Green and golden age
In part 5 of our series, we look back at the most recent Ashes history, a history painted green and gold - apart from the glorious summers of 2005 and 2009. Dave Tickner reflects...
Last Updated: September 14, 2010 11:39am
Steve Waugh: captain fantastic
It would seem fair to say that England would not recover from the 1989 Ashes series for over 15 years. Not since either side of the Second World War had Australia had such a hold on the Ashes as the one they were about to establish.
Yet England, having won the series as outsiders in 86/7, entered the 1989 series as warm favourites.
They lost 4-0. But for bad weather, it could have been 6-0.
The 1989 series provided the blueprint for the 15 years of Ashes combat. A ruthless Australia side, ably led, crushing a sporadically resilient but generally clueless and rudderless England.
The home side, in their panic, fielded 29 players in the series. Australia fielded the same XI in five of the six Tests.
The statistics make painful reading for England fans.
At Trent Bridge, Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh batted all day in compiling an opening stand of 329, breaking Hobbs and Rhodes' record for the biggest in Ashes history.
Taylor scored 839 runs in the series, a record bettered only by Don Bradman and Wally Hammond.
Terry Alderman became the first bowler to take more than 40 wickets in two Ashes series.
In 1990/1, England at least competed slightly better. An experienced batting line-up prevented complete disaster, but the bowling was far too reliant on the injury prone Angus Fraser.
Gower hit two sparkling centuries - passing 8,000 Test runs in the process - while Michael Atherton showed some of the grit that would make him a crucial figure at the top of some of the worst England teams on record.
But this served only to keep the final score down to 3-0 as Alderman once again proved England's destroyer with able assistance from Craig McDermott.
In the Sydney Test, Taylor passed 1000 Ashes runs in only his 17th innings while Mark Waugh hit a century on debut at Adelaide.
England may have been able to secure two draws, but the victory margins in the three remaining Tests - 10 wickets, eight wickets and nine wickets - tell their own story.
In 1993, things managed to get even worse for England with the arrival of bleach-blond larrikin who could apparently bowl leg-spin Quite Well.
It took English fans - and Mike Gatting - just one delivery to find out how well. Probably no Australian cricketer since Bradman has engendered such fear, panic and ultimately respect in England.
Warne's 'ball of the century' to dismiss Gatting has been replayed so often you can close your eyes and picture it instantly. The lazy, looping drift towards leg stump, Gatting's immaculate forward defensive shot, the sharp fizz of the leg break and the removal of the off bail. It was a perfect delivery, and Gatting took several moments to realise he'd been dismissed. He looked around, apparently unable to accept the physics of the whole thing.
England were dismantled. Warne took 34 wickets in the series. Merv Hughes added 25 more in just four Tests. David Boon scored 555 runs and three centuries, while Mark and Steve Waugh scored almost 1000 runs between them.
The only consolation for England - other than a debut century for Graham Thorpe - was the re-emergence of Australia's propensity to lose matches once the series is over. England's victory in the final Test at The Oval was their first over Australia since 1986/7 - 17 Ashes Tests earlier.
The pattern continued in the 1994/5 series. Australia won it 3-1, although this was about as competitive as an England side has been Down Under in recent times.
Australia raced into a 2-0 lead - with Warne taking the first Ashes hat-trick in over 90 years - but had to hang on for an Ashes-retaining draw in the third Test at Sydney after being set an unlikely 449-run victory target.
They had a real go at it, after being given a superb start by Michael Slater and Taylor, but eighth-wicket pair Warne and Tim May abandoned the chase and played out a draw.
England won the fourth Test at Adelaide, but were crushed by over 300 runs in the final Test at Perth as Greg Blewett helped himself to centuries in his first two Test matches.
As you can see, being England's most competitive recent tourists to Australia is not high praise.
England briefly threatened to halt a decade of Aussie domination in 1997 after finally winning a live Ashes Test to go 1-0 up at Edgbaston.
It was a superb performance. England reduced Australia to 54/8 on the first day, but a Warne counter-attack took Australia to 118 all out.
