The Ashes is as much intimidating as its name and the glorious cricketing rivalry between England and Australia continues to remain pretty intense as it had been when both the nations locked horns in their maiden Test series in 1882. Both Australia and England have won 32 series each and the upcoming series will be a tie-breaker and since it is being hosted by Australia, the hosts are being considered as likely favourites.
Although the most runs-scorer and wicket-taker in the Ashes is an Australian, England also have had their share of success in the series, which is traditionally of five Tests. The Ashes 2017-18 will mark the 135th anniversary of the oldest rivalry in Test cricket and in more than a century, there have been infinite records made, broken and many cricketers have made a name for themselves. The ritual in both the countries has not changed one bit -they just detest losing to each other in the Ashes. This level of competitiveness has always helped to raise the level of cricket in the series.
Looking specifically into the highest batting averages, the top three names are of Don Bradman (89.78), Eddie Paynter (84.42) and Sid Barnes (70.50). However, Paynter and Barnes played less than 10 Ashes Tests so we would not include them in this list.
With a cut-off of minimum 25 Ashes Tests, let’s look at the top three batsmen with the best average in the prestigious history of the Ashes:
Don Bradman (Australia)
The name gives it all; Sir Donald George Bradman unarguably was and will always remain the greatest-ever batsman to play the sport and one of the finest cricketers of all time. With 5,028 Ashes runs, he is right on the top of the average table with 89.78. There is a saying that goes by – records are meant to be broken – however, the phrase is an exception in Bradman’s case. There have been only five triple hundreds scored in the Ashes so far and out of those, two belong to him. Still today, Bradman remains to be the only batsman to have scored two triple hundreds in the Ashes.
When considered most runs in the series, Bradman is yet again on the top with 974 runs in five Tests at a brilliant average of 139.14 and this he did in 1930 when Australia toured England. Only England’s Sir Leonard Hutton has managed to surpassed Bradman in a principle in the Ashes; Hutton’s score of 364 is the highest score in the Ashes, ahead of Bradman’s 334.
He will always be the utmost legend who had graced cricket with his presence and an incident that happened in 1932 would testify it. The English side possessed some of the lethal bowlers to have played the Ashes but all of them together also failed to produce a delivery that could stop Bradman with a mission. Hence, they went the illegal way; the English team under Douglas Jardine designed the ‘Bodyline’ trap to attack Bradman with short balls directed at his body. Never had a team ever done this and never after in cricket history has any team went to this extent to stop a batsman.
However, it was just a shame the way it all ended; he needed four runs but all he managed at the end was a second-ball duck at The Oval in 1948 that denied him an overall Test average of 100.
Herbert Sutcliffe (England)
The Yorkshire-born cricketer was an epitome of sheer concentration that led to guaranteed success. He ended as one of those rare breeds of cricketers who ended his Test career averaging 60-plus. He was an opening batsman for his club and country and was a part of the Ashes that were played between 1924 and 1934. In 27 Ashes Tests he had played, he scored 2,741 runs at 66.85 and he helped himself with eight hundreds and 16 fifties.
He might not excel technique-wise but he was known for his character of being uncomplaining; if the team was put on a tricky track, he would be the man at the rescue. He had the ability to focus for a long duration, absorb the pressure and give a damn about unfavourable conditions as the English man relished playing in difficult conditions. In Ashes 1928-29, on a wet wicket he made 135 and helped England win; that was not only his best-ever knock but also one of finest centuries witnessed on a deceptive pitch.
His First-Class debut was delayed by the First World War until 1919 and his career was effectively terminated in August 1939 when he was called up for military service in the imminent Second World War. Sutcliffe, who played his last Test in 1935, was the first cricketer to score 16 centuries in Test cricket and officially when he ended his professional cricketing career, he bowed out by becoming only the sixth career to have scored 50,000+ First-Class runs and till date, he is among the seven cricketers to have achieved the milestone.
Steve Waugh (Australia)
The Australian was thrown in the higher level as a 20-year-old who was not only a talented batsman but could also decently bowl medium pace. The very next year of his international debut, came the crucial Ashes and luckily for him, it was being played at home. He had a disastrous start to the series with a duck followed by a mere 28 runs in Brisbane. However, he fought back in the second Test and registered his Ashes maiden half-century in Perth. In the eight innings he batted in the five Tests, he managed to pile up 310 runs at an excellent average of 44.28 for a new-comer.
By the time Waugh bowed out of cricket, he had played the second most number of Ashes Tests (45) after Sydney Edward Gregory (52) for Australia. With 3,173 runs in 45 Ashes Tests, Waugh averaged 58.75, which is the third best among the players who have played 25 or more Tests in the series. Waugh also remains the third highest run-scorer for Australia in the Ashes after Bradman (5,028) and Allan Border (3,222).
Although Border has captained Australia in the most number of Ashes Tests (28), his win percentage (46.42%) is not as good as Waugh’s (88.88%), who won eight out of the nine Tests he had captained in the Ashes.