The Ashes. One of the greatest, certainly one of the most prolonged, sporting clashes in the world. OK, England may be getting battered and it’s not exactly an even contest at the minute. I mean what chance do eleven English cricketers have against Steve Smith?
But no old git worth his salt could ignore this bi-annual grudge match. So, I thought I would take a look back at the Ashes over the years.
But, I thought I would do something a little different.
Instead of a potted history I am going to pick my best ever Ashes team. For both sides.
When I was a lad I loved watching test matches. I hardly moved from in front of the TV as John Arlott and Richie Benaud described the action.
But, I do have a confession to make.
As a proud Yorkshireman my sporting idol was Geoffrey Boycott. Always was, still is, and always will be.
But, most of my other cricketing heroes were Aussies. I loved their tough, battling approach to the game.
There was also the exotic quality of seeing sporting icons you’ve only read about live on your TV screen. Catching a glimpse of these heroes every four years was a real thrill.
All that preamble was to explain why I’m picking both English and Australian teams.
In picking my teams I only had one rule:
I must have seen the player either live or on TV.
So no Len Hutton or Don Bradman I’m afraid.
I’ve also chosen my personal favourites. I don’t care if there were better players. These are the blokes I want in my team
I’m sure no one will agree 100% with my choices.
But, maybe some of the names will bring back long-forgotten memories.
And please do let me know your own all-time favourite Ashes eleven. Either England or Australia. All are welcome.
So here we go. Let’s start with…..
England’s best ever Ashes team
1 Geoff Boycott
No surprise here. My all-time hero and a legend.
Yes, he was a little divisive but geniuses’ often are.
I remember queuing for hours for his autograph after a rare Yorkshire game in Hull. Forty years later I was again queuing for his autograph. This time in Waterstones for a book signing. And I was just as star-struck as I was as a kid.
I’ll never forget punching the air as Geoffrey hit an on drive down the ground to reach his 100th hundred. At Headingly of all places. And against the Aussies.
Now the blunt talking Yorkshireman is the best commentator on TV and radio.
Naturally enough he is also the captain of my England eleven. Which may not go down too well with the rest of the players.
But who cares? Certainly not Geoffrey or I.
Boycott in numbers: 108 matches, 8114 runs, 22 hundreds
2 Nick Cook
I’ve surprised myself here. I’ve brought Cookie in over old-stagers like Amiss and Edrich. I’ve ignored Strauss and Atherton.
But who could argue against Cook? Yes, he is way past his best now. But he is England’s all-time highest run scorer and a machine when he gets going.
Yes, he wafts outside off stump a lot. But he’s a left-hander. So that’s OK.
I was never a great fan of his captaincy but as an opening batsmen he’s done it all.
Who could forget the unbelievable series he had in 2010/11 when the Aussies just couldn’t get him out?
God knows how many hours sleep I missed during those five tests down under. He seemed to bat forever. He hit 766 runs at an average of 127. Run Aussies run.
Cook in numbers: 147 matches, 11629 runs (and counting), 31 hundreds
3 David Gower
Leicestershire’s flashing blade was always a joy to watch. His cover drive was a thing of beauty.
Even when he inevitably nicked off to slip.
Gower’s languid style meant that he had as many detractors as admirers. And critics are always keen to remind anyone who will listen about the disastrous tour of the West Indies in 1986.
But the curly haired maestro was a supremely talented batsmen.
But he was also his own man. He retired much too early when the whole test cricket thing became a bore. A swashbuckler he makes the perfect number three to follow the steady Eddy openers.
Gower in numbers: 117 matches, 8231 runs, 18 hundreds
4 Joe Root
Originally I had Graham Gooch in this slot. But I can’t ignore Rrrrrrrroooooooooooootttttttt.
The chirpy young Tyke is an amazing talent. Tests, one day or 20/20 the kid is a genius.
I say kid. He’ll turn 27 during the Ashes tour. But he still looks 12 despite his attempt to grow a beard when he was made England captain.
The first time I saw him live I wondered what all the fuss was about. A wild swipe saw him out for single figures in a Yorkshire match.
“He’ll never make it,” I thought. A few months later he was carting international attacks all around the park.
Root could achieve anything he wants in the game. Though I don’t think he’s an England captain in a million years. My only other worry for him is burnout. Playing all three forms of the game must take its toll eventually.
I’d love to see him concentrate on test cricket. But I doubt many cricketers will do that in the future.
Still, what a player he is. I wish we could see more of him in a Yorkshire shirt.
But Yorkshire’s loss is England’s gain.
