Australia in England /

The best Ashes bowling

Scattered stumps and hexed batsmen

Andrew Miller picks out the finest bowling in Anglo-Australian history

Andrew Miller

July 29, 2005

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The first Test of the 2005 Ashes was sealed by magnificent bowling from Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Andrew Miller trawls through the annals to pick out the finest performances in Anglo-Australian history



Glenn McGrath claims another wicket at Lord's © Getty Images
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Fred Spofforth, The Oval 1882
Until Fred Spofforth took The Oval by storm in 1882, English cricket audiences had only heard the legend of "The Demon" via hearsay. He missed the first Test of all, in March 1877, because he objected to Australia's choice of wicketkeeper, and he was absent through injury during England's five-wicket win in 1880, the first Test on English soil. But two years later he was back with a vengeance, and spurred on by some derogatory remarks in the pavilion, he took 14 wickets for 90 in the match to secure an ill-tempered seven-run victory - and launch the legend of The Ashes.

Hedley Verity, Lord's 1934
Since the start of the 20th Century, England have mustered one measly victory in 24 attempts in Ashes Tests at Lord's, and ominously, for those who believe a turnaround in fortunes could occur before the next moon-landing, they owed that win to one of the greatest bowling feats in history. Yorkshire's left-arm spinner, Hedley Verity, had beguiled Australia's batsmen in the final Test of the 1932-33 series Down Under, and now, 18 months later on a rain-affected pitch, he snaffled 15 wickets in the match, including Don Bradman in both innings. It wasn't enough to win the series, but by the time he had died of his wounds as a prisoner of war in northern Italy in 1943, it had secured him immortality.

Frank Tyson, 1954-55
Never mess with a fast bowler. South Africa discovered that at The Oval in 1994 when Devon Malcolm was hit on the helmet and retaliated with 9 for 57. But the original "I wish I'd never done that ..." moment came 40 years earlier at Sydney, when Ray Lindwall bowled his series-altering bouncer to Frank Tyson. Knocked cold and carried from the field, Tyson was a man transformed when he returned to the fray, as he shortened his run and focused his menace. Four wickets in the first dig limited Australia's lead; six more in the second routed them for 184, as England drew level in stunning fashion. He followed up with nine in the next Test, including a career-best 7 for 27, before the Typhoon blew out as quickly as it had arrived.

Jim Laker, Old Trafford 1956
Two innings, two spells: 16.4-4-37-9 and 51.2-23-53-10. The figures say everything about the most remarkable bowling feat in cricket's history. Like Don Bradman's final Test average of 99.94, there is something fittingly tantalising about Jim Laker's 19-wicket haul at Old Trafford. One boundary and one wicket short of perfection respectively, and yet it is safe to suggest that their feats will never be surpassed. Remarkably, the second-innings effort was Laker's second maximum of the season against the Australians - he took 10 for 88 for Surrey during their tour match in May, again eclipsing his England team-mate, Tony Lock. How Lock finished with just the one wicket from his 69 overs is one of the wonders of the game.

Richie Benaud, Old Trafford 1961
Richie Benaud had been an unfulfilled bystander during Laker's great onslaught in '56, scrambling 18 runs and two wickets on his maiden appearance at Old Trafford. Five years later, and saddled with the captaincy to boot, he returned to Manchester with the most masterful performance of his career to steal a match that England scarcely believed they could lose. A first-innings lead of 177 had heightened England's cause for optimism, but when Davidson and McKenzie added 98 for Australia's last wicket, the stage was set for a legspin masterclass. Bowling round the wicket and attacking the rough, Benaud took 6 for 70 to secure a series-levelling 54-run win, and Australia went on to retain the Ashes.

Bob Massie, Lord's 1972
Australia's hegemony at Lord's was never better exemplified than in 1972, when Bob Massie, a 25-year-old debutant from Western Australia, swung his way to the astounding match figures of 16 for 137. All English eyes had been fixed on the ferocious Dennis Lillee, and well though he bowled for his four wickets in the match, it was Massie's sharp, late swing from around the wicket that did for England. No-one had a clue how to combat him, least of all in the second innings, when the Poms folded for a meek 116. It seemed a star had been born, but sadly Massie burnt out just as quickly - he mustered fewer wickets in his five subsequent Tests than he had managed in 60 glorious overs on debut, and within 18 months he had been released by Western Australia.

Jeff Thomson, Brisbane 1974-75
Wild, woolly, laid-back and lethal, Jeff Thomson was the hard-living, hard-drinking pace sensation who set the 1974-75 Ashes ablaze. Billed in hindsight as revenge for the 1932-33 Bodyline series, England were mugged in a succession of thrilling displays as Thomson and Dennis Lillee bounced Australia to a crushing 4-1 victory (the "1" came when both men were absent at the end of the series). First impressions live the longest though, and Thomson's 6 for 46 in the opening Test at Brisbane was a performance of savage genius. "I just shuffle up and go 'whang'," was how Thomson described his deadly slingy action that accounted for 33 wickets in the series - and a host of broken bones.

Bob Willis, Headingley 1981
Arguably the greatest Ashes Test of all time was completed by one of the greatest spells of fast bowling ever seen, as Bob Willis - seemingly in a trance - flapped down the hill from the Kirkstall Lane End to scatter the Australians for 111. A doubt before the game as his creaking knees gave the selectors cause to fear the worst, Willis banished all notions that his 60th Test would be his last with 8 for 43. By mid-afternoon on the fourth day, the opportunity for his onslaught had not even been created, as England trailed by 92 with just three second-innings wickets in hand. Ian Botham turned all that on its head to set a modest target of 130, but without Willis's inspired response, Botham's contribution might have been another Randall-esque footnote.

Shane Warne, Old Trafford 1993
In bowling terms, a magic spell tends to refer to a succession of impressive deliveries. In Shane Warne's case, it refers to the hex he cast over England's batsmen, following his epoch-making entry into Ashes cricket. One delivery was all it took to ensure an unbroken era of Australian dominance. A casual amble to the crease, a floaty, drifty ball on leg stump, and a savage twist as it bit the turf, spat across Mike Gatting's bows, and clipped the top of off stump. Gatting was stunned, the England team was transfixed, and the series was won and lost. Warne finished with eight for the match, but his impact could not be measured by wickets alone.

Glenn McGrath, Lord's 2005
By tea on the first day of the series, all the hype had been justified. After 16 years of thumping defeats, England had fronted up to Australia, drawn blood on their captain and rolled them over for 190 with a thrilling, full-on pace assault. The momentum of the series had temporarily been snatched from the world champions, who in turn, threw the ball to their own champion. Glenn McGrath had been Man of the Match in each of his previous two Tests at Lord's, but at the third time of asking, and at the age of 35, he produced his greatest performance of all. No bowler on earth could have used the Lord's slope to better effect, as he zipped his offcutters through a succession of bewildered defences. Five wickets for two runs in 31 balls, and the match had been snatched in the most perfunctory fashion.

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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