Arguably, the photograph which flashed on every newspaper, news magazine and TV channels and became a topic of discussion among the cricket lovers and brought several other new fans for the game was one of the main reasons for the revival of interest in the game and Ashes during the laste year's epic series.
In that test match which provided one of the closest and greatest test match finishes ever Australia came very close to winning after the last wicket pair no. 10 Brett Lee and no. 11 Michael Kasprowicz added 59 runs and brought Australia within 3 runs of an impossible and improbable victory ever. The final result of 2 run victory for England remains as the closest winning margins ever in Ashes history. As if to live up to the interest the Edgbaston Test generated, the following test played at Old Trafford which ended as one of the greatest and exciting drawn test matches ever played, too involved that great fighter Brett Lee who along with Glen McGrath made sure that England did not secure back to back victories by battling out 4 tense overs and ensuring a draw for Australia.
In the history of Ashes, there are only three test matches which ended in a loss for the team chasing the victory target and fell short by just a boundary hit. (i.e Either 4 or six). With a remarkable coincidence there were also 3 tests which denied victory for the team bowling in the last innings, two ending in victory for the chasers and one ending as a draw. Not surprisingly the greatest Ashes Series ever played in modern times; the 2005 Ashes provided one test match in each of those categories.
In this edition of Ashes Countdown Series, let us look at these Closest Clashes of Ashes:
4th Test, Old Trafford, Manchester 24th – 26th July 1902, Australia won by 3 runs:
The first two tests of this series were badly hit by weather and ended as draws, Australia were lucky to have escaped an embarrassing loss after being bowled out for 36, their lowest total in test cricket, in the first test of the series which also was the first ever at Edgbaston, The 2nd test was washed out after England batted just 38 overs to score 102 for 2. This test match will be remembered as the only test match in which both CB Fry & Ranjitsinhji got dismissed for ducks. Third test played at Brammal Lane, Sheffield (only test match ever played at this venue) was comfortably won by Australia by 143 runs.
Thus Australia entered into this test with 1-0 lead. Australia won the toss and raced to 173 for 1 by lunchtime with Victor Trumper providing the first occasion of a batsman hitting a century before lunch on the first day of a Test match. Once Trumper got out for 104 adding just 1 run to his lunchtime score England’s Lockwood & Rhodes restricted Australia to a score of 299. But their celebrations lived short as England themselves found in a terrible situation as they lost 5 wickets for 44 runs and ended the day one at 70 for 5. The next day , Jackson (128) and Braund (65) added 141 valuable runs to take England’s total to a respectable 262.
The ill-fated One Test Wonder Fred Tate, whom the English spectators, whoever witnessed that match, never pardoned, on his way back to home from the match, told a team-mate that he had a little boy at home who would make it up one day. And keeping his father’s words, Fred's son Maurice Tate, an outstanding all rounder and a great swing bowler played 39 tests for England scoring 1198 runs and claiming 155 wickets.
5th Test, The Oval, London 11th – 13th August, 1902, England won by 1 wicket.
It was just 8th test appearance for the young Wilfred Rhodes who continued playing till 1930 and in doing so set a record for the oldest cricketer to have played in tests. Rhodes who batted at no .11 in this test went on to play in 58 tests and aggregated 2325 runs, 127 wickets and 60 catches. Curiously, Rhodes who figured in a last wicket stand of 130 runs with RE Foster batting at no.11 in 1903/04 also added 323 runs for the first wicket with Jack Hobbs in 1911/12. He is also one of the three cricketers to have batted in every batting position in test cricket along with Australia’s Sydney Gregory and India’s Vinoo Mankad. Abdul Razzaq of Pakistan holds this unique record in ODI Cricket. Wilfred Rhodes also holds the record for most number of wickets in first class cricket 4204 wickets @ 16.72 in a career spanning 31 years and 1110 matches.
2nd Test, Melbourne Jan 1st-7th (5th rest day), 1907/08 England won by 1 wicket.
England won the second test of this series played at Melbourne, with a wicket to spare, after going through yet another close finish in the first test of this series at Sydney, which Australia won by 2 wickets despite a heroic effort by George Gunn. Gunn made his test debut by pure accident. Though he was not a member of the English touring part, he happened to be in Australia on health conditions and was invited to play in the opening test. He obliged the cricketing authorities by top scoring for England in both innings with scores of 119 & 74.
