England's best Ashes performances
It's time to come down from cloud 9, stop celebrating the World Cup win and concentrate on the Ashes. The biggest series in cricket is all set to start in just 2 weeks time and the England team will no doubt hope to ride the wave of cricketing euphoria that is sweeping the nation to another home series win.
I'm going to add a caveat to this list and say that the only games I will consider are ones that I can actually remember so I'm not going to back to the 19th century looking for great English performances although I'm sure there have been plenty that are worth consideration and if you happen to be 150 years old then do mention them in the comments.
1997, Edgbaston, Day 1 - The Perfect Start
Given the quality of the Australian side and the fact that since the turn of the decade England had won just 2 of the 16 Ashes Tests played, not many people gave them much hope of a victory in the 1997 series. However, a fired-up England took advantage of an Australian side that was perhaps a little underprepared by skittling them for 118 then finishing the day 82 runs ahead with 7 wickets in hand.
Darren Gough did the initial damage bowling a fantastic spell of quick bowling mixed with late swing to blow away the Aussie top-order. In the normal course of events, you'd expect the visitors to rally through the likes of Steve Waugh and Ian Healy but it wasn't to be as Andy Caddick got stuck into the middle order with only a late rally from Warne and Kasprowicz helping the Australians avoid complete embarrassment.
In reply, Australia had England wobbling at 50-3 but a punchy innings from Graham Thorpe who was supported by Nasser Hussain helped steady the ship and put England in command. Hussain then began to play a few shots including back to back cover drives off Glen McGrath using his trademark in to out technique. Hussain would score a double hundred and England would ultimately go on to win the match by 9 wickets.
1998, The MCG, Day 4 - The Miracle Win
Coming into the 4th Test of this series, Australia had a 2-0 lead and had already retained the Ashes. Trailing by 70 runs going into the 2nd innings, England knew that they were in danger of losing a 3rd consecutive Test on this tour and despite a couple of fighting half-centuries from Hick and Hussain they could only set the Aussies 175 win.
England dismissed both openers in reasonably quick time to give themselves some hope but a partnership between Justin Langer and Mark Waugh looked to have extinguished those slim chances until Mark Ramprakash took a blinder of a catch at square leg to dismiss Langer. The celebrations after the wicket showed that England weren't about to slip quietly into the Melbourne night with their tails between their legs.
Dean Headley bowled like a man possessed and ripped through the Australian middle and lower order. All the while though, England had not been able to dismiss Australia's 1st innings centurion Steve Waugh and he finally found some help in resisting England via debutant Matthew Nicholson. However, once Nicholson was prised out, the real tail was exposed and Darren Gough wrapped the innings up with 2 inswinging yorkers much to the delight of the travelling Barmy Army.
2001, Headingley, Day 5 - Butcher slices up the Aussies
As with much of the 90s and early 00s it seemed that England were only able to beat Australia in dead rubbers. Was it because the Australian's performance levels dropped or did England feel unburdened by the weight of expectation now the series was over? Whatever the answer, they managed to pull off a great run-chase on the final day of the 4th Test.
Having declared at 176-4 Australia knew that they would have all of the last day to claim 10 England wickets while the hosts would have to score an improbable 314 to win the match. When Trescothick and Atherton fell within the first 10 overs of the day's play it seemed like Australia were romping towards another victory and potentially a whitewash with 1 match to play. However, Mark Butcher came out and played an incredible knock scoring 173 off 227 balls. I don't think I'd ever seen Butch play like that before or after and England pretty much cruised to victory by 6 wickets with plenty of time left in the match.
2005, Edgbaston, Day 1 - The turning of the tide
By this point, England hadn't won an Ashes series for 16 years but many in the know felt that this might just be their best chance. However, familiar failings returned to haunt the hosts as they were blown away in the 1st Test at Lords to leave them needing something special in the 2nd Test at Edgbaston.
Much like the recently played World Cup final, sometimes you just need a bit of luck to go your way to turn the tide and that is exactly what England got when Glenn McGrath stood on a stray cricket ball and went over on his ankle. Suddenly the man that had tormented England for so long and took great delight out of his regular pre-series prediction of an Aussie win was out of the picture.
The Aussies problems were further compounded when Ricky Ponting won the toss and decided to bowl on a good looking pitch. Shane Warne described it as "the worst decision made by any captain I've played under" and so it proved to be as England plundered 407 at better than 5 an over on day 1 of a Test match. Trescothick, Pietersen and Flintoff were the main protagonists and by the evening the vail that had sat over English cricket for so long had been lifted to such an extent that even tailenders Simon Jones and Steve Harmison were bashing it about!
2010, The MCG, Day 1 - The perfect day
When the ball nips around a bit you know that England are going to be in the game against the Australian batsmen and so it was the case in this match as all the English seamers got in on the action to bowl the hosts out for 98. Every catch was behind the wicket with Prior taking 6 himself as the Australian batsmen just couldn't help but have tentative flirts outside the off-stump.
England's openers then strode out to bat and made look it like a completely different situation with Cook and Strauss carrying their bats through to stumps at 157/0. The fact that it was Boxing Day, probably the biggest sporting day in Australia only made the success even more delightful
2015, Trent Bridge, Day 1 - All-out before lunch!
This was simply a remarkable mornings cricket! Again the ball moved around a bit but prior to the game all the talk was of how England would cope with the loss of James Anderson who was out injured. However, Stuart Broad who had struggled in the series prior to that point took up the mantle and went on one the kind of hot streaks that he has produced from time to time in his career claiming the ridiculous figures of 8/15.
Everything ran for England including some good slip catches and one from Ben Stokes (remember him!) in the gully that almost defied explanation. England then came out and made 274/4 with Joe Root hitting a fluent hundred to all but end the game and return the famous urn to its rightful home.