A brief history of the Ashes Part Three

England v Australia 1920 - 1938

Series home | 1861-1888 | 1890 - 1914 | 1946- 1970 | 1970 - 1989 | 1990 - present


Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
England were barely over the war when they toured Australia - the MCC had declined an invitation to visit in 1919-20 - but even so, they were utterly outclassed by a strong Australian side under Warwick Armstrong, going down to the first whitewash in a five-match series. All Tests were won by large margins, and Australia outbatted and outbowled England. Arthur Mailey took 10 for 302 at Adelaide and 9 for 121 in the first innings at Melbourne, ending the series with a then record 39 wickets.
Australia 5 England 0


Lionel Tennyson captained an England side that were totally outclassed by Australia in 1921 © Getty Images

Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
Both teams travelled to Britain on the same boat and the series followed much the same pattern as Australia crushed all comers largely thanks to the fast bowling of Ted MacDonald and Jack Gregory. England lost the first three Tests -Johnny Douglas, who had captained for seven straight defeats was replaced by Lionel Tennyson - but ended the dire sequence with a rain-affected draw at Old Trafford in a game notable for Armstrong bowling successive overs, either side of a delay. Only in the final match at The Oval did they compete on equal terms. England fielded 30 players in the series, including 16 debutants, as the selectors panicked. Armstrong's hopes of remaining undefeated were scuppered in September when the 50-year-old Archie MacLaren, having boasted he could raise a side good enough to beat the Australians, did just that. Against Nottingham, Charlie Macartney made 345* in less than four hours, the highest by an Australian in England and the most by one batsman in a day.
England 0 Australia 3 Drawn 2


Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
A new era began as this was the first Test series to be covered locally on the radio, and while England travelled in hope, the outcome was rather predictable. Australia piled on the runs in the first three Tests (which all went into a seventh day) and while Jack Hobbs (573 runs at 63.66) and Herbert Sutcliffe (734 at 81.55) formed a very impressive opening partnership for England, the rest of the batsmen failed to provide enough support. At the MCG England won the toss for the only time and ended a sequence of 13 matches - and eleven-and-a-half years - without a win, although Australia bounced back at the SCG as Clarrie Grimmet grabbed 11 for 82 on debut. That it was achieved in a losing cause made Maurice Tate's 38 wickets at 23.18 even more remarkable.
Australia 4 England 1


Jack Hobbs (left) and Herbert Sutcliffe's (right) legendary opening partnership was instrumental in England's success in 1926 © Getty Images

Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
At last England took on Australia as equals and a tense series resulted, but yet again the three-day limit for Tests made positive results all but impossible, especially when Nottingham and Manchester lost time to rain. At Lord's neither side had time to bat again, although Hobbs became the first man to pass 4000 Test runs, and at Leeds there was never a sniff of a result as both sides scored heavily. The decider at The Oval was timeless (as was always the case when the series was still up for grabs) and England replaced Arthur Carr with Percy Chapman as captain. Australia eked out a 22-run lead on first innings, and then England were caught on a rain-affected track. Hobbs (100) and Sutcliffe (161) played legendary innings (no other batsman on either side made fifty in the second innings) and a demoralised Australia were skittled for 125 chasing 415.
England 1 Australia 0 Drawn 4


Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
England's revival was underlined by their triumphant rout of a powerful Australia where Wally Hammond established himself - briefly - as the unchallenged best batsman in the world with 905 runs at 113.12. He was supported by Hobbs(451 at 50), Patsy Hendren (472 at 52) and Phil Mead (all four finished with more than 150 hundreds to their names). Australia's batsmen were no slouches, with Bill Ponsford, Bill Woodfull, Alan Kippax and two exiting youngsters, Don Bradman and Archie Jackson. England, however, edged the bowling. The series opener produced a record 675-run win for England (Bert Oldfield did not concede a bye in England's combined 863) as Australia were blown away for 122 (Harold Larwood 6 for 32) and 66, and they followed with another heavy victory at the SCG and a tight three-wicket win which was again down to brilliant batting on a wet wicket from Hobbs and Sutcliffe and Hammonds second successive double hundred. The fourth Test was again a nail-biter which England edged by 12 runs thanks to JC White's 8 for 126. Australia avoided a whitewash with victory in the final match. The second Test was notable as it was the only time in his career that Bradman was dropped.
Australia 1 England 4


Don Bradman announced himself in 1930 with 974 runs at 139.14 © Getty Images

Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
The arrival of the Don. In five Tests he scored 974 runs at 139.14 - an aggregate never surpassed - and he was the difference between the two sides. His runs came quickly as well. England got off to a winning start at Trent Bridge with the ageless Hobbs leading the way and a catch by substitute Stan Copley turning the game. Bradman made 252 at Lord's as Australia piled on 729 for 6 and a six-wicket win, and he followed with 309 on the first day at Leeds, although Hammond's two hundreds ensured the game was drawn. Old Trafford again fell victim to rain, and in the timeless decider at The Oval , Australia replied to England's 405 with 695 (Bradman 232, Ponsford 110) and then Percy Hornibrook sealed the win and the Ashes with 7 for 92. For the first time in England, Tests were extended to four days. The series marked the farewell of Hobbs, who finished with a record 5410 runs.
England 1 Australia 2 Drawn 2


