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Captaincy is key to any Ashes series. Here Dave Fulton, author of 'The Captains' Tales: Battle for the Ashes', reviews the five worst blunders and five most inspired decisions.
Nasser Hussain, Brisbane 2002-03
Plagued by injuries and indecision, England's hopes were less than high before the first Test of the 2002-03 Ashes, but their woes were compounded by Hussain's decision to bowl first under blue skies at the Gabba. 'By the fifth or sixth over of their innings nothing was happening and I could feel the world closing in on me,' he said. 'I thought to myself, "Oh God, Nass, what have you done?"' Michael Vaughan then dropped Matt Hayden who went on to get 197 before England succumbed for just 79 in their second innings.
Many captains have been made to look impotent by a counter-attacking onslaught. The ball's lost its hardness, the bowlers are tiring and the batsman is liberated by the failure of the top order. In 1981 Kim Hughes had got a lot of right until Ian Botham turned his world upside down and inspired a nation. At 135-7 England were still 92 behind having followed on, but Botham and the tail bludgeoned 175 runs in 27 overs as Hughes failed to react. The worst decision was not to bowl his left-arm spinner Ray Bright into the rough. Instead he opted for the medium fast men who were murdered.
Stewart was a lead-from-the-front captain but he bit off more than he could chew against the old enemy on their own patch. He believed he could skipper the side, keep wicket and bat at four but with Australia racking up big scores in energy-sapping heat, Stewart failed to score the runs. Only when he relinquished the gloves and returned to his favoured opening berth, did they flow again. He made his only hundred against Australia in Melbourne as England went on to win the match but it was too late to have a major impact on the series.
Brilliant in 1985, Gower never came to terms with Border's nastier style in 1989. His nonchalant demeanour, whilst his team were losing, rubbed the media up the wrong way, particularly his decision to leave the press conference on the Saturday of the Lord's Test early. 'Up I got, announced that I had both a theatre engagement awaiting and a taxi running, and swept out of the tent with as much dignity as I could muster.' Gower's days were numbered from that moment.
After Glenn McGrath twisted his ankle treading on the ball in warm ups to put himself out of the match, the second shock of that extraordinary morning was Ponting's, 'We'll have a bowl.' 'We were delighted to get in first,' said Marcus Trescothick. 'We knew it was going to get harder and harder.' England's openers couldn't conceal their joy as they walloped the Aussie attack all over Birmingham in the morning session to play themselves back into the Ashes.
Michael Vaughan, 2005
Vaughan's captaincy was exemplary throughout the 2005 series but his biggest coup was persuading the England selectors and think-tank that Pietersen was the man. It was a bold move from a positive captain who showed he could make the big calls. Pietersen was the one success to come out of the defeat at Lord's and England realised that attack was the only way to conquer the Aussies.
The true tactical Test for any captain is defending low totals and Brearley did this against the odds in consecutive Test matches. At Headingley Willis started up the hill but Brearley listened to his bowler's request to come from the Kirkstall lane end and the rest is history. To prove it was no fluke he introduced Ian Botham at just the right time in the last innings of the next Test, Botham repaying the faith by taking the last five wickets to fall for just one run.
Gatting's team won the Ashes in Australia, which history has shown is tough to do and the captain must take a lot of the credit. He ensured the camp was a happy one managing the senior players and the youngsters in different ways but equally well. His best decision was to bat himself at three in the first Test in Brisbane to protect Gower who had been out of form. Both men got runs, Gower rediscovering his touch in the process, which would be a key factor in England's triumph.
A green damp wicket would give plenty of assistance to the side bowling first but Mark Taylor won the toss and had a bat. 'A few of us wondered whether this guy had lost his marbles but I guess there was method in his madness,' said Steve Waugh. The method was proved correct as a brace of Waugh hundreds and stellar performances from Shane Warne, bowling into churned up footmarks, and McGrath proved too much for England.
Vaughan had been the calm amidst the storm the previous week at Edgbaston but his instinct for when to speak and what to say was the crucial difference in the closest of series. At the end of the Old Trafford Test, a game in which Australia narrowly held on for a draw by batting out the last day, Vaughan called his men into a huddle before they shook hands with the opposition. 'The boys were incredibly down they were looking at the dirt,' Vaughan said. ' So I told them to take a look at the Australian players jumping around on the balcony and Brett lee and McGrath hugging in the middle. These great Australian players were celebrating drawing a game of cricket! That had never happened before.' Vaughan shifted the context and lifted his players' heads, who re-set their sights on the Ashes; inspired stuff.
The Captains' Tales: Battle for the Ashes, by David Fulton, is available to purchase now.
Steve Waugh, great batsman, great captain. Even with the undoubted talent at his disposal. He was bright thinking attacking. Always risked losing to grab a victory. And a true gentleman of the field
Posted 19:04 24th July 2009
Ray Illingworth, enough said!
Posted 16:09 24th July 2009