Playing in his second test Gunn could not produce his magic in this Melbourne test and was dismissed cheaply in both the innings for 6 & 0. However another debutant of the previous test KL Hutchings scored a fabulous hundred (126). The master batsman Sir Jack Hobbs made his debut with a masterly knock of 83 and added 99 runs with Hutchings and helped England take a first innings lead of 116 runs. However in the 2nd innings Monty Noble and Victor Trumper wiped out the lead by an opening partnership of 126 runs. Australia finished the innings with 397 and set a difficult target of 282 runs. When England slid from a comfortable 196 for 5 to 209 for 8, Australia’s win became all too but a formality. But England’s wagging tail, no. 9, 10, 11 batsmen SF Barnes, J Humphries and A Fielder crawled towards victory target slowly but surely with the last wicket pair Barnes & Fielder adding 39 runs and thereby recoding a one-wicket victory for England.
4th Test Melbourne Dec 26th – 30th, 1982, England won by 3 runs.
I believe this test match remains as one the most evenly contested test matches ever in terms of runs scored in all four innings. The difference between any two scores of the four innings of this test match did not exceed ten. England batted first and scored 284 with the help of Tavare's 89 and Lamb’s 83. Bruce Yardley and Rodney Hogg accounted for 4 wickets each and Thomson took the other two. Australia replied with 287 with half centuries from Kim Hughes, David Hookes and Rodney Marsh. England in their 2nd innings scored 294 and set Australia 291 to win. Australia was cruising towards victory at 171 for 3 with both first innings half centurions Kim Hughes and David Hookes at the crease.
Nobody expected that the mere formality would extend for almost 21 overs the following day. First Shane Warne and Brett Lee added 45 runs for the 9th wicket before Warne was out hit wicket stepping back too far on his back-foot and hitting the off-stump with his right foot while trying to flick a Flintoff delivery. So with Australia still needing 62 runs for a victory Kasprowicz joined Lee and they both produced a kind of excitement and drama for next 12 overs which put the whole of Edgbaston stadium on the edge of their seats. Lee in spite of taking many body blows guided Australia towards what could have an unbelievable victory.
Michael Vaughan won the toss and did not hesitate to bat first and when England lost their first wicket at 26 he joined Trescothick and added 137 runs for the 2nd wicket. In the end England finished the 1st innings at 444 with Vaughan making 166. Australia faltered again while replying and it was Shane Warne again, whose gritty knock of 90 provided any amount of respectability to their total of 302. England with a first innings lead of 142 went out for some quick runs in their second innings and made 280 runs in 62 overs with the help of Andrew Strauss’s century before declaring their innings and setting a target of 423 runs, highest ever to chase for a victory. By the end of 4th day’s play Hayden and Langer survived the 10 overs without losing any wicket.
On Day five it was always going to be a daunting task to survive 90 overs. For the first time in ten years Australia was forced to bat out the final day in an Ashes Test. Australian skipper Ricky Ponting played a captain’s innings of 156 and held on to one end. But wickets kept falling on the other end at regular intervals. Any hopes of an Australian victory were quickly vanished, when the 5th Australian wicket, that of Adam Gilchrist fell at 182. With Australia still requiring to survive for 50 overs, it looked as if England was going to pull off back to back to wins for the first time in 20 years and only Ponting stood between a draw and an England Victory.
Ponting continued the fight along with injured Michael Clarke (39) and then Shane Warne (34) to make sure Australia will not lose the match. Shane Warne was again unlucky to have got out as Geraint Jones held on to a catch which was first dropped by Strauss in second slip and was popped out of his hands. Australia needed to defend just 10 more overs and with the ever reliable Brett Lee joining Ponting at the crease it seemed as if the match was heading towards a draw. But when Ponting was ninth out for 156 after playing one of the most memorable innings of his test career and defying the English bowlers for more than six hours getting his glove to a Steve Harmison delivery to Geraint Jones Australia still needed 24 balls to survive for a draw.