10 greatest Ashes Tests of all time

England v Australia: 5th Investec Ashes Test - Day Four
England won the last Ashes by a 3-2 margin in 2015
Himanshu Agrawal

The most historic series in cricket, barely a few weeks away, will see England seek redemption Down Under. The last time the sides met on these shores, in 2013-14, the visitors were blanked 5-0 with a 3-2 reverse at home in 2015 settling matters for England. This time, under austral skies, with both teams’ captains leading their sides in an Ashes Test for the first time, the fire has already been lit as David Warner’s teasing banter followed Ben Stokes’ forced withdrawal from the series.

Before the first ball is bowled on the fast, bouncy Gabba track in Brisbane, it is worth visiting the history books for the ten most breathtaking Ashes Tests ever.

#10 The Oval, 2013

England v Australia: 5th Investec Ashes Test - Day Five
In an anti-climactic finish, umpires called off play with England only 21 away from victory

Australia 492/9 declared & 111/6 declared drew with England 377 & 206/5

Centuries from Shane Watson and Steven Smith led Australia to 492 before James Faulkner, one of three debutants in the Test, took 4/51. Eight England batsmen reached double figures, yet none could cross young Joe Root’s patient 68. Following a dull third day – Faulkner criticized England’s slow approach and even demanded that the crowd’s money be refunded – and the washout on the fourth, Clarke audaciously declared the second innings with Australia having 44 overs to pick ten wickets and defend 227.

No Australian captain had ever lost the Ashes 4-0. Clarke cared little, given the visitors were already 0-3 down, but England made their intentions clear from the outset. Kevin Pietersen batted aggressively in raking up 62 off 55 balls – on the way, he became the fastest Englishman to an Ashes half-century – with ten fours and Chris Woakes, another debutant, tried to puncture Australia with an unbeaten 17 off 13.


With four overs remaining and England 21 away from victory, bad light prompted the umpires to end play prematurely. ECB Chairman Giles Clarke later went on to say that “the rules are clearly unacceptable” and that he expected “the ICC to change it at their next meeting”.

#9 Cardiff, 2009

England v Australia - npower 1st Ashes Test: Day Five
England's last pair of James Anderson and Monty Panesar took them to safety

England 435 & 252/9 drew with Australia 674/6 declared

The Sophia Gardens in Cardiff experienced drama on its Test debut with England desperately hanging on to a draw late into the fifth evening. England batted first and compiled 435 runs, courtesy three half-centuries and a late dash from Graeme Swann, who smashed 47* off 40 balls. Mitchell Johnson took 3/87 before the real action arrived.

Simon Katich (122) and Ricky Ponting (150) strung together 239 amid rain interruptions; Michael Clarke and Marcus North added 143 and then another double century stand – this time between North, 125*, and Brad Haddin, 121 – swelled Australia’s score to 674/6, a handsome 239-run lead. The fourth day ended with the visitors having removed two England batsmen.

When the fifth morning began, Kevin Pietersen’s most astonishing act of his Test career left all perplexed – he shouldered arms to a straight delivery from Ben Hilfenhaus and embarrassingly got bowled.


Paul Collingwood kept England’s hopes alive with a crawling 74, but when he departed with the hosts six runs adrift, Australia sniffed a win. Only James Anderson and Monty Panesar to save them, England sent their twelfth man and their physio to consume time – very little of that was left and ten minutes would have gone had Australia batted again – but the tailenders ensured the series remained locked when they took England to safety by erasing the deficit.

#8 Trent Bridge, 2013

England v Australia: 1st Investec Ashes Test - Day Five
England dismissed Brad Haddin, who was the last to fall, via the DRS to beat Australia by 14 runs

England 215 & 375 beat Australia 280 & 296 by 14 runs

England carried their winning Ashes run in to the 2013 series despite managing a paltry 215 in the first innings with Peter Siddle claiming 5/50 – he sent back all of numbers two to five, thus breaking the back of England’s middle-order.

At 117/9, Australia looked like falling well short of a par score. But 31 overs later, they had done just the opposite. Debutant – and number eleven – Ashton Agar bewildered English supporters with a record 98 in the company of Phil Hughes, who remained on 81 after James Anderson and Steven Finn had given England hopes of a healthy first innings lead.

Agar’s resistance finally ended with Australia 65 ahead, but after that, England responded with Ian Bell getting 109 and Stuart Broad 65, which included the game-changing moment when he did not walk back early in his innings after the umpire had adjudged him not out.


A target of 311 would never have been that daunting had Australia’s middle-order not collapsed. Nine down for 231 with only Brad Haddin to help – also, this time the number eleven had changed to James Pattinson – gave England the upper hand. But Haddin batted calmly with Pattinson’s support until the DRS accounted for the former’s wicket as Australia fell 14 short and Anderson finished with ten in the match.

