For a team sport like cricket, the idea of one-on-one rivalry appears arcane. That, however, is not the case, and Ashes, world’s oldest cricket rivalry, has done its bit in fostering gladiatorial duels that have transcended the record books and become part of cricketing lore itself.
As the Ashes enters its 140th year, we look back at some of the key rivalries that have, or are likely to, withstand the test of history.
Mike Atherton vs Glenn McGrath
A dour opening batsman soaked in the finest traditions of defensive English batting, Atherton thrived on survival than strokeplay. Quite incredible then, that his judgement outside off went for a toss each time Glenn McGrath ran in with metronomic rhythm: There was a nervous, defensive prod, with the ball kissing the outside edge and a neat take by wicketkeeper Ian Healy – who caught him eight times off McGrath. In all, the Australian spearhead dismissed him a whopping 19 times in 17 Tests, thrice without scoring. Atherton averaged 9.89 against McGrath, a clear statement of the absolute dominance the tall fast-bowler enjoyed over the former England captain.
Ian Chappell vs Ian Botham
More similar than unlike, the duo took the England-Australia rivalry to a different level. Botham dismissed Chappell only twice, but the feud, that is now into its 40th year, goes beyond the field of play. It all started during the Centenary Test in Melbourne in 1977, where a 21-year-old Botham–yet to make his Test debut–happened to be in the same bar as Chappell, who had retired from Tests to pursue his ambitions in World Series Cricket.
Chappell, reportedly, wet on a rant against the English, and Botham responded by threatening to slit his throat. Conflicting versions abound, but it’s safe to suggest that the duo has not seen eye-to-eye since that brawl. In 1980, Botham dismissed Chappell twice when the latter was forging his return to Tests. They faced-off again, in the Adelaide Oval car park, and almost came to blows before being separated. Age clearly has done little to calm these gents down. For the record, Derek Underwood and John Snow dismissed Chappell 10 times each, the most by any bowler(s).
Peter Siddle vs Kevin Pietersen
Slightly off the radar now, Peter Siddle burst on the scene in 2008, getting Sachin Tendulkar on debut. He made his first Ashes appearance a year later, and developed his liking for Kevin Pietersen in the second Test of the series at Lord’s, where he got rid of the South Africa-born England star in both innings. In all, Siddle has dismissed KP ten times in 17 matches; no other bowler got the better of him more than six times. Five of those ten dismissals have been bowled, leg-before or caught by keeper, a testament to the nagging lines he bowled to Pietersen.
Shane Warne vs Alec Stewart
The Aussie spin wizard dismissed the doughty England wicketkeeper 14 times in 23 matches— the most Warne has got any batsman, and the maximum times Stewart fell prey to a single bowler. In times when wicketkeepers were not expected to contribute with the bat the way they are now, Stewart scored 8463 runs at an average of 39.54, but managed only 1810 runs 30.67 against the Aussies, thanks largely to the guile of Warne. Nothing illustrates it better than the Brisbane Test of 1994, where the champion leggie set up his prey beautifully with a few flighted ones outside the off-stump. He then pushed Stewart back with a short and wide ball that was duly cut for four. Then arrived the fast, straight flipper that crashed into the stumps while Stewart shaped up for another cut. Warne, reportedly, took two years to master his flipper, and with results like those, it was surely worth the time.
Darren Gough vs Ricky Ponting
No England bowler has got the better of Punter as frequently as Darren Gough. The workhorse from Yorkshire dismissed Ponting eight times in nine matches, the most by any fast bowler. That five of those eight dismissals were bowled, caught by keeper, or leg-before, proved Gough beat the Aussie great in judgment of line and length far too often. Ponting averaged 32.12 against Gough, a pittance really when compared to his overall Test average of 51.85.
Dennis Lillee vs all of England
Dennis Lillee’s domination over England is unparalleled; nine of his ten most-dismissed batsmen are Englishmen, with Alan Knott leading the pack (12 dismissals from 20 matches). Lillee also caused significant trouble to David Gower (9 dismissals from 10 matches) and John Edrich (8 dismissals from 15 matches). In all, 167 of his 355 Test wickets came against England, establishing him as their primary nemesis. Lillee’s fast-bowling partner, Jeff Thomson was not too far behind; 100 of his 200 wickets against England suggest Thommo had a pretty good time against the traditional rivals. Like Lillee, he loved bowling to Knott, dismissing the England wicketkeeper 9 times in 14 matches.