Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ashes Countdown 98

As mentioned in my previous Ashes Countdown posting (#99) England did avoid a clean sweep by Australia in an Ashes Series by making ACB to consider the 1979/80 test series outside of the Ashes contest. But England still holds the record of being the only team to have lost every test match in an Ashes series or is it Australia which holds the record of doing a clean sweep in an Ashes series?

The 1920/21 Australians led by Warwick Armstrong have achieved something unique that even the Bradman’s 1948 “invincibles” could not emulate. The series which was lost by England by 5-0 margin still remains as the only whitewash in 124 years of Ashes history.

Winning 5 tests in a series is so rare in test cricket that it occurred only 10 times in 157 Test series of 5 tests are more. 17 of those test series consisted of 6 tests and only twice the results yielded 5 wins in favor of one team. One of them was the 1978/79 Ashes in which England won the series by 5-1 margin. It took almost 68 years for them to register 5 victories in an Ashes though they played against a much weaker team and one test more than the 1920/21 Australians. So we can not find fault with English cricketing authorities to keep the series out of Ashes contention when they were invited to play that short 3 test series to end the WSC crisis.

So we can not find fault with English cricketing authorities to keep the series out of Ashes contention when they were invited to play that short 3 test series in 1979/90 to end the WSC crisis against a star studded Australian side, which was expected to win by 3-0 margin. After all they were in possession of Ashes for less than an year and did not want to give it back so quickly especially knowing that only a miracle can save them from getting defeated.

The 1920/21 tour of Australia by England was the first ever official cricket tour by any country after a 7 year long hiatus in test cricket caused by World War I. The MCC team was captained by JWHT Douglas and had stalwarts like Jack Hobbs, Frank Woolley, Wilfred Rhodes, Patsy Hendren, Jack Russell and Percy Fender in their ranks. They started the tour with four consecutive innings victories over Australian state sides and out played an Australian XI side in a drawn encounter just before the first test of the series.

But in the test series it was a complete reversal of fortunes for England as they lost Ashes, which they won just before the war during the 1911/12 series and kept them for 9 yrs with the intervention of the war, by getting crushed by Australia in the first three tests by huge margins. 1st test at Sydney by 377 runs, 2nd at Melbourne by an innings and 91 runs , 3rd at Adelaide by 119 runs. After losing three tests in a row England’s morale was somewhat got boosted by a convincing 7 wicket victory over Victoria at Melbourne in which Patsy Hendren hit an impeccable 271 and Johnny Douglas hit an unbeaten 133. But their win did not scare Australia as they went on to win the 4th test at the same venue by 8 wickets.

England drew their next tour match against New South Wales and were hoping to salvage some prestige and avoid a clean sweep by Australia. But their hopes were again shattered by that all-conquering Australian Test side as they recorded another easy victory in the 5th test at Sydney by 9 wickets and registered the first and still the only Ashes series win by a 5-0 margin. England did win their last tour match against South Australia by an innings and 63 runs with their star players Wilfred Rhodes and Jack Russell compiling double hundreds and their skipper chipping in with another unbeaten century. Percy Fender took 12 wickets in the match But it was a little too late they hit their top form and not having to face single player from the Australian sides that played the test series in that South Australian side too may have contributed to their innings victory.

The 5-0 victory margin by Australia in that 1920/21 Ashes Series was not only a first in Ashes but was also a first in test history. Australia over the years went on to register two more clean sweeps in their test history once against South Africa in 1931/32 against South Africa in 1931/32 and once against West Indies in 2000/01 . England too have on test series which they won by 5-0 margin when India toured England 1959. India was at the receiving end when they toured West Indies in 1961/62. West Indies registered two more 5-0 Test series wins in back-to-back series against England in England 1984 and at in West Indies 1985/86.

The only other time a 5 test series was won by a 5-0 margin was by South Africa against West Indies in 1998/99 . These are the only eight instances in cricket history when a 5-0 clean sweep was registered in Test Series.Two other test series did include 5 victories for the same side. Once by Australia against West Indies in 1975/76 Australia against West Indies in 1975/76 and the other time as mentioned earlier in this posting by England in Australia 1978/79 Ashes were decided won by 5-1 margin. But as you might have rightly guessed, they are not clean sweeps.

Ashes Countdown Factoid 98:

Though England lost the 1920/21 Ashes by 5-0 margin they still share the record with Australia for compiling the highest test match aggregate in any completed test match when all 40 wickets have fallen. Their combined total of 1753 (Aus 354 & 582 beat Eng 447 & 370) though achieved in 6 days is very unlikely to be overtaken in this age of 5 day tests.

Will the 2006/07 Test series result in a clean sweep either for Australia or England?

I really doubt, as unlike in 1920/21 Ashes when all the tests were played as timeless tests, today’s test matches are restricted to five days and both teams have too many quality players who can atleast save the matches and play for a draw rather than letting their opponent overpower them by a 5-0 margin.

But then… never know….Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.”

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