Ashes Series: England’s Greatest Ever Cricket Comebacks

Ashes Series: England’s Greatest Ever Cricket Comebacks
© PA

England are in the familiar position of being underdogs to win the Ashes this year as they once again tour Australia with question marks hanging over the team.

The return of Ben Stokes may be a boost for the tourists but the cricket betting odds give Joe Root’s team a 9/2 chance (18%) of winning the series.

Yet England have been underdogs before and prevailed in some of the best ashes moments in history. In fact, down the years they have accomplished a number of Ashes comebacks to claw Test victories from the jaws of defeat.

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The 2021/22 Ashes could well spark further drama but may not be able to rival England’s greatest ever Ashes comebacks.

Heavy against-the-odds comebacks in Test cricket aren’t too common – largely because cricket odds can be quite conservative. Betting sites don’t like to price their markets too highly because there is always a chance of a fightback.

Remarkably, England’s three biggest comebacks in the Ashes all played out at Headingley, Leeds. Below, we take a look at the three biggest fightbacks England have had to endure in the history of the Ashes series.

2001 – Headingley, Fourth Test

England win by 6 runs, chasing 315 after Australia declared

Mark Butcher 2001 Ashes

The Telegraph branded England’s fourth Test victory at Headingley in 2001 as the ‘forgotten Ashes miracle’. Why? Because the rest of that series was abject misery for the hosts.

Australia were already 3-0 up and had reclaimed the urn when they rocked up in Leeds on August 16 for what was expected to be a routine Test triumph. One hundred overs later and a Ricky Ponting-led knock had the tourists out for 447. They demolished England for 309 and then declared their second innings on 176, handing England a 315-run chase.

The hosts had two days to do it but started day four with Mike Atherton falling with just eight runs on the board. In came Mark Butcher, who had almost been dropped from the squad after going out drinking following the series surrender at Trent Bridge in the previous Test.

Butcher scored 47 in his first innings and led the fightback in the second, knocking 173 over two days to finish the encounter with Usman Afzaal (4) at the other end. Nasser Hussain’s half-century steadied the ship and gave Butcher the freedom to slowly accumulate runs.

It was a hard-fought victory and a remarkable comeback. Yet a week later the series was over with Australia having won the fifth Test at the Oval by an innings and 25 runs.

2019 – Headingley, Third Test

England win by 1 wicket, chasing 359

Ben Stokes 2019 Ashes

Ben Stokes is 9/1 to be the top series batsman in the 2021/22 Ashes betting and online betting sites will likely be keeping an eye on the all-rounder after his performance at Headingley in the 2019 contest.

Having been whittled for a miserable 67 in their first innings, England were set a record 359 run chase to claim victory. Even then it was only this low because Stokes had claimed 3/56 in Australia’s second innings.

Headingley needed a miracle man to get behind and it initially looked as though Root was the man to stir up the crowd. But when the captain was caught in the slips, Stokes made his entrance with 200 runs still required.

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And the Durham star swiftly got to work. He and Jonny Bairstow put on almost a hundred together before the latter fell away. Then came a swift whittling of the middle order. Stuart Broad’s exit for a duck meant 11th man Jack Leach entered the fray with England still needing 73 to win.

Leach clung on while Stokes did the business, slapping the ball all around Headingley with 11 fours and eight sixes. Remarkably, he and Leach got England over the line… and they went on to draw the series.

1981 – Headingley, Third Test

England win by 18 runs, Botham and Willis inspire comeback

Ian Botham 1981 Ashes

Bookmakers had England at 500/1 at one stage to beat Australia at Headingley in 1981. The reason? England had been forced to follow on after a miserable first innings and even then only managed to push 129 runs ahead of the tourists after their second innings.

This should have been Australia’s match for the taking. But Ian Botham and Bob Willis had different ideas.

The 1981 Headingley Test is the crowning moment of what was to become known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’. Botham took six first-innings wickets and scored a combined 199 at the crease over England’s back-to-back innings. Had he not been present England would have lost with an innings to spare.

With the ball in hand and knowing they needed wickets fast, Willis then got to work. The fast bowler first nicked Trevor Chappell after Botham had taken Graeme Wood, and from there the wickets fell. Dennis Lillee attempted a late stand before Willis pushed him into Mike Gatting’s hands with Australia on 110.

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One run later and the 6ft 6in bowler crushed Ray Bright’s middle wicket out of the ground. England had become only the second ever team to successfully win a Test match after following on. Indeed, it has gone down as one of the biggest odds upsets in sporting history.

“The sight of Ray Bright's middle stump going over will probably be the last memory I take to my grave,” Willis said on recollection.

“I was in the zone. I just wanted to bowl fast.”

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