The Ashes is just around the corner, with Australia defending the urn but looking to record a first away triumph in England since 2001. But, with the growth of other battles, is the Ashes still cricket's greatest rivalry, or does another contest now rule the roost?
We’re just one test into the Ashes and the turbulent, exciting tie was already typical of a series between England and Australia. You won’t need telling that it was littered with contentious cricketing calls – from Stuart Broad neglecting to walk and Ashton Agar surviving a stone-cold stumping to Brad Haddin losing his final wicket with just 14 runs to go thanks to an uncertain video replay. But in the grand lexicon of Ashes controversy, those incidents are not alone. Here are the three most controversial cricketing calls and dubious decisions in the history of the Ashes:BodylineIt’s easy to underestimate the importance of bodyline. It provoked what Wisden called “the most unpleasant test ever played”. It led to Australian wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield being knocked unconscious. It nearly provoked riots. It caused commerce between England and Australia to fall significantly. It took World War II (a World War) to put the two Allies back on good diplomatic terms. To modern cricket fans looking back, bodyline will seem a bit of an over-exaggeration, of precious Aussies getting in a bit of a tizzy – after all, isn’t it merely Englishmen bowling bouncers? But back then it changed cricket permanently from a gentleman’s game governed by ancient unspoken rules into something slightly harder, with ‘intimidatory short-pitched bowling’ rules later restricting the amount of bouncers allowed in each over. Even though the militant tactics were the idea of England captain Douglas Jardine, fast bowler Harold Larwood, the chief proponent of bodyline, was blamed for the debacle and never played for his country again. Still, the tactics worked – legendary Don Bradman’s batting average was reduced to a comparatively miniscule 56 and England won the series 4-1. Alastair Cook reprieved by a no-ballAn Englishman would opine that there are fewer worse sights than a celebrating Aussie. Even better than that, however, is watching one revelling in a wicket that hasn’t actually been given. That’s what happened on the second day in the crucial fourth test in the 2010-11 Ashes. After Australia were humbled all out for 98 on Boxing Day in the iconic MCG, England wasted no time in exerting their authority with the bat. But the hosts smelt blood after dismissing a middle order of Pietersen, Collingwood and Bell in quick succession and when Matt Prior was caught behind off Mitchell Johnson, the pendulum flirted with swinging back towards Australia. Umpire Aleem Dar had other ideas. Johnson had overstepped the line marking on the grass. No ball. Matt Prior went on to support Jonathan Trott in a partnership of 172 as England won the test, the next test and the Ashes, in style. Michael Kasprowicz gets the mother of all bad callsOn the 8th August 2005, England hadn’t won an Ashes series since 1987. 18 long years. And after losing the first test, it looked like they might have to wait a little longer – if they lost the second then surely it’d be over. It all changed at Edgbaston. But it shouldn’t have. England built a substantial lead in Birmingham and set the visitors a substantial target of 282 to win. At the close of play, Australia had lost six more wickets and still needed 107 runs. English fans turned up on Sunday morning in party mode, but they were disappointed by Brett Lee, Shane Warne and, when the spinner stepped on his stumps, Michael Kasprowicz. Their dogged defiance was as annoying as it was quintessentially Australian. The Australian tail wagged and wagged until they were two runs from victory. And then it happened. Kasprowicz, trying to fend off a Steve Harmison bouncer, glanced the ball into the overjoyed arms of Simon Jones. England erupted – but it was only later on that Kasprowicz was found to touch the ball with his glove while not holding his bat, rendering the umpire’s decision incorrect. England tied the series and went on to win the Ashes but it could, and should, have been so different.