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Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff after England win by 2 runs
England captain Michael Vaughan celebrates with Andrew Flintoff after England win the 2nd Test in the 2005 Ashes series by just two runs.

Six of the best Ashes Test matches of recent times

The outstanding Ashes Test Matches of recent times.

England and Australia have battled out some epic Ashes Test Matches in the last thirty years. Here we recall six of the best ever Ashes Test Matches.

1981 Third Test at Headingley

England win by 18 runs—‘one of the most spectacular Test Match victories ever seen’

After bagging a pair and resigning the captaincy following the drawn second Test at Lord’s, Ian Botham was a man on a mission. Mike Brearley had returned to skipper the side, freeing his star all-rounder Botham to concentrate on his, Brearley’s, own game and recapture the form that had deserted him over the previous year.

Botham’s response was as immediate as it was emphatic, taking 6-95 in Australia’s first innings total of 401-9 declared. He followed that up with 50 from 54 balls but despite his best efforts England appeared to be slipping to their second defeat in three Tests as they were bowled out for just 174.

Following on at 133-6 in their second innings, the writing was on the wall, and England’s players checked out of their hotel on the fourth morning with defeat seemingly inevitable. But Botham had other ideas. In one of the most audacious counter attacking innings ever witnessed, he took his anger out on the tourists to smash 149 not out at faster than a run-a-ball as England managed to set the tourists a victory target of 130.

Once Bob Willis got his tail up, England never looked back. The fast bowler took 8-43 as England claimed a stunning 18-run win described by Richie Benaud at the time as ‘one of the most spectacular Test Match victories ever seen’.  

Read More: Sir Ian Botham's greatest Ashes XI

1981 Fourth Test at Edgbaston

Unstoppable with bat and ball, this series became known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’

England’s Hedingley bubble didn’t take long to deflate as England were bowled out for under 200 in their first innings of the next Test and, with Botham struggling to make an impact with the ball, the tourists claimed a 69 run first innings lead.

With slow left armer Ray Bright claiming five wickets in England’s second innings total of 219, Australia were once again left with an apparently straightforward chase of just 151 to take a 2-1 lead in the series with two Tests left.

Surely lightning couldn’t strike twice? At 114-5, it appeared it could not. But then Brearley threw the ball to Botham and almost immediately England’s talisman clean bowled Rodney Marsh before trapping Bright LBW with the very next ball. When Bob Taylor caught Dennis Lillee and Martin Kent was bowled by Botham to leave Australia 121-9, victory was almost England’s. Botham, of course, delivered the killer blow moments later when he bowled Terry Alderman. His final spell of five wickets for one run from 28 balls had turned the Match, and the series, on its head.

England went on to claim the series 3-1, with Botham hitting another magnificent century at Old Trafford. It will forever be remembered as ‘Botham’s Ashes’.

Read More: Interview with Stuart Broad

1982/83 Fourth Test at Melbourne

England win by three runs

More than 18,000 spectators poured into the MCG on the final morning, despite the fact the Match could have been over in seconds, as will be explained. England fast bowler Norman Cowans had produced his best international performance to run through Australia’s second innings but with the game seemingly lost at 218-9—still needing 74 more for victory—Allan Border and Geoff Thomson gave the home fans hope by adding 37 relatively untroubled runs.

On that final morning, with capacity crowd gripped with anticipation, Australia needed just another 37 runs to take an unassailable 3-0 series lead. Border, whose previous 15 Test innings had yielded just 245 runs, took the majority of the strike to edge his side ever closer to the most unlikely of victories. With just three runs required, Australia’s attempted Houdini act was almost complete when ‘Beefy’ Botham—who else?—caught Thomson’s outside edge and the ball flew to Chris Tavare at slip. Somehow Tavare shelled the simple chance, only for Geoff Miller to scoot around behind him and grab the rebound off Tavare and snatch a famous triumph from the jaws of defeat.

1986/87 First Test at The Gabba

England win by seven wickets

Mike Gatting’s England arrived in Australia only to be derided by their own media following a series of abject early displays in the warm-up games. ‘There is only one thing wrong with this England team,’ wrote one English reporter. ‘They can’t bat, can’t bowl and they can’t field.’

England’s players were suitably riled, and responded with a superb display built on a destructive first-innings knock of 138 off 174 balls from Ian Botham which saw him smash newcomer Merv Hughes to all parts of the Brisbane arena. Botham’s quick-fire partnership of 118 with David Gower proved decisive as England posted 456 all out.

‘I should be telling you to calm down but I’m having too much fun,’ Gower famously said to his partner mid innings.

With Graham Dilley taking 5-68 to dismiss Australia for 248, and John Emburey picking up five as Allan Border’s men followed on, England were set 77 to take an unexpected 1-0 lead. Chris Broad and Gower got them across the line with seven wickets to spare and Gatting’s men went on to claim the series 2-1.

2005 Second Test at Edgbaston

England win by two runs

From the moment Glenn McGrath withdrew before play on the first morning and Ricky Ponting put England into bat, this was a Test Match full of high drama. England were always ahead, rattling along to 407 all out on day one, but were never able to completely shrug Australia off.

A first innings lead of 99 really should have put England out of sight but at 131-7 in their second innings—and Shane Warne rampant—Michael Vaughan’s men were in danger of undoing all their hard work and, in doing so, slipping 2-0 behind in the series.

Step forward Andrew Flintoff. His magnificent unbeaten 73 from 86 balls, including four towering sixes, saw the home side set Australia a victory target of 282. As importantly, it reinstated England’s self-belief.

At 137-7, and Flintoff this time on fire with the ball, Australia again looked dead and buried, only to battle back on the Sunday morning in sensational style. With tail enders Warne, Brett Lee and Michael Kaprowicz all chipping in with invaluable runs, the tourists somehow edged to within two runs of victory. But, just as defeat seemed certain, Steve Harmison had Kasprowicz caught down the leg side by Geraint Jones off his glove and the nation could breathe again.

The now iconic picture of Flintoff consoling a distraught Brett Lee at the close summed up this titanic tussle which saw the series levelled at 1-1.

2005 Fifth Test at the Oval

Despite thrilling play from Flintoff and Pietersen, the Match ends in a draw

With England leading one of the greatest series of them all 2-1, going into the last Test, Vaughan’s men arrived at the Oval knowing a draw would see them reclaim the Ashes for the first time in 18 years.

Andrew Strauss’s brilliant first innings of 129 and another vital knock of 72 from Flintoff saw England reach a respectable, if not series clinching, 373 all out in their first innings.

With Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden finally hitting form with centuries apiece, the tourists maintained their never-say-die attitude, only for Flintoff to roar back into the game with a superb five-wicket haul which saw the Aussies bowled out for 367 as rain, and England’s skill with the ball, threatened to close the game out.

But with a full house holding its breath, and millions watching around the world, Warne and Glenn McGrath threatened to break English hearts, summoning all their brilliance to reduce England to 67-3, still a long way from safety.

This time it was Kevin Pietersen’s turn to produce his own masterclass. After being dropped early on by Warne at slip, Pietersen, in his first series, smashed a sensational 158, including seven sixes, to ensure England batted deep into the final session and sealed a sensational series win.

The celebrations lasted well into the next day.

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