But Nasser Hussain (207) and Graham Thorpe (138) shared a partnership of 288 to give England a gigantic first-innings lead. Australia batted far better second time around, the under-pressure Taylor answering his critics with a century, but England cruised to a nine-wicket win.
England were leading an Ashes series. For a new generation of cricket fans, this was a new experience.
A rain-ruined draw at Lord's preserved England's advantage, but served notice that it might not last. Glenn McGrath took 8/38 as England were blown away for 77 before the weather came to their rescue.
But Australia would not be denied. Led by the irrepressible Warne and McGrath, with admirable assistance from Jason Gillespie, Australia won the next three Tests with almost indecent ease.
Warne looked like taking a wicket with every ball, and you wondered if Steve Waugh would ever get out.
Victories by 268 runs, and innings and 61 runs and 264 runs secured the urn once more for Australia.
Phil Tufnell spun England to victory at The Oval as Australia's only two weaknesses (small run-chases and dead rubbers) were exposed once more to put some gloss on the scoreline. In the 1990s, a 3-2 defeat was something to treasure for long-suffering England fans.
The pattern of one famous and thrilling England victory amid a swarm of heavy defeats would continue in the next three series.
In 1998/9, England were saved by a thunderstorm at Brisbane before being destroyed at Perth inside three days. When Glenn McGrath trapped Peter Such lbw at Adelaide, Australia were two up with two to play and had retained the Ashes before Christmas.
The only success for England came from the fast bowlers, as Dean Headley bowled them to an astonishing 12-run victory at Melbourne and Darren Gough became the first England bowler in a century to take an Ashes hat-trick.
But these were small consolation for a side as far away as ever from regaining the Ashes. Especially as their tormentor-in-chief Warne missed the first four Tests of the series, and was then outbowled by Stuart MacGill (12/107) when he did return at Sydney.
Australia retained the Ashes with almost indecent haste in 2001, crushing England in the first three Tests by an innings and 118 runs, eight wickets and seven wickets.
Wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist - enjoying a simply unstoppable series with the bat - stood in as captain for the fourth Test at Headingley.
With rain taking time out of the game, Gilchrist declared to set England 311 from 90 overs on the final day. The declaration was sporting/challenging/arrogant depending on your point of view.
Whatever, it made for one of the best day's cricket in recent Ashes history. And Mark Butcher's finest hour.
After openers Atherton (who would retire at the end of the series) and Marcus Trescothick fell cheaply, Surrey left-hander Butcher produced the finest innings of his life and one of the great counter-attacks.
His unbeaten 173 (matching Bradman's score here on the Invincibles tour) fired England to a pride-restoring six-wicket victory.
The euphoria did not last long. McGrath and Warne bowled Australia to an innings victory in the final Test of the series at The Oval.England, under Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher, were dragging themselves away from the foot of the Test ladder despite their continuing regular humiliations against Australia.
The seeds were being sewn for 2005, yet in 2002/3 they still seemed an awful long way away.
Hussain didn't help matters with one of the great captaincy blunders at the first Test in Brisbane. He put the Aussies in to bat, Simon Jones suffered a horrific knee injury that would end his series on the first morning. By stumps, Australia were 364 for two. Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting ran riot against England's reduced bowling attack and helped Australia on their way to a 1-0 lead.
Australia would soon be 4-0 up, but one Englishman was keeping the flag flying. Michael Vaughan scored 633 runs, three centuries (the rest of the team mustered one between them) and rose to the top of the ICC batting rankings.
Rarely in cricket history can a player have appeared so dominant while his team was being so summarily crushed.
England, facing a whitewash fore the first time since 1920/21, somehow produced a coherent performance to win the Sydney Test by a massive 225 runs on the back of yet another Vaughan century.
Vaughan's brilliance in that series gave England something to cheer, but his greatest Ashes moments were still to come. Not with bat in hand - although there would be another memorable hundred against the Old Enemy at Old Trafford - but with the urn.
The summer after their lates Ashes defeat, Hussain relinquished the captaincy to Vaughan.
Hussain had done much to improve England's fortunes. But he was not the man to once again take them to that all-important victory over Australia.
Under Vaughan, England accelerated the improvement they had shown under Hussain.
