27 Jul 1997: Nasser Hussain of England in action during the Fourth Ashes Test at Headingley in Leeds, England. Hussain made 105 in the second innings but Australia still won the match by an innings and 61 runs. Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason /Allsport

Ashes to ashes

Cricket memories to be treasured


This article is taken from the June 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Where were you on 5 June 1997? I know where I was: sitting in the Eric Hollies stand at Edgbaston with my granddad as we watched England pulverise Australia.

Everyone has their favourite Ashes memory

Everyone has their favourite Ashes memory, and this was mine. My nan had recently passed away and not long after that sunny day at Edgbaston granddad followed her, as was his wish. The memory is tender for those late moments I enjoyed with the man I dearly loved.

But it was — as granddad would insist — also about the sport. Almost immediately Darren Gough knocked over Matthew Elliott. Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh, Greg Blewett, Steve Waugh, Ian Healy and Michael Bevan all followed. The superior Aussies were suddenly 48 for seven. We England supporters were triumphant; the Australians near us complained that this was not a test-standard wicket.

Some late resistance by Shane Warne suggested — contrary to those false Australian hopes — that the wicket was not so bad. Helped by Warne, the Aussies rallied to 118 all out. And by the close of play — unthinkable at its start — England were already ahead, and 200 for three. 

All this time my younger brother, John, then aged 14 and on Warwickshire’s books as a youth player, was acting as one of the Edgbaston ball boys. His job was to fetch the ball each time Nasser Hussain, who went on to score 207, creamed an Australian bowler through the covers for four. He therefore had a busy time, but he also gained an insight into the “mental disintegration” — as the Aussies charmingly put it when the Poms are under pressure — taking place among the Australian players.

John was due to take his lunch before the scheduled break in play. As he made his way to where food was served in the pavilion, he took a wrong turn and found himself in the Australian dressing room. Mark Taylor, the Aussie captain, spotted him and let out a torrent of abuse, telling him to “get the f*ck out of here”. Mark Waugh, a gentler soul, interceded, telling Taylor to calm down, before showing young John the way out.

Taylor later channelled his anger more productively for his team. After England declared on 478 for nine, he started to make the Poms nervous. He put on 133 with Elliott for the first wicket and a further 194 with Blewett for the second. But at 327 for one, any fears English fans had that their team might, well, blow it were soon assuaged. Taylor fell, Blewett followed, and Australia were all out for 477.

From there, the run chase was smooth, and the sight of Alec Stewart’s winning cover drive for four remains a great modern Ashes moment. 

There are, of course, many great Ashes moments. From the Bodyline series to the famous Headingley test match of 1981, from Harold Larwood and Douglas Jardine to Neil Harvey and Richie Benaud, the legends of past generations loom large. Even over the course of my lifetime — now, admittedly, in its fifth decade — there have been moments that will live on forever: stories remembered and retold because of the brilliance of a player’s skill, the slowly-built tension of a single session of play, or — like with granddad and me — the meaning of the day with a friend or loved one.

There is of course the “the greatest series”: the 2005 Australian tour of England. For once the label is not hyperbolic. The Aussies had been utterly dominant in the world game for more than a decade. England had not won the Ashes for years. And while Australia hammered us at Lord’s in the first test, the series was full of intense competition, duels between players, and — typical for cricket — moments of cynical gamesmanship and noble sportsmanship.

The Steve Harmison bouncer that cut Ricky Ponting’s face. The arrival of Kevin Pietersen and his battle with Shane Warne. The cruel injury suffered by the brilliant Simon Jones. The aggression of Andrew Flintoff, and the “greatest over” when Flintoff removed Ponting and Justin Langer. The leadership of Michael Vaughan. The two-run victory at Edgbaston when all seemed lost. The battle for the draw at the Oval when the series went all the way to its very last day. For that summer, cricket was bigger than the Premier League.

There have been many other brilliant Ashes moments since. In 2009, the emergence of Jonathan Trott and the brilliance of Stuart Broad. The 2010/11 tour, when England finally won Down Under and it seemed impossible for the Aussies to get rid of Trott and Alastair Cook. Remember 2013, when Ian Bell scored hundreds in three successive tests? Or 2015, when Broad took eight for 15 at Trent Bridge? And 2019, when Ben Stokes pulled off the impossible at Headingley and everyone’s favourite Aussie, Nathan Lyon, fumbled an easy run-out.

I have, of course, missed off the misery, because this column is about our greatest Ashes memories. I choose not to remember the 5-0 whitewashes in Australia and years of predictable defeats. Even that ’97 Edgbaston test led ultimately to a series defeat. But a sporting rivalry without defeat is no rivalry at all. And I will always have that memory of sitting next to my granddad, an old man nearing his end but still happy and excited watching the cricket from the Eric Hollies stand.

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