It would be difficult to overestimate the difficulty of winning an Ashes series in Australia that faces England, as PHILIP BARKER outlines
Sky’s promotional trail for its Ashes coverage features Shane Warne nodding off to sleep as David Lloyd is shown mastering a surfboard. Bit by bit, every institution the Aussies hold dear is taken over by the Poms, the final insult coming with Nasser Hussain announcing that England have retained the Ashes, before Warnie is roused from his slumbers.
It is an appropriate metaphor. Most English cricket followers’ first memories of an Ashes series Down Under probably includes listening to the radio while under the bedclothes. After all, for all the High Definition innovation of 2010, it was not possible to watch a live television transmission from Australia until as recently as 1983.
Whatever method you use, following the Ashes live demands that you exist without much sleep. As for dreams, don’t hold your breath. Since the First World War, victorious England tours to Australia can be counted without using all your fingers.
It was probably just as well that there was no television coverage when Douglas Jardine led the 1932-33 touring side with an approach that had it said infamously that “He’ll win you the Ashes, but lose you the Empire.”
DR Jardine, of Oxford University, Surrey and England, would be described “provocative, austere, brusque, shy, humble, thoughtful, kindly, proud, sensitive, single-minded”. A haughty patrician who preferred to wear his harlequin cap, he was intensely disliked by Australian crowds, something of which Jardine said, “It’s fucking mutual”.
As the team waited to board the SS Orontes, Jardine’s diffident speech to the dockside newsreel microphones masked a man of steel, determined to neutralise Australia’s star batsman Donald Bradman.
Jardine devised a system of bowling called leg theory, to be implemented by express Nottinghamshire bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. It worked, though there were nearly riots at Adelaide when wicket keeper Bertie Oldfield was hit over the heart.
“There are two teams out there and only one of them is playing cricket,” Bill Woodfull, the Australia captain, said in what he believed to be the privacy of the dressing room (Bradman suggested the comment was leaked by batsman Jack Fingleton, later to have a deserved reputation as an excellent sportswriter. Fingleton always denied the slur). For all the possible use of cameras in the dressing rooms for the coming series, it seems unlikely that such frankness will be witnessed in 2010-2011.
The term “Bodyline” was apparently coined by an Australian journalist called Hugh Buggy who filed for the Melbourne Age. “Line of the body” cost too much to send over the wires in the poetic version of the tale.
Jardine’s parentage was often questioned. When some Australian players questioned it once too often, Jardine remonstrated with his opposite number who took him in to the dressing room and asked: “Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”
By 1936, the MCC appointed the less confrontational Gubby Allen as skipper for its tour to Australia. England won the first two Tests yet somehow lost the series 3-2.
With the war intervening, it was 19 years before England regained the Ashes. In 1954-1955, the last tour for which the MCC travelled by sea to Australia, they retained them. Then, the last three Test matches were played at roughly monthly intervals.
Frank Tyson was the fast bowling hero who later had a career in the press box. Len Hutton, the first professional to captain England, epitomised Yorkshire grit. But it would be another 16 years before England won a series in Australia once more.
The last England team to regain the Ashes on Australian soil was led by another Yorkshireman, Ray Illingworth.
That winter of 1970-1971, the Australians had Snow at Christmas. John Snow that is , the silky smooth Sussex pace bowler who hustled them out for 116 in the third Test. It is the only Ashes series to have a seventh Test, the extra game arranged after one match was washed out without a ball bowled.
England won the final Test but Jardine-like ill-feeling and controversy reared its ugly head once more when a bouncer from Snow hit Terry Jenner on the head, and Illingworth had to lead his side off the field after things turned ugly.
Mike Brearley, as popular with modern Australians as was Jardine half a century earlier, was in charge of the England team in 1978-1979.
Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket had had a devastating effect on the Aussies. Not for nothing was skipper Graham Yallop’s account of the series entitled Lambs to the Slaughter. England reduced the Aussies to 26 for 6 on the first morning and although there were times when they wobbled, they won the six match series 5-1.
Which brings us to the last success. “Can’t bat, can’t field, can’t bowl,” wrote Martin Johnson, the cricket correspondent of the new Independent newspaper, as England lost their tour opening match to Queensland in 1986. If there was ever a case when it all came right on the night, this was it. Ian Botham led the way for Mike Gatting’s side, and the Ashes were retained when Gladstone Small caught Merv Hughes off Phil Edmonds on the afternoon of December 28.
Since then, we’ve had a heroic hat-trick from Darren Gough, epic centuries from Michael Vaughan, even a double hundred from Paul Collingwood. But no win for England in a “live” Test match in Australia.
Trouble is, for every great England moment, the Aussies have come back with plenty of their own.