The Ashes series between England and Australia is always exciting, but which is the best series of all time? Here’s a compilation.
Edgbaston, The 2005 Ashes
Although opinions differ, many neutral cricket fans believe that the 2005 Ashes series was the best of all time. England eventually won 2-1, with two draws; however, each of those games could have gone either way.
Australia had not lost an Ashes series since 1987, when they arrived in the United Kingdom. The home team was up against it, and it appeared to be ‘business as usual’ when the Australians won at Lord’s. However, the English team was transformed from that point forward.
England responded in the second game, playing a new brand of positive cricket under skipper Michael Vaughan and scoring heavily on the first day to set up one of the tightest finishes in history. This was the game in which Australia’s final two wickets threatened to steal the game before England won by a narrow margin of two runs.
In the third game, Australia was on the back foot but managed to salvage a draw after their last wicket pair survived the final few overs.
The score was 1-1 going into the fourth test, and this is where England took the lead. The home team scored 477 runs in the first inning, with Andrew Flintoff scoring a century. Australia was forced to continue but rallied to set England a difficult final target.
England scraped by with a winning total of 129/7 as Shane Warne’s brilliance threatened to steal the game.
To reclaim the Ashes, Michael Vaughan’s men only needed to draw the final test. They did it, but the game had more than its fair share of drama. Australia scored 373 in their first innings, and England was struggling to respond until Kevin Pietersen’s counterattack produced his first test century.
Rain played a role before the umpires removed the bails to end what must have been the greatest Ashes series of all time.
2019 Ashes Series
Australia dominated the 2019 Ashes series for the most part, but England fought valiantly. The series ended 2-2 after five games, which is a fair reflection of some thrilling, evenly balanced cricket.
At least the Australians will remember this series for Steve Smith’s batsmanship. Smith scored 774 runs in four tests, leading the run-scoring charts by a wide margin.
Steve Smith began his onslaught with centuries in both innings of the first test, leading the tourists to a 251-run victory. England started slowly but improved in the second test, which ended in a draw due to rain on the first day.
Then came the unforgettable third test at Headingley, where England won thanks to a last-wicket stand between Ben Stokes and Jack Leach. The home side looked unlikely to win after being bowled out for 67 in the first innings, but Stokes’ brilliance saved the day.
The victory gave English fans hope, but Smith’s double century in the fourth test set up another easy Australian win, allowing the tourists to reclaim the Ashes.
Jofra Archer’s brilliant bowling in the first innings of the final game helped England tie the game at 2-2. Australia had played better cricket, but England fought hard in what would be another memorable Ashes series.
Headingley, 1981 – Botham’s Ashes
The 1981 series in England will be remembered as ‘Botham’s Ashes’ because of the heroics of England’s greatest all-rounder. Ian Botham would eventually turn the series in England’s favour, but it all began in disgrace when he resigned as captain at Lord’s.
After the first two test matches, the home team was trailing 1-0. When Mike Brearley returned as captain, everything changed. Botham, now free of responsibility, took it out on the tourists, and England won one of the most incredible tests in history.
Brearley’s men were forced to continue on at Headingley. They were 500/1 outsiders on the fourth day, but Ian Botham’s brilliant 149 gave them a slender lead. Bob Willis’ eight wickets on the final day reduced Australia to 111 all out as England won one of the greatest tests of all time.
Botham’s brilliance shone brightly in the fourth test at Edgbaston. He delivered with the ball this time, taking 5/11 as England won by 29 runs.
At Old Trafford, it was back to batting as a century from Botham helped England to a more comfortable victory. The stunned Australians managed a draw in the final game, but the remarkable turnaround in a brilliant series had already helped England win the Ashes.
1932/33 – The Bodyline Series
The games played in Australia in 1932/33 became known as the Bodyline Series. Almost a century later, it is still the most infamous and ill-tempered Ashes series in history.
The problem was with Don Bradman, and England needed to come up with a strategy to deal with him and the rest of Australia’s batters. Bodyline, also known as leg theory at the time, was the concept. With a packed leg side field waiting, it was a fast and hostile style of bowling with short-pitched deliveries from around the wicket.
It was divisive, but it worked, as England bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce starred in a 4-1 series victory.
Bradman led Australia in scoring with 396 runs in the series, but the Australian batters struggled as a whole. Larwood took the most wickets with 33, while Wally Hammond and Herbert Sutcliffe both scored 440 runs for England over the five games.
The Oval, 1882 – Ashes was Born
This is the game that gave birth to the Ashes. Australia and England had played each other since the first test in Melbourne in 1877, but there was no official trophy at the time.
That would change in 1882, following an extraordinary, low-scoring game. It was the only test of the tour, and England looked set to win after dismissing the tourists for 63 in their first innings. The hosts gained a lead, but it was a slender one as they were dismissed for 101.
Australia improved, scoring 122 in their second innings, but England was confident of chasing down their target of 85. Instead, they were dismissed for 77, while the ‘Demon’ Fred Spofforth took 7/44 for the tourists.
