All to play for at Kennington
Of late, the final Ashes Test of the summer has held little relevance other than to provide England with their customary end-of series consolation win. But this year it's all different, and it's Australia who are playing catch-up. We highlight ten other occasions when the series has been up for grabs going to Kennington.
England came to the third Test at The Oval with the series tied at 1-1. But with Tests in England only lasting three days, Australia had little difficulty in playing for a draw, taking almost 10 hours to score 551. All the England team bowled - the Hon. Alfred Lyttleton, the wicketkeeper, taking 4 for 19 with his underarm lobs. England's innings was equally bizarre. Alfred Scotton took almost five hours to make 90, while Walter Read, seething at being made to bat at No. 10, hammered 117 in under half that time. Although England followed on, they easily held secured the draw, but Australia retained the Ashes.
One of the most forgettable Ashes series in the wettest summer of the century was part of the ill-fated Triangular Series, and as the first two Tests were washed out, both sides agreed to a timeless encounter at The Oval. Inevitably, the match was blighted by the weather, and Australia's first innings was undermined when Frank Woolley and Sidney Barnes exploited a drying wicket to take their last eight wickets for 21. Set 310 to win, Australia were bowled out for 65, Woolley again doing the damage.
England went into this series with one win from 15 matches against Australia (and only two draws) since the war. Four three-day draws meant that again the final Test was designated as timeless, and England made four changes, recalling the 46-year-old Wilfred Rhodes and bringing in the 21-year-old Harold Larwood. England were bowled out for 280 inside a day ("reckless" according to Wisden) conceding a 22-run lead, but 44-year-old Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe played brilliantly on a rain-affected pitch, both reaching hundreds in an opening stand of 172. Australia were set 415 but Larwood removed Bill Woodfull for 0 - all of his six wickets were top-order batsmen - and Rhodes proved his worth with four scalps as England romped to a 289-run win.
Although the matches had been extended to four days, England had rain in the third and fourth Tests to thank for them reaching The Oval at 1-1 and still in with a chance of retaining the Ashes won in 1928-29. But with no time limit, Don Bradman (232) took his series aggregate to 974 runs at 139.14 as Australia amassed 695 in response to England's 405. His stand with Archie Jackson, made on a spitefully damp pitch, turned the game and, some claim, sowed the seeds of Bodyline as Bradman winced when struck on the body. The fifth day was washed out, but on the sixth Percy Hornibrook took 7 for 92 as Woodfull regained the Ashes on his 33rd birthday. Many thought than another 46-year-old - the supremely talented but unpredictable Charlie Parker - who had been drafted into the England side but left on the sidelines - could have made a marked difference.
Four years on and Woodfull again regained the Ashes on his birthday, and again Bradman (244) played an instrumental part, putting on 451 for the second wicket with the obdurate Bill Ponsford, who was dropped six times on his way to 266 in his last Test. Australia made 701 by five o'clock on the second day, and although England were bowled out for 321, Woodfull did not enforce the follow-on, extending the lead to 707. Faced with such an impossible ask, England were dismissed for 145, losing by a record 569 runs. They were not to regain the Ashes for another 19 years.
A wretched summer as far as the weather was concerned, but in Coronation Year there was a certain inevitability that England should regain the Ashes, even though Len Hutton lost all five tosses. The first innings was even, only a last-wicket stand between Trevor Bailey and Alec Bedser giving England a slender lead. But Jim Laker and Tony Lock, who were to mesmerise the Australians three years later, shared nine wickets as Australia were bowled out for 162. Set 132 to win, a massive crowd poured over the pitch when, at 2.53pm, Denis Compton swept the winning runs to give England a 1-0 series win. As had been the case in 1926, newspaper predictions of massive crowds limited the first-day attendance.
A remarkable finish enabled England to level the series 1-1 in a Test with far-reaching consequences. England recalled Basil D'Oliveira who responded with a magnificent 158, an innings that was indirectly to lead to South Africa being kicked out of international cricket after the authorities there objected to his inclusion in England's touring side. A massive storm on the last day seemed to have saved Australia who were 85 for 5, but the crowd, armed with blankets, helped in the mopping-up exercise, and play resumed at 4.45pm with 75 minutes remaining. With ten men camped round the bat, Barry Jarman and John Inverarity held firm for 40 minutes, but D'Oliveira removed Jarman and then Derek Underwood took the last four wickets in 27 balls with six minutes to spare.
A series in which fortunes ebbed and flowed ended all square when Australia levelled at 2-2 with a five -wicket win which helped to wipe out the feeling that they had been cheated in the previous Test at Headingley where the pitch conditions heavily favoured England's Derek Underwood. Hundreds by both Greg and Ian Chappell gave Australia a first-innings lead, and Dennis Lillee grabbed 10 for 181 to leave them with a target of 242. England were hampered by the loss through injury of Ray Illingworth, Basil D'Oliveira and John Snow, but the game was in the balance until Rod Marsh and Paul Sheanan added an unbeaten 71 on the sixth day. For the first time, Australia fielded an XI without a player from New South Wales.
Decimated by Australia the previous winter and routed in the first of the summer's four Tests, England were revived by the captaincy of Tony Greig and reached the six-day Oval Test only 0-1 down. Ian Chappell signed off as Australian captain with 192, Rick McCosker, deprived of a maiden hundred when the previous Test was abandoned because of vandalism, chipped in with 127, and Australia made 532 for 9. After two days of sunshine, England were bowled out in the gloom for 191 and few held out much hope as they followed on 341 in arrears. But England ground down the Australians, none more so than Bob Woolmer who made the slowest Ashes Test century (his hundred came in 396 minutes) in a total of 538 which guaranteed the draw. It was at the time the longest Test played in England.
The last time an Ashes series lasted the summer, but six Tests proved to be one too many for an Australian side weakened by defections to a rebel tour of South Africa. At a baking Oval, Graham Gooch (in his first summer back after a three-year ban for going on a rebel tour of his own) and David Gower filled their boots with big hundreds, reaching 376 for 3 at the close of the first day in an era where 300 in a day was considered a run orgy. England made 464, losing their last nine wickets for 93, but Australia showed little stomach for the battle and were bowled out for 241 and 129, losing the match by an innings and 94 runs and the series 3-1.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo