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The Ashes and Clashes: Memorable anecdotes on and off the field

As England and Australia fight it out in one of cricket’s most enduring and fascinating rivalries, a look at some memorable anecdotes both on and off the field in the bitter Oz-Pom battle

If there was one Australian batsman who would pounce on half a chance to score a century in a session, it would have to be Doug Walters.

Ian Botham hooks Aussie pacer Geoff Lawson during the Headingley Test which England won despite following on in 1981
Ian Botham hooks Aussie pacer Geoff Lawson during the Headingley Test which England won despite following on in 1981

Walters had his opportunity in the second Test of the 1974-75 Ashes at Perth, when Bob Willis bowled the last over of Day Two. Walters’ partner at the other end was Ross Edwards, an accountant by profession, frowned on an adventurous approach from his senior batsman in the last over of the day. At one stage, when he slashed at one which went over England wicketkeeper Alan Knott’s head straight to the ropes, Edwards, according to teammate Ashley Mallett in his book on Walters (published by Allen & Unwin), swore at Walters and called him an idiot.

Australia’s Doug Walters during his 100 against England in the second Test of the 1974-75 Ashes at Perth in December 1975. PICS/Getty Images
Australia’s Doug Walters during his 100 against England in the second Test of the 1974-75 Ashes at Perth in December 1975. Pics/Getty Images

Willis ran in to bowl the last ball of the day and some of Walters’ teammates could bet on his intention to pull it for six. Walters said: “Willis dropped short alright and I was already in position to pull the ball. How sweet the feel and the sound of my bat striking that short Willis delivery. It was one of those times when the ball sailed away, neatly bisecting the two guys at backward square and thudded over the boundary line. Six! You bloody beauty.”

Australian batsman Allan Border entered the England dressing room during the 1979-80 Perth Test
Australian batsman Allan Border entered the England dressing room during the 1979-80 Perth Test

Walters was mobbed on his way to the pavilion. He looked forward to some praise from his teammates. But he walked into an empty dressing room. His skipper, Ian Chappell decided to play a prank and ordered all the players to hide in the showers. When they peeped through the doors, they discovered an unflustered Walters, who lit up his Rothmans cigarette and sat down.

England coach Duncan Fletcher (right) with pacer Steve Harmison during the 2005 Ashes
England coach Duncan Fletcher (right) with pacer Steve Harmison during the 2005 Ashes

The skipper emerged and ‘scolded’ him for being reckless and getting out off the last ball of the day. And as Chappell burst into laughter, the rest of the gang emerged from the showers and hugged their dear Dougie. According to Mallett, “Doug didn’t have to raise a finger that night except to light another cigarette. The beers flowed.”

Get back now, Fred
IN those days of dreary draws, the first four Tests of the 1953 Ashes in England ended in stalemates. Fred Trueman, who had made a sensational debut against India the previous year, got picked for the last Test of the Ashes to partner Alec Bedser at the Oval. Trueman claimed four for 86 in the first innings and went wicketless in the second innings, when spinners Jim Laker and Tony Lock shared the spoils.

England won the Test as well as the Ashes and just when Trueman got set to celebrate with his England teammates (England retained the Ashes after nearly 19 years), he was handed two telegrams. One was to inform him that his grandmother had passed away the previous night. The second one was about resuming duty at the Royal Air Force. Trueman said in the documentary Cricket in the 1950s by ABC: “It didn’t say congratulations or anything. It just said, ‘Notice: Test match finish. Expected back 23:59 hours.’ ”

Andrew Flintoff Andrew Flintoff

Botham-style grit
IAN Botham was down in the dumps as captain when England lost the opening Test of the 1981 Ashes at Nottingham and followed it up with a draw at Lord’s, where Botham decided to quit as captain. A little after he did, Alec Bedser, the chairman of England selectors told the media that Botham would have got the chop in any case. The selectors recalled Mike Brearley, the highly successful former captain. Brearley asked Botham whether he wanted to play in the next Test at Leeds and he got an emphatic yes for a reply from his star all-rounder who had bagged a pair at Lord’s. According to Botham in his book, Don’t Tell Kath (published by Collins Willow), Brearley responded by saying, “That’s great. I think you’ll get 150 runs and take 10 wickets.” If one looks up the scorecard of the Leeds Test, it shows Botham claimed just three wickets short of what Brearley predicted, but scored 49 more that what his captain envisaged.

