Defending our honour: memories of Ashes past

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff's side are the sixth England team to travel to Australia with the Ashes in their possession since the war. As they prepare for next week's first Test, Paul Newman listens to memories from each of those preceding parties and learns of everything from Dennis Lillee's histrionics to Elton John's party antics

1954-55 England won five-Test series 3-1
Now 82, he is the president of Yorkshire County Cricket Club

Len Hutton, our captain, believed that fast bowlers won matches in Australia. Frank Tyson was extremely quick and by the time he'd shortened his run for the second Test he was also very accurate. Brian Statham was an extremely competent bowler who didn't bowl many bad balls. They were a great opening pair.

The spinners were Johnny Wardle and myself. To some extent we were support bowlers, but we were expected to get wickets. I got 11 in the series and someone pointed out recently that they were all from the top six of the batting order. Richie Benaud was my first wicket. I remember him trying to hit me over square leg but getting a top edge. It went very high and Frank Tyson caught it.

With players like Benaud, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey, Arthur Morris, Alan Davidson and Colin McDonald, Australia had a decent side and beating them 3-1 on their own territory was a good performance.

We soon took control, despite losing by an innings in Brisbane, where nothing went right for us. Alec Bedser had had shingles on the boat going out and wasn't 100 per cent fit, Godfrey Evans was taken ill before the match and couldn't play, and Denis Compton damaged a finger when he ran into a fence and could hardly bat.

We came back well in Sydney. Frank was taken to hospital after being knocked unconscious by a bouncer from Lindwall. When Lindwall faced