#7 Trent Bridge, 2005

Fourth Test: England v Australia
England took a come-from-behind 2-1 lead in the series by edging past Australia

England 477 & 129/7 beat Australia 218 & 387 by 3 wickets

The series was locked at 1-1 and a rare display of English dominance in the early twenty-first century resulted in Australia following on for the first time in 17 years when Michael Vaughan won the toss and his batsmen responded tremendously. Marcus Trescothick, Vaughan and Geraint Jones got crucial half-centuries but the standout performer remained Andrew Flintoff, whose attacking 102 and a rapid stand of 177 with Jones took England beyond 400 which the tail stretched to 477.

The other Jones – fast bowler Simon – bowled his heart out in what would be his final Test, grabbing 5/44 to skittle out Australia for 218. With the visitors 259 runs in arrears, respectable contributions spread across their batting lineup in the second innings meant Ponting's men hit 387. Justin Langer, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich did well but the defining moment came when substitute Gary Pratt ran Ponting out for 48.


Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz gave it their all to extend Australia’s lead to 128. But Warne was not done yet. He reduced England to 57/4 before Lee removed Flintoff and Jones to make it 116/7. Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard had to negotiate a venomous Warne to take England one up with one to play.

#6 The Oval, 2005

Fifth Test: England v Australia
Kevin Pietersen's aggressive 158 laced with seven sixes ensured England drew the match and regained the Ashes after 16 years

England 373 & 335 drew with Australia 367 & 4/0

This was the most important draw England have ever contested. After winning a thriller at Trent Bridge in the previous game and going 2-1 up, England batted first at The Oval and were rescued by Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flintoff. From 131/4, the left-right combination blunted the opposition after Shane Warne continued from where he had left off in the last game.

Strauss struck 129 while Flintoff hit 72, with their partnership of 143 being broken by Glenn McGrath. In a must-win encounter, Australia started positively despite rain playing spoilsport. Both Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden hit hundreds. However, Flintoff hurt Australia with the ball and took 5/78 as they fell 6 short of the English total.


Then arrived the innings of the summer: Kevin Pietersen bludgeoned 158 with seven massive sixes, reducing Brett Lee to a toddler. Word went around that while his captain Michael Vaughan was at the other end, he asked him, “How should I play?”, to which Vaughan responded, “The way you want to”. That was it for the match. England raced ahead to set Australia the most unlikely of targets and the match ended in a draw with the urn returning home.

#5 Old Trafford, 2005

Third Test: England v Australia
Australia survived with Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath negotiating the final four overs on Day 5 after Ricky Ponting fell for 156

England 444 & 280/6 declared drew with Australia 302 & 371/9

The second Test at Edgbaston had just concluded amidst extraordinary tension and the third one followed a similar pattern. Captain Michael Vaughan led from the front with a brisk 166 and added 137 with Marcus Trescothick. Vaughan utilised decent batting conditions to script his most memorable Test century; Trescothick and Ian Bell made 63 and 59, respectively, before Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones’ decent contributions took England to 444.

Brett Lee and Shane Warne shared eight wickets. However, in reply, Ashley Giles’ three early blows and then Simon Jones’ twin strikes meant Australia were reduced to 201/7. Warne, however, remained firm to drag Australia to a competitive total. He added 86 with Jason Gillespie and fell for a courageous 90, fifty of which came in boundaries.


Simon Jones got a career-best 6/53 to give England an advantage of 142, which Strauss thoroughly utilized in the second innings. Despite Lee hitting him on his right ear with a bouncer, Strauss remained unperturbed to strike 106 before Geraint Jones’ free-flowing 27 off 12 balls set Australia a target of 413.

It was now the turn of the opposition captain Ricky Ponting to score big – he got 156 and was the ninth to fall with just four overs remaining. Lee and McGrath, though, successfully defied the bowling to end what was an absolute humdinger of a match.

#4 Edgbaston, 1981

Mike Brearley 1981
England, under Mike Brearley, scripted a famous win at Edgbaston in 1981 after Ian Botham took 5 late wickets for 1 run

England 189 & 219 beat Australia 258 & 121 by 29 runs

In the fourth Test of what came to be known as “Botham’s Ashes”, the burly all-rounder’s stunning second innings spell of 5 for 1 enabled England to win after coming from behind. Their captain Mike Brearley got 48 in a below-par first innings total of 189, where none of the top seven made a substantial score. Terry Alderman bagged 5/42, including the scalp of Botham, and four wickets between Dennis Lillee and Ray Bright got the better of England.

The batting that followed was similar: five half-respectable contributions, with a highest of 47 from captain Kim Hughes took Australia to 258, just 69 ahead. Off-spinner John Emburey got 4/43 after Chris Old ran through Australia’s top order.

