Sharing the limelight

It's time to celebrate the Ashes contributions that are often overlooked...

Botham, Gower, Willis - even Atherton and Hussain - they've all had their fair share of Ashes headlines over the years.

But, as the show-stealers are only too happy to concede, it takes a combination of special individual performances to win an Ashes series.

As England attempt to emulate the feat of Mike Gatting's side of 1986/87, skysports.com's Ashes Panel has reconvened to pay tribute to the unsung heroes whose input they feel has either been overlooked or underplayed over the years...

skysports.com: Your feats have earned rave reviews - but whose Ashes contribution do you feel never quite gets the credit it deserves?

Nasser Hussain: Dean Headley and Mark Ramprakash

A couple of names spring to mind actually and Dean Headley would be one of them. Australia had a lot of left-handers in their side in the 1998-99 series which was lucky because Dean tended to bowl well at them! Overall, he had a good record against Australia taking 35 wickets at around 25. The pinnacle was definitely the 6-60 he took to bowl us to victory at Melbourne after we'd only been able to set Australia 175 to win, but the truth is he bowled well against Australia in general and in turn they thought he was a good cricketer, a decent performer against them. With Dean it was as much about his heart as his overall ability. He loved the theory, the competition; Bumble will tell you he was difficult to coach at times because he could overcomplicate things but he was a lovely lad, a real tryer, and it was a shame that he didn't play more for England because of his knee problems as he was a very, very popular member of the team and a very fine cricketer.

Mark Ramprakash is another who fits this category, actually. Some people point to his overall average of 27 as evidence that he didn't have a good Test career but he always played very well against Australia; in fact his average was higher against them than any other team and he made a great hundred against Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee at the Oval in 2001 which was some feat. Mark Waugh also got a ton in that game but - as he was for most of his career - it was eclipsed by one from Steve. History hasn't forgotten Mark but I think Steve has taken a lot of kudos away from him over the years. Mark may not have had his brother's hunger but having played with and against him, I've no doubt he was an exceptional cricketer, a genuine class act.

Sir Ian Botham: Laurie Brown

The unsung hero of our 1986/87 tour was definitely Laurie Brown, our physio, who somehow kept us out on the pitch - very often against all odds! He battled with a hell of a lot of injuries on that trip, working until 1am or 2am in the morning most nights, patching people up and getting us as ready as was humanly possible for the next day. He did some incredible stuff on that tour and the players responded to him but he never seemed to get a decent mention so I'm putting that right by giving him one now.

Michael Atherton: Chris Broad and Richard Ellison

A lot of the focus going into the 1986/87 Ashes was naturally on Ian Botham and David Gower after their achievements in the first half of the 1980s, whereas Chris Broad - whose last Test appearance had come over two years earlier - was rather underrated. He'd actually performed pretty well over four Tests against the West Indies in 1984 but Tim Robinson got the nod for the 1985 Ashes and contributed a shed-load of runs only to struggle in the Caribbean the following winter. To achieve what he did as an opener on that tour, namely hundreds in three consecutive Tests, was an outstanding effort even if it wasn't against one of the strongest bowling attacks Australia have put out. He didn't actually play a great deal for England after that series, I guess maybe because he stood his ground after being given out at Lahore on that heated tour in Pakistan in 1987; at the time I don't suppose that would have gone down that well with those who were picking the team. In that respect I suppose he has been slightly under-rated over the years.

The other person who springs to mind is Richard Ellison in 1985, swinging the ball around at Edgbaston and various places. Players crop up, do well and make names for themselves in Ashes history. He lost it afterwards. I played against Elly for Lancashire after that and he'd virtually got the yips - he couldn't control where the ball was going and ended up being dropped to the Kent second team before exiting the game altogether.

David Gower: Eddie Hemmings and Bill Athey

When it comes to match-saving innings, the name of Eddie Hemmings doesn't spring to mind straightaway but he more than played his part in the fifth Test of the 1982-83 Ashes, which came quite early on in his Test career. He went in as night-watchman near the end of day four after we'd been set 460 to win and by the end of the game his 95 was comfortably the top score in our innings! It was one of those occasions when you knew damn well that he was never going to get the chance to get another hundred. People have different habits in dressing rooms but when an innings like that starts to develop, everyone comes to watch. Eddie battled his way through and it would have been such a nice story to see him grab a hundred but after a lengthy stay he edged Bruce Yardley behind. He got six wickets in the match too - a great effort - but sadly a draw wasn't enough to stop Australia regaining the Ashes.