They battled to a commendable home series draw against South Africa before dismissing West Indies 3-0 in the Caribbean. In the 2004 summer, Vaughan's England won all seven of their Test matches.
They then travelled to South Africa and won a hard-fought series 2-1.
This was without doubt the best England side for a generation. The batting line-up was reasonably settled, the bowling attack varied and incisive and, in Andrew Flintoff, England had their best all-rounder since Botham.
All was set for the 2005 Ashes series.
There would be one more tweak to the team: the outrageously gifted maverick South Africa-born strokemaker Kevin Pietersen would come into the side at the expense of Thorpe.
England were ready. A crushing Twenty20 victory and some titanic one-dayers left the Aussies in little doubt that this was a new England. They would stand up to the Australians, fight them all the way.
Steve Harmison continued the charge on the first morning of the first Test. Justin Langer was struck on the arm, and Ricky Ponting hit on the grille - cutting his cheek. Ponting's scarred face would act as a visual reminder througout the series of England's new-found aggression.
Australia were shot out for just 190. England, though, could not capitalise. Their top order wilted, only the debutant Pietersen showing any resistance to McGrath and Warne. McGrath took 5/2 in 31 balls, including his 500th wicket in Test cricket.
Australia batted far better second time round, Michael Clarke compiling an entertaining 93. After a promising start from openers Trescothick and Andrew Strauss, the familiar collapse gave Australia a crushing victory.
Vaughan had failed twice with the bat, as had Flintoff. Harmison's explosive bowling and Pietersen's batting had given England hope, but an Ashes series victory seemed as far away as ever.
Two things happened before the second Test that would change that. Flintoff vowed to return to the carefree attacking cricket that had served him so well and then, on the first morning at Edgbaston, McGrath tripped over a ball during a game of touch rugby and was ruled out of the game. He would return at Old Trafford, but was not the same bowler who terrorised England at Lord's.
Ponting won the toss and chose to bowl. Maybe he thought England were there for the taking; perhaps he wanted to show that Australia would not be cowed by the loss of their premier fast bowler.
Whatever the reasons, it was a decision of absolute folly.
On a flat pitch, England blasted 407 all out in 80 overs. Trescothick smashed 90 - the closest he came to an Ashes century - Flintoff a gleeful half-century and Pietersen again took the attack to the Aussies in his third consecutive 50 in Test cricket.
England scored an astonishing 10 sixes as they posted 400 on the first day of a Test for only the second time since the Second World War. They'd shown the intention to attack at Lord's; now they followed through on that promise.
In reply, Australia made 308. England led by 99.
Another magical Warne delivery spun past Strauss' attempt to pad up and bowled him. England lost regular wickets and led by only 231 runs when last man Simon Jones joined Flintoff at the crease.
In a Bothamesque display of clinical hitting, Flintoff set about extending that lead. England were eventually bowled out for 182. Australia would need 282 for victory.
Having saved England with the bat, Flintoff set about his work with the ball.
In one of the all-time great overs he dismissed Langer with the first ball and then gave Ponting a fearful working over before dismissing him with the last.
When a devious slower ball from Harmison brought day three to a close by clattering into Clarke's stumps, Australia were XXX/8 and facing certain defeat.
No-one told the Aussies. Warne and the indefatigable Brett Lee chipped away at the target but, when Warne trod on his stumps with 5X still needed, England's victory again seemed assured.
It was nothing of the sort.
Last man Michael Kasprowicz joined Lee and continued the good work started by Warne.
England became rattled. The much maligned wicketkeeper Geraint Jones let through four byes; with Australia 15 short Jones dropped a catch at third-man. Australia inched ever closer to their target.
With four runs needed for victory, Lee smashed a cover drive off Harmison. It raced towards the boundary.
But Vaughan had left his cover sweeper out, and Lee got only a single.
Kasprowicz then gloved a short ball (although his hand may have been off his bat at the precise moment of impact. Not that anyone cares) and Jones redeemed himself with a good low catch.
Edgbaston erupted. England had won by two runs. At the non-striker's end, Lee slumped in despair. Flintoff went to console him. It produced one of the iconic sporting pictures, although Flintoff now claims what he actually said to Lee was "it's 1-1, you Aussie b*stard."
