Over a decade has passed since Australia and England locked horns in a Test in 1882. Since then, they have played 325 Tests against each other and a total of 69 Ashes series. Although the series was given the name ‘Ashes’ after a while, the rivalry has only got profound with every passing series. The fight is just not for the tiny Ashes Urn – the urn standing 11 cm high, believed to contain the ashes of a burnt cricket bail, but it is for the history; every Australian/English team that has played in the Ashes has always aimed to rewrite the history books and once again give their passionate fans the bragging rights over the other.
There have been several players who have made a mark for themselves in the Ashes and their achievements are still talked about. The highest run-scorer and wicket-taker of the Ashes is an Australian – Sir Don Bradman and Shane Warne respectively but there are many English players as well who have done something unique. In series like the Ashes, both the bowling and batting departments have crucial roles at par with each other; but as they say that cricket has turned into more of a batsman’s game, let’s look at the top three batsmen in the Ashes with the highest individual scores.
Sir Leonard Hutton (364, England):
The opening batsman, who began his First-Class career as a 17-year-old, went on to play 79 Tests for England between 1937 and 1955. Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack have described him one of the greatest batsmen in the cricketing history and if considered English cricket purely, he was one of the two most accomplished professional batsmen to have played for England, the other being Sir Jack Hobbs.
He made his debut in the home series against New Zealand and had a forgettable one with scores of 0 and 1. He quickly fought back with a maiden Test hundred in the second match at Old Trafford. In his second year in international cricket came the most crucial series – The Ashes – Australia flew down to England for the traditional five Tests in June 1938. The first Test was played at Lord’s and Hutton performed pathetically with the bat as he ended with scores of 4 and 5. The next match was at the Oval, the same venue where Bradman had scored 553 runs in his previous three innings.
So, the attention was on the two skippers, Wally Hammond (England) and Bradman but little did anyone know it was some other batsman who was destined to shine in the Test. Hammond won the toss and opted to bat and that brought Hutton and Bill Edrich at the crease. The Australians made an early breakthrough as they sent Edrich back to the dugout for a mere 12 runs. However, that would be their only success that entire day as Hutton and new batsman Maurice Leyland finished the day with unbeaten hundreds and at stumps, England were 347 for 1.
On the morning of Day three, where Hutton scored painfully slowly, he passed Bradman’s Ashes record score of 334 and Hammond’s record Test score of 336. To mark the new record, a waiter brought drinks on a tray.
He was eventually dismissed for 364 off 847 balls and that was inclusive of 35 fours. Although Hutton’s 364 still remains the highest individual score in the Ashes, it is not the highest Test score. Hutton’s record lasted until 1957 when it was broken by Garry Sobers who made 365 and that was then broken by his teammate Brian Lara who smashed 400 runs in a Test innings in 2004 and co-incidentally that came against England.
Sir Don Bradman (334, Australia):
Pre-Don Bradman era of the Ashes, the dominating of the two teams was England, who had won the first seven series so a trot. Since their first series in 1882, Australia managed to register their maiden Ashes win only in 1891. However, even then the Australians could not give the treatment to their opponents the way they had received in the previous years. He made his Test debut in 1928 and like any other batsman, he took time to set an image for himself. The fact that even he needed a certain time to get into the groove is one of the rare examples that would testify he was no alien from rest of the clan.
However, with the start of the 1930s, Bradman caught gear-two and then there was no looking back. He dominated so much in the 1930s and 1940s that after a point drawing comparisons between him and the other batsmen began to seem pointless. In the 1930 Ashes, which was Bradman’s only second appearance in the historic series, Bradman scripted a history of his own. In the first Test at Nottingham, he hit a century; that was followed by a double hundred in the second Test play at Lord’s and the sight got unbelievable when he registered his maiden triple-digit score in the very next Test, the third Test, which was played at the Leeds.
He was known for his attacking and entertaining game for cricket and he just took that to another level when he scored a hundred before lunch in the first innings of the third Test. In the afternoon, Bradman added another century between lunch and tea, before he finished the day on 309 not out. He remains the only Test player to pass 300 in one day’s play. He was eventually dismissed after scoring 334 runs off 448 balls and that historic knock was inclusive of 46 boundaries. By the end of the 1930 Ashes, Bradman had accumulated 974 runs that series and that is still a world record in terms of number of runs scored in a series.
Bob Simpson (311, Australia):
Out of the top 10 high scores in the Ashes, seven belong to the Australians; four to Bradman and other three are Simpson, Bob Cowper and Bill Ponsford. Simpson’s 311 which he had scored during the Ashes 1964 continues to be the third highest individual scores in the series.
Age is just a number and this has been proved time and again. Simpson, who was still 11 days short of his 17th birthday, was given his maiden domestic call in the 1952-53 Sheffield Shield season. At the age of 16 years and 354 days, Simpson made his First-Class debut for New South Wales as a middle-order batsman against Victoria. He scored unbeaten 44 and 8 and also claimed his first First-Class wicket when he caught and bowled Test player Ian Johnson. Before the match when Simpson arrived at the dressing room, Australian vice-captain Arthur Morris asked him where his nappies were.
The same kid would go on to write his name in the history books for scoring the third highest score in the Ashes.
At the start of the 1963-64 season, Simpson was elevated to the vice-captaincy under Richie Benaud. The first series at home was against South Africa. The first Test was in Brisbane which ended in a draw and Simpson had scored 12 and 34 and took a solitary wicket. In a grade match before the second Test, Benaud had injured himself and that gave Simpson his captaincy debut. He was given an inexperienced team but he managed to lead the side to a win and take Australia 1-0 up. However, his poor run with the bat continued as he had scored a duck and an unbeaten 55.
Then came the Ashes and going into the first three Tests, Simpson remained frustrated with his personal contribution with the bat. He made 50 in the First Test at Trent Bridge but did not pass 30 in the next two Tests, twice falling after reaching 20. Australia led 1-0 and just needed a draw in the fourth Test in order to retain the Ashes.
He had played 29 Tests, he had over 40 First-Class centuries but he was still eluded of a Test hundred. On the flat batting pitch in at Old Trafford, Simpson opted to bat first. On Day one, Australia were 253 for 2 and Simpson finally had three digits next to his name and that came during the captaincy made it even more special. It is still one of the longest periods for a batsman to take to get his first Test hundred.
On Day three came the moment which Simpson surely would have never dreamt of. Although he never doubted his abilities, a 29-Test century draught is capable of shaking any determined person’s mindset. Sure, it couldn’t in the case of Simpson. He batted for almost 750 minutes and faced over 700 deliveries. His score of 311 still remains the third highest individual total in the Ashes history.