady Hopetoun in the vice-regal box. He could scarcely believe his eyes. England were pulling the match out of an intensive fire. The Brown-Ward stand was worth 210 in 145 minutes when a slip catch ended Brown's momentous knock. He'd belted 16 fours in his 140, the only Test century of his short life.

Ward fell seven short of a hundred, but Bobby Peel, having taken the final wicket for England in each of the two earlier victories, now (probably uniquely) also finished this one off by whacking Harry Trott through the covers. It was an astounding and dramatic victory that left Australian captain Giffen tearing up the victory speech he had written a few hours earlier.

David Frith is a leading cricket historian and author


January 1933

By Alex Massie

Greatness comes in many guises, some of them less obvious than others. The 1933 Adelaide Test may still rank as the most infamous in the long and varied history of international cricket. If it lacked the excruciating tension of other Ashes contests it could hardly be said to have suffered from an absence of drama. In its own way it was one of these teams' greatest confrontations.

Time lulls us into thinking only one result was ever possible. We look back at England's 4-1 victory and easily assume the series was a blowout. It wasn't like that and, likely, could never have been. Douglas Jardine led a formidable English touring party, it is true, but the Australians were their equal in every department save, crucially, fast bowling. And they had Don Bradman, the man his skipper, Bill Woodfull, once reckoned was worth three ordinary batsmen.

The most infamous field in cricket's history?

The most infamous field in cricket's history? © Getty Images

England had crushed the Australians by 10 wickets in the first Test in Sydney but the Don had been absent. All Australia comforted itself with the thought things would be different once their champion returned. And, lo, they were. A second-innings century from Bradman and ten wickets for Bill O'Reilly drove the hosts to a 111-run victory in Melbourne.

All of which meant the third Test would be the pivotal moment. Both sides had reason for optimism. Adelaide would be the proving ground. Jardine won the toss and elected to bat, only to see the visitors reduced to 30 for 4. Maurice Leyland, Eddie Paynter and Bob Wyatt hit fifties to haul England to 341. A respectable total but, given the prevailing conditions, hardly a punishing one.

Thus the stage was set for the great - and controversial - drama to come. Jack Fingleton was caught behind off Gubby Allen for a duck and Bradman entered the arena to the great applause and expectation of 50,000 spectators. And then, with the final delivery of his second over, Harold Larwood struck Woodfull a heavy blow over the heart. The Australian skipper dropped his bat and staggered towards point, clutching his chest. Cue pandemonium.

There remains something chilling about Jardine's intensity here, and yet this was also plainly one of the great moments in cricket captaincy

Jardine, fielding in the slips and ever keen to press home any possible psychological advantage, cried, "Well bowled, Harold." Bradman, who knew what was coming, received the message all too clearly. That Larwood's delivery would have passed over middle stump and that it had been bowled to an orthodox field mattered little. Australians everywhere agreed this was not the way the game was to be played.

Allen's next over, bowled as always to an orthodox field, passed uneventfully. Then it was time for Larwood to roar back. As he was coming in to bowl, England's captain halted his champion and, with a nod, directed his fielders to move from off to leg. "They came across to the leg side," in Arthur Mailey's winning description, "like a swarm of hungry sharks", and they scented blood - both literally and figuratively. Allen, Jardine, Herbert Sutcliffe and Hedley Verity took their positions in the leg trap, awaiting Larwood's thunder and lightning.

It must still rank as the most famous - or infamous - change of field in the game's history. Jardine, a man of clipped calculation and dogged intensity, had a keen sense of drama. Years later it would be suggested that he regretted this switch, but by then it was too late. At the time he had no doubts about its likely psychological impact. His England XI had a job to do and this was no time for squeamishness. The more the Australians howled, the more justified Jardine felt.

It worked, too, as Bradman tamely spooned a catch to the lurking Allen. Australia were 18 for 2 but, more importantly, psychologically broken. They would never recover, slumping to 222. England responded with a grim and grinding 412 in their second innings (in 191.3 overs) to set Australia an impossible 532 to win. Woodfull manfully carried his bat for 73 and Bradman made a dashing 66 but that was it as Australia crumbled. Larwood and Allen shared eight wickets.

England would ram home their advantage with great ruthlessness in the remaining Tests, the switch to leg theory in Adelaide the hinge moment upon which the series turned. There remains something chilling about Jardine's intensity here and yet this was also plainly one of the great moments in cricket captaincy.