Root in numbers: 60 matches, 5323 runs, 13 hundreds
5 Kevin Pietersen
Love him or hate him you can’t ignore him.
KP is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. But, with a piece of willow in his hands, he was an absolute genius.
There are few cricketers who can get the crowd on their feet just by walking to the crease. Viv Richards was one. Kevin Pietersen was definitely another.
His range of shots was astonishing. His timing amazing.
Yes, he had the occasional brain freeze. But, when he was on his game, there was no one to match him.
Who will ever forget the amazing 158 to win the Ashes in 2005?
2005 was a decent year for the lad. 473 runs in the Ashes, Wisden Cricketer of the Year and an MBE.
What a player.
Pietersen in numbers: 104 matches, 8181 runs, 23 hundreds
6 Ian Botham
England’s greatest ever all-rounder? The arguments will rage.
What isn’t in dispute is Botham’s extraordinary record.
Over 5,000 runs and nearly 400 wickets. What a guy.
Beefy was the ultimate competitor. It was his attitude as much as his skill which got England over the line so many times.
Of course there is one match which Botham’s brilliance really stood out.
I’ll never forget the sight of him smashing the Aussies all over the park in that 149 not out at Headingly in 1981.
Equally, the amazing spell of 5-1 at Edgbaston to inspire England to another unbelievable victory in the series which now bears his name.
Botham in numbers: 102 matches, 5200 runs, 14 hundreds; 383 wickets, 27 5wi
7 Ben Stokes
The second all-rounder slot behind Ian Botham came down to a straight choice between two superstars. Ben Stokes and Freddie Flintoff.
Both are powerful hitters. Stokes definitely has the edge in batting. But Flintoff was a far superior bowler. Though Stokes does pick up his share of wickets.
I’ve opted for Stokes simply because he has so much more to give. His test career has only really just got started.
But. Oh Ben. What have you done?
We now know two more things about Ben Stokes.
1 – He won’t be going to Australia any time soon
2 – Stokes & Botham against Chappell & Lillie would sell more tickets than Mayweather vs. McGregor.
Back to the cricket.
Stokes has already established himself as one of the best players in the world. He has already hit more hundreds than Flintoff managed in his career.
I can see him developing into a batsman who bowls 5-10 overs an innings but his 6-22 this summer may suggest otherwise. He is ideal for the number seven slot in my batting order.
A combative character (to say the least) he won’t take a backward step against the tough Aussies.
Stokes in numbers: 39 matches, 2429 runs, 6 hundreds; 95 wickets, 4 5wi
8 Alan Knott
England have had so many talented wicket keepers down the years. Taylor, Prior, Stewart, Russell, French the list just goes on.
But, in my opinion, the best of them by a country mile was Alan Knott.
It was uncanny how the ball always ended up in his gloves. He hardly ever missed a chance and conceding byes was something which happened to other keepers. Even when standing up to Underwood on a wet pitch which was turning square.
As a wicket keeper he towers over everyone else. He holds the records for the most dismissals and catches for England.
But he was also an all-rounder. As a batsmen he hit hundreds for England. Despite his quirky stance he could defend like Boycott or attack like Gower.
I loved watching him bat. One of my favourite players ever to pull on an England shirt.
Knott in numbers: 95 matches, 269 dismissals, 4389 runs, 5 hundreds
9 James Anderson
So good they named a stand after him.
England’s all-time leading wicket taker, you wouldn’t want anyone else opening the bowling.
The Burnley Express has made a habit of blowing away the top order of the opposition.
Watching Jimmy swing the bright red cherry on an overcast morning at Trent Bridge is a thing of beauty.
Not only a master wicket taker but also an extraordinary sledger. Anderson is the Aussies worst nightmare.
The first and probably will be the only Englishman to 500 test wickets. Anderson is one of the game’s all-time greats.
Anderson in numbers: 129 matches, 506 wickets, 24 5wi
10 Bob Willis
We need some genuine pace in the team and Bob Willis is clearly the man.
The mop haired Mackem was a fearsome sight at his peak. Powering in off from ultra-long run the 6’6″ Willis was lightning fast.
Very far from being a natural athlete he grafted hard to become one of England’s leading wicket takers.
He also played a huge part in probably the most famous test of the last fifty years.
Botham set up the Aussies with his batting but it was Willis who won the 1981 Headingly test match. His 8-43 skittling out Australia for 111 when they only needed 129 to win the match.
Willis in numbers: 90 matches, 325 wickets, 16 5wi
11 Derek Underwood
The spinners slot was the hardest to fill.
