The Ashes have always been considered as one of the most competitive test series in the world. The rivalry between the two nations, Australia and England make it more entertaining and thrilling.
Also, the Ashes series is one of the major reasons why test cricket is still alive. The grounds are always filled with spectators, who are just waiting for their turn to take a dig at the best players of the opposition.
Both, Australia and England have enjoyed their phases, where it was next to impossible to win against each other. The Three Lions dominated the initial years when the Ashes was just started, while the Baggy Greens ruled from the 1990s to 2000s.
The two sides have played 330 tests in the Ashes. Australia have won a majority of 134 tests, while England have won 106. The Baggy Greens didn’t only get better of their arch-rival in most of the tests but also managed to win more Ashes series than England.
Out of the 70 Ashes series played, Australia have won 33, while England are not too far as they have won 32 series. The remaining five ended in a draw.
There have been many cricketers who have played major roles in winning the Ashes series for their sides, but the key role has mostly been of the all-rounders. The players who contribute with both bat and ball are always crucial as they can change the result of the game for their side.
In terms of a fast-bowling all-rounder, England have an edge over Australia. The Three Lions’ all-rounders have turned the result of few Ashes series and made their mark in the test cricket.
Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes series
In the first match of the series, Australia registered a comfortable win by four wickets and lead the six-match test series 1-0. The second match of the series ended as a draw and England found themselves trailing at their home.
Ian Botham batted poorly in the two tests, his highest score was 33 runs, which he scored in the first test. The Englishman did pick a few wickets with the ball, but it wasn’t enough to turn the result of the game.
After two back to back flop performances, Botham finally got back into rhythm and delivered when it mattered the most. The Englishman scored a half-century in the first innings and then went on to score 149 runs from 148 balls in the follow-on innings of the Three Lions. He also picked up seven wickets in this match.
This overall performance from the Englishman helped his side in clinching a thrilling victory over the Aussies. Such kind of performances makes the audience go on their feet and that’s what makes people fall for test cricket.
In the fourth test, Australia were chasing a target of 151 and were 105 for five. Botham was brought into the attack and the Englishman didn’t disappoint his skipper as he picked up five wickets at the expense of one run. The Three Lions registered another nail-biting win and found themselves on the leading side after four tests.
Botham scored his second century of the 1981 Ashes in the fifth test and lethal bowling from Bob Willis registered another Ashes win for the Englishmen. The final test of the series ended in a draw with Beefy picking up 10 wickets in the match. Only Dennis Lillee had more wickets (11).
The English all-rounder won three back to back Man of the Match awards for his vital contribution in the test series win for his side. Botham’s superhuman showing is consistently ranked amongst the best test performances in history. Beefy’s dream run is still a measuring stick for an all-rounder not only in the Ashes but all of test cricket.
Andrew Flintoff in the 2005 Ashes
After Botham, Andrew Flintoff is considered one of the best English all-rounders ever. The Englishman tried his best to repeat Beefy’s best performance of all-time in the 2005 Ashes. He almost achieved that feat and that’s why he is still remembered as one of the greatest all-rounders ever in test cricket.
Just like 1981 Ashes, the first test of 2005 also ended in the Baggy Greens pocket. Andrew Flintoff looked completely out of touch along with his teammates. After this test, no one would have imagined that Flintoff would be the key reason behind the 2005 Ashes victory of England.
The English all-rounder shocked everybody with his solid performance in the second test. The Englishman scored two half-centuries and picked up seven wickets to hand over the shortest margin win (runs) to his side in the Ashes history.
This was just the spark of what was yet to come. In the third test, Flintoff didn’t look in great touch but managed to pick five wickets. The Three Lions could have won this fixture as well, but the Australian bowlers played out the last four overs without losing the last wicket. This match ended in a draw and the Baggy Greens were still in the game.
In the fourth test, a much-needed century from Flintoff and five-wicket haul of Simon Jones helped England in forcing a follow-on to the Australians. The Baggy Greens tried their best to get back into the contest, but they could only manage to post a target of 129 runs for the Englishmen. The Three Lions won the match by three wickets and bagged their first Ashes since 1986-87.
The last match of the series ended in a draw, but Flintoff managed to get some credit for it. The Englishman scored a half-century in the first innings and took a five-wicket haul.
At the end of the series, Flintoff was the third-highest run-scorer and second-highest wicket-taker of the 2005 Ashes. These accomplishments of the Englishmen helped him in winning the inaugural Compton–Miller Medal.
Ben Stokes in the 2019 Ashes
After the 14 years of the Flintoff’s heroics, it seems like that England have found another talented all-rounder. Ben Stokes notched the limelight couple of years ago, however, his most important contributions have come in the past seven weeks.
The Englishman played a marvelous inning in the final of 2019 World Cup that helped the Three Lions in winning their first-ever World Cup tournament. Now, he is trying to replicate the contributions that Botham and Flintoff did in the Ashes.
In the first test of the ongoing Ashes, Australia completely dominated the Three Lions. All the credits of this go to one and only Steve Smith. The Australian scored a century in each innings, which helped the Baggy Greens in starting the Ashes on a positive note.
Stokes could only manage to score a half-century in this match along with grabbing a couple of wickets, but it was not enough to compete against the two fantastic innings of Smith.
In the second test, however, Stokes scored a crucial century in the second innings, but the English bowlers could only manage to pick six wickets and the match ended in a draw. The Englishman couldn’t win the game for his side but got Man of the Match award for scoring the only century of the match.
This was just little snippet of what was about to come. In the third test, England got all-out for 67 runs in the first innings and found themselves in front of a massive target of 359 runs. Everybody thought that this is the end of this match and Australia will comfortably win this match and double their lead in the ongoing Ashes.
The climax, however, was still to arrive. Stokes was playing on 61 runs when Jack Leach entered the pitch with Australia just one wicket away from a win. At this time, when the spectators were planning to leave the stadium, something else was going on in the Englishman’s head.
Stokes somehow overcame all the barriers and scored 135 runs inning to help his side in leveling the series 1-1. This was the highest ever target successfully chased by England in the test cricket history.
Many people compared Stokes’ inning to the Botham’s, which came on the same ground and in the Ashes. Beefy, however, performed brilliantly throughout the 1981 Ashes and Stokes is still somewhere short of him. With two more matches left in the series, let’s see whether the English all-rounder succeeds in matching or overlapping the feat of the English legend.