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.
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
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
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
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.