With England having just completed their 1000th Test match, Arunabha Sengupta chooses 20 of their most memorable moments since the purest format of the game commenced in 1877.
The selection has been made from the point of view of English cricket, hence memorable matches in which they finished second best have been ignored.
1. The Oval 6 Sep 1880 v Australia
England won by 5 wickets
The first ever Test match in England. And how could the Englishmen not love their great champion, WG Grace, scoring 152. When Australia followed on, Billy Murdoch, the visiting captain and great friend of the Doctor, upstaged him by a solitary run, amassing 153.
However, the target set was just 57. England got there after almost making heavy weather of it, and it was Grace who had to guide them through. It helped that Fred Spofforth broke a finger and did not play.
2. Sydney 14 Dec 1894 v Australia
England won by 10 runs
The first Test of the first great Test series. George Giffen hit 161 and Syd Gregory went further with 201. England followed on 261 runs behind. But Albert Ward hit 117 in the second innings and 437 was amassed with the help of robust contributions down the order. But when Australia ended the fifth day at 113 for 2, only 64 runs remained to be scored.
Several of the English players drowned their sorrows in drink. But that night it rained, and captain Drewey Stoddart pushed Bobby Peel under the shower to cure his hangover. Peel’s 6 for 67 gave England a 10-run win. Jack Blackham, the Australian captain, remarked that they had been beaten by the sun that dried the wicket.
3. The Oval 11 Aug 1902 v Australia
England won by 1 wicket
Having lost the series, and the previous Test at Old Trafford by just 3 runs, England looked headed for another defeat when Hugh Trumble’s all-round brilliance saw Australia lead by 141 in the first innings. Bill Lockwood did bowl the visitors out for 121 in the second essay. But with 263 to win, England lost their fifth wicket at 48.
It was then that Gilbert Jessop walked in and played that monumental knock of 104 off 77 deliveries. The last 15 runs were managed by the last wicket pair of Yorkshire all-rounders George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes, but they did not really tell each other ‘Let’s get ’em in singles.’
4. The Oval 14 Aug 1926 v Australia
England won by 289 runs
Not a close match according to the end result. But England had no business winning the series decider after four Tests had ended in stalemate. They had been 49 without loss at the end of the second day, just 27 ahead, and it had been a night of incredible thundershowers. Everyone expected England to be bowled out within an hour.
However, Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe, that great opening pair, scored 100s and added 172 on that sticky mud pudding. Later 48-year-old Wilfred Rhodes and 21-year-old Harold Larwood bowled England to their first Ashes win since the Great War.
5. Brisbane 10 February 1933 v Australia
England won by 6 wickets
The win at Adelaide had been ugly, with extreme methods employed by Douglas Jardine that has gone down as Bodyline. Yet, Brisbane was special. That gave England the Ashes, and they had managed to stop the run-machine called Don Bradman.
Larwood, the henchman of Jardine, did capture 7 wickets in the match, but the hero was Eddie Paynter, who walked out of the hospital and made his way to the ground to notch up 83 priceless runs. Bradman ‘failed’, that is to say he scored 76 and 24, that made a nice round 100 in the match.
6. The Oval 20 Aug 1938 v Australia
England won by an innings and 579 runs.
Memorable because of the huge, huge total and the proportionally huge win. Young Len Hutton concentrated hard over 847 minutes to hit 364, the world record score at that time. Bradman got seriously injured trying to bowl, but captain Wally Hammond insisted on checking the confirmation of the doctor that The Don would not be able to bat before declaring at 903 for 7.
Australia fell away for 201 and 123. However, groundsman Bosser Martin was not happy. On that beautiful wicket, he felt, England should have got 1000.
7. The Oval 15 Aug 1953 v Australia
England won by 8 wickets
“Is that The Ashes? That’s The Ashes!” was how the excited Brian Johnston described it when Denis Compton hooked Arthur Morris to bring off the winning stroke. It was special. The War-ravaged nation had been battered by their great rivals for several years and this victory coincided with the coronation year.
Jim Laker and Tony Lock, the Surrey spin-twins, captured 9 of the 10 wickets in the second innings. They would torment Australia for long.
8. Sydney 17 Dec 1954 v Australia
England won by 38 runs
Len Hutton’s tactics had backfired and England had lost big in the first Test at Brisbane. And in the second Test, they looked headed for another defeat when they trailed by 74 in the first innings. A superb century by young Peter May, and a 116-run partnership with the chubby new talent called Colin Cowdrey did put them back in the match. But the 223-run target looked small when at the end of Day 4 Australia were 72 for 2.
The following day was all Typhoon Tyson. As the Wordsworth muttering fast bowler toppled 6 wickets for 85, Australia were bowled out for 184. Tyson did the star turn in the next Tests as well, and the Ashes was clinched 3-1.
9. Lord’s 17 Jun 1963 v West Indies
It was a draw to remember. First, there was the brutal attack launched on the fearsome Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith by captain Ted Dexter. Then there was the scintillating hundred by Basil Butcher. But Fred Trueman and Derek Shackleton ensured that the last five wickets fell for 15 runs. Cowdrey was hit on the forearm by Hall and retired hurt and the desperate situation even made Ken Barrington put aside his dour methods and loft Lance Gibbs twice into the stands.
The final day saw Brian Close walking out to meet the scorching pace of Hall midway, and hitting his way to 70. But the 9th wicket went down with two balls to go and five runs to score, David Allen on strike. To standing ovation, Cowdrey walked out, arm in plaster, to stand in the non-striker’s end, as Allen, his whole body shaking from the impact, defended the last two balls of Hall.
