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December 29 down the years

The rarest of rare feats

An Ashes victory like no other

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The England team broke out into the season's most popular dance move - the
The England team broke out into the season's most popular dance move - the "Sprinkler" © Getty Images

England retained the Ashes in Australia. Since it had last happened 24 years ago it might have been a bit hard to comprehend at the time. After being walloped in Perth, England bounced back magnificently in Melbourne, bowling Australia out for 98 in the first innings (Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett took four each). Then they piled on 513 - Jonathan Trott was unbeaten on 168 - and dismissed Australia to win with a day to spare. The innings-and-157-run margin was one of the heaviest inflicted on Australia.

After defeats in the first two Tests against England, Australia gave a first Test cap to Allan Robert Border - and never regretted it. He made a second-innings duck in Melbourne, but Australia, shorn of their Packer players, won the match, their only success in a difficult series. If Border's early Tests as captain were tough, so was he: he eventually made them into a force, laying the foundations for the successes of Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. He also set Test records for most runs, catches and appearances. His run of 153 consecutive Tests looks way beyond anyone else for the foreseeable future.

If it's an India win, VVS Laxman must have had something to do with it. After losing by an innings in Centurion, India levelled the series in Durban, mostly owing to a fighting 96 from him. Dale Steyn took six in India's first-innings 205 but Zaheer Khan, returning from injury, and Harbhajan Singh gave their side a 74-run advantage going into the second. When Harbhajan got Dale Steyn to edge one behind and Dhoni missed it, Rahul Dravid took his 200th catch in Tests. A collapse looked imminent when India ended day two on 92 for 4. But Laxman added 48 with MS Dhoni and another 70 with Zaheer to set South Africa a target of 303. Sreesanth and Zaheer took three each to wrap up the match with a day to spare.

Australia's maligned captain in that 1978-79 series, Graham Yallop, did better today, making his highest Test score, a formidable 268 against Pakistan in Melbourne. His 203-run stand with Kim Hughes set up Australia's 555 - in response to Pakistan's 470 - and gave Australia a chance to push for a win. But half-centuries from Imran Khan and Zaheer Abbas steered Pakistan to a draw.

Birth of one of the few offspinners to make it go both ways. By the end of 2002, Saqlain Mushtaq had taken over 200 wickets in both Tests and ODIs for Pakistan, two one-day hat-tricks against Zimbabwe (one in the 1999 World Cup), and helped Surrey to win the County Championship in 1999 and 2000. Saqlain often did end-over duties with aplomb for Pakistan, and still maintained an ODI bowling average of 21.78, a figure unmatched by the likes of Murali, Warne and Kumble. However, his appearances for his country became sporadic since those early-2000s highs, and his last international match was in April 2004.

An Australian cult figure was born. David Boon's Test runs and hundreds speak for themselves. Among many highlights were his roles in four Ashes series wins, particularly the 1989 triumph and his honour in hitting the series-winning runs; his flawless unbeaten 184 in the Bicentenary Test of 1988; and his Man-of-the-Match-winning effort in the 1987 World Cup final. More importantly, he broke Rod Marsh's record by downing 53 cans of lager on the flight to England in 1989. Allegedly.

In Melbourne, Australia grabbed a speedy 2-0 lead in the series as Shane Warne took the first hat-trick in an Ashes Test since 1903-04. He took six wickets in the first innings to give Australia a 67-run lead. England were set 388 to level the series, and at 91 for 6 they were nowhere in picture when Warne came up to speed up the proceedings - Phil DeFreitas, Darren Gough and Devon Malcolm were his victims. Craig McDermott dismissed Phil Tufnell to end England's innings at 92 - which was their fifth-lowest total at the MCG.

In the final of the Women's World Cup in Calcutta, tight bowling and a half-century by captain Belinda Clark helped Australia beat New Zealand by five wickets.

Against a West Indies pace attack of Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Winston Davis, Sunil Gavaskar scored an unbeaten 236 in Madras, which was rather surprisingly the highest Test score for India until VVS Laxman's 281 against Australia in Calcutta in 2000-01.

The Test debut of another Australian legend, a contemporary of Border's - though not an occasion he would want to remember. When he took 0 for 110 against Pakistan in Melbourne, no one (apparently not even the man himself) knew that Jeff Thomson was carrying a broken toe. He wasn't picked again until an unsuspecting England arrived two years later, when his partnership with Dennis Lillee became the stuff of batsmen's nightmares. Max Walker, who made his debut in the same Pakistan match, gave them wholehearted support.

One of India's best wicketkeepers was born. Sometimes bald, often smiling, Syed Kirmani had a subtle touch with the gloves: 38 of his 198 Test dismissals were stumpings. Good enough with the bat to score Test centuries against Australia and England, he was also the first keeper to make five dismissals in a World Cup match, against Zimbabwe in Leicester in 1983, before helping India to their surprise win over West Indies in the final.

In contrast with AB and Thommo above, Rodney Redmond, who was born today, had a distinctly memorable first Test. Unfortunately it was also his last. After making 107 and 56 for New Zealand against Pakistan in Auckland in 1972-73, he couldn't get on with new contact lenses in England the following summer and faded out of contention.

One of Australia unluckiest batsmen is born. Brad Hodge made 409 runs in five matches in his first summer as a Test cricketer, in 2005-06, but didn't make it into the squad for the tour of South Africa that followed. He made a place for himself in the one-day side, with two nineties, and scored a hundred against Netherlands in the World Cup, but didn't get a bat in the next three matches and sat out the final. He finished with six Tests and an average of nearly 56, but remained a prolific run-scorer in domestic cricket for a time.

Medium-pacer Bill Howell, born today, made a sensational appearance on his first tour to England in 1899, when in the third match he dismissed the whole Surrey XI, to finish with figures of 23.2-14-28-10. He took only eight wickets in the Tests but finished the season with 117 wickets at 20.35. Howell was deadly against batsmen unaware that his simple-looking delivery imparted unexpected life from the pitch. He was also a handy batsman, sometimes startling the bowlers and the crowd with tremendous hitting.

Other birthdays
1960 Dave Gilbert (Australia)
1964 Sally Moffat (Australia)
1965 Marguerite Burke (Ireland)
1974 Leon Romero (United States)
1974 Richard Johnson (England)

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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