Taking on Australia in their own backyard is no mean feat. As England meet their arch rivals Australia for the 70th Ashes series this November, the task is as tough as it ever has been. A rivalry, such as the one that exists between England and Australia, has a knack for producing exceptional individual performers. And here we celebrate six of the best batting performances achieved in the 134-year rivalry, and the Swannack team pick their most memorable of the list.
1. Sir Len Hutton– 364 – The Oval – August 1938.
The highest individual score of any player in an Ashes Test, Hutton surpassed Don Bradman by 30 runs to claim the top spot in the rankings. His 364 in 847 balls – including 35 fours – remains the unchallenged top score in an Ashes Test. A feat put into perspective by the fact that no England or Australian player has passed 300 in an Ashes series since Bob Cowper in 1966. Achieved in a context of a timeless Test, Hutton would have felt little pressure to score quickly. Nonetheless, Australia were 1-0 up in the series and The Oval Test was the final opportunity for England to level the scoreline. This unmatched display of batting gave England a first innings total of 903/7-declared and set up a thumping 579 run win over the visitors, inside just four days of play.
2. Paul Collingwood – 206 – Adelaide – December 2006.
Nestled within the forgettable series whitewash of 2006-07, Paul Collingwood’s first innings score of 206 in the second Test at Adelaide, is remembered as the coming of age of ‘Collingwood the Street Fighter’, as well as the only glimmer of hope in an otherwise disastrous series. Comfortably passing three figures with the third ball of the second day, Collingwood’s 310 run stand with Kevin Pieterson (158), gave England a real chance at levelling the series, having lost the first Test by 277 runs. Whilst England’s 500-plus first innings score proved not to be enough against the great Australian side, who’d been humiliated in England the summer before, Collingwood’s aggression, reliability and determination showed in the only double hundred of his career, cemented his place in the hearts of every English fan.
3. Sir Ian Botham – 149* – Headingley – July 1981.
A regular on the ‘all time greats’ list that pop-up around each new Ashes series, and voted the greatest of all Ashes moments by Sky Sport’s viewers in 2015, Botham’s 149-not out at Headingley – in the third Test of what would forever be known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’ – marks a turning point in national pride and belief comparable to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic games.
England – following on having scored just 174 in reply to Australia’s first innings total of 401/9-declared – were 105 for 5 when Botham walked to the crease. With the odds on England winning at 500-1 – which in those days was displayed on the big screen for all to see – Botham set about the mammoth task of single handedly deconstructing the visitor’s lead. Over the space of 219 minutes, 148 balls and 28 boundaries, including one six, Botham turned England’s fortunes around, giving himself, and Bob Willis, something to bowl for. With Australia requiring only 130 for victory, it would be Wills whose 8-43 would skittle Australia for just 111. Botham’s innings of luck, judgement and deathly determination had ensured England’s 18-run victory, and undoubtedly set up their 3-1 series win.
4. Steve Waugh – 157* – The Oval – August 2001.
Immortalised as the ‘one legged innings’, the afflicted Steve Waugh raised his bat to The Oval crowd flat on his tummy. He had batted through a torn calf muscle, which had seen him stretchered off the pitch at Trent Bridge. Whilst Australia had retained the Ashes after the first three Tests, England had gone on to win at Headingley – preventing a home whitewash – which riled the injured Waugh up and out of his wheelchair. His efforts, along side centuries from Justin Langer and twin brother Mark Waugh, gave Australia a first innings total of 641/4-declared. England, following on, were unable to surpass the total and Waugh’s heroics ensured the urn returned down under with a 4-1 series victory and cemented his reputation as the grittiest of Australians.
5. Alastair Cook – 235 – Brisbane – November 2010.
It was the series of ‘Swanny’s Ashes Video Diary’ and The Sprinkler. The jovial highs coming out of the England dressing room were in direct response to the command England had shown over their hosts, which had begun with a second innings batting display of three top order centuries, to ensure a first Test draw. Along with Andrew Strauss (110) and Jonathan Trott (135), Cook’s 235 stands out as the only ‘daddy hundred’, to use Graham Gooch’s phrase. The 428-ball feat included just 15 boundaries, none of which cleared the rope, and slowed the game to a torturous pace which favoured England. Cook’s 10 hours and 25 minutes at the crease was one of the finest displays of defiance and measured control. It not only set up England’s first Ashes win away from home for 24 years, but also secured Cook as one of England’s most reliable, and successful, Test batsmen in history.
Sofia’s Pick: “This was the series that got me into cricket. And whilst I was still naive to the game at the point of Cook’s heroics, the tone that this performance set for the series – and the fact he followed it up with 148 in the next Test – was undoubtedly a key ingredient in making the series so magical. Whether England will be able to emulate this kind of innings is unknown, whether Cook himself could recreate such an innings is doubtful as the game has moved on in the six years since. But it will always hold a very special place in my memory bank.” Sofia Westaby.
Charley’s Pick: “I would go with Alistair Cook too. The more I got involved with cricket and started watching the game – he really stands out as being one of England’s best batsman.” Charley Surridge.
Stephen’s Pick: “Although this series was in Australia, and thus I wasn’t able to spend much time actually watching it, I remember spending as much time as I possibly could listening to Test Match Special and reading the status updates on my phone or computer before I finally made myself go to bed. Cook’s innings in this match was to me both astonishing and exhilarating, especially as we had heard all the usual hype from Australia beforehand – but he took them apart, and did it again in the next test. It was so good, and proved to everyone, myself included that England could thrive, and win, Down Under.” Stephen Surridge.
6. Ricky Ponting – 156 – Old Trafford – August 2005.
The winds of change were blowing strongly. The almighty Australian side, who had wreaked havoc for so many years had finally met their match in Michael Vaughan’s England. 2005 was a heady year, immortalised by overzealous crowds who aided England’s larger than life characters in ripping apart some of the most famous names in cricket, such as Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath.
Nonetheless, Australia’s captain Ricky Ponting would not let his side go down without a fight. His 156 off 275 balls gave the Aussies, for a time at least, an opportunity of winning the third Test; making significant in roads into their target of 473 runs for victory. It was not to be, as Ponting gloved a short ball from Steve Harmison into Geraint Jones’ awaiting hands to give England their 9th wicket. Ponting’s seven hours of fluid stroke play, including 16 fours and one six off Freddie Flintoff’s bowling, had silenced the English crowd. And the innings remains one of the finest batting displays of any foreign batsmen on English soil.
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