Jeff Hook
Left: Jeff Hook’s cartoon in the book The Laugh’s On Us  courtesy Swan Publishing

Oh, wrong dressing room
THIS didn’t take place in an Ashes series but in an England vs Australia encounter alright (the Ashes were not at stake for the three-match series in 1979-80). Allan Border was desperately trying to find his feet in an Australian side which had the big guns who played in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket back. Border in his autobiography, Beyond Ten Thousand (published by Swan Publishing) wrote, “I failed badly and went on to the First Test against England in Perth fearful that my spot in the team was once again under threat.

Fred Trueman, whose celebrations were thwarted
Fred Trueman, whose celebrations were thwarted

As a result, I confess I did not play my natural game. That’s always a mistake. Instead, I poked and prodded my way to an inglorious four runs before I was given out leg before to Botham. So, I started the long walk back, very out of sorts, and thinking dark, negative thoughts, ‘well, that’s it for me. I’ve blown my place in this team.’ My mind was absolutely racing. The dressing door was slightly ajar and I shoulder-chested it open. I was so dirty at my stupidity in changing my natural game, and worse, falling to Botham. I tossed my bat towards the locker, ripped off my gloves and threw them after the bat, then called everyone including, Poms, for everything.

I had just exhausted my entire vocabulary of expletives and looked up – to see I was standing in the England dressing room, and not very far away from a wide-eyed England manager.”

Border didn’t sulk for long. Off we went at the same No 3 position in the second innings and top-scored with 115. And of course, Australia won the Test by 138 runs.

Mrs Fletcher as well
ASHES fever can grip the families of team members to an extent which borders on the absurd. England 2005 coach Duncan Fletcher revealed in his book Behind the Shades (published by Simon & Schuster). “Once at home in Cape Town, I began to realise the stress and emotion my family had been suffering for me. They had been playing every ball of that series with the England team. My mother had watched every ball from her retirement home in Durban, wearing an England shirt at the end too.” Fletcher who played a role in masterminding England’s first Ashes triumph since 1986-87, admitted being very annoyed at talk that he would be getting a British passport. Fletcher was furious when a reporter called his daughter Nicola in Cape Town to confirm the story. And guess why Fletcher had to postpone his scheduled departure to his South African home? A press conference!

Flintoff’s break surprise
DURING the 2005 Ashes, England’s Andrew Flintoff decided to head to South of France to spend the break between the third and fourth Tests. In his book Being Freddie (published by Hodder & Stroughton), the star all-rounder wrote that he chilled out and took his mind off the pulsating series in a French villa atop a hill. Except for one day, Flintoff didn’t “move from the pool.” But when he went for a meal at night, he was recognised by some people, probably because of a front page cartoon carried by The Daily Mirror, headlined ‘Mr InFredible’. It surprised Flintoff all the same.

Count those, please!
DAVID Lloyd, currently a popular television commentator, was quite a character even when he opened the batting England in the 1970s. According to teammate Derek Underwood’s article for The Laugh’s on Us (a book on funny stories published by Swan Publishing), Lloyd wrote a letter to his mother which read like this: ‘Dear Mum, I am ducking and weaving well. I got a half-volley today – in the nets – and didn’t know what to do with it.” Underwood further wrote that Lloyd was “good medicine for a shell-shocked and dejected team .” In the second Test at Perth, southpaw Lloyd suffered a crushing blow in his groin off a Jeff Thomson delivery which broke his protector. And as he was taken off the field, according to Underwood, he stole a line of former Australia wicketkeeper Wally Grout to say, “don’t rub them – just count them.”

Smart stat

81 The number of wickets Australia’s fast bowling combination of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker claimed when Ian Chappell’s team beat England 4-1 in the 1974-75 Ashes 

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