CRICKET punters are set to hit fever pitch next week, with the Aussies favoured to knock off the Poms in the first Ashes Test.
The Australians, led by Michael Clarke, are tipped to bring home the urn from England and make new memories for the adoring public, in a series that sports the single most coveted prize in all of cricket.
Did you know that a British newspaper actually came up with the term The Ashes in 1882?
The paper wrote an obituary after England lost its first ever Test on home soil to the Australians, one of the lines saying “and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.
The next year, Pom captain Ivo Bligh vowed to regain the ashes and it was forever etched in the folklore between the two teams.
The Ashes series is held at least every four years, is played over five Tests and is one of the most closely fought contests in history. Its been held 68 times, with Australia winning it 32 times, the English taking home the urn 31 times, with five drawn series over the journey.
We’ll preview the first Test soon, but for now, let’s take a look at six of Australia’s biggest moments in history.
Warnie’s ball of the century
AUSTRALIA’S undisputed Spin King produced a list of Ashes moments as long as your arm.
But there is no more iconic moment in Aussie Ashes folklore than Shane Warne’s ball of the century at Old Trafford in 1993.
The blonde kid from the Bayside suburbs played a tour match against Worcestershire before the series started and was instructed to just bowl leg breaks to English gun Graeme Hick by captain Allan Border.
During the tour match Hick smashed him all over the park.
But the foxing proved fruitful when AB chucked Warne the ball during the first Test.
What he unleashed has been replayed countless times.
Warnie, with what would become his trademark grunt, ripped his first pill, which drifted across English batsman Mike Gatting like a floating feather, before landing way outside the leg stump, gripping and then ripping viciously back, cannoning into the bewildered batsman’s off stump.
“And he’s done it, he’s started off with the most beautiful delivery,” legendary commentator Richie Benaud remarked.
“Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to it, he still doesn’t know.
“He asked (umpire) Kenny Palmer on the way out and Kenny Palmer just gave him a raised eyebrow and a little nod.
“That’s all it needed.”
Warnie unleashed his full repertoire on that series – and on the Poms throughout his Ashes career – claiming 172 wickets with plenty of flippers, zooters, wrong ‘uns, sliders and toppies.
He reckons it was a fluke, we reckon otherwise.
“The whole ‘Gatting ball’ thing, I suppose everyone says it’s the ball of the century etc, which is a pretty proud sort of thing,” Warne said of his dynamic ball.
“It’s pretty cool and sort of makes me feel pretty humble about how lucky I was to be in that thing and how lucky it was to happen.
“He could have easily missed it or nicked it.
“And I never did it again. It just shows you it really was a fluke, and it was meant to be.
“I enjoy it and every time I see it, it puts a smile on my face.”
English batsman Graham Gooch was at the non striker’s end when Warnie sent down his iconic delivery and provided perhaps the most amusing comment of all.
“Gatt’s face, it looked like someone had nicked his lunch,” Gooch said.
Harmison’s worst ball of the century
Warnie’s ball is memorable for all the right reasons.
English opening bowler Steve Harmison’s first rock of the 2006-07 Ashes series at the GABBA is memorable for all the wrong reasons.
It was just wrong for the Poms, but so right for Australia.
On the back of a massive build up to the series after the English had regained the urn for the first time in nearly 20 years, Harmison steamed in to bowl the first delivery of the first Test, every one holding their breath in anticipation.
That delivery can often set the tone of an entire series and, from the moment he hit the crease and bowled the ball to Andrew Flintoff – at second slip – the English were doomed.
The terrible ball set the scene for Australia’s 5-0 white wash of the Poms.
It is still known as one of the worst deliveries in Test cricket history and it took Harmison a power of work to get over it after the pasting he copped in the English press.
“From the very first ball of the Ashes I hated the game of cricket,” Harmison said.
“I can’t think of a worse ball to bowl than that.
“In fact, I can’t remember ever bowling a ball as bad as that.”
Waugh’s home town ton
Booted out of the 30 man World Cup squad and struggling mightily with the bat, Australia’s captain courageous was under fire.
English captain Nasser Hussain rated Waugh so poorly that series, that he was pushing the field back for the last ball of each over if Waugh was facing, giving him the strike so that the Poms could attack him again.
Striding to the crease before tea with the Aussies teetering at 3/56, Waugh reached nine before the interval.
“I was well aware that if i didn’t score runs in this test match that it more than likely would be my last Test match, so there was that little bit of extra pressure going into the game,” Waugh later said of his innings.
“You get to a certain age when you don’t score the runs you’ve been scoring previously the questions come pretty thick and fast and the word retirement was at every press conference and before that Test match, I think someone asked me what my highlight of my career was and i said “hopefully it hasn’t happened yet”.