Adelaide was a triumph of planning and execution. A plan justified not simply on the grounds of Bradman's presence but also on the prevailing batsman-friendly lbw law, flat pitches and the tendency of the new ball to lose any ability to swing after just a few overs. Even so, it required courage to follow the logic of leg theory to its inevitable conclusion. It was an ugly Test played in poor temper but it was also, in its way, a great Test match.

Alex Massie writes for the Spectator, the Times and other publications. He plays for Selkirk CC in Division Three of the East of Scotland league


July 1981

By Tony Lewis

What nobody at Headingley expected was a miracle. But, as if by magical predestination, it came England's way during the final two days and tore away Australia's grip from around their necks.

Maybe I was not as surprised as others in the press and BBC commentary boxes, because when I was a young lad my favourite comic-book hero was the Incredible Wilson, and he bowled Australia out twice in a day. Brian Johnston said he remembered doing the commentary.

Ian Botham: real-life superhero

Ian Botham: real-life superhero Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

For fictional Wilson, read factual Ian Botham with his innings of 50 and 149 not out, 6 for 95 in the first Australian innings, one wicket in the second and a slip catch. But Botham was no longer the captain. Mike Brearley had been recalled because Botham's personal form and confidence had dipped. With two Tests gone, England were one down.

At blustery Headingley, Kim Hughes won the toss and, with John Dyson as partner, did most to lead his side to two days' occupation of the crease before declaring at 401 for 9. This was expert batting. England were left to face just two overs before the close of the second day. How revealing it was to see Terry Alderman and Dennis Lillee get unexpected variations of bounce from the pitch from short of a length. Next day, it was no great surprise to see the faster bowlers, with Geoff Lawson added, remove all the home batsmen quickly, save Botham. England were made to follow on.

Just after 3pm on the fourth day Australia had removed seven second-innings wickets for 135, leaving Botham and Graham Dilley at the crease with England still 92 runs behind.

Everyone who has pursued a low target knows the small pitfalls that become fatal: the fall of quick wickets, the volume of support rising from the home crowd, and also, hiding in your heart, a grim fear of failure

This was where the tale of the unexpected began, and what a spectacle it was to see Botham suddenly clatter the Australian bowling all round Leeds, off all parts of the bat. Commentators today might describe it as T20 perfection. No delivery from Lillee, Lawson or Alderman was thought worth blocking. The lofted drive was reborn, the ball regularly struck on the up for crashing boundaries. Botham's century came in only 87 balls. Ray Bright, the left-arm spinner, bowled only four overs for a reasonable 15 runs; Hughes might have trusted him more.

A six by Botham extracted instant roars from the crowd: an advance down the pitch to Alderman straight onto the Rugby Stand. And then, for the hundred, a four chopped to third man off Lawson*. For the crowd they were blows of freedom from Australia's overpowering play.

It took the BBC commentators' Test Match Special box a good time to feel the full potential of England's fight but Botham's innings won much appreciation from the Australian commentator Alan McGilvray. Commentating was serious business for McGilvray and he found the jocularity of the TMS boys annoying. Still, there was no anticipation of an Australian loss and his admiration flowed for the do-or-die approach of Botham and Dilley.

England were all out on Tuesday morning, Botham undefeated. Australia's task, with the sun shining, was to score 130. Everyone who has pursued a low target knows the small pitfalls that become fatal. Professional cricketers, especially those performing on big stages, fear the fall of quick wickets, the volume of support rising from the home crowd, and also, hiding in your heart, a grim fear of failure. In the commentary box, myself, Trevor Bailey and Fred Trueman had all played in teams that had failed to reach small targets. We knew exactly what chaos would descend on the chasing dressing room. We knew how the road to small totals is spiked.

Bob Willis was sure to know this as he raced down the hill from the Kirkstall Lane End to bowl with a sudden injection of menace. He was backed intelligently by Chris Old and Botham. England appeared to have exchanged subtle swing and seam for outright speed and bounce.

Australia, somehow, were all out for 111: Willis 8 for 43. The divine mischief was complete. England would go on to win the series. Rod Marsh and Lillee, who had innocently put money on England winning at 500-1 when they were made to follow on, pocketed £7500 of a bookmaker's cash.

Tony Lewis played nine Tests for England - as captain in eight - and commented for BBC television and radio

* A previous version of this article wrongly said Botham reached a hundred with a six off Ray Bright