This week's Cricinfo XI centres on those English and Australian cricketers who have saved their best performances for their country for the main event - the Ashes. This article was first published in the December 2006 issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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Rarely has a player without a Test cap played such a prominent role in such a famous victory as Durham batsman-cum-fielding specialist Pratt in 2005. The relative unknown swooped from point to run out Ricky Ponting at Trent Bridge in the second innings and Ponting's resulting tirade against England's tactic of using a specialist 12th man to replace resting bowlers is an enduring image from the series. Pratt, who was recently released by Durham aged only 24, even took part in the victory parade through London's streets - he was unlucky to miss out on the MBE frenzy in the euphoric aftermath.
Sixteen wickets on debut at Lord's would seem to herald a new star. But despite taking 8 for 84 and 8 for 53 to level the 1972 Ashes series at 1-1, Massie played only five more Tests, taking 15 wickets. Within 18 months, Western Australia had dropped him. Still, the sight of the mutton-chopped Massie darting late outswingers past startled England batsmen is part of Ashes lore. The bowler upstaged at the other end, Dennis Lillee, called Massie's debut "the best one-off performance" he'd seen.
When England arrived in Australia for the 1954-55 Ashes series all the talk was of young quick Frank Tyson. After his 1 for 160 in the first Test at Brisbane the Aussies thought the Typhoon chat was a load of hot air. Following captain Len Hutton's advice to shorten his run Tyson found the control to match his devastating pace by the second Test and set about destroying Australia. With 10 wickets in the match, and another nine in the next, he was vital in England retaining the Ashes. But slower English wickets negated his pace and he was never a regular match-winner for his country again.
"Peter Who?" screamed headlines when New South Wales offspinner Peter Taylor was chosen for the fifth Test of the 1986-87 series in Sydney. Many believed, not surprisingly considering Taylor was not in his state side, that a mistake had been made and the selectors had meant to include a youthful left-handed opening batsman called Mark Taylor. Unfazed, Peter Taylor took 6 for 78 and earn the man-of-the-match award. He never again achieved the same level of success in a short Test career but established himself as a regular member of Australia's one-day team.
"Find someone who can play Lillee and Thomson" - England's requirements in 1975 were quite simple. New captain Tony Greig and the selectors made an unlikely, but inspired, call-up. In Northants' David Steele they found an experienced county pro with an uncomplicated technique, a great deal of courage and a firstclass average of only 31. He made a fifty in his first Test innings and finished the series with 365 runs at 60. Despite a century against a fearsome West Indies pace attack (Roberts, Daniel, Holder) in 1976, Steele was dropped after eight Tests and never made another appearance.
Richard Ellison's first 10 Test wickets, against West Indies, Sri Lanka and India, cost him nearly 49 runs each, so being picked in the crucial fifth Test in 1985 caused little excitement. He took 10 wickets in the match, including 4 for 1 in 15 balls and helped England to an innings victory. In the next Test at The Oval he claimed seven more in another innings victory. His Test career faded afterwards due to injury and form (he played only four more times) but at least he had produced the match-winning performance worthy of a man once touted 'The Next Botham'.
A dream start in Tests failed to materialise into a great career for Greg Blewett. Picked for the Australian team on the basis of solid form for Australia A, Blewett carved two centuries in his first two Tests, both against England, at Adelaide and Perth. In another 44 Tests Blewett managed only two more hundreds, one in the 1997 Ashes at Edgbaston. When he was dropped, he averaged nearly 50 against England and under 40 against the rest.
South Australian tearaway Rodney Hogg provided the only bright light for an Australian team decimated by World Series Cricket and outclassed by England in 1978- 79, injecting venom into an attack missing Lillee and Thomson. Hogg insisted on bowling short spells - much to the frustration of his captain Graham Yallop - due to a problem with asthma. It did not make him any less effective: he took 41 wickets at 12.85. Hogg kept his place when Packer players returned but his impact declined. He finished his Test career with 123 wickets at 28.47 - including 56 at 17 against England.
One of the great tragedies of cricket history, Australian Archie Jackson's career was all too brief. A contemporary of Don Bradman, Jackson made his Test debut at the age of 19 in the 1928-29 series, hitting a remarkable 164. He toured England in 1930 but then his health deteriorated. Three years later he died from tuberculosis in a Brisbane hospital - on the day England regained the Ashes (following Bodyline). Wisden's obituary records: "He was hailed as a second Victor Trumper - a comparison made alike for his youthful success, elegant style and superb stroke play."
Another star of England's last victory on Australian soil, Jack Richards took the gloves in the first Test at Brisbane in place of the highly fancied Bruce French thanks to his more accomplished batting. After a duck on debut he hammered 133 in quick time in the second Test at Perth and held his place for the rest of the series. Declining form towards the end of the tour led to Richards' omission in favour of French the following summer. He made three more Test appearances and 21 more runs.
Peter Such's Test career was like England's during the 1990s - sporadic, disappointing and, on occasion, a surprising success. Where it differed was against Australia. With 27 of his 37 Test wickets against the old enemy, including hauls of 6 for 67 on debut in 1993 and 5 for 81 in Sydney in 1998-99, he had a real impact on the Ashes. Outside matches against the Aussies his most notable achievement was scoring the second-longest Test duck (72 minutes) in his last Test against New Zealand in 1999.
This article was first published in the December 2006 issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
Click here for further details.