Despite an apparently strong side, England’s first series of the nineties was their most shambolic – and there was some stiff competition for that miserable accolade. Like a fool and his money, England soon departed from some encouraging positions, giving as good as they got until their batting unexpectedly folded time and again. At Brisbane, a first-innings lead mutated into a ten-wicket defeat, but worse came at the MCG, where Bruce Reid wrecked them with 13 wickets. England lost six wickets for three runs, an astonishing collapse even by their standards. Reid took 27 in all in four Tests, while David Boon topscored with 530 series runs, as Australia , well led by Allan Border, took the Ashes on merit. Still, England weren’t helped by the injuries to Angus Fraser, Allan Lamb and Graham Gooch; nor by David Gower and John Morris’s escapade in a Tiger Moth. Gooch’s humourless reaction helped England’s laughing stock status soar and while they drew at Sydney and Adelaide , they nosedived again at Perth in the final Test, when Craig McDermott crushed them with 11 wickets.
Australia 3 England 0 Drawn 2
Just two days in, Shane Warne’s first Ashes delivery claimed Mike Gatting and a whole new fan-base. Warne, then 23, later called his wonder ball at Old Trafford a fluke, but the damage to England’s already fragile psyche was done. He went on to take 34 wickets in all and with Tim May, Paul Reiffel and Merv Hughes the bowling unit was formidable; they didn’t even call in a replacement when their main strike bowler Craig McDermott flew home after twisting his bowel. Hughes shouldered the extra burden with a will that Wisden said “at times came close to heroism”. Then there were the batsmen – there was a century apiece for all of Australia’s top seven, with David Boon making three tons, while Ian Healy chipped in behind the stumps with 26 dismissals. With the series already lost, Mike Atherton replaced Graham Gooch as captain for the fifth Test and he led a relieved England to victory in his second match, the final Test at The Oval. It was their first win against Australia in 19 Tests, but – in what was to become an all-too-familiar theme – it was too little, too late.
Australia 4 England 1
For Australia, a new captain in Mark Taylor but the same old winning brutality and they strolled to a 3-1 victory. It was no surprise: Craig McDermott and Shane Warne led a potent bowling attack, with Warne’s 8 for 71 wrapping up the Brisbane Test after Taylor, as was his wont, had declined to enforce the follow-on. Warne added a hat-trick in the second Test at Melbourne . England did win at Adelaide , much to everyone’s astonishment, but Perth was a much more familiar script, a 329-run defeat. This was also Gooch and Gatting’s swansong, an ignominous end to some impressive careers. They weren’t helped by a catalogue of injuries, including Alec Stewart’s broken finger, which deprived them of his and Mike Atherton’s opening partnership for much of the series, and the psychological blow of losing the strike bowler Devon Malcolm on the eve of the first Test. Yet once again Australia were simply too strong, as were even their Academy XIs, who beat England twice in some demoralizing warm-ups.
Australia 3 England 1 Drawn 1
With the series just twenty overs old, there were eight wickets in the bag – and they were England’s. Were their fortunes turning at last? The pulsating four-day victory in that Test at Edgbaston, including a Nasser Hussain double-century, allowed a nation to believe. But Australia, with a superior bowling artillery and batting depth, soon turned those dreams to nightmares, bossing a rain-affected draw at Lord’s and digging deep to quickly rediscover their dominance. They levelled with a big win at Old Trafford, Steve Waugh striking an heroic ton in both innings, the second of which was a one-handed century; followed up with an innings win at Headingley, and then sealed the Ashes again with another thumping triumph at Trent Bridge. Their attacking flair in those victories showed just what made Australia world beaters and although England pulled off victory in the dead rubber at The Oval, with Phil Tufnell taking 11 for 93, the series scoreline flattered to deceive.
Australia 3 England 2
Australia continued imperious, outclassing England in every department on their way to their sixth successive series win. Losing the toss five times didn’t help England , but class will out and it did. Only a last-day thunderstorm could save England from defeat at Brisbane , but they were blown away by an Australian hurricane at Perth inside three days. The Ashes were Australia ‘s in time for Christmas, but not without gifting England a hatful of wickets and needing Steve Waugh to rescue his side several times. Michael Slater was imperious with three second-innings centuries which set up unbeatable leads. Even the absence of Shane Warne, unavailable till the last Test, couldn’t halt Australia ‘s charge, and Stuart MacGill proved an able deputy, backed up by the 34-year-old Colin Miller. England ‘s only seasonal cheer came from Dean Headley, who spearheaded an amazing 12-run win at Melbourne – and Darren Gough, with a reverse-swinging hat-trick in Sydney – but otherwise they were turkeys. Australia were handed for the first time a crystal replica of the Ashes urn, but if they had gazed into the future they mightn’t have liked what was (eventually) to come.
