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Best of the Ashes at Old Trafford

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Old_Trafford_Manchester_England_Ashes_Cricket_GroundFollowing Ben Stokes’ stunning exploits at Headingley, the 2019 Ashes stand tantalisingly poised at 1-1 with two Tests to go. The action has now moved to Old Trafford in Manchester, where the fourth Test is currently in progress. The venue first hosted a Test in 1884 and since then has been the scene for 29 Ashes Tests (both teams winning seven each). As the battle for the urn heats up, here is a look back at seven memorable Ashes contests played at Old Trafford.

Ranji’s debut heroics go in vain – Second Test, 1896

This match marked the Test debut of Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, better known as ‘Ranji’, the Indian prince who would go on to achieve cricketing immortality. He made an immediate impact, but his efforts could not prevent Australia from taking the three-match series to a decider. Thanks to contributions from Frank Iredale (108), George Giffen (80) and captain Harry Trott (53), Australia posted a strong 412. Pacer Tom Richardson bowled with heart to take 7/168.

England replied with 231, with Ranji (62) and wicketkeeper Arthur Lilley (65*) being among the runs. As the hosts followed on (it was a three-day match), they lost captain WG Grace with 33 on the board. Australia kept striking, but Ranji stayed unbeaten on a fine 154 out of a total of 305, thus becoming the second man to score a ton on debut for England after Grace. Australia slipped to 100/7 in their chase of 125 (Richardson taking another 6/76), before winning by three wickets.   

Australia win the Ashes by a whisker – Fourth Test, 1902

England needed a win if they were to keep their hopes of regaining the Ashes alive. Australia’s first innings of 299 was headlined by a remarkable 104 from Victor Trumper, who became the first man to hit a century before lunch on the first day of a Test. Australia were 173/1 at lunch, but England fought back through fast bowler Bill Lockwood’s 6/48. England collapsed to 44/5 in response, before Stanley Jackson (128) and Len Braund (65) put on 141 runs for the sixth wicket.

England, having limited their deficit to 37, then bundled Australia for 86 early on the last (third) day, with Lockwood (5/28) starring again. Chasing 124, England were 68/1 at one stage. However, Hugh Trumble (6/53) and Jack Saunders (4/52) derailed the chase off its track. Fred Tate, in what would be his only Test, came in at 116/9 and hit a four off the first ball he faced, from Saunders. But he was bowled off the fourth, leaving Australia triumphant by just three runs.  

Laker rewrites the record books – Fourth Test, 1956

With the series locked at 1-1, this penultimate Test assumed great importance. As it happened, England won by an innings to retain the urn, on the back of the most awe-inspiring bowling display seen in the game’s history. Peter Richardson (104) and Colin Cowdrey (80) added 174 for the first wicket, and thereafter, David Sheppard (113) put on 93 for the third wicket with captain Peter May, paving the way for England to reach 459 and for Jim Laker to steal the show.

The Surrey off-spinner took 9/37 in Australia’s first innings to plummet the score from 48/0 to 84 all out, while in the second, he did even better, notching a ‘perfect ten’ with figures of 10/53 that gave him a match haul of 19/90 – a first-class record. Australia managed 205 in the second dig, with Colin McDonald scoring 89. So spectacular was Laker’s feat, that no one else has taken more than 17 wickets in a Test, and only India’s Anil Kumble has since snared ten in an innings.

Benaud produces a captain’s spell – Fourth Test, 1961

Five years later, the series was again balanced at 1-1 coming into the fourth Test at Old Trafford. Paceman Brian Statham took 5/53 to limit Australia to 190 (Bill Lawry 74), before England proceeded to take a lead of 177, riding on fifties from Geoff Pullar (63), captain May (95) and Ken Barrington (78). Australia now faced a stiff challenge, but they were up to the task. Openers Lawry (102) and Bob Simpson (51) put on 113, while number four Norm O’Neill contributed 67.

Yet, at 334/9, Australia’s lead was only 157. Garth McKenzie joined Alan Davidson (77*) at this point, and the duo added a priceless 98 for the last wicket. Left to chase 256, England looked to be on course at 150/1, with Raman Subba Row and Ted Dexter (76) going strong in the middle. But captain Richie Benaud (6/70) had other ideas, and he went on to unleash his leg-spin to engineer a sensational capitulation to 201 all out, thus ensuring that Australia retained the Ashes.

Botham blazes yet again – Fifth Test, 1981

As if his epic 149* at Headingley and stirring spell of 5/11 at Edgbaston – both  resulting in English wins – were not enough for Australia, ‘Beefy’ gave them a knockout punch that helped his team wrest back the Ashes. England slumped to 137/8 after Mike Brearley opted to bat, but Chris Tavare (69) and debutant Paul Allott (52*) fought back to carry the total to 231. Australia themselves tumbled to 59/6, and despite an attacking 52 from Martin Kent, were all out for 130.

England were 104/5 in the second innings when Botham, having taken 3/28 earlier, joined Tavare. He ended up with a barnstorming 118 from 102 balls in a stand of 149, while Tavare batted seven hours for 78. Alan Knott (59) and John Emburey (57) further swelled the total to 404, even as Terry Alderman finished with 5/109. Graham Yallop (114) and Allan Border (123*) exhibited hardiness in Australia’s chase of 505, but could not deny England victory by 103 runs.    

The ‘ball of the century’ – First Test, 1993

Australia began their defence of the Ashes with intent, as Mark Taylor (124) and debutant Michael Slater (54) shared in an opening partnership of 128. But due to a return of 6/67 from off-spinner Peter Such, also on debut, the visitors had to be content with 289. England’s opening stand was also productive, with captain Graham Gooch (65) and Michael Atherton adding 71. Mike Gatting entered at number three, and soon fell to the brilliance of leg-spinner Shane Warne.

Warne was playing his first Ashes Test, and his first delivery, the famed ‘ball of the century’, hit the top of Gatting’s off-stump after pitching outside leg-stump. Australia took a lead of 79, and then piled up 432/5, with David Boon (93), Mark Waugh (64), Steve Waugh (78*) and Ian Healy (102*) cashing in. Gooch (133, out handled the ball) battled again, but Australia won by 179 runs with 9.4 overs left. Warne and quickie Merv Hughes both took four wickets in each innings.

Ponting stages an Australian escape – Third Test, 2005

England’s series-levelling two-run win at Edgbaston had brought the Ashes alive, and the much-vaunted Australians suddenly found themselves on the back foot. Captain Michael Vaughan (166), aided by Marcus Trescothick (63) and Ian Bell (59), laid the platform for England’s formidable total of 444, after which the reverse swing of Simon Jones (6/53) gave the home side a lead of 142. Australia were 201/7 at one stage, and only Warne’s gritty 90 carried them to 302.

Andrew Strauss (106) and Bell (65) built on the gains, enabling a declaration at 280/6 late on the fourth day. Facing a target of 423, Australia began the final day at 25/0, but regular strikes from England’s fast bowlers saw them stutter to 182/5. Captain Ricky Ponting was not deterred though, and scored a fighting 156 before being ninth out. Amid great tension, the last pair of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath saw off the last four overs to ensure that Australia ended at 371/9.



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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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