It was a humiliating defeat, and the Sporting Times ran a mock obituary referring to the ‘Ashes’ of English cricket. During a subsequent tour to Australia in 1882/83, England captain Ivo Bligh was presented with an urn containing the ashes of a bailiff. The Ashes was officially born as a result of the 1882 test.
The Oval, 1948
The 1948 Ashes series in England was noteworthy for several reasons. For starters, it marked a departure from the game of the great Donald Bradman, who played his final test on this tour at The Oval.
Despite making a duck in his final inning, Bradman led Australia to a 4-0 victory. He wasn’t a slacker with the bat, either, scoring 508 runs in five games. Arthur Morris led Australia in scoring with 696 runs, while Denis Compton led England with 562.
However, the Australians would dominate, winning all four games by large margins. Rain may have prevented the tourists from claiming a 5-0 victory in the third test at Old Trafford. As it was, Bradman’s team went undefeated throughout their lengthy tour, earning them the moniker “The Invincibles.”
1974/5 Ashes Series
Although it is not a series that England’s players will remember fondly, the games in 1974/75 produced some thrilling cricket. This was the series in which Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson formed one of the most hostile fast bowling partnerships in the game’s history.
This was yet another one-sided contest, with Australia winning the six-test series 4-1. The tourists simply did not have an answer for the pace and ferocity of the home team’s bowling attack.
Thomson took 33 wickets in the series, while Lillee took 25. Even after England beat the new ball pairing, they still had to deal with Max Walker. Walker took 23 wickets, and the tourists were blown away by the pace.
Australia’s 166-run victory in the first test in Brisbane set the tone. Worse was to come, as the Aussies won the subsequent match by nine wickets in Perth. Rain aided England’s third-game draw in Melbourne before Australia won the next two tests to clinch the Ashes.
With Jeff Thompson out due to injury in the final game, England took full advantage and won by an inning. It was an impressive way to end the tour, but it was a hollow victory in the grand scheme of things.
1894/95 Ashes Series
England visited Australia in 1894 and played the most exciting Ashes series to that point. The visitors won the first two games before the hosts tied it up at two games apiece.
In a tumultuous series, England regained their composure to win the final game and take the Ashes 3-2.
The first test was notable for England’s victory despite having to follow on. The victory in the second game was more comfortable, but Australia won the third match by a massive 382-run margin. After two poor batsman performances by England in the fourth game, the Aussies won by an innings.
The tourists won the fifth test by six wickets, capping off an incredible comeback. There were some outstanding individual performances, and the scoreline alone indicates that this was one of the best Ashes series ever.
Old Trafford, 1993
In 1993, tourists dominated in England. Another set of games that home fans would prefer to forget, but it was notable for the debut of one Shane Warne. The leg spinner produced the ‘ball of the century’ to dismiss Mike Gatting with his very first delivery in Ashes cricket.
Australia won the first test by a comfortable margin of 179 runs at Old Trafford. Warne took eight wickets in the game, setting the tone for the series. The leg spinner would continue to dominate English batters, eventually finishing with 34 wickets.
Australia won the second test by an innings after David Boon’s 164 helped Australia to a massive total of 632/4. England had no answer in any department, despite the fact that Robin Smith, Graham Thorpe, and Graham Gooch shone with the bat in the third game.
Australia won the Ashes after another innings victory in the fourth test. Allan Border’s double tonne contributed to the tourists’ total of 653/4, while England only managed 200 and 305.
Australia dominated the match with some outstanding cricket. England will not want to remember this period, but we had to admire the tourists and, in particular, Shane Warne’s rise.
2009 Ashes Series
England had won the Ashes in 2005 but had relinquished the urn following Australia’s 5-0 series annihilation in 2006/07. Australia returned to English soil in 2009, and tourists were the clear favourites.
The hosts were missing several players from their successful 2005 campaign. Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, Geraint Jones, and Marcus Trescothick had already completed their final tests, while Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen were unable to play the entire 2009 series due to injuries.
Australia dominated at times and will believe they deserved to win the series. The tourists dominated the first test in Cardiff. England were only saved by a famous last-wicket stand between James Anderson and Monty Panesar.
The home team was on the back foot, so England winning the second test at Lord’s came as a surprise. Andrew Strauss set the tone with 161 in the first innings, and Andrew Flintoff took the Player of the Match award with six wickets.
It was England’s first Ashes victory at Lord’s since 1934, and they took the series by surprise. The third test ended in a draw due to rain, as the game appeared to be heading for a close finish.
Andrew Flintoff was injured in the fourth test at Headingley, and Australia took full advantage, winning by an innings and 80 runs. The tourists had momentum and were favourites again going into the final game at The Oval.
With Flintoff returning for his final test, England dug deep and won with a brilliant all-around team performance. On debut, Jonathan Trott scored a century, while Stuart Broad annihilated Australia’s middle order with five wickets in the first innings.
England won comfortably by 197 runs, but it was a tight and exciting series that could have gone either way.