Winning Down Under: England's post-war Ashes series victories in Australia

England have only won five Ashes series in Australia since 1945 - and one since the 1980s

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook celebrate England's series win in 2010-11  •  PA Images/Getty

Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook celebrate England's series win in 2010-11  •  PA Images/Getty

England Ashes successes in Australia are rare events - only five times have they won down under since the 2nd World War - and for that reason they tend to be memorable, as well as career-defining moments for the players involved. Here, we look back at those triumphant tours and how they played out.
Perhaps England's greatest overseas performance this century, their first victory in Australia for a generation was meticulously planned and clinically executed. A 3-1 scoreline was emphatic in its own right, but three innings victories for Andrew Strauss' tourists hinted at the gulf between the sides - which in turn sparked a soul-searching review of Australian cricket.
The series began with a draw in Brisbane, where England's second-innings 517 for 1 simultaneously snuffed out Australia's hopes and sent a warning shot across the bows. Alastair Cook's 235 not out at the Gabba set the wheels grinding into motion for a record haul of 766 runs across the series (bettered only by Wally Hammond for England); he scored another hundred in Adelaide, alongside Kevin Pietersen's double, and although Australia hit back to level the series in Perth, England just got stronger.
Steven Finn, at the time the leading wicket-taker on either side, was left out at the MCG as England strove for greater control with the ball - the result was Australia being bowled out for 98, before Jonathan Trott's 168 piled on the pain. Cook, Ian Bell and Matt Prior all scored hundreds in Sydney, where James Anderson claimed another seven wickets to take his series tally to 24, and England celebrated by doing the "sprinkler" on the SCG outfield.
By contrast to the smooth efficiency of 2010-11, this was a victory for the old school, as Mike Gatting's not-so-likely lags defied the "can't bat, can't bowl, can't field" jibes of the press to secure the urn with a Test to spare. The second half of the 1980s was almost unremittingly grim for England. Following from victory in the 1985 Ashes, they had lost eight and drawn three of their next 11 Tests - after the 1986-87 tour, their record extended to one win in 24. But in between was the beer-soaked oasis of Beefy and co. bilking the Aussies on their own patch.
Things did not begin auspiciously, as England lost their opening tour match to Queensland and needed rain to save them against Western Australia. But they made a solid start to the Tests after being inserted in Brisbane, before Ian Botham produced some of the old magic with a rambunctious 138 from 174 balls, setting things up for a seven-wicket win. Chris Broad's series caught light with 162 at the WACA - the first of three consecutive tons - and although the second and third Tests were drawn, Botham and Gladstone Small shared ten first-innings wickets at the MCG to help put England 2-0 up.
The 5-1 hiding handed out at the end of the 1970s was England's biggest margin of victory in an Ashes series - home or away - but came against an Australia hit by mass defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. With the likes of Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee unavailable, the home side were a motley crew led by Graham Yallop, who was elevated to the captaincy with just eight Tests to his name.
England, under Mike Brearley, had a settled side, featuring a number of greats - in particular, the swashbuckling young duo of David Gower and Botham stood out. Gower was the leading run-scorer on either side, and the only man to average above 40, with bowlers to the fore from the moment Australia were reduced to 26 for 6 on the first morning in Brisbane.
They threatened a fightback from 2-0 down, winning in Melbourne and taking a 142-run lead in Sydney before Derek Randall's 150 turned the game around. Botham, Bob Willis and Geoff Miller all took more than 20 wickets, while Mike Hendrick claimed 19 at 15.73. Brearley, according to Australia's Rodney Hogg, had "a degree in people"; he also had a vastly superior side.
Unfancied England had not held the Ashes since being roundly thrashed on the 1958-59 tour, but the appointment of cussed Yorkshireman Ray Illingworth as captain helped galvanise a tightly knit team (with the exception of Colin Cowdrey, who was overlooked for the leadership role and averaged 20.50). Illingworth was 38 at the time, but possessed the perfect temperament for taking on Australia in their own backyard, impervious to the barbs that regularly come the way of an England captain down under.
In Sussex fast bowler John Snow, "Illy" had the perfect battering ram to lead his assault - Snow took 31 wickets at 22.83, and was ably supported by Bob Willis, Peter Lever and Ken Shuttleworth, with Derek Underwood and Illingworth's offspin providing relief while keeping the clamps on. At the top of the order, Geoff Boycott, John Edrich and Brian Luckhurst laid ironclad foundations - Boycott averaged 93.85, Edrich 72.00, Luckhurst 56.87 - as England were only dismissed once for under 300 during six completed Tests, and Australia suffered the only shutout in their history during a home Ashes. England secured both of their victories in Sydney, with the series alive until the final Test; the abandonment of the third Test, led to the first one-day international being played at the MCG instead.
Len Hutton's triumphant tourists were grateful for the intervention of a typhoon - Frank "Typhoon" Tyson, that is. Considered the fastest bowler in the world, Tyson had only been capped once before joining his team-mates departing on a steamer from Tilbury docks. He returned underwhelming figures of 1 for 160 in England's innings defeat in Brisbane (Hutton having done a Nasser Hussain at the toss and inserted Australia only for them to amass 601 for 8 declared) but found his spark operating off a shortened run-up to help level the series at the SCG.
Tyson had already taken four in the first innings when he was hospitalised by a Ray Lindwall bouncer while batting; he came back and claimed six more for a ten-wicket haul, then went one better in Melbourne, blowing Australia away in the second innings with 7 for 27. England won again in Adelaide to seal a come-from-behind defence of the urn, and Tyson ended the series with a haul of 28 wickets at 20.82. Hutton, on his final tour before retirement, averaged just 24.44 but Peter May and the 21-year-old Cowdrey, making his debut, showed their qualities with the bat, while Tyson found solid support from the likes of Brian Statham, Bob Appleyard and Johnny Wardle.

Plus one from way back…

The mother and father of all Ashes flare-ups. England's 4-1 success is less well-remembered than the tactic that brought them victory under the no-holds-barred captaincy of Douglas Jardine. "Bodyline" (or fast leg-theory) was conceived as a method of keeping Don Bradman quiet, but nearly caused a diplomatic incident - when it was dramatised for Australian TV 50 years later, the tagline for the series was: "The day England declared war on Australia." Jardine's deployment of Nottinghamshire fast man Harold Larwood as the spearhead of a plan to bowl short and into the bodies of Australia's batters - not just limited to Bradman - was unarguably successful: Larwood took 33 wickets at 19.51, while the Don averaged a mere 56.57 with one hundred.
Australian sensibilities were offended, however, and the series threatened to boil over during the third Test, at Adelaide Oval. First, Bill Woodfull, Australia's captain, was hit on the chest by Larwood - Woodfull later said to Jardine: "There are two sides out there. One of them is trying to play cricket, the other is not" - before Bert Oldfield, the wicketkeeper, suffered a fractured skull after top-edging a hook on to his (un-helmeted) head. There were dissenters in the England camp - notably Gubby Allen and the Nawab of Pataudi - but MCC backed Jardine in the face of local outrage (though not long after amended the Laws to neutralise bodyline bowling; Larwood never played for England again).

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick