Many years have passed, and much great cricket has been played, but this remains one of the most incredible tales in the history of cricket, and cricket betting.
At stumps on day three of the third Test at Headingley, England were 6-1 in their second innings having been asked to follow on. They still trailed Australia by 221 runs. The scoreboard flashed up that Ladbrokes were offering 500/1 about an England win with just one team in the history of Test cricket - England at Sydney in December 1894 - prevailing after following on.
England batsman Mike Brearley looks round as the ball heads for a catch - Credit: PA
Australia’s premier pace bowler Dennis Lillee decided the odds were too good to pass up. Long before match-fixing had become a concern, Lillee decided to have a tenner on with wicketkeeper Rod Marsh eventually wagering a fiver, according to the Guardian.
More on the bet later, but it’s worth recalling what a state of disarray England were in on that Saturday night. Ian Botham had quit as captain after he bagged a pair (out of a duck in both innings) in the second Test at Lord’s. England managed to draw that Test after losing the opener at Trent Bridge. Former skipper Mike Brearley was brought back for the rest of the series. Despite a less-than-impressive final Test batting average of 22.88, Brearley’s ability to get the best out of players was second to none. But the Leeds Test had started badly with Australia declaring on 401-9.
Early on day three, England were reeling yet again. Botham top-scored with 50 as they were all out for 174 with Australia using just three bowlers - Lillee taking 4-49, Terry Alderman 3-59, and Geoff Lawson 3-32. After tea, England were put in again with Gooch falling to Lillee for a third-ball duck. Three overs had been bowled when bad light forced the players off with the scoreboard displaying odds as spectators waited for a resumption which never came.
After Sunday’s rest day came a disappointing start to Monday. Geoffrey Boycott and Peter Willey put on 64 for the fifth wicket but their departures followed by that of Bob Taylor left England 135-7 and still 92 short of making Australia bat again. Then Botham flayed the ball to all parts with one six prompting Richie Benaud’s immortal, “Don’t bother looking for that, let alone chasing it. It’s gone straight into the confectionery stall and out again.”
Botham made 149 off 148 balls, Dilley 56, and Chris Old 29 as England were bowled out for 356 early on day five leaving the tourists 130 to win. Botham removed Graeme Wood with the score on 13, but John Dyson looked solid as the Aussies closed in on victory.
Enter Bob Willis. Having been implored to bowl as fast as he could by Brearley, the wild-haired paceman ran through the opposition with some hostile bowling. Three quick wickets just before lunch saw him reduce Australia from 56-1 to 58-4. Old then removed Border before Willis had Dyson caught behind for 34. Australia were soon 75-8, but Lillee and Ray Bright launched a counter-attack which gave them hope.
Just when it looked like they might pull it off, Willis struck again with Gatting taking a fine diving catch at mid-on to dismiss Lillee with Australia 20 runs short. He then flattened Bright’s middle stump to seal victory. Australia all out for 111, England victorious by 18 runs.
What happened to the bet? Lillee strenuously denied placing it until coming clean after his retirement in 1984. That admission annoyed Marsh who had hoped that the story would disappear. Marsh, who later became head coach of Australia’s cricket academy, later said he felt “no conscience” about the bet. Lillee, meanwhile, bemoaned that he had been talked out of putting 50 quid of the team fund on at 500/1. England went on to win the series 3-1 in what is commonly known as‘Botham’s Ashes’.
Leg-spinners were out of fashion in 1993. Apart from Pakistan’s Abdul Qadir, who tormented batsmen in the 1980s, finger-spinners were the prime slow bowlers in Test cricket. Australia’s last leggie of note was Richie Benaud who played his last international in 1964.
Shane Warne had hardly pulled up trees before arriving in England for his first Ashes series. In 11 Tests he had taken 31 wickets at an average of 30.80. England had picked two spinners - Phil Tufnell and debutant Peter Such - for the first Test at Old Trafford. Such took 6-67 as Australia were bowled out in their first innings for 289.
England had reached 80-1 in reply when Australia captain Allan Border threw Warne the ball. Looking more like a beach bum with his peroxide blond hair, he started what soon became that familiar leisurely approach before producing a simply unplayable delivery.
With the ball about to pitch some way outside leg stump, Gatting shifted his body to stop the ball threatening his stumps. Or so he had thought. The ball drifted and dipped to the leg side before spinning sharply past his pads and hitting the top of the off pole.
At the other end was Graham Gooch who later commented that Gatting looked like someone had stolen his lunch. As wicketkeeper Ian Healy jumped for joy and the Australians celebrated, Gatting’s shock was mirrored around the ground. With his first ball in the Ashes, Warne had changed the course of cricket history.
He took 8-137 in the match which Australia won by 179 runs. Despite playing alongside the likes of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, Warne went on to take an Australian record of 708 Test wickets. In doing so, he single-handedly revived the art of leg-spin.
The 2005 series has gone down as the greatest series of all withEngland ending Australia’s grip on the Ashes after 16 years. But the highlight of the series was the nailbiter of a finish to the second Test at Edgbaston.
Australia won the first Test at Lord’s but they were without Glenn McGrath after he stepped on a stray cricket ball during a game of touch rugby in the warm-up. He was clearly missed as England took a 99-run first innings lead.
England celebrate after taking the last wicket of Australia's Michael Kasprowicz - Credit: PA
But it looked like the same old story at the start of the second innings as Brett Lee and Shane Warne ran through the England batting line-up. Australia’s target would have been eminently gettable had it not been for Andrew Flintoff’s counter-attacking 73 containing six fours and four sixes. England were all out for 182 leaving the tourists needing 282 for victory.
Flintoff then produced heroics with the ball, removing Langer and then Ricky Ponting in quick succession. And the final session on day three swung the match clearly in England’s favour. Ashley Giles dismissed Simon Katich and then Adam Gilchrist before Flintoff trapped Jason Gillespie in front with a deadly yorker to make it 137-7. And with the last ball on Saturday evening, Steve Harmison cleaned up Michael Clarke with a slower ball to leave Australia on 175-8.
England needed two wickets on Sunday with Australia requiring 107 runs. But Warne and Lee batted superbly before the former was out for 42 when he trod on his stumps while facing Flintoff. Australia still needed 62 to win.
The hosts found Kasprowicz just as hard to dislodge with the victory target getting closer and closer. Flintoff and Harmison charged in, but the Aussies stood firm. They got to within three runs of victory when Kasprowicz gloved Harmison down the leg side with wicketkeeper Geraint Jones taking a good low catch. England had won the closest Ashes Test in history by two runs.
Only one bowler has taken more than 17 wickets in a Test match, and his name is Jim Laker. The off-spinner took 19-90 against Australia at Old Trafford at the end of July 1956, completing his record haul by becoming the first man to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings.
The first four sessions of the fourth Test gave little indication of the carnage which was to follow. Peter Richardson and David Sheppard both made centuries as England were bowled out for 459. Australia reached 48 without loss in reply before the match changed just before tea on day two.
Laker and his Surrey spin twin Tony Lock had toiled without success until Peter May made them switch ends. Bowling around the wicket, Laker quickly had Colin McDonald caught by Lock before bowling Neil Harvey for a duck with a ball which pitched on leg stump and hit the top of off.
That wicket started something of a panic with the Australians collapsing to 84 all out. Laker took 9-37 with Lock taking the other wicket. Rain washed out most of the day three and when the players returned on Monday, after a rest day, the uncovered pitch was wet and barely fit for play. Australia were 84-2 at the end of day four with England needing eight wickets to take a 2-1 series lead.
Australia’s batsmen survived the first session but Laker was irresistible. From 114-2, the tourists were bowled out for 205 with England winning by an innings and 170 runs. Laker bowled 23 maidens in his 51.2 overs, taking 10-53. Lock, who was usually every bit as good as Laker, took just one wicket in the match despite beating the bat regularly.
The word alone is enough to make cricket lovers wince. The infamous series in Australia, when England captain Douglas Jardine’s plan to stop Don Bradman was implemented with devastating effect, was a low point in the Ashes, and perhaps all of sport.
Bodyline was a development of leg theory which involved bowling on or outside leg stump and packing the legside with fielders waiting for a rash stroke. But Jardine, having seen Bradman’s discomfort facing short-pitched bowling in the final test of the 1930 Ashes - he still managed to score 232 - decided the way to attack him was with quick deliveries aimed at the body.
Due to a dispute with the Australian Board of Control over his newspaper column, Bradman missed the first Test at Sydney where England employed the tactics. Jardine had long been unpopular at Australian grounds and this strategy made him even more of a hate figure Down Under. For Jardine’s plan to work, he needed fast and accurate bowlers. He had them in the forms of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. Larwood finished with match figures of 10-124 at Sydney with only Stan McCabe, who hooked his way to an unbeaten 187, able to resist.
England's Douglas Jardine caught by the Australian wicket-keeper Hammy Love, off Bill O'Reilly - Credit: PA
Bradman was back for the second Test at the MCG with Bill Bowes added to England’s line-up to form a three-pronged pace attack. It was Bowes who bowled Bradman for a first-ball duck in the first innings with the great man expecting a short one. Fortunately for Australia, Bradman was back on song with an invaluable 103 not out in their second innings of 191. That left the tourists needing 251 to win, but Bill O’Reilly’s second five-wicket haul of the match saw them manage just 139.
Then came the third Test at Bradman’s home ground Adelaide and the flashpoint of the series. Australia captain Bill Woodfull was left reeling after being hit above the heart by a fearsome Larwood delivery. With Bradman at the non-striker’s end, Jardine tried to unsettle him with a shout of “Well bowled, Harold!”
Woodfull was able to continue, but the crowd reacted angrily as Jardine moved the field into bodyline formation when he next faced Larwood. Having been struck again, Woodfull was eventually bowled by Gubby Allen for 22.
England co-manager Pelham ‘Plum’ Warner later visited Woodfull in the Australian dressing room later and was stunned by his response. Woodfull, who had refused to criticise Jardine publicly, famously said, “I do not want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket and the other is not.”
The contents of the conversation were leaked to the Australian press, a practically unheard of occurrence then and one which caused great ill-feeling. Warner was convinced Australia opener Jack Fingleton, a full-time journalist, was the source. According to David Frith’s ‘Bodyline Autopsy’, Warner offered Larwood a reward of one pound if he could dismiss Fingleton in Australia’s second innings. He bowled him for a duck.
England won by 338 runs but the Australian Board of Control complained via a cable to the MCC - who then selected the England team - that bodyline bowling was “unsportsmanlike”.
The MCC was horrified and suggested that the Australian board cancel the remainder of the tour. The matter escalated with British and Australian governments seeing it as a threat to diplomatic relations. Eventually, the tour continued after the Australian board withdrew its accusation of unsportsmanlike behaviour. England won the last two Tests to take the series 4-1 with the laws of cricket soon altered to rule out bodyline bowling. Larwood was asked to sign an apology written by the MCC before returning to the England squad. He refused to do so, citing that he had been merely following the instructions of his captain, and never represented his country again.
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