England’s top five then yet again wasted starts to surrender their wickets cheaply. This time, however, Old and Emburey had their say with the bat. Scores of 23 and 37*, respectively, went a long way in deciding the fate of the match. Bright, with 5/68, ensured England started shakily, while Alderman wiped out the tail to leave Australia with a target of 151.


From being at a secure 114/5 – they had Rod Marsh and Martin Kent standing – Australia slipped to 121 all out following a historic spell by the great Botham, where he nipped out all five lower order batsmen. England won by 29 runs.

#3 MCG, 1982-83

Enter captio
Graeme Fowler led England's charge with the bat

England 284 & 294 beat Australia 287 & 288 by 3 runs

At the MCG, after choosing to bat first, England lost three men early to the ferocious Jeff Thomson and Rodney Hogg. Chris Tavare and Allan Lamb steadied the ship somewhat courtesy a 161-run stand, but both fell short of a hundred, with Tavare being caught for 89 and Lamb, 83.

The English batting collapsed from there on and left them with merely 284 on the board, with Hogg picking up 4/69. A lead of 3 was never going to be useful for Australia, who lost their last four wickets for 11 runs. Before that, Kim Hughes, David Hookes and Rod Marsh piled up important half-centuries, with Hookes’ 53 requiring only 69 balls.

A third consecutive innings of under 300 followed from England. Graeme Fowler got 65 while Ian Botham struck a run-a-ball 46 with eight fours, to help accumulate 294, England’s total kept in check by Geoff Lawson’s 4/66.


Requiring 292 to win, Australia began nervously, crawling to 71/3. Hughes and Hookes added 100 but soon, the innings stumbled. Five wickets for the next 47 runs, out of which four were picked by Norman Cowans, who got 6/77, meant Allan Border only had Thomson to help Australia cross the line from 218/9. They strung together 70, with the crowd growing breathless with every run, but Botham took out Thomson with 4 to get, as England remained alive in the series.

#2 Headingley, 1981

England v Australia Third Test
Ian Botham counter-attacked with 149* after John Dyson got 102 in the first innings for Australia. England, despite following on, went on to win the Test

Australia 401/9 declared & 111 lost to England 174 & 356 by 18 runs

Opener John Dyson set the base for Australia with a calm 102 as they aimed to build on the 1-0 lead they had obtained after the first two Tests. Skipper Kim Hughes chipped in with 89 before Graham Yallop got a vital 58 for which he batted for three-and-a-half hours. Hughes and Yallop got the only notable partnership of 112 before Ian Botham wiped out both batsmen and the lower half of Australia’s batting.

Botham got 6/95 and then a quick 50 off 54 balls when England batted, but sadly, had to follow on after seeing his side folding up for a disappointing 174. Then came the counterattacking innings for which Botham will be remembered forever: accompanied by number nine Graham Dilley, Botham ruthlessly destroyed the Australian bowling to finish on 149* with as many as 27 fours and a six. Dilley played his part in getting to 56 as the score boomed to 356 from 133/6 at one stage.


Terry Alderman’s 6/135 would go unnoticed in a brutal display of power-hitting which meant Australia required only 130 to win. What, on most days, would have been a cakewalk turned out to be a nightmare for Australia. Bob Willis, that tall fast bowler, turned the screws with 56/1 soon becoming 75/8. His magical figures of 8/43 took England home as Australia slipped to 111 all out.

#1 Edgbaston, 2005

Second Test: England v Australia
In what would turn out to be the Test of the century, Australia lost by 2 runs while chasing 282

England 407 & 182 beat Australia 308 & 279 by 2 runs

Little could anyone have guessed that this would go on to become the Test of the century when Glenn McGrath pulled himself out of the contest at the last moment; but hints of the same perhaps arrived when Ricky Ponting, who, to shock one and all, opted to bowl on a batting paradise.

England capitalized with an opening stand of 112, Marcus Trescothick getting to 90. But the real fun took place when a young Kevin Pietersen, in only his second Test, and Andrew Flintoff, swung their bats at will. A union of 103 in which Flintoff alone smacked 68 with 6 fours and 5 sixes was a constant reminder to Ponting as to what could have been had he batted.

Pietersen clobbered 71, helping England to 407. Justin Langer got 82 for Australia but in the second innings, Flintoff again demolished them with 73 – this time with 6 fours and 4 sixes. Shane Warne took 6/46 ensuring Australia needed 282 to win. The chase never took off with Australia finding themselves in deep trouble at 175/8, having only Warne, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz left in the hut.


Warne and Lee took it to 220 before the former was dismissed hit wicket. But the ship was steadied and the match sprung into life with Australia only 3 away from victory. Steve Harmison then pitched it short, Kasprowicz gloved it and wicket-keeper Geraint Jones dived to complete the catch of the summer. England had managed to pull off a great escape, sealing the deal by 2 runs.

Edited by Arvind Sriram


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