In this third and concluding part, we look back at three modern-day cliffhangers that further enhanced the Anglo-Australian rivalry:
4th Test, Melbourne, 1982-83
Following the disappointment of 1981, Australia made amends the next time by winning the 1982-83 home series 2-1. However, it could well have been 3-0 had England not won a most thrilling fourth Test at the MCG by a mere three runs.
After being inserted by Australia, England slumped to 56/3. Chris Tavare and Allan Lamb then put on 165 runs for the fourth wicket before Tavare was dismissed for 89. Lamb followed ten runs later for an attacking 83.
At 259/5 with Ian Botham looking in ominous form, England seemed to be in control. But the pace duo of Rodney Hogg (4/69) and Bruce Yardley (4/89) dismantled the lower order and England were all out for 284.
On day two, the hosts too had a poor beginning but Kim Hughes (66) and David Hookes (53) rescued their side from the trouble of 89/4 with a 91-run stand for the fifth wicket. Rodney Marsh scored 53 as well, while adding 81 runs for the sixth wicket with Hughes. Australia then lost their last five wickets for 26, finishing the second day at 287 and a lead of only 3 runs. Bob Willis took 3/38.
In their second innings, England went from 40/0 to 45/3 and Australia had the momentum. Greame Fowler, who top-scored with 65, added a vital 83 with Lamb for the fourth wicket before both of them were out within a run of each other to make the score 129/5.
Botham cracked a rapid 46 from as many balls and when he was dismissed the score was 201/7. At that point, wicketkeeper Bob Taylor joined Derek Pringle and the two put on 61 for the eighth wicket to boost the total, which eventually came up to 294. Geoff Lawson was Australia’s best bowler with 4/66.
Australia had two full days to reach the target of 292. The top order failed to perform again as they were reduced to 71/3. Again, Hughes and Hookes came to the rescue as they put on 100 for the fourth wicket and Australia seemed to be on course at 171/3.
But the hosts then ran into the unheralded fast bowler Norman Cowans (6/77), who along with the support of his fellow bowlers ensured that Australia slip to 190/7. Allan Border (62*), who came in at number six, kept watching as wickets tumbled at the other end, the ninth falling at 218. Jeff Thomson came out to join him in the middle.
The two led their team to 255/9 with a day left. On the final day, they did everything right until just four runs were needed, when Thomson was caught at first slip by Geoff Miller off Ian Botham to script a three- run win for England and break the hearts of the full-house crowd. The final Test was drawn and Australia regained the Ashes.
2nd Test, Edgbaston, 2005
This great Test match is easily one of the best ever played and to many the very best of them all. Australia came into this series on the back of eight successive Ashes series wins dating back to 1989 and it was business as usual for them as they whipped the hosts by 239 runs in the opening Test at Lord’s.
Then in a massive stoke of luck, England’s tormentor Glenn McGrath (who took 9/82 at Lord’s) twisted his ankle after treading on a ball in a nets session just before this Test. England seemed to have got a psychological boost and it showed in this match, a game which changed the course of this memorable series.
Ricky Ponting seemed to have made an error when he decided to put England in despite lacking his strike bowler. As it turned out, Australia were seriously missing the sting in their bowling as the English openers Marcus Trescothick (top-scoring with 90) and Andrew Strauss raced to a stand of 112 in just over 25 overs.
Australia fought back to reduce England to 187/4, but the run-rate at that point was an astonishing five runs an over. Kevin Pietersen (71) and Andrew Flintoff (68) then added to the visitors’ misery, putting on 103 off just 105 balls for the fifth wicket. Useful runs from the tail meant that England ended the first day after being all out for 407 – a run rate of 5.17
On the second day, Australia’s reply revolved around opener Justin Langer’s resolute 82, aided by Ponting’s counter-attacking 61. Australia too maintained a run rate of above four an over, but a bit more patience would have been beneficial – as Langer as showed – with their final total reading 308.
The last five wickets fell for just 46 runs. Flintoff and Ashley Giles bagged three scalps each. With a handy first-innings lead of 99, England ended the day at 25/1, Shane Warne removing Strauss. On the third day, the spin and pace combination of Warne and Brett Lee ripped through the English batting.
From 25/0 the home team went to 31/4 and further to 131/9. But the dependable Flintoff was still there and he found a willing ally in last man Simon Jones, who helped him in a priceless last-wicket stand of 51. Flintoff went on the rampage, striking 73 which included four sixes to spruce up the total to 182. Warne finished with 6/46 and Lee 4/82.
Australia began their chase of 282 well with a 47-run opening stand, but Flintoff played game-changer again. He removed Langer and Ponting (for a duck) in the same over. From that point, England were buoyed and Australia kept losing wickets, sliding to 137/7.
Michael Clarke grimly held fort before he too fell to Steve Harmison as Australia ended the fourth day at 175/8, still needing 107 to win. On the final day, Warne and Lee added 45 for the ninth wicket before an unfortunate Warne was out hit wicket to Flintoff (4/79) for 42.
At 220/9, Michael Kasprowicz joined Lee. The two quietly set about whittling down the target and England were fast feeling the heat as the tension gradually reached tipping point. With 15 to win, Simon Jones dropped Kasprowicz. England’s last chance seemed to have gone.
With Australia just three runs away, Harmison banged one into the left glove of Kasprowicz, who played it down the leg side. Within the next second, wicketkeeper Geraint Jones completed the winning catch to send the crowd into a frenzy.
Television replays later showed that the ball had slightly brushed the glove and umpire Billy Bowden had failed to notice it. However, it would have been nearly impossible to detect amid the pressure-cooker situation. England had won by just two runs – the smallest margin ever in an Ashes Test.
Lee, who remained not out on 43, was distraught and the image of him being consoled by man of the match Flintoff remains the defining moment of the series. The Ashes were alive and England went on to win the series 2-1, regaining the urn after 18 long years.
1st Test, Cardiff 2009
This was the first Test to be played in Wales. England were on a mission to regain the Ashes after the humiliating whitewash of 2006-07. They began the first day ordinarily, getting reduced to 90/3 before Kevin Pietersen (69) and Paul Collingwood (64) added 138 for the fourth wicket.
Thanks to Matthew Prior’s 56 and useful contributions from the tail, England’s total swelled to 435. In reply, Australia were led by a partnership of 239 for the second wicket between Simon Katich (122) and Ricky Ponting (150). Michael Clarke (83) and Marcus North (125*) added 143 for the fifth wicket as Australia ended the third day at 479/5.
Monty Panesar (left) is relieved while James Anderson is jubiliant after the two defied Australia to help England escape with a draw (source – guardian.co.uk)
The game looked to be heading into a draw at this stage. Australia piled the agony on England’s bowlers on the fourth day courtesy a 200-run sixth-wicket stand between North and Brad Haddin (121) in just 44 overs. Australia declared at 674/6, and England slumped to 20/2 with a day to go and still 219 in arrears.
Defeat appeared inevitable for England on the final day as they crashed to 70/5 and then to 159/7, even as Paul Collingwood battled on with determination. He put on 62 with Greame Swann for the eighth wicket, but when he was finally dislodged for a 245-ball 74 in five hours and 45 minutes, England were 233/9 and still a little over 11 overs were left.
Australia needed just one good ball to wrap things up. However number eleven Monty Panesar, boasting an average of a shade over five, joined number ten James Anderson in the middle and it wasn’t over till it was over. The two went on to do the unthinkable as they added an unbeaten 19 in 11.3 overs to script a memorable draw for England.
The two tail-enders showed immense grit in defying the pumped-up Australian bowlers for 40 minutes. England were just 13 runs ahead when the match ended in a thrilling finish. This result dented Australia’s confidence, as England scored a 2-1 series victory to wrest back the Ashes.