October 25, 2001

Video Review: 'The Story of the Ashes'

Just in case you think modern commentators sound corny, consider this

Just in case you think modern commentators sound corny, consider this. The scene is Old Trafford in 1930, and two of Test cricket's greatest batsmen, Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe, are walking out to bat against Bill Woodfull's Australia. As they prepare for what was to be their final century partnership for England, the commentator reassures us that "Hobbs is by no means hobsolete yet." Told not to be facetious, he replies: "Same to you with Hobbs on." A Johnners role model perhaps?

This is just a nugget in an archive treasury drawn upon for the video "The Story of the Ashes" (running time two hours) available from CricInfo's online shop at £17.99. David Gower presents it in his inimitably relaxed style, and brings cricket's oldest and most-relished contest bang up to date. Gower is modest about his own contributions in the 1980s, merely confirming that he "got a few runs" when he led England to victory in 1985. Some of the 157 he made at The Oval in the final Test of that series can be relished again. As can Brian Johnston's prophetic suggestion to Richie Benaud, after the Australian captain revealed he was on his last tour: "You'll be available, maybe, for selection as a cricket commentator."

Inevitably the early Ashes encounters (featuring the likes of Grace and Spofforth) are dealt with only briefly, with limited material to draw upon. The first moving pictures show the 1905 Australians, defeated 2-0 by FS Jackson's England. John Arlott, holding the original urn at its home in the Lord's museum, explains the Ashes' 1882 origin, and there is a grim reminder of the loss of 80 England cricketers in the First World War.

The development of coverage in the years that followed is almost as fascinating as the play itself. We see the young Don Bradman on the 1930 tour after his 334 at Headingley, talking to an interviewer who helpfully holds some of The Don's gear while he enthuses about the tour and laments the poor summer weather. Rightly there is extensive coverage of the Bodyline series and development of leg theory in England. And there is due tribute to Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Stephen Waugh for their respective parts on making the Australian team the world-beating force that it is today.

Through the years the view of play becomes gradually less restricted, as it does of those golden Ashes moments. At Old Trafford, Laker in 1956, Botham in 1981 and Warne in 1993. At The Oval, Bradman in 1948, Underwood in 1968, the Chappell brothers in 1972 and the Waugh twins in 2001. At Sydney, Illingworth being chaired off by his team in 1971, and at Melbourne in 1977 the unforgettable Randall against the incomparable Lillee. Whether you were there or not, the memories are simply heart-warming.