Every Ashes series brings its own highs and lows - as our Ashes panel knows only too well!
As part of the build-up to this summer's series, skysports.com caught up with David Gower, Sir Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain and asked them to reflect on their greatest achievements - or otherwise - against Australia.
The former England captains - part of the team that will bring you live ball-by-ball coverage of the action on Sky Sports Ashes HD - were quickly into their stride...skysports.com: Let's focus on the positives. What were the greatest Ashes achievements of your career?
A lot of the highs in my career were to do with the Ashes. Leading England to victory in 1985 stands out, especially the final Test at the Oval which is one of my favourite matches of all time; everything went to plan from the toss. I added 351 with Graham Gooch before we bowled them out, enforced the follow-on and bowled them out again to seal the series 3-1 and let the champagne flow!
Being part of the side that won in Australia in 1986/87 was magic because we produced a cracking finish after a very poor start to the tour. Although it almost tends to almost be 'de rigueur', we were touted as the worst side to ever land in Australia. For a month we tried to prove it and low and behold we managed to go on and win the Test series, as well as the B&H Perth Challenge and the World Series Cup. So we weren't too bad after all. Everyone in the squad played their part, which was hugely satisfying. The first Test was the key to the series because after the start we had we were a slightly nervous dressing room, and I was part of that. But in the first Test at Brisbane things started to click into place; Beefy played one of his knocks again when he smacked it around the place on his way to 138. I remember Merv Hughes taking the second new ball and Beefy swatting him out of the ground in the same way that he had done to Lillee in 1981.
It was a tough assignment, but certainly skippering England in the 1982/83 Ashes was a tremendous honour. The only drawback was that we were shorn of 15 of our best players due to the rebel tour of South Africa! After going 2-0 down we went into the last Test with a hope of drawing the series after an incredible finish to the Boxing Day Test when 'Goldenballs' Botham managed to induce an edge from Thommo with few runs to spare.
But 1981 tops that because it was such an extraordinary series. It quite rightly became known as Botham's Ashes and the memories, especially my 8-43 at Headingley, will stay with me forever. I was bowling for my Test match career. After losing the first Test and drawing the second we looked down and out at Leeds; if we'd lost there would have been wholesale changes. I managed to persuade Mike Brearley that I was too old to bowl up the hill at Headingley. I changed ends and the rest is history. They were 56-1 chasing 130 to win. What was extraordinary was that you could feel the pressure going from our dressing room to theirs after we took two wickets just before lunch. People said I was in another world after that, in a cocoon of concentration; the modern cliché would be 'in the zone'. I didn't want to be distracted by having to set the field or celebrating wickets. I just wanted to get back to my mark as fast as I could. Mike said 'don't worry if you overstep the line and bowl a few no-balls, just bowl as fast as you can', because the pitch was deteriorating and it was pretty unpleasant batting against a fast bowler on that surface.
Sir Ian Botham
Everyone always wants to talk about 1981, which is fair enough, but often I feel it's at the expense of the 1986/87 series which as far as tours go, was one of the most satisfying I have ever been on. The great thing about that trip was the way in which everyone stood up, from Chris Broad and Bill Athey at the top of the innings to the likes of Graham Dilley, Gladstone Small, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds with the ball. We were written off as no-hopers before the series started. I think it was Martin Johnson who wrote that we couldn't bat, bowl or field so after we'd won the Ashes we were on an incredible high; being written off made our victory so much better.
Broad hit three centuries on that tour while I opened up with one in the first Test and we went on to secure a crucial victory. From that point we didn't look back and won everything in sight. When it comes to turning the tables, though, Headingley 1981 is obviously tough to beat. It wasn't a great wicket, which is partly why Bob (Willis) was able to shoot the Aussies out for 111 second time around, so to score as many as I did felt great. A hundred against Australia anywhere is pretty good but to see the Aussies disintegrate as they did was as good as it gets. It's tough to compare centuries but the 119no I scored in Melbourne in 1980 was very satisfying, even if it was in a losing cause, while my 118 at Old Trafford a year later was one of those days when everything I tried came off. As for the spell of 5-1 at Edgbaston, well the Bullring crowd should take a lot of credit for that because I'm sure they intimidated the batsmen.
To win any game against Australia is always special because they are a such good side. It was very satisfying to lead England to victory at the Oval in 1993 and 1997 even if they were dead rubber wins. Australia were only chasing a target of 124 to win the sixth Test of that 1997 series but Phil Tufnell and Andy Caddick combined to take nine wickets and winning that game has to go down as a pretty special moment.
That year we won the Texaco Series 3-0 and went on to claim a nine-wicket win in the first Test at Edgbaston after bowling Australia out for 118 in their first innings; we felt as though we were on a roll but it didn't last. Otherwise by and large we were on the back foot against them during my Test career. I'll always think of the 99 that I made in the Lord's Test of 1993 as a timely innings because after losing the opening Test by a distance it was obvious the selectors were going to make some changes after that game. It just depended who stuck around and got runs. I must have done something right because within two games I was captain, so in a way it was a career-changing game. On such fine lines is a career path forged.
It didn't get any better for me than the 207 I made at Edgbaston in 1997. It was the best I ever batted throughout my career. To play that way and beat an Australian side with a proper attack that featured McGrath and Warne made it more special, as did putting on 288 with Thorpey; that innings was also about proving to the Australian players I'd played with like Mark Waugh that I can play a bit. It was a special week because we'd just beaten Australia in the one-dayers and gone ahead in the Test series so we felt - for once - that we could beat them, but once again it dwindled away after that.
I was actually out of form going into the innings. I hadn't got any runs for Essex; the ball had been nibbling around early season and I hadn't been playing well. I spoke to Keith Fletcher, who just said to me 'don't worry - a couple of boundaries and you'll be back in form' and so it proved. We were struggling at 16-2 and then I got a couple off the middle and I was absolutely in the right frame of mind. The previous night I had a TV and video sent up to my room and I watched videos of Warne, McGrath and Gillespie continually for about two hours and trained the brain. The next day I felt so much in the zone that I didn't hear any of the chat or the sledging, I was just in my own little bubble. I'll also never forget bowling Australia out at the Oval in 1997 when Tufnell took 11 wickets in the match, Sydney in 2003 because of the fans and support that we had was incredible and winning at Melbourne in 1998, when Dean Headley's 6-60 bowled us to victory. Any time we beat Australia was a good memory. I loved playing against Australia - winning or losing - but obviously winning was even more special because you knew you had to play brilliant cricket to beat them.
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