The Ashes, or as David Warner describes it, "A war", is upon us, with just six days left for the start of the event. But the build-up started as early as August, when Windies toured England. It took a Shai Hope special and an unanticipated loss for Joe Root's men to regroup and focus their energies on the ongoing series.
Until then, talks mostly revolved around Alastair Cook's nth opening partner, hosts' fragile middle-order and its potential to challenge the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins at The Gabba. Shortly, after England's series clinching win at Lord's, it all began again. By then, even the Pope must have realised that The Ashes is upon us.
But really, don't we all love it? The hype surrounding one of cricket's most storied and traditional rivalries. It wouldn't be Ashes without all the pre-series banter, the tension, the controversies and what not!
England were dealt with a blow two months before the series, thanks to Ben Stokes' punching skills and the subsequent developments. His absence created a lot of furore. How would they cope without one of their biggest match-winners was the question. Little did they know that the problems had just started as his replacement Steven Finn was also ruled out due to a knee injury, with rookie Tom Curran coming in as his replacement.
So, let's face it: England got in a 22-year old, who, had he not been selected, would've just followed the series on television and played for England Lions alongside, to replace arguably the world's best seaming all-rounder. Backlash was expected.
Ricky Ponting has already declared that Australia will win the Test series 4-0 and England's only chance would be in Adelaide. At the same time, tourists' skipper Root has rubbished claims that his side is afraid of the daunting Australian pace attack and urged his opposition to 'bring it on'. The aforementioned topics directly involve both teams, but the drama has surpassed them.
In the domestic circuit, an Australian state coach has openly backed his player to replace a struggling incumbent opener. Not only that, he also added that the player could solve the side's wicket-keeping issues. Keeping and opening at the same time? A bit too taxing, isn't it?
Imagine, if the build-up to a series throws up so many moments, how thrilling must it have been over the years. So, as we wait for the players to set foot on The Gabba for the first Test, let's revisit some of the most memorable moments (of which there would be plenty) from the Ashes:
Without even mentioning the incident, you must have predicted the delivery that we are talking about. As outrageous as that leg break was, it is also the right time to recollect it was Shane Warne's first ball against England in his first Ashes Test.
His captain Allan Border had given him a free will to bowl a lot of leg breaks. Word had already spread in the English camp about a young lad who spun it a lot. But this was 1993, when footage was not available, one had to understand the bowler by actually playing him and not watch him bowl on a slow motion on a computer screen before a match.
Poor Mike Gatting hardly got any time to realise how viciously could Warne spin the red cherry. It was a delivery, which would have made many a batsman look miserable. It pitched on leg and spun sharply to hit the top of off. The commentator remarked, "Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened and still doesn't know."
For obvious reasons, this stands out as a memorable moment. Warne was humble enough to call it a fluke later on but it was and still is referred as 'The Ball of the Century' and rightly so.
The Ricky rage after the Pratt run-out
Ricky Ponting was absolutely livid. At first, the reason was not discernible. But as he sauntered back towards the pavilion, it became clear. The Australian captain was seen bellowing at then-England coach Duncan Fletcher. Let us now take a detour to understand why.
Throughout the series, and being the fourth Test, the Michael Vaughan-led side was accused of using far too many substitute fielders. Ponting had brought this to the umpire's notice even before the Trent Bridge Test had begun.
Coming back to Ponting, he wasn't inviting Fletcher for a beer after the day's play. He was ranting, abusing, venting his frustration over England's "lack of spirit." He was annoyed at losing his wicket at a crucial juncture of the match.
While England were guilty of misusing the option of using substitute fielders, Pratt was on the field appropriately for Simon Jones, who had injured his right ankle and was taken to the hospital. Ponting did go on and apologise for losing his cool but that incident will forever be etched in the memories of cricket fans.
One of cricket's most iconic images
Ashes is known for its fierce rivalry, the relentless sledges, the tension of getting the sack should someone underperform. It is a series which both builds as well as destroys careers. Everything is on the line for the Australian and English cricketers. Probably, that is the reason why this moment is special.
Australia had won the Lord's Test rather comprehensively and were leading the series 1-0. Going into the second match, England were under massive pressure. Their confidence must have soared slightly when it was learnt that Glenn McGrath, who had decimated the hosts in the first Test, was ruled out of the Edgbaston game and after being put to bat; they piled on the runs and posted 407. The match, however, came tantalisingly close after England's second innings, where they were skittled out for 182.
Chasing 282, Australia found themselves grappling at 175/8. That is when the story of that iconic image began. After a handy 42 from Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz got along and stitched a promising, match-winning partnership. It was going 'down the wire' as Ravi Shastri would've put it. Australia needed only four runs when Steve Harmison came on to bowl.
Lee took a single and on the strike was Kasprowicz. As most of us would remember rather vividly, Kasprowicz tried to fend off an awkward bumper but gloved (replays later showed that his hand was off the bat, if only DRS existed in 2005) to Geraint Jones. England ended up winning the Edgbaston Test by two runs.
Lee crouched in anguish and shock. He could sniff a victory; so close yet so far. Emotions were flying high in the England camp. But before joining his side's celebrations, Flintoff walked up to Lee to console him. That gesture kind of encapsulated what sport was all about. It was sportsmanship at its best and what made it sweeter was that it happened in one of the most fierce sports rivalries.
Bradman b Hollies 0 (2)
What is common between Narsingh Deonarine and Eric Hollies? They both dismissed two of the world's greatest batsmen in their final innings and have found a place in the folklore. Much like Pele's 1000th goal or Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international century, there was a lot of excitement leading up to this match. Don Bradman was four runs away from the 7,000-run mark and securing a career average of 100.
It was known that the Oval Test was going to be Bradman's last. Understandably, he got a rousing reception. It was so moving that 'The Don' was in tears as he walked to take his guard but somehow defended the first ball.
Recalling the incident, he said, “I dearly wanted to do so well. It was not to be. That reception had stirred my emotions very deeply and made me anxious — a dangerous state of mind for any batsman to be in. I played the first ball from Hollies, though not sure I really saw it."
Hollies bowled a gem of a googly to disturb Bradman's furniture. Hearing his stumps get rattled, the Australian legend turned and started scurrying towards the pavilion. The Don had got for a silver duck in his last innings; there was hope that he would bat in the second essay, but the opportunity never came.
Just like Leicester City's odds of winning the Premier League title, England were given no chance in the Headingley Test. The odds were 500/1. They had surrendered meekly at Trent Bridge and salvaged a draw at Lord's. Looking for a change or a scapegoat, England sacked Ian Botham as the captain and Mike Brearley was chosen as the successor.
England's morale was further hampered, when Australia declared at 401 and bowled out the hosts for 174. With nothing to lose, Kim Hughes asked the opposition to follow on. With the score reading 105/5, out walked Botham. An Australian win was widely expected. There was no hope in the English camp, let alone the supporters. It was very glum.
At that moment, Botham went bonkers. He adopted a Twenty20 mindset two decades before its inception, and literally clobbered everything that came his way. He was perhaps enjoying playing as a player away from the responsibility as a captain. Slowly, England took the lead and set a target of 130, which wasn't much challenging.
But it provided Bob Willis an opportunity to showcase his talent. Courageous as he was called, Willis cleaned up the cream of Australia's batting line-up, picked up eight wickets and dismissed them for 111 to hand his side an unlikely victory.
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