A brief history of the Ashes Part Four

England v Australia 1946 - 1970

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Hindsight is wonderful. England toured in 1946 but were not really ready to resume battle against a strong Australia side. Attention centred on the captains. For Wally Hammond it was a tour too far and he was a shadow of his former self and by the end he was a broken man. Don Bradman started with serious doubts over his future, but by the end of the series was re-established as the world's No.1. The series started in controversy when England believed they had an out-of-sorts Bradman caught early on - he was reprieved, went on to make a big hundred, and England were routed on a rain-affected pitch. The second Test was another resounding win for Australia, and although England salvaged a draw in the third Test (the first in Australia since 1881-82 as matches were limited to six days) and the fourth, but the fifth was another convincing win for Australia even though England led after the first innings. By then, Hammond was finished and Norman Yardley was in charge. So many ifs, but had Bradman been given out at Brisbane then the pressure was such that it is quite possible he would have retired. As it was, he made 680 runs at 97.14.
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Don Bradman led the invincibles to a 4-0 victory in 1948 © Wisden Cricket Monthly

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The Invincibles. The nickname for this Australian side was justified, and they crushed all opposition as Bradman led a side on what was also a grand farewell tour for him. They showed their might by racking up 721 for 9 in a day against Essex, and never looked back. Their fast-bowling attack of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Johnston was awesome, and an experimental rule allowing a new ball every 55 overs played into their hands. Only a draw at Old Trafford, where rain played a part, spared England from a whitewash, but Australia romped to resounding wins in the other four games. The match of the summer was at Headingley where Australia scored a record 404 for 3 on the final day to win, Bradman (173) and Arthur Morris (182) adding 301 in 217 minutes. The first day of the final Test saw England routed for 52 and Bradman make a duck in his final innings to finish with an average of 99.94. Denis Compton kept England 's flag flying with 562 runs at 62.44 while Australia's three pacemen shared 67 wickets.
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England were led by Freddie Brown - a third-choice captain, and a young and inexperienced side was well beaten. The Brisbane Test was remarkable as on a rain-hit pitch, England declared on 68 for 7 and then Australia on 32 for 7 as 20 wickets fell in a day. Len Hutton made 62 in what is regarded as one of the great innings in Ashes history. Australia went on to win, and did the same in the next three Tests with Jack Iverson, a mystery spinner, proving all but unplayable. Consolation of sorts came in the final Test when Alec Bedser took 10 for 105, taking his series aggregate to 30 wickets, as England won their first Test against Australia for twelve-and-a-half years. The leading batsman and bowler were Hutton and Bedser, highlighting how poor the rest of the side, including Compton who had a wretched time, were.
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Denis Compton and Bill Edrich leave the middle after helping England win the Ashes for the first time in 19 years at The Oval in 1953 © Cricinfo

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Finally, England had something to celebrate as Coronation Year was capped by them regaining the Ashes after 19 years. It was a miserable summer, with rain and cold dogging the entire tour and consigning Old Trafford and Trent Bridge to draws. Australia would have taken a lead at Lord's were it not for a resolute rearguard from Trevor Bailey and Willie Watson on the last day, and Bailey again rescued England at Headingley, but only by bowling down the leg side off a long run as Australia chased 177 in 115 minutes. The Oval Test was extended to six days with the Ashes and the series up for grabs, England won by eight wickets after a see-saw battle. Bedser, England 's standard bearer in post-war cricket, took 39 wickets in the series at 17.48 (Lindwall was not far being with 26 at 18.84) while Hutton, England 's first professional captain, led from the front with 443 runs at 55.37.
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England arrived on the back of a series defeat by Pakistan and with a policy of all-out pace attack, even though the young Fred Trueman was left at home and Bedser was soon laid low by illness. Even though he recovered, he was not picked and his Test career was over. Nothing went right at Brisbane as Australia made 601 for 8 and won by an innings, and Compton fractured his hand on the boundary fence. That pattern continued at Sydney where England were skittled for 154, but during their second innings Frank Tyson, a young fast bowler from Northants, was knocked unconscious by Lindwall. Fired up, he and Brian Statham blasted England to a 38-run win to level the series. Another close game was decided by Tyson (7 for 27) and Statham at the MCG, and England regained the Ashes with victory at Adelaide. The last Test was ruined by Sydney's heaviest storms in half a century, although England were again closing on an innings victory by the end.
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Jim Laker walks off after taking 19 wickets in the match at Old Trafford as England retained the Ashes © Getty Images

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Jim Laker's summer. He took all ten in an innings for Surrey in the tour match against the Australians in May, grabbed a remarkable 19 for 90 in the fourth Test at Old Trafford and finished the series with 46 wickets at 9.60. If that was amazing, so were the selectors who could do no wrong, recalling the veteran Cyril Washbrook at Leeds (he made a hundred) and the one-legged Compton at The Oval (he made 94), and also summoned David Shepherd even though he had given up full-time cricket. The summer was another wet one and Nottingham was a washout, but Australia kept their awesome Lord's record intact with a 185-run victory, Miller taking 10 for 152. England levelled at Headingley where Laker and Tony Lock shared 18 wickets, and at Manchester Laker was unplayable on a wicket so dry it could have been tailor-made for him - many Australians suspected it was. Compton rescued England at The Oval and then Laker struck again as Australia finished on 27 for 5.
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Rarely has an England side set off for Australia so confident of victory, but they returned not so much beaten as thrashed. The series was marred by persistent complaints about the actions of several Australian bowlers who the English maintained threw, and some dreadful over- and run-rates drove spectators to tears. It was hardly a great advertisement for a game which was being broadcast on national TV for the first time. Brisbane set the tone, and even though Australia won, it was unedifying stuff, with Bailey hitting the low by taking seven-and-a-half hours to make 68. Australia went two up at the MCG with the controversial Ian Meckiff taking 6 for 38 as England were bowled out for 87, and England only saved the third Test thanks to a third-wicket stand of 182 between Colin Cowdrey (100*) and Peter May (82). May inserted Australia at Adelaide, to general surprise, and ended up losing by ten wickets after being forced to follow on. England's batsmen again capitulated in the final Test to complete a wretched tour.
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Richie Benaud, the Australian captain, played a crucial role as Autralia regianed the Ashes in 1961 © Getty Images

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The issue of chuckers which dominated the previous series disappeared when Australia 's selectors left them all at home, and under Richie Benaud Australia aimed to play brighter cricket. They did, and in doing so retained the Ashes. Australia went one up at Lord's (where else) in a low-scoring game, but England fought back at Headingley where Trueman took 11 for 88 and made useful runs as well. Old Trafford provided the game of the summer as England seemed set to win when Australia slid to 334 for 9, 162 ahead, on the last morning. Alan Davison and Graham McKenzie added 98 for the last wicket, but Ted Dexter made a brilliant 76 to guide England to 150 for 2 when Benaud struck, taking 5 for 12 in 25 balls as Australia snatched a 54-run victory. Rain and a peerless 181 from Peter Burge ensured The Oval was a draw.
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England paid dearly for missed catches and their batsmen never came to terms with Davidson who took 24 wickets at 20.00 in his final series or bettered Bobby Simpson (401 runs at 44.55) or Brian Booth (404 at 50.50). The first Test swung both ways but it was England who finished holding out for a draw, and they went one up at Sydney thanks to Trueman (5 for 62) and a second-innings hundred from Shepherd,which made up for his dropped catches and a first-inings duck. Davidson (9 for 81) was the difference as Australia leveled the series with an eight-wicket win at the SCG, and Adelaide was an anticlimax as both sides were overcautious and Davidson broke down with a hamstring tear in his fourth over. The decider at the SCG was a disappointment, England crawling to 195 for 5 by the end of the first day. Australia were set a gettable 241 in four hours, but Bill Lawry dawdled his way to 45 not out to the backdrop of barracking from the Hill.
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This was another Ashes series spoilt by poor weather - almost half the Nottingham Test was lost, the first two days at Lord's were washed out, and, fittingly, the last day of the summer was also abandoned. The one result came at Headingley where Peter Burge rescued Australia from 187 for 7 with 160 to set them on the way to a seven-wicket victory. Old Trafford, the perennial wet-weather victim, was dry, but many wished it had lived up to its reputation as it took almost all five days to get through the two first innings. Simpson made a 311 in 762 minutes (his maiden Test hundred) and England replied with centuries from Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter. Neil Hawke (6 for 47) bowled Australia to a first-innings lead of 197 at The Oval but England recovered to earn a draw. The match was best remembered for Trueman taking his 300th Test wicket, the first man to the milestone.
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Once again, England took the lead and once again Australia hit straight back to draw the series and so retain the Ashes. Rain blighted the first Test and big scores dominated at Melbourne, but England roared to an innings win at the SCG where Australia were forced to follow on and had no answer to spinners on a turning pitch. Australia reversed the result at Adelaide where Simpson (225) and Lawry (119) put on 244 for the first wicket. Once again, the decider at the MCG was a disappointing stalemate but not before the usually turgid Barrington had slammed a hundred off 122 balls. Bob Cowper then ground his way to 307 in 727 minutes - the longest first-class innings in Australia . It summed up a series in which England did not possess the firepower to bowl the hosts out.
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Derek Underwood traps John Inverarity lbw to claim his seventh wicket and secure a dramatic victory for England at The Oval in 1968 © Getty Images

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With the exception of Lord's, England's fielding in the series was dire and they failed to recover from a poor start which saw them beaten by 159 runs at Old Trafford. Lord's was again blighted by rain and bad light, and England surprisingly left out Basil D'Oliveira, their top scorer at Manchester, but there was time for Australia to be bowled out for 78. Edgbaston was also spoilt by the weather with the first and last day all but washed out. Two substitute captains - Keith Fletcher and John Inverarity - stood in for Cowdrey and Lawry at Leeds but England, needing to win, dropped catches and more rain meant another draw. Although the Ashes were heading back to Australia, the series could still be drawn and the final day of the Oval Test produced some of the most remarkable scenes. Set 352, Australia were 85 for 5 when a freak storm left the ground underwater. But the sun came out, dozens of spectators armed with blankets and brushes, mopped up and play somehow resumed with 75 minutes remaining. With Derek Underwood in ideal conditions, it went down to the wire but he took the seventh wicket with five minutes remaining to give England an amazing win. Earlier, the recalled D'Oliveira made 158, an innings that was to have massive ramifications when he was left out of the squad for that winter's tour of South Africa. Although he was subsequently included, that move led to the trip being cancelled and the start of South Africa 's international sporting isolation.
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Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo