The best Ashes batting

Sticky dogs and captains' rearguards

Andrew Miller picks out ten of the finest batting feats in Anglo-Australian history

Andrew Miller

August 19, 2005

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The third Test of the 2005 Ashes was saved by a remarkable rearguard from Ricky Ponting. Andrew Miller trawls through the annals to pick out ten of the finest batting feats in Anglo-Australian history



Ricky Ponting: A captain's innings © Getty Images
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Gilbert Jessop at The Oval 1902
Gilbert Jessop would have approved of the thrilling new tempo that Test cricket has achieved in the 21st Century - after all, he was pioneering such an approach way back in 1902. Initially selected as a fast bowler who could slog, Jessop cemented his place in history with a thrilling onslaught at The Oval, as England squeaked a one-wicket victory in the fifth and final Test. Known as "The Croucher" for his up-and-at-em stance, Jessop launched himself at the Australians, clobbering 17 fours in a 77-minute century that rescued England from the mire at 48 for 5. Given that sixes were only awarded for shots that flew out of the ground, that figure would have been far swifter in this day and age. He fell with 76 runs still needed, but George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes, famously, were on hand to "get `em in singles".

Don Bradman at Lord's 1930
Don Bradman was, in the immortal words of RC Robertson-Glasgow, "a genius with an eye for business", and so, instead of sifting through his litany of Ashes performances, it is better to take the man's word for it when he said that his 254 at Lord's in the Lord's Test of 1930 was the greatest of his 19 Ashes centuries. "Practically without exception, every ball went where it was intended," he wrote in his autobiography, Farewell to Cricket. Australia racked up a massive 729 for 6 to set up a four-day victory, and it was a testament to Bradman's genius that not even his feat in his very next Test - 309 runs in a single day at Headingley - could surpass this personal zenith.

Eddie Paynter at Brisbane 1932-33
The Bodyline series is remembered more for the fast-bowling feats of Harold Larwood and the unwavering captaincy of Douglas Jardine, but three feats of batsmanship stood out nonetheless - Larwood's own 98 as a nightwatchman at Sydney, Stan McCabe's unspeakably brave 187 in the first Test, and perhaps most notably of all, Eddie Paynter's Lazarus impression at Brisbane. Struck down by a bout of acute tonsillitis, Paynter had been taken to hospital when he received a summons from his sick-bed, after England had collapsed to 216 for 6 in reply to Australia's 340. Refusing the offer of a runner, he batted to the close, returned to hospital overnight, then resumed in the morning to add 92 for the ninth wicket with Hedley Verity. His intervention turned a probable 2-2 scoreline into an impregnable 3-1 series lead, and just for good measure, he sealed the match with a six.

Stan McCabe at Trent Bridge 1938
The first Test of the series, and Australia, faced with a mammoth England first innings of 658, were up to their necks in it at 194 for 6. The stage was set for one of the most remarkably measured onslaughts in history. Stan McCabe was one of the few batsmen whom Don Bradman regarded as an equal, in talent, if not always in temperament. But on this occasion, the Don was in awe. "If I could play an innings like that," he said afterwards, "I'd be a proud man." McCabe's feat was to score 232 out of a total of 411, with nothing but the tail for support. Of the batsmen who followed him, only Ben Barnett (22) reached double figures. Protecting his colleagues but never missing a scoring opportunity, he made 213 of the 273 runs in the day, including 72 out of a tenth wicket stand of 77.

Len Hutton at Brisbane in 1950-51
Scores of 8 not out and 62 not out would not usually rate too highly on a batsman's CV, but then few games are played on as treacherous a wicket as the first Test at the Gabba in December 1950. In the days of uncovered wickets, a violent thunderstorm had decimated the track shortly after Australia's first innings had come to an end for 228. Manipulating their batting order in the hope that conditions would improve, England declared on 60 for 7, before Australia reciprocated with 32 for 7. Needing 193 to win, England closed a crazy day on 30 for 6, but with Hutton at No. 8, hope was not lost. Freddie Brown joined him in double figures, but in the end the damage had been done.

Greg Chappell at Lord's 1972
Bob Massie's stunning 16-wicket debut might not have been possible had it not been for an innings of intense brilliance from the young Greg Chappell. His first century had come on debut against England in 1970-71, but at the seventh time of asking, he produced his first matchwinning performance. Replying to England's 272, Australia had slipped to 84 for 4 as John Snow exploited the same juicy conditions to full effect. Greg's brother Ian stemmed the tide for a time, before Rod Marsh chipped in with a hard-hitting 50, but without Greg's six-hour 131, Australia might have conceded a fatal first-innings lead.

Tony Greig at Brisbane 1974-75
Signalling your own boundaries is never the best way to pacify an enraged fast bowler, but Tony Greig was always big enough to look after himself. His survival instincts, however, were tested to the max at Brisbane in the opening match of the 1974-75 Ashes. England had naïvely assumed that Australia would have no fit pacemen to speak of, so when a patched-up Dennis Lillee and his dervish of a sidekick, Jeff Thomson, tore into England in front of a ferociously partisan crowd, there was no place to run. But only Greig had the wherewithal to stand his ground, as he slashed over the slips and drove aggressively through the covers, feeding off the fury as Lillee and Thomson threatened to explode. His 110 was a rare example of resistance in a futile campaign, but no less noble for that.

Rick McCosker at Melbourne 1976-77
The Ashes weren't at stake in this legendary commemorative match, but the blood and guts of Anglo-Australian contests were on full display nonetheless, in a resounding five-day tussle that was witnessed by every Ashes veteran who was still fit and able to travel. Derek Randall's 174 was the stand-out performance in terms of runs, but it was McCosker's contribution that ultimately proved the most valuable. In the first innings, his jaw had been splintered by a vicious bouncer from Willis, and it seemed he would take no further part in proceedings. But, second-time around, with jaw wired shut and swathed in bandages, he emerged at No. 10 and produced 25 priceless runs, including a hooked four off Lever. His ninth-wicket partnership with Dennis Lillee realised 54 runs - the winning margin was just 45.

Steve Waugh at The Oval 2001
Nobody did more than Steve Waugh to ensure that the Ashes battles of the 1990s and early 2000s were a one-sided walkover. He racked up ten centuries in his 46 encounters, and never lost a series from the moment of the first of these, at Headingley in 1989. But no innings was more typical of his bloodymindedness than his farewell to England at The Oval in 2001. Three weeks earlier, he had been stretchered out of Trent Bridge with a torn calf muscle, but now he was back, with just one serviceable leg, to graft his way to 157 not out. It was a performance that mocked the injury crisis that had wrecked England's summer, but it almost came at a cost - after the flight back to Australia, he was hospitalised with deep-vein thrombosis.

Ricky Ponting at Old Trafford 2005
Australia's 16-year Ashes hegemony had never been in graver peril than when Ricky Ponting entered the fray in the second over of the final morning at Old Trafford. Needing to bat out the entire day to avoid a 2-1 series deficit, Ponting produced what might come to be regarded as his defining innings. Out of touch for much of the summer, and facing a barrage of criticism for his lacklustre captaincy, he was unyielding for nearly seven hours, as a succession of his team-mates were whittled away by England's incisive seam attack. Though he was ninth man out for 156 with four overs remaining, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath staved off defeat.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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