The Bodyline tour of 1932-33 will go down as the most notorious in cricket history © Getty Images

Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
Bodyline. Possibly cricket's most famous series, almost certainly its most controversial, teetering from crisis to crisis and at one stage within hours of being called off as it reached governmental level. Douglas Jardine, England's captain, spoke openly of his dislike for Australians and his single-minded desire to regain the Ashes - and nullify Bradman - was fulfilled by reliance on the pace of Larwood and Bill Voce and a raft of class batsmen. Bradman missed the first Test after a dispute with the board and looked on as Stan McCabe made 187* in what experts rated as the best innings against Bodyline. Australia leveled the series at the MCG (Bradman's return was marked by a first-ball duck and a second-innings century) with Bill O'Reilly grabbing 10 for 129. The real trouble came at Adelaide where Woodfull was struck over the heart and Oldfield sustained a fractured skull. The capacity crowd, whose mood was enflamed by some blunt newspaper comment, came close to rioting and mounted police were on standby. Heated cables were exchanged between the ACB and MCC but in the end the tour went ahead and Jardine carried on. After the win at Adelaide, the Ashes were regained at Brisbane where Eddie Paynter rose off his hospital bed to score 86. Sadly, as England completed their win, Australia's sorrow was deepened as news filtered through that Jackson had died of TB aged 23. England wrapped-up their second successive 4-1 win in Australia at Sydney, Larwood making 98 as nightwatchman before limping out of the match, and of Test cricket. Few captains have been served so well and so loyally as Jardine was by Larwood (33 wickets at 19.51). In turn, few men have ever subsequently been treated so appallingly as Larwood was by the MCC.
Australia 1 England 4


Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
Endless meetings and secret agreements between establishment figures took place before the 1934 series started, and Jardine's decision not to lead England certainly eased the way, as did a tacit deal promising no Bodyline bowling. Larwood was injured, while Voce was overlooked, although he did create a storm by bowling Bodyline when the tourists played Nottinghamshire. O'Reilly's 11 for 129 was decisive in the opening Test, but England won their only Ashes Test at Lord's all century when Hedley Verity took 14 wickets in a day in the first Test to be televised by the BBC. A draw at Old Trafford was followed by Bradman's second successive triple hundred at Headingley, but rain saved England. The timeless decider at The Oval was dominated by Ponsford (266) and Bradman (244) who added 451 for the second wicket out of 701, and England were bowled out for 145 chasing 708! With Les Ames, sidelined by lumbago, the 50-year-old Frank Woolley kept wicket and conceded 47 byes. O'Reilly and Grimmett shared 53 wickets while Bradman chipped in with 758 runs.
England 1 Australia 2 Drawn 2


Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
The only time a side has come from two down to win a five-Test series. Gubby Allen led a tour designed to heal the wounds, and while they did so off the pitch, England threatened to turn party poopers with big wins in the opening matches as Bradman's captaincy career got off to a dreadful start. But inspired by a record crowd of 350,534, Australia fought back at the MCG when , on a rain-affected track, a series of bold declarations aimed at exposing the other side gave Australia the advantage. After sending in his tailenders on the improving wicket, Bradman and Jack Fingleton put on 346 for the sixth wicket en route to a rousing win. A second-innings 212 from Bradman enabled Australia to level the series at Adelaide, and the comeback was completed by an innings victory at the MCG.
Australia 3 England 2


Len Hutton scored a world-record 364 in the timeless Test at The Oval © Getty Images

Cricinfo | Wisden Almanack
The last series in England for a decade was one dominated by batsmen, aided by some pitches which offered nothing but heartbreak to bowlers, and it pitted the two batting giants - Bradman and Hammond - against each other as captains. Both sides scored heavily in the first two Tests, notable for McCabe's 232 (rated by Bradman as the finest innings he saw) and 20-year-old Denis Compton's 102 at Trent Bridge, and Bill Brown carrying his bat for 206 in Australia's first innings at Lord's. With Old Trafford washed out completely, Australia retained the Ashes with a five-wicket win in the one low-scoring match at Leeds with Bradman making a hundred for the sixth successive Test. For the fourth time in a row, The Oval was a timeless Test, and England exploited a pluperfect pitch to the full. Len Hutton batted 13 hours and 17 minutes for a record 364 as England remorselessly ground out 903 for 7. Australia, without Bradman, who had broken an ankle, and Fingleton, went down to an innings-and-579-run defeat. While England celebrated, it was confirmation that a combination of flat pitches and timelessness was not one that appealed to anyone other than statisticians. That was confirmed the following winter at Durban and there were no more.
Australia 1 England 1 Drawn 2

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo