by Rex Clementine

West Indies domination of cricket was nearing to an end towards the late 1980s and a new force in world cricket had emerged. Allan Border had built his Australian side in his own image; tough, uncompromising, and brutal. Border’s success wasn’t unprecedented, but his successors Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh were untouched. England never came close to beating the Aussies in the Ashes in that era. It finally ended in 2005, when Ricky Ponting, having won a World Record 21 consecutive ODIs surrendered the Ashes. But how did England do it?

If West Indies domination of world cricket was owing to pure talent and the sharp cricketing brain of Clive Lloyd, Australia’s success that started in 1980s was due to science. Australian sports were going through significant change adding science to sporting excellence. Every sport had a center for excellence and cricket was no exception. Not just video analysis and coaches being fed umpteen details about oppositions batsmen and bowlers but even other key areas like physiotherapy had gone through significant change. The result was Australian dominance of the sport.

When Lord Ian MacLaurin, the Chairman of Tesco and Vodafone, became the Chairman of England and Wales Cricket Board in 1997, he was looking at means to make English cricket strong and vibrant again.

While there were many leading figures that were recruited to look at the marketing side of English cricket, former Zimbabwe captain Duncan Fletcher was put in charge of running the cricket team. There were suggestions like making county cricket a two-tier competition and making players centrally contracted to ECB. That meant that the governors of the sport could prevent players from being excessively exposed to county cricket. As a result, they were fresh for Test cricket.

So, in that 2005 campaign where England regained the Ashes, they had Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff all fresh and the rest is history.

Masterstrokes by individuals has helped win the Ashes. Take the case of Sir Pelham Warner for example. Those of you who have been to Lord’s will remember the Warner Stand. He is a legend of the game. He changed the course of the Ashes not due to his ability to pile up double hundreds or match bag of ten wickets, but due to his diligent work as an administrator.

England had lost the Ashes in 1930 as a certain Don Bradman had smashed a world record even to date 974 runs in five Tests. For the return series in Australia, England had to get their act together.

Warner was England’s Chairman of Selectors and Manager on tour. He chose a combative Douglas Jardine to captain the side and armed him with two Nottinghamshire bowlers – Harrold Larwood and Bill Voce, the Ashes was regained. Jardine ordered the bodyline theory, or the leg theory and Bradman was made to look a pale shadow of his former self. Bradman’s had been made to look a mere mortal.

At times, The Ashes has been a bit of a family affair. Ever heard of Vic Richardson? He was the grandfather of two of leading Australian cricketers – Ian and Greg Chappell. Richardson, an opening batsman went onto captain Bradman. Chatting cricket at home with his prodigiously talented grandson Ian Chappell, Richardson once said, ‘If you ever get the chance to captain Australia, don’t do it like a Victorian.’

What Richardson meant was that those players from the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital tend to lead sides rather defensively. Ironically, Ian Chappell succeeded Bill Lawry as Australia’s captain. Lawry of course is a famous son of the state of Victoria.

Lawry in fact had been sacked as captain and got to know about it from the radio. Chappell ensured that he didn’t suffer a similar fate and took on the establishment on numerous occasions. On the field, he was an aggressive captain and was extremely successful. Bradman’s Test aggregate of 6996 runs remained an Australian record for over 30 years before Richardson’s other grandson Greg broke it. He was the first Australian to get to 7000 Test runs an arguably one of the finest batters of our generation. There was a third grandson of Richardson, who played The Ashes. Trevor Chappell is unfortunately known for the wrong reasons – bowling the underarm that earned the condemnation of world cricket.

There are other cricketing families involved in the Ashes. Obviously, the Waugh twins piled up runs and were a thorn in the English flesh and they had 16 Ashes hundreds between them. Steve Waugh was part of an Australia side that lost the Ashes only once while Mark never lost the Ashes. Quite remarkable indeed.

Stuart Broad is making a name for himself having made the dangerous David Warner his bunny. He has now dismissed the left-hander 17 times in Test match cricket.

Broad, the veteran of 165 Test matches, has taken 11 wickets in the first two Ashes Tests in this series and could end up as the leading wicket taker this summer. While his cricketing excellence is appreciated by peers and opponents, he may not have many friends in the Australian dressing room having refused to walk after edging to first slip on a previous Ashes series.

Stuart’s father Chris was an accomplished batsman and was Player of the Series in 1986-87 as England won the Ashes in Australia. The senior Broad equaled the record of Jack Hobbs and Walter Hammond scoring three consecutive hundreds in Ashes Tests. Like son, he’s known for his on-field antics as he smashed the stumps in the Sydney Test after being bowled.

Broad is now an ICC Match Referee and some call him a poacher turned gamekeeper. Chris doesn’t spare his son as in 2020 he fined Stuart 15% of his match fee for using offensive language after dismissing Yasir Shah. After the fine, Stuart tweeted, ‘dad’s off the Christmas card & present list.’

Geoff Marsh is a unique figure in cricket. Why? Well, he has won both The Ashes and World Cup for Australia as a player and coach. That kind of achievement will be unmatched. But he is also the proud father of two sons who have played The Ashes – Shaun and Mitchell Marsh.

Shaun has two Ashes hundreds while Mitchell, eight years his junior has four Ashes hundreds. It is England who were said to be playing Bazball but in Headingley Mitchell threw caution to wind smashing a run a ball 118.

A late injury replacement for Cameroon Green, he walked into bat with Australia on the mat at 85 for four and may have sealed the fate of the Ashes with his audacious stroke play. Oh, by the way, he also dismissed England opener Zak Crawley when he nicked one to first slip.

The Marsh family put together own eight Ashes hundreds and it may keep growing. Father Geoff’s had added 329 runs with fellow opener Mark Taylor at Trent Bridge in 1989 and it is an Ashes record for the first wicket.

Surrey legend Mickey Stewart, although he played Test cricket for England, never was part of an Ashes contest. Son Alec Stewart went a few steps further. Not only did he play in the Ashes series but captained them as well. He ended up as England’s leading Test scorer with 8463 runs with almost 2000 of those runs coming in Ashes games.

The Ashes is fiercely contested. There are no quarters given or asked for. But love is blind. Darren Lehman represented Australia and Craig White England. They are brothers-in-law.

The Ashes has also seen some of the sharpest sledges in the game. Here we look at a few printable ones.

Australian captain Steve Waugh welcomed his opposite number Nasser Hussain to the crease by ordering Ricky Ponting to field at silly point. ‘I want you right under his nose,’ demanded Waugh.

Wicketkeeper Ian Healy chipped in, ‘That could be anywhere inside a three-mile radius.’

With the Ashes lost in 2001, England handed out Test caps to James Ormond and Peter Willey at The Oval. Local boy Ormond came out to bat and Mark Waugh from the slip cordon commented. ‘Look who is here. Mate, there’s no way you are good enough to play for England.’

Ormond hit back, ‘That maybe. But at least, I am the best player in my family.’

Here’s a look at some of the characters of The Ashes. Much of modern-day sledging is attributed to Ian Chappell as one of its earliest practitioners. But much before Chappell, Warwick Armstrong, who featured in 42 Ashes Tests from 1902 1921 was known as a tough man.

Jack Hobbs described him as ‘nasty and unsportsmanlike’. He was six foot and three inches tall and weighed 140 kilos.

His antics had more to do with infuriating opposition with his actions than verbals. At times he would keep the new batsman wait with prolonged time-wasting tactics and he didn’t win many admirers in England.

There’s hard to match a batsman as elegant as David Gower. Easy on the eye and blessed with sound technique, the left-hander made batting look easy. He scored eight Ashes hundreds, including a career best 216.  At a time when English cricket was regimental with the likes of Mickey Stewart and Graham Gooch at the helm, Gower was perhaps too easy going.

During the 1990 tour of Australia, in middle of the Brisbane Test there were few murmurs as the golden boy of English cricket was seen alongside Kerry Packer and Tony Greig at a casino well past mid-night. But it was his daring flight during a warm-up game in Queensland that raised many eyebrows.

Gower was born on April Fool’s Day. Having notched up two hundred in three Tests, he felt that his contributions couldn’t be questioned and suggested to some of his team mates to go to the nearby airfield and have a ride in a small aircraft. Allan Lamb and Robin Smith turned down the offer. But John Morris, an elegant batsman from Derbyshire, who was on his first tour, agreed to accompany the former captain. There was something similar between the two. Ironically, like Gower, Morris also had been born on April Fool’s Day.

They told the pilot to fly the aircraft so low so that the England batsman out in the middle could see the passengers. The England management weren’t so happy. They fined both players 1000 GBP each. Gower was fine, but for poor Morris, who was on a contract of 15,000 GBP for a tour of four months, it was a fortune.

Sadly, Gower played just four Tests after that and was dropped. There was little sympathy for Morris either.

When we talk of England captains, they come in all forms and characters. Sir Alastair Cook was the complete contrast of David Gower. In the 2010 Ashes series in Australia, Cook amassed a grand total of 766 runs and England went onto regain the Ashes.

On his return home, Cook was honoured with Freedom of City of London. Although he was born in Gloucester and played for Essex, Cook was a  boarder at St Paul's Cathedral Choir School. London was quick to acknowledge him as his own.

Players alone don’t make The Ashes colourful. There are also others; umpires for example. When you talk about umpires who better than Dickie Bird. The former Yorkshire and Leicestershire cricketer had modest success as a batsman but as an umpire he was infallible. He earned the utmost respect of players and most participants of the Ashes would pick him as the greatest umpire ever.

Richie Benaud was an efficient leg-spinner and a shrewd captain. As a journalist for decades, he commuted between England and Australia covering cricket in the summers of both countries and was the face of Channel Nine in Australia. Wit was Benaud’s best weapon. Mark Bucher during his career best 173 at Headingley got hit by Brett Lee in his private part. Benaud summed up the mood when he said, ‘That’s the kind of injury where you expect the pain to go off, but the swelling to remain.’