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- By Piloo Reporter

The Ashes are known to generate a lot of interest, not only in Australia and England, but also all over the world. The popularity of cricket's oldest rivalry had declined in the past decade or so, due to a succession of one-sided series wins by the Australians, but the ongoing tussle in England has hit the headlines with a vengeance. To oust soccer from the sports pages in a soccer-mad country like England is no mean achievement. In fact, the soccer superstars themselves have been present at the cricket grounds for the Tests. Cricket has recaptured the imagination of the English.

Glenn McGrath - His pre-series prediction has gone horribly awry.

The fifth and final Test of the series gets underway at the Oval in London on the 8th of September, and English fans will hope that their side hangs on to the 2-1 lead or even increases it. The Aussies on the other hand are facing the possibility of a series defeat against their traditional rivals, their first since 1986-87.

It is interesting to note that the ongoing series has a lot in common with the 1953 battle between the two sides, also in England. As was the case in 2005, the Australians started the 1953 series as favourites, not having lost to England in a series since 1932-33. The visiting side comprised stalwarts like skipper Lindsay Hassett, Neil Harvey, Arthur Morris, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and several other talents. A 5-0 whitewash had been predicted, not surprisingly by the players themselves. Didn't Glenn McGrath, a member of the 2005 Australian side, say something similar at the start of this series?

But the series took a different course. I was in school at the time of the 1953 series, and I remember a majority of the boys wanting Australia to win, while very few sided with England. There was no television in those days, only live commentary from BBC Radio. There were also no pocket transistors, and the only source of the ball-by-ball updates was a radio set that was almost the size of a 16 inch TV set. The day's play would end at 1l pm (IST), followed by a five-minute summary of the proceedings by Jim Swanton, one of the greatest cricket writers and broadcasters of all time.

Hassett won all five tosses in the series and elected to bat on all occasions save the fourth Test. The first Test was drawn. England were under pressure for most of the second encounter at Lord's, but they managed a fighting draw, with Willie Watson scoring a hundred and Trevor Bailey getting 71. The third Test was also drawn, and England again found themselves in a tight spot in the fourth. Len Hutton, the English captain, was bowled by Ray Lindwall off the second delivery of the match. But Trevor Bailey came to the rescue in the second innings, batting for four hours to score an obdurate 38. Australia required 170-odd to win, but Bailey, a splendid all-rounder, bowled well, albeit a little negatively (down the leg-side), to thwart them. In those days, the time left in the game was given weightage, not the overs or deliveries. Even the provision of mandatory overs that exists today wasn't prevalent then. When time was called, the Aussies still required 15 to win. That made it four consecutive draws.

The England attack in the final Test was reinforced by paceman Fred Trueman and off-spinner Jim Laker. England took the first innings' lead and winded Australia the second time cheaply. They required only 132 to win, a trget they duly achieved. Denis Compton and Bill Edrich, the Middlesex twins, were there to steer their team home.

The photographs in the newspapers showed a swarm of spectators gathered below the pavilion, with skipper Len Hutton waving at them.

Can these scenes be repeated at the Oval in the next few days?

The 2005 series has been as eventful as the 1953 one. England lost the first Test, but drew level with a thrilling two-run triumph in the second. Then they came within one Australian wicket to win the third, but their opponents managed to hang on for a draw. The fourth Test, England won by three wickets, but not before the Aussies gave them a scare.

Andrew Flintoff, England's dynamic all-rounder, is as integral to his team's plans in 2005 as Trevor Bailey was in 1953. While Bailey was primarily a defensive batsman, Flintoff is an attacker, but both are extremely effective and invaluable to their respective teams.

Coincidentally, the captains of 1953 and 2005 (Michael Vaughan) come from the same county; Yorkshire, while the wicketkeepers of both sides, Godfrey Evans (1953) and Geraint Jones (2005), hail from Kent.

England cannot afford a defeat at the Oval, as their Ashes hopes will be shattered if that happens. If Australia square the series, they will keep the Ashes by virtue of their win in the previous series. Even a draw would be enough for England. Having said that, they shouldn't play for a draw, for that can easily backfire. They should go flat out for a win.

Will England end its 19-year losing streak in 2005 the way it ended its 20-year gloomy period in 1953? We will know very soon.

Michael Vaughan and his boys are on a high, but they will surely not make the mistake of underestimating their opponents. The Aussies are down, but by no means out.

- By Piloo Reporter

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