Australia 3 England 1 Drawn 1
“We can open up some old scars,” threatened Steve Waugh before the series. His Australians were favourites once more, but England believed they had a chance, following four wins and a draw in their last five series. Alas, the crest of England’s wave was like one lapping at the beach – Australia’s force was more tidal and they swept to their seventh successive Ashes victory in 11 days. Australia very nearly secured a whitewash, the only blip on that horizon a generous declaration at Headingley and the best performance of Mark Butcher’s career. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, who shared 63 wickets in the series, and the revolutionary arrival of Adam Gilchrist as a rampaging counterattacking No. 7 – note his whirlwind 152 at Edgbaston and 90 at Lord’s – did for England . The scars weren’t just inflicted by Australia : injuries to the batsmen Thorpe, Hussain and Vaughan and to the left-arm spinner Giles didn’t help. But one man wasn’t going to let injury affect him. Well, he was Australian. Despite tearing his calf muscle at Trent Bridge, Steve Waugh came back for the fifth Test at The Oval, his final appearance on English soil, and this Waugh hero hobbled on one leg to a bloody-mindedly brilliant 157 not out.
Australia 4 England 1
The series was lost before a ball had been bowled. A defensive Nasser Hussain chose to field at Brisbane: backfired was an understatement: Australia were 364 for 2 by the close and an ill-balanced England, already shorn of Gough and Flintoff, never recovered. By the second Test the result of the series – eight Aussie wins on the spin – was already taken for granted and attentions turned to debating if this really was the best Australian side of all time. “In full flight, Australia’s cricketers were wondrous to behold,” Wisden noted, although these weren’t the sentiments shared by a despairing Stewart who announced this was the largest gap between the two sides he had known. An ill-tempered series was over in just 11 days, including being terrorized by Brett Lee on a Perth flyer. Two crumbs provided scant comfort – Vaughan proved cool and collected (his 633 runs earning him the Man of the Series award) a cruising victory in the fifth Test at Sydney, albeit a dead rubber. Caddick, in his final Test, took 10 wickets, and England were given a glimpse of a brighter future, however distant it may have seemed.
Australia 4 England 1
After 16 years of effortless Australian dominance, England finally regained the Ashes in one of the most thrilling series of all time. At Lord’s in late-July, 17 wickets tumbled on a frenzied first day, but Australia emerged triumphant with a 239-run win. Ten days later at Edgbaston, however, McGrath trod on a stray cricket ball and the course of the summer had irrevocably changed. A thrilling match ensued, in which Flintoff and Warne emerged as the two kingpin performers. England won at the last gasp, by 2 runs, and carried their momentum onto Old Trafford , where 10,000 fans were turned away on the final morning as secured a draw with their last pair at the crease. A Flintoff century at Trent Bridge put England firmly on top, but Lee and Warne refused to give up the ghost, combining superbly as England lost seven wickets in their pursuit of 129. The win, however, meant that England needed only avoid defeat at The Oval. That didn’t seem entirely likely as they slumped to 126 for 5 before lunch on the final day, but Kevin Pietersen cracked a blistering maiden Test century to put the result beyond doubt. Cue scenes of jubilation across a captivated nation.
England 2 Australia 1 Drawn 2
Eighteen months on from the glory of 2005, England’s cricketers were put emphatically back in their place, as Australia’s ageing greats rallied for a curtain-call that doubled as a burial shroud for their battered opponents. England were routed 5-0, the first whitewash in Ashes cricket since 1920-21, as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath put personal seals on more than a decade of Aussie hegemony. Justin Langer and Damien Martyn called time on their careers as well, after destroying an England team shorn of the leadership of Michael Vaughan. The decisive Test was the second at Adelaide, a match that is sure to rank as one of England’s most painful of all time. A double-century for Paul Collingwood and 158 from Kevin Pietersen allowed England to declare on 551 for 6, whereupon seven back-breaking wickets from Matthew Hoggard secured a slender first-innings lead of 38. A draw, at the very least, was ensured. But then England crumbled to 129 on the final morning, and as Australia danced to an incredible eight-wicket win, the fire was extinguished in the bellies of Andrew Flintoff’s men.
Australia 5 England 0
After a slew of retirements, it was a new-look Australian side that travelled to England hoping to defend the Ashes. Inspired by the nailbiting draw in the first Test at Cardiff, England took the edge in a see-sawing series despite scoring fewer hundreds and taking fewer wickets than their Australian counterparts. Andrew Strauss seized the momentum with a rousing 161 on the first day at Lord’s before a triumphant Andrew Flintoff bowled England to their first Ashes win at HQ for 75 years to enhance his burgeoning mythical status in his final Test series. After a rain-ruined draw at Edgbaston Australia fought back in devastating fashion, as Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson tore through the England line-up to level the series with a crushing innings win. Stuart Broad swung England into a strong position in the thrilling series finale at the Oval, and after Jonathan Trott’s chanceless hundred on debut Australia were set a mountainous 546. A draw would have been sufficient for the Australians to retain the urn, but in the midst of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey’s partnership it seemed a record run chase was not impossible. Enter Flintoff. His perfectly-scripted run out of the Australian captain set up a series victory for England and sealed his own place in English cricket lore.
