The power to inspire

The Ashes has gripped many a generation and will do so this year

As England captain they had one aim: to win the Ashes.

Now David Gower, Sir Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain form a formidable line-up in the Sky Sports commentary box.

And this winter England's finest will be on hand to bring you all of the action as Andrew Strauss' side strives to emulate Mike Gatting's class of 1986/87 and win the urn in Australia.

As part of the build-up, skysports.com caught up the men who have locked horns with Lillee, battled against Border and wrestled Warne.

We'll get their thoughts on the series ahead and rewind the clock to reflect on their greatest adversaries and achievements in the titanic tussles of yesteryear.

skysports.com: Every cricket fan can remember when they were first captivated by the Ashes. What are your earliest Ashes memories and who were your heroes?

David Gower

We didn't have quite the same access to winter tours as Sky Sports viewers enjoy these days when I was growing up and because of that I didn't see much of England's 2-0 win in Australia in 1970-71 under Ray Illingworth but I certainly read about it.

Five years later Illingworth would turn out to be my captain at Leicestershire when I started playing professional cricket and that series was probably his defining series in terms of the way he handled John Snow and the team as a whole; there were so many great examples of what to do right as a captain on that tour. It must have been a special trip.

I remember Dennis Lillee steaming off his long run up with his hair trailing behind him a couple of years after that - a fast bowler who was a bit wild and woolly - what a sight! At that age I hadn't seen anything like it before. That's when I really got a flavour for watching Ashes cricket. John Edrich was the outstanding left-hander of the day and although he could scarcely have had a more different batting style to mine I could admire what he did.

Bob Willis

Six years after pretending to be Bill Lawry while playing cricket in the back garden with my brother I was up against Australia's captain 'Down Under' and fighting for the Ashes. It was an incredible experience. There were some elder statesmen playing for England on that 1970/71 tour - the likes of Ray Illingworth, John Edrich, Colin Cowdrey and Basil D'Oliveira, all of whom were nearer 40 than 30 - who I had pretended to be in the back garden too so playing alongside those guys was a very weird experience.

Brian Statham (left) was my early bowling idol but on that trip John Snow became a huge hero of mine as well. He took 7-40 in the first of the two Sydney Tests - both of which we won to clinch the series 2-0. I was called up as a replacement for Alan Ward and then got my chance when Ken Shuttleworth got injured and played at Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and in the second Sydney Test. My father's work colleagues clubbed together to pay for him to come out and watch and he was actually in the dressing room when we came off the field having regained the Ashes for the first time in 12 years.

Sir Ian Botham

Over the years there have been a few guys out there who have enjoyed the Ashes and done well in it. Players like Dennis Lillee, one of the greatest bowlers of all time, Allan Border, Bob Willis, David Gower and Terry Alderman all come into the category of Ashes heroes as far as I am concerned. Growing up, though, I remember watching people like John Snow and Derek Underwood - although getting to see them could be a problem.

I remember having to get up and watch half-an-hour highlights on the television screen at 12.30am or later. Half-an-hour highlights? How can you get a day's Ashes Test in 30 minutes? I stayed up anyway, which wasn't great for my schooling - when I went! Anyway, 'Deadly' deserves to go down as one of England's best after his inspired spell at the Oval in 1968. Nine years later I made my debut against Australia in the same side as him and took a five-for as we won by seven wickets. I don't think there is anything bigger for the public or for television than the Ashes so it was a great way to start. Mike Brearley used to say that if you can't find that extra effort against the Australians there is something wrong with you and I couldn't agree more.

Michael Atherton

The only day of Test cricket that I went to before I played was the 1981 match at Headingley, funnily enough, but I got a bad day - I got the day when John Dyson scored a dull hundred. But I do remember Dennis Lillee bowling to Geoff Boycott at the end of that day, with Dennis wearing his bright yellow headband, shining in the gloom.

That series had so many people gripped. I can remember coming home from school, walking through Manchester and standing like lots of other people outside of the television shop on the pavement because the game was on one of the televisions in the shop window. The England players of that time were the heroes that ignited my passion for the game.

Nasser Hussain

I have a lot of fond Ashes memories from the time when I was growing up actually because for a while England used to beat Australia! Unfortunately, it all turned around in 1989 after Allan Border knocked the Aussies into shape and I went through my entire Test career - like Athers - without winning an Ashes series. The one downside about following England in the early 80s was that it all seemed to be about Botham!

Of course, those were actually fantastic times and I can still recall watching events at Headingley and Edgbaston in 1981 unfold very clearly. I can also remember tuning into the radio when England were playing away and listening to Norman Cowans and Geoff Miller bowling in Australia in 1982/83. I recollect Chris Tavare fumbling the slip catch to Geoff Miller - again off Botham - and Miller taking it to earn England a dramatic victory in the Melbourne Test of 1982. Being the sad cricket geek that I was I stayed up late at night to listening to the Ashes coverage and, when I did go to sleep, eagerly finding out the score when I woke up.

So what are your earliest Ashes memories and who were your heroes?

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Comments (1)

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Barjinder Kalley says...

my earliest memories of ashes cricket are that of ian chappell's side of the 71' and 72' tour of england. it was built as a contest between dennis lille and john snow and i think that dennis just shaded it. the 2nd test at lords became known as massie's match for his around the wicket swing bowling to which the english batsmen had no answer. there was a fine century from greg chappell and strong hitting from rod marsh and great fielding from the chappell brothers and ross edwards

Posted 18:00 2nd November 2010

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