One of the other names that springs to mind is Bill Athey. He went into the 1986/87 Ashes with an average of just 15 - a figure not helped by a couple of Tests against the West Indies. But he was always a slightly better player than the figures would suggest; technically, he was very good - he was very correct and a fighter too. He wasn't one to be worried by a few verbals out in the middle. I was very pleased for him that he did so well on that tour because he is one of the good guys and what he and Chris Broad did as openers was crucial because it set the tone for what we achieved on that tour.

Bob Willis: Brian Luckhurst

While Geoff Boycott and John Edrich were England's established, more famous opening pair, it's worth pointing out that Brian Luckhurst had an outstanding Ashes record in the 1970/71 series. Luckhurst scored some serious runs on that tour - 455 at nearly 57 apiece - and we knew that if England won the toss and batted on a good pitch then we didn't expect more than three or four wickets to fall in a day. You just chucked your bowling boots in the corner safe in the knowledge that these guys would do the job for you. Brian, who died a few years ago from cancer, was a very quiet character who was always professional and worked hard on his game. He was the forerunner of Chris Tavare in many ways. He was never going to catch the eye but along with the likes of Mike Denness, Alan Knott, Colin Cowdrey, John Shepherd and Norman Graham he was an integral part of Kent's very successful side in the early 1970s and then went on to be part of the county's coaching set up and was president of the club for a while too.

Care to nominate an unsung Ashes hero? Then fill out the feedback form below.

Remember that you can follow the Ashes wherever you are - on skysports.com, Sky Sports HD1, Sky Player and Sky Mobile.

The first Test gets underway at 11pm on Wednesday November 24 on Sky Sports HD1. Before then you can watch England's four-day warm-up clash against Australia A on Tuesday November 16. Coverage begins on Sky Sports 1 from 11pm.

Comments (5)

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Heidi Carter says...

Sat and watched the wickets tumbling this morning for the Aussies and it appears they dont have that passion and determination we have seen in the past from Ashes players. They had it in 2005 even though they lost, they still put up a fight, and still wanted to win. Brett Lee, Mcgrath, Warne, Hayden just to name a few put the fear of god into opposing players but no-one other than Mike Hussey can do it now. I know many England fans would disagree but I think its a shame. For years we have been humiliated by the Aussies but now we are doing it to them its a bit uncomfortable. I want to see them put up a bit of a fight at least. I am looking forward to the lads retaining the Ashes but winning them outright on Aussie turf would be truely fantastic.!

Posted 13:20 26th December 2010

Ray H says...

The whole Country is not behind England. This Pom will be supporting the mighty Aussies. Come On Ricky

Posted 13:48 22nd November 2010

Pat Donnini says...

Agree chris broad,he would have played 100 tests had I been a selector.likewise dean headily.in the years when the Aussies dominated Graham Thorpe was our top batsman. Unlike some in the sky box,he could leave the ball outside off stump without giving the Aussie slips catching practice. In his early years, Gus fraser had a great record against the Aussies,but like headily, injury robbed him of taking 300 wickets. Let's not forget deadly Devon, today's more consistent selection process would have ensured he had the confidence to be himself and not worry about going for the odd boundary,Steve Waugh openly admitted he used to dance a jig when ILLY and Athers selected steady eddies ahead of him.

Posted 20:53 20th November 2010

Jonathan Peters says...

Here's one for everyone to ponder. There was one England player in 2005 who really stuck at it. Matthew Hoggard. Even though all the attention was on Flintoff and Jones, Pietersen and Trescothick and Strauss, Hoggy opened the bowling for us and always got us off to a good start, more than once getting early wickets and, also along with Freddie, bowled us back into a strong position at the last test match at the oval. Bearing in mind Australia were persuing 360, 370 odd and were 320 odd for 2. And Hoggy got 4 wickets there. He wasn't as explosive but got the job done and I think was very underappreciated as an England bowler.

Posted 12:48 19th November 2010

Geoff Single says...

Carn't wait till the 25th of November live on sky sports you can do it boys the whole country is behind you

Posted 22:16 17th November 2010

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