10. The Oval 22 Aug 1968 v Australia
England won by 226 runs.
First Basil D’Oliveira hit 158, that put the cape coloured cat among the pristine white apartheid pigeons. And then with the score on 86 for 5, the storm came in and the ground was underwater on the final day.
Captain Colin Cowdrey requested help from the crowd, and they poured in, mopping up the water with handkerchiefs, scarves and even shirts. Miraculously play could restart as 75 minutes remained. And on that wet wicket, Derek Underwood was deadly.
11. Headingley Jul 17, 1981, v Australia
England won by 18 runs
England were following on, 7 down with another 92 runs to make Australia bat again. And then Ian Botham started hooking them. 149 off 148 balls, 27 fours and a six.
Graham Dilley and Chris Old shared crucial partnerships, flinging their bats and getting runs off the middle or edges. Still, Australia required just 130 to win. Bob Willis ran through them with 8 for 43.
12. Edgbaston 30 Jul 1981 v Australia
England won by 29 runs
Two miracles in a row. 151 to win in the final innings, Australia were 87 for 3. And then Emburey picked up two wickets.
Following that, Botham came on with a spell of 5 for 1 from 30 balls. The encore of the Headingley magic, this time with the ball.
13. Melbourne 26 Dec 1982 v Australia
England won by 3 runs
Boxing Day classic. Requiring 292 to win, the Australians had lost the 9th wicket at 218. But Allan Border was at one end. Jeff Thomson at the other refused to give in. The fourth day ended at 255 for 9. The following morning they were taking Australia for an incredible win with some sensible cricket. Four runs remained when Ian Botham bowled Thomson a half-tracker.
Thomson, a picture of restraint till now, could not decide whether to go for it or not. The resulting snick flew to Chris Tavare at second slip. The ball bounced off his hands, but Geoff Miller moved from first slip to grab the catch.
14. The Oval 8 Aug 1991 v West Indies
England won by 5 wickets
Just for the sentimental value. After being humiliated in the most scarring way for much of the 1980s, England finally drew a series against West Indies. It was Phil Tufnell’s 6 for 25 which did the trick. The West Indians did not give up.
Forgotten England paceman David Lawrence picked up 5 second innings wickets, but the 143-run target was not going to be easy after Richie Richardson had hit a hundred. Sure enough, England were 80 for 4 before Alec Stewart held his nerve.
15. The Oval 18 Aug 1994 v South Africa
England won by 8 wickets
“You guys are history.” The sleeping giant within Devon Malcolm was awakened. South Africa were soon 1 for 3 in the second innings. Darryl Cullinan fought hard, but Malcolm’s 9 for 59 saw them total just 175.
Michael Atherton and, for once, Graeme Hick took England to victory. Malcolm had been hit on the head while batting. The retaliation saw Jonty Rhodes coming within hair-breadth of getting killed on the pitch.
16. Karachi Dec 7 2000 v Pakistan
England won by 6 wickets
Beating Pakistan in Pakistan seemed to be next to impossible. Especially the post-1970 Pakistan. There was always drama whenever the two countries played, but a series win in Pakistan had last come in 1961. Here too, when Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf Youhana got 100s and Pakistan scored 405, there was every indication of an unconquered final frontier of the modern era.
Atherton’s hard-fought century took England within 17 runs of the hosts. And then inexplicably Pakistan collapsed. 158 all out. Saqlain Mushtaq bowled his heart out, picking up three wickets by the time the score reached 65, but Graham Thorpe took them home.
17. Edgbaston 4 Aug 2005 v Australia
England won by 2 runs
A lead of 99 seemed of little use when the 9th English wicket was down for 131. But Andrew Flintoff slammed four sixes and coasted to 73, as Simon Jones held his end. Requiring 282 to win, Australia lost their 8th wicket for 175. Shane Warne and Brett Lee then added 45. And then Michael Kasprowicz joined Lee.
After 73 balls of heart-stopping cricket, they were three runs from victory. And now Kasprowicz nicked Steve Harmison down the leg side. One of the greatest Ashes series was alive.
18. Trent Bridge 25 Aug 2005 v Australia
England won by 3 wickets
It was nerves. Flintoff’s 102 and five wickets of Simon Jones had seen England lead by 259. Michael Vaughan asked the tourists to follow on. They pulled their act together and got 387.
Only 129 were needed, but Brett Lee and Shane Warne were not giving up. The seventh wicket went down at 129 after which Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard scampered the remaining runs.
19. Eden Gardens 5 Dec 2012 v India
England won by 7 wickets
The unbeatable Indians were conquered in their backyard, second time running. And England took the lead in the series. Sachin Tendulkar’s 76 and captain MS Dhoni’s 52 had propelled India to 316, but captain Alastair Cook was not giving up the momentum.
He batted more than 8 hours for 190, and England led by 207. James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar proved a handful, and the late order brilliance of Ravi Ashwin did not really help much. However, three wickets went down for 8 in pursuit of 41 before Ian Bell settled the issue with brisk runs.
20. Edgbaston 1 Aug 2018 v India
England won by 31 runs
England did have India on the mat on Day 2, but the great Virat Kohli’s wide willow struck back. 149 out of 274, the next highest score was 26. 92 runs added for the last two wickets, with No 10 and No 11 contributing 5 and 1. When England collapsed to 87 for 7, just 100 in front, it seemed all over bar the shouting.
But young Sam Curran, who had picked up 4 in the first innings, hit his way to 63. India needed 194. Kohli was at it again, but when Stokes got him leg before for 51 it became 141 for 7. After that, it was a matter of time.