The Ashes Column: ‘Why I hope England don’t make history this summer’
Only once in the last 50 years, has England lost an Ashes series, after winning the opening Test.
That was in 1997, during Australia’s 15-year unbeaten streak. The four other times England has gone one up with four to play – in 2013, 1985, 1986-7 and 1978-9 – they’ve ended up taking the series, too.
Andy Caddick, Darren Gough and Devon Malcolm caught Australia on an overcast morning at Edgbaston in 1997. They slumped to 54 for 8, and only a ninth wicket stand of 56 between Shane Warne and Michael Kasprowicz got the, then world champions, up to 118.
After that the clouds cleared, Nasser Hussain hit his Test best 207, Graham Thorpe weighed in with 138 and England’s 478 set up a nine wicket win, midway through day four.
There’s a famous photograph from that game, which shows England’s post-match celebrations on the Edgbaston balcony. In the background, the Australians stand silent, grim and determined.
The backlash came straight away. In the second Test at Lord’s, Glenn McGrath, on his first tour of England, announced himself as a world class performer, taking 8-38, as England were shot out for 77. Rain had washed out all of the first day, and most of the second, though, and so the game petered out into a draw. McGrath had regained the upper hand for Australia, though, and Mark Taylor’s men won the next three Tests, comfortably, to take the series.
At Cardiff, last weekend, there was a similarly grim look on the faces of Michael Clarke, Steven Smith and David Warner, as they shook hands with the victorious England players.
Clarke subsequently declined to come to the England dressing room for a post-match beer. As in 1997, there was nothing for Australia to celebrate. And unlike Brendan McCullum’s New Zealanders, Australian cricketers only smile when they’re winning.
However, the 1997 Australian side had three established, world class batsmen, who had all scored big Ashes runs in English conditions - Steve and Mark Waugh and Mark Taylor. A fourth, Ricky Ponting, made his Ashes debut in the fourth Test and scored a century.
In Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, Australia had two of their greatest ever bowlers. Paul Reiffell and Jason Gillespie were perfect back up for English conditions.
Ian Healy, widely regarded as Australia’s most technically proficient post-war gloveman was in his prime. It’s hard to imagine Healy putting down Joe Root, on nought, as Brad Haddin did in Cardiff.
The current Australian team has undoubted quality. But Michael Clarke apart, they are unproven in English conditions. Before Cardiff, Australia were favourites for the series. They have the more experienced players and the better recent Test match record.
There are also parallels with another Ashes series, though. In 1989, no one gave Australia much of a chance, when they arrived in England, with a team of up-and-coming youngsters, to take on David Gower’s seasoned veterans.
Mark Taylor, Dean Jones, Steve Waugh, Ian Healy and Merv Hughes, all future stars, were on their first Ashes tour. The Australian captain, Allan Border, was an experienced left-hander, who played for Essex. Just like Alastair Cook. Experienced fast medium pair Terry Alderman, and Geoff Lawson opened the bowling. Just like Anderson and Broad.
In the first innings of the series, Steve Waugh, back then a dashing stroke player just like Joe Root, got a quick-fire 100. Australia won the opening Test by 210 runs, England’s experienced pros turned out to be more Dad’s Army than Barmy Army. Australia won the series 4-0.
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