“With hindsight, the fact that on this occasion I didn’t have to wait long to get out there was probably a godsend, because most of my thoughts were negative.
“I kept on imagining myself getting out for a duck and disappointing everyone in what may well be my last dig for Australia.”
He came out a new man, hitting everything out of the middle and plundering the English attack to all parts of the SCG, sending the crowd of more than 40,000 – who had flocked to the ground anticipating it could be his last Test innings there – into delirium.
No known for his swashbuckling ways, Waugh raced to 95 with one over to go in the day.
He blocked the first three deliveries from English spinner Richard Dawson and it looked like his chance at a monumental career saving ton had passed.
But a cover drive gave him three, taking him to 98, but giving Adam Gilchrist the strike,
Gilly slotted one off his pads for one, giving the Aussie captain one last chance.
He didn’t disappoint crashing the wider, quicker ball from Dawson to the cover fence, in doing so, producing one of the most iconic shots in Ashes history.
The crowd went mental and even the Poms had to just stand and salute.
“This was one of those occasions as a sportsperson when you are in that special place called ‘the zone’, something that happens only once or twice in a career,” he said.
“The next hour was a period I wish everyone could experience once in their life.”
The ton gave Waugh a then Aussie record of 29 triple figure scores and gave him the impetus to play on for another year.
Aussies come from the clouds in Adelaide
They don’t call this Test ‘Amazing Adelaide’ for nothing.
This was a game neither side had any business winning.
The Poms absolutely smoked the Aussie bowlers all over Adelaide Oval, amassing 6/551, with Paul Collingwood cracking the first double ton by an Englishman on Australian soil in more than 70 years, and superstar Kevin Pietersen crunching 158.
But the Aussie bats had some plundering plans of their own, racking up 513 in reply on the back of tons to Ricky Ponting (142) and Michael Clarke (124), with 91 from Mike Hussey.
The Poms resumed on day five at 1/59 and it looked like this one would peter out into a meandering draw after some entertaining batting.
Enter Shane Warne.
The great leggie produced another of his plethora of esteemed Ashes moments when he nabbed 4/49 from 32 overs to spin the English out for 129 and give the Aussies a chase of 168 from 216 balls.
Hussey, following on from his first innings knock, led the charge with an unbeaten 61 and Ponting cracked 49 as Australia piled it on, scoring at more than five runs an over to record and famous and very unlikely victory over the old enemy.
This is not so much a moment as it is a series of moments that led to the single most successful tour of England in Australian cricket history.
Known simply as the Invincibles an led by the legendary Don Bradman, the 1948 touring party will forever be remembered for going undefeated in the 34 matches it played in England during its five month stay.
This included four Test victories over the old enemy, with one drawn.
They won 25 of those matches, with nine draws.
The 17 man squad is a member of the Australian Sport Hall of Fame for its amazing achievements in England.
“Nothing can alter the figures which will appear in black and white in the record books, but they cannot record the spirit which permeated the side, the courage and fighting qualities of the players, for these things cannot be measured,” Bradman later said.
“They were on a very high plane.“
There were some amazing achievements on the tour, but none bigger than the ridiculous run chase on the final day of the fourth Test at Headingly.
It was, of course, Brahman who led the way, partnering with Arthur Morris to storm home with a second wicket partnership of 301, helping chase down the 404 run target.
There was a day in a tour match against Essex when the Aussies made 721 – we feel just a little sorry for those bowlers.
Morris banged out 696 Ashes runs at 87, while Bradman was overshadowed “only” averaging 72, with 508 runs.
Perhaps the only negative out of the whole series was Bradman’s second ball duck in the second Test, which consigned him to a career Test cricket average of just a shade under 100, finishing his glittering efforts with 99.94.
Taylor and Marsh feast on Poms
Of course, there are hundreds of Ashes moments we could have chosen, but few opening partnerships have personified the Aussie spirit quite like the pairing of Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh.
The gritty pair put together one of the all time great opening stands at Trent Bridge in 1989, sucking the life out of the English to the tune of 329 runs.
The Aussies – famously pronounced the worst touring party in Ashes history – were really in party mode after retaining the Ashes in the previous Test in Manchester.
They could have been forgiven for treating the dead rubber as a novelty, but Taylor and Marsh had other ideas, batting through the first day without losing a wicket, the partnership 301, with Marsh on 125 and Taylor 141.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine batting through a day of Test cricket with the same partner,” Taylor said.
“It was a day Geoff and I both treasure and share the odd beer over.”
Taylor made 219 and Marsh was dismissed on 138, breaking the 329 run stand and leaving English captain David Gower to open a bottle of champagne at the lunch break to celebrate the side’s first wicket of the Test.
Australia won the match by an innings and 180 runs to take a 4-0 lead in the series – and make a mockery of the critics.