There hasn’t been an abundance of great slow bowlers. Not since the days of Laker and Lock. But two stand head and shoulders above all others. Graeme Swann and Derek Underwood.
It was so difficult to choose between them. They have remarkably similar records in terms of wickets, average, and strike rate. They even sit next to each other in the all-time wicket takers list.
In the end though I’ve gone for Deadly Derek.
I grew up watching Underwood skittle out teams. Especially on rain affected wickets.
It’s also easy to forget that Underwood was a part of World Series Cricket and also the rebel tour of South Africa. He would have surely gone close to 400 wickets without those interruptions to his test career.
Another factor in going for Deadly over Swanny was his partnership with Alan Knott. They teamed up for so many wickets they are an inseparable duo.
Underwood in numbers: 86 matches, 297 wickets, 17 5wi
Now onto the baggy greens.
Australia’s best ever Ashes team
1 Justin Langer
Australia have had so many great opening batsmen over the years. Many were heroes of mine; Taylor, McCoskar, Wood, Warner, Slater. The list goes on.
But Justin Langer was arguably the gutsiest of them all. He was smashed on the body countless times but carried on regardless. He was also a prolific run scorer.
He achieved so much, often in the company of Matthew Hayden, and racked up plenty of hundreds.
An accumulator with a range of strokes when needed it was always a treat to watch him bat.
Langer is seventh on the list of all-time Australian run scorers. It’s incredible to think what he would have achieved if he had been a regular choice sooner. There was a period when he played less than 10 matches in six years.
My favourite memory of Langer was the way he took on England in 2005 when every other Aussie failed. Guts, determination and panache – he had it all.
Langer in numbers: 105 matches, 7696 runs, 23 hundreds
2 Mark Taylor
Tubby is a choice based more on favourites rather than performances.
I had a choice between Taylor, David Warner and Matthew Hayden. Hayden scored more runs and made more hundreds. But I never really warmed to him. And Warner isn’t quite in that class yet.
So I’m breaking up the Langer / Hayden opening partnership and going with Taylor.
I also enjoyed watching Taylor bat. He may not have had the cavalier approach of Hayden but as a grafter he was top class.
I first saw him in 1989 when he went run crazy, smacking England around for 839 in the series.
His form tended to be in and out but anyone who can make a triple hundred on the sub-continent is class.
He also took a world record 157 catches so will be at first slip.
Taylor in numbers: 104 matches, 7525 runs, 19 hundreds
3 Allan Border
The archetypal Aussie cricketer. Tough, combative and talented.
On a par with Boycott with the way he prized his wicket. By no means a stroke player he nevertheless was one of the most effective run gatherers the Aussies have produced.
A test average of over 50 is evidence enough on how great a batsman he was.
I had a love hate relationship with him. Even if England had Australia by the throat you knew they were always in the game as long as Border was at the crease. So it was always enjoyable seeing him get out. Though he’d usually bagged a hundred by then.
As good a captain as a batsman. Border dragged a rubbish Australian team from the depths to become the best in the world. Which is why he will be the skipper of my all-time Australian eleven.
Border in numbers: 156 matches, 11174 runs, 27 hundreds
4 Ricky Ponting
Oh Punter. The Aussie all England fans loved to hate.
My favourite memory of Ponting was at Trent Bridge in 2005. And that famous run out by Gary Pratt. Ponting screaming at Duncan Fletcher as he walked off was priceless.
Actually, behind Boycott’s hundredth hundred it is my favourite Ashes memory full stop.
But, all that said. What a player.
He’s top of the Aussie run charts for a reason. The reason being he is one of the best players ever to wear the baggy green. Or any other colour cap to be fair.
The man was a run machine. Strangely, his average against England was lower than against every other country.
Yet all I can remember is Ponting hooking English bowlers to the fence with monotonous regularity.
Ponting in numbers: 168 matches, 13378 runs, 41 hundreds
5 Steve Waugh
What a player. One of only three Aussies to pass 10,000 runs in test cricket Waugh was a tough, uncompromising cricketer.
By no stretch a flamboyant or eye-catching batsman Waugh was an accumulator of runs.
I loved the way he prized his wicket and hardly ever threw it away. Risk wasn’t part of his game.
A tactician as well he led Australia on their world record run of 16 successive test victories. He also won the world cup in 1999.
He usually reserved his best for battles against England. He hit 10 centuries against them and averaged nearly 60.
Waugh in numbers: 168 matches, 10927 runs, 32 hundreds, 92 wickets, 3 5wi
6 Greg Chappell
To be honest I always preferred Ian. But no one can deny what a great player Greg was.
