1985 revisited: Ellison hero of a sunlit summer
Last time England won the urn at home Kent's yeoman swung the day
Finally, by the middle of August they called on Richard Ellison. It is fashionable now to deride the Australian tourists of that year as undistinguished, but the fact was that a six-match series was delicately, excruciatingly poised at 1-1 with two matches to play. The more salient fact is that it was the last time England won the Ashes on home turf, regaining them after their loss in 1982-83.
Ellison was an affable, robustly built swing bowler from Kent, who invariably verged on the burly, and had been educated at Tonbridge, alma mater of one Colin Cowdrey. He had a distinctive mop of thick curly hair and a moustache which was not much less luxuriant.
He was a splendidly talented cricketer, a natural player of ball games, though there was the hint even then that it was all so much fun to him. This was his moment in the sun. It was brief but it was decisive. Ellison's intervention was as imperishable as any in the history of the great contest. At Edgbaston in the Fifth Test he took 6 for 77 and 4 for 27, at The Oval in the decisive Sixth Test 2 for 35 and 5 for 46, 17 wickets in two matches.
"During pre-season at Canterbury the nets had got wet," he recalled last week. "It was decided they were good enough but first ball I went over on my right ankle and did the ligaments. I was out for six weeks. The key thing about this is that I then got really fit, with lots of swimming and running. My confidence was high and the ball was swinging and I remember saying to David Gower, who was England captain, after a Benson and Hedges Cup match that I was going to make them pick me. Which wasn't the sort of thing I would normally say."
The selectors had already run the gamut of Norman Cowans, Paul Allott, Neil Foster, Jonathan Agnew and Arnie Sidebottom. The only constant was Ian Botham. Now for Edgbaston alongside Ellison they plumped for Les Taylor of Leicestershire.
Ellison remembers that apart from his fitness drive - he eschewed ale and forsook his trencherman's habits awhile as well - he changed his approach. "I did try to run in more. I didn't sprint in but I tried to pump my arms more and get my feet going."
There were other heroes that summer, and like Ellison not all of them were the usual suspects. Gower, of course, was. He scored 732 runs and three hundreds and did not even top England's Test batting averages. Mike Gatting did. But both of them were above 80. Then there was the Nottinghamshire batsman Tim Robinson, playing for England in England for the first time. He scored 175 in the First Test, which they won, and 148 at Edgbaston.
Ellison might so easily have pulled out because of a debilitating heavy cold. The backroom staff (one, the physio Bernard Thomas, in those days) left the decision to him.
"Not much happened on the first day but the following morning it all kicked off and I got a bit of luck," he said. "We set plans to Allan Border and he chipped one round the corner. You have to remember that Border was the rock on which their batting was built. Kepler Wessels chased a wide one and although the tail wagged a bit we finished them off on the third morning, after which carnage ensued."
Anybody who assumes that the present-day Australians invented quick scoring to nail opponents by giving the bowlers more time should have been around 20 years ago. England scored 595 for 5 in 134 overs, or 4.5 an over. Ponting et al, eat your hearts out.
In Australia's second innings, one simple moment embodied the fact that this was Ellison's time. Fielding at long leg, he called for a sun hat, something he would never usually do because a sun hat had immense difficulty fitting over the curls. He squeezed it into place and the very next ball caught Andrew Hilditch hooking (something of a regular occurrence that summer).
Ellison then sprang into the attack and took 4 for 1 in 15 balls, bowling Border with a beauty which nipped back late through the gate. Australia fought back and moaned like crazy when Wayne Phillips was adjudged caught after driving the ball on to Allan Lamb's boot, from where it looped to Gower's hands. But 2-1 it was.
England knew then that there was no way back for the tourists. Ellison was again in control. He liked Gower's laissez faire approach to captaincy and the ball was boomeranging for him. At The Oval, he got Border again, caught at slip by Botham ("that was more straightforward but he took a couple of stunners") and with another Gower century England won by an innings for the second successive match.
And that was about that. The next summer, at the age of 26, the Ashes hero played his 10th and final Test.
He is a now cricket master at Millfield School in Somerset. There is still plenty of both hair and 'tache. "I was an English bowler in English conditions. I probably should have made sure that I stayed fitter, but I have no regrets. I wouldn't do many things differently. I was just glad to have made a contribution in a period of time."
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