It was hailed as the greatest Test match ever played, and interest in hte summer game reached levels not seen in England for a generation or more.
Flintoff, after 141 runs and seven wickets, was a national hero as the Ashes bandwagon headed to Manchester.
This time Vaughan won the toss, and chose to bat first. England again took the attack to the Australian bowlers, as Vaughan evoked memories of his 2002/3 form with 166. England made 444.
Simon Jones produced one of the great spells of reverse-swing to dismiss Australia for 302 despite a counter-punching 90 from Warne - a man who increasingly appeared to be carrying his country's hopes on his shoulders.
England extended their lead to 422, Strauss making his first Ashes century, before declaring
and leaving themselves slightly more than a day to bowl the Aussies out.
Heading into the final day, the Aussies were 24/0.
Thousands and thousands queued to get into Old Trafford for the final day's play. At least half were disappointed. This was unprecedented.
England took regular wickets throughout the day, but Ponting stood firm. His 156 and four overs of blocking from last pair Lee and McGrath would be enough to secure a draw for Australia despite another Herculean effort from Flintoff.
As the last ball was defended to safety, the Australian balcony erupted in celebration. Vaughan gathered his troops and told them to watch the Australians celebrating a draw. The tide was turning.
Vaughan won the toss again at Trent Bridge, and again chose to bat. After a century opening stand between Strauss and Trescothick, England lost their way between the showers.
At 241/5, the innings was in the balance.
But Flintoff, making his first Ashes century, and Jones shared a sixth-wicket stand of 177 (the highest of the series) and England posted a formidable 477.
Another scintillating spell of bowling from Jones (5/44) saw Australia rolled over for just 218 in their first innings. For the first time since 1988, they were forced to follow-on.
At 155/2, Australia were repairing the damage. But then England's sub fielder Gary Pratt's direct hit ran out Ponting for 48.
Ponting, who had grown increasingly frustrated with England's use of specialist substitute fielders, lost the plot. He ranted and raved at the England balcony, where Duncan Fletcher sat unmoved, save for allowing the tiniest flicker of a smile to play on his lips.
Australia were dismissed for 387, and England needed just 129 to go one up with one to play.
They got off to a flying start, but the introduction of Warne led to panic. He took four wickets, Lee a further three, and it was left to Ashley GIles and Matthew Hoggard to scrape together the final 13 runs. England won by three wickets and needed only a draw in the final Test to reclaim the urn after 18 usually painful years.
Excitement around the country reached fever pitch.
Strauss made another century, but England's first-innings total of 373 was not enough for them to feel completely secure. Especially when openers Hayden and Langer - who had struggled all series - both scored centuries at the top of the Aussie order.
Australia looked sure to secure a big first-innings lead and put England under the severest pressure on the last day.
Cue Flintoff to make his last huge contribution to the series.
With Simon Jones out injured, England had opted for the security of an extra batsman in Paul Collingwood. An understandable gamble, but it left the bowling attack light.
Flintoff, though, bowled an epic spell on the fourth afternoon. He ended with 5/78 and England, miraculously, had a slender first-innings lead.
But still the game was not safe. England lost Strauss before the close, and knew they needed to bat the majority of the final day to be sure of victory.
When Vaughan and Ian Bell fell to consecutive deliveries the following morning, all bets were off.
Kevin Pietersen strode to the crease and fended his first ball to gully. The Australians all went up for the catch. Umpire Billy Bowden, somehow, correctly deduced ball had come off arm rather than glove or bat.
When Pietersen had made 15, he offered a routine catch to Warne at slip. It was dropped.
After scoring 250 runs and taking 40 wickets in the series, this was to prove Warne's most significant contribution.
In a fearless and ferocious innings, Pietersen guided England to safety with his first Test hundred.
By the time England's second innings was over, there was barely time for Australia to begin their run-chase.
Warne was serenaded by chants of "We only wish you were English" as the Ashes returned to English hands for the first time in a generation after one of the greatest Test series ever played.
Apparently, there was another Ashes series played in 2006/7. No-one remembers what happened.