An average of over 53 was only part of the story. So was his ability to go big. He passed 50 in over a third of his test match innings.
The Aussie equivalent of Gower, Chappell was an elegant and upright batsman.
He wasn’t a great captain and ordering that underarm delivery will always scar him in many people’s opinion.
Nevertheless he was probably the best middle order batsman Australia had produced in generations.
And he was bowling when Boycs hit his 100th hundred. So he can’t be all bad.
Chappell in numbers: 87 matches, 7110 runs, 24 hundreds, 47 wickets. 1 5wi
7 Adam Gilchrist
Wicket keeper was a tough choice.
Not because Gilchrist is anything short of brilliant but because I have a real soft spot for Rodney Marsh. A real tough cookie and I loved watching him bat as well as keep to Lille and Thompson.
But, in the end, I really couldn’t overlook Gilchrist.
Possibly the best ever wicket keeper batsman? If not the best then certainly the most entertaining.
An absolute star in the one day game he was no less destructive in test cricket. His hundred in 57 balls against England at Perth testimony to that.
Apart from his batting he was also a more than decent wicket keeper. Maybe a tad underrated he has more dismissals than any other Aussie keeper.
Gilchrist in numbers: 96 matches, 416 dismissals, 5570 runs, 17 hundreds
8 Shane Warne
What can you say about this guy? The best spinner of all time? Possibly.
What isn’t in doubt is the skill of Warne. He was on another planet to those he was playing against.
I still remember the sound of my jaw hitting the floor when he bowled THAT ball to Mike Gatting.
By far and away the leading Aussie wicket taker. Only Chucker Muralitharan is ahead of him in the world list.
No mug with the bat he was always good for a thrash down the order.
Bizarrely Warne scored more runs than any other batsman in history without hitting a hundred. He made 99 against New Zealand once and also got into the 90s against England I seem to recall.
Just an incredible cricketer who worked hard to perfect his craft. While also enjoying a tinny and a barbie. And Liz Hurley.
Warne in numbers: 145 matches, 708 wickets, 37 5wi, 3154 runs
9 Dennis Lillee
I hated this fella when I was a kid. “Stop getting Geoffrey out.”
With shirt open to the waist, moustache and unruly hair he looked like he should be throwing punches in a Perth bar. Not terrifying English batsmen.
A seriously fast bowler he was clever too. He knew how to get batsmen out. The world’s leading wicket taker at one point he was equally effective later in his career when his pace dropped.
He did of course form the most feared new ball partnership of all time with Jeff Thompson.
The 1970s were not a great time to be an English batsmen.
As well as being a great bowler Lillie was also a showman. Who can forget him turning up with an aluminium bat? Or his spat with Javid Miandad?
One of the best bowlers I’ve ever seen.
Lillee in numbers: 70 matches, 355 wickets, 23 5wi
10 Jeff Thomson
There are plenty of Aussie bowlers with more test wickets than Thommo. Even Stuart MacGill is ahead of him.
But you can’t have Lillee without Thomson.
Thommo only played 51 tests. But he was incredibly fast. And for a period during the mid-seventies was virtually unplayable.
In 1974/75 he took 33 wickets in the series against England.
Unfortunately the slingy action which allowed him to bowl fast was his downfall. Injury blunted him to some degree and curtailed his career.
But, for a few years at least, Thommo was the fastest, most frightening bowler in the world.
Thomson in numbers: 51 matches, 200 wickets, 8 5wi
11 Glenn McGrath
“5-0 whitewash.” Don’t you just love it when McGrath’s predictions come unstuck?
Unfortunately he’s been right a few times though.
Though he was a more accurate bowler than pundit.
Which is only right.
He was an incredible wicket taker. Naggingly accurate and always likely to take a wicket. He must have been a nightmare to bat against.
Every Englishman will be grateful to McGrath for stepping on that ball in 2005. The result of the Ashes may have been very different with McGrath in the Aussie attack.
A rabbit who thought he was a batsman. He is a natural number 11.
But probably the greatest ever Australian quick bowler.
McGrath in numbers: 124 matches, 563 wickets, 29 5wi
So who would win? England or Australia? Which would be the best ever Ashes team?
Who knows? But looking at the teams you’d have to fancy the Aussies.
But let me know your all-time elevens, favourite players or your best memories of Ashes tests.
There are no right answers here, it’s all subjective. But be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments box below.
(All stats are correct to the start of the 2017/18 Ashes).