England 2 Australia 1 Drawn 2
England set off on a mission to win in Australia for the first time since 1986-87 and ruthlessly put their plans into action in Andy Flower-approved style. Alastair Cook led the way with 766 runs – the most by an England player in an Ashes series since Wally Hammond in 1928-29 – while James Anderson’s 24 wickets proved a point in a country that had previously been less than hospitable. The series was Ricky Ponting’s last as Test captain and defeat made him the first Australian leader to lose three Ashes series since 1890. England recorded three innings victories, although this was not a complete steamrollering: in Brisbane, Peter Siddle’s hat-trick and tons for Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin gave Australia a 221-run first-innings advantage, requiring Cook to lay his first marker with an unbeaten 235 in England’s 517 for 1; in Perth, England were thoroughly Mitchell Johnson-ed, the left-armer claiming nine wickets to go with a half-century in a heavy defeat. That left the teams level with two to play, after England had exorcised the ghost of Adelaide – Cook made another ton and Kevin Pietersen 227 as Australia’s bowlers managed only five wickets in the match. On Boxing Day, England landed punishing blows, Australia dismissed for 98 before tea. The Ashes retained, England celebrated at the MCG with a demonstration of the sprinkler dance but the dousing was not quite complete. In Sydney, England finally ended their barren run down under, Cook’s 189 capping a Man of the Series performance and leaving a demoralised Australia to contemplate how greatly their cricket had slumped.
England 3 Australia 1 Drawn 1
England secured a third straight home Ashes victory, retaining the urn with a rain-assisted draw at Old Trafford then claiming the series with a Stuart Broad-inspired dismantling of Australia’s second innings at Chester-le-Street. However, as Alastair Cook held the prize aloft at The Oval the success was not being acclaimed with quite the joy of previous years. There was a feeling that England had ground their way to the Ashes – with a lose-at-no-cost mindset removing enjoyment from their cricket – although there had been few complaints earlier in the series when they were 2-0 up after Lord’s. The series began with a thriller at Trent Bridge, full of so many wonderful tales that it was almost overflowing: Ashton Agar made 98 on debut at No. 11 in a last-wicket stand of 163 with Phillip Hughes, James Anderson bowled his guts out, Ian Bell made the first of three masterful hundreds, Stuart Broad nicked one and refused to walk, then Anderson bowled his guts out again – ultimately claiming the final wicket with Australia 14 runs short. Lord’s was hugely one-sided as Australia imploded in their first innings, but at Old Trafford came the first signs of a shift as Darren Lehmann’s reinvention started to take hold. Michael Clarke made 187 before Pietersen, with what would become his final Test hundred, helped England edge past the follow-on. Australia threw everything at trying to beat the weather but in the end England celebrated amid damp, dank scenes in Manchester. Durham was an ebb-and-flow Test until Broad summoned a destructive burst on the fourth afternoon after Bell’s third hundred of the series. At The Oval, Australia dominated although, having dangled the carrot on the final day, would probably have lost the series 4-0 if it had not been for bad light.
England 3, Australia 0, Drawn 2
Less than three months later, the teams were at it again. And the feeling the momentum had started to shift by the end of the series in England soon had supporting evidence. England competed during – and even shaded – the opening day at the Gabba as Broad, seemingly the most hated man in Australia, responded with five wickets on the first day of the series. From there, however, it was one-way traffic. Mitchell Johnson, who did not play the preceding series, began one of the most emphatic resurrections in the history of the game and ended with an eye-watering 37 wickets. Blistering spells in both innings in Brisbane earned him nine in the match and England would never recover. Following the first Test, Jonathan Trott left the tour with a stress-related illness and the England side would continue to fragment. In Adelaide, hundreds from Clarke and Brad Haddin set up Australia before Johnson bowled the speed of light to claimed 7 for 40 – the contrast with four years previous was absolute. At the WACA, it was another surgical performance to regain the Ashes although England did have a glimmer for the future as Ben Stokes defied Australia with a magnificent maiden hundred in the most demanding of conditions. Still, the hold Australia had was so strong that even when they were under pressure they would find a way out. A trend of the series was how often England managed to remove Australia’s top five in reasonably swift fashion only to be thwarted by the lower order. Melbourne was a prime example, with England having built a lead of 116 with all ten second-innings remaining only in the blink-of-an-eye to be on the end of an eight-wicket mauling. Sydney was a three-day party for Australia and a final white-flag surrender from England who did not have a single batsman pass fifty. A second whitewash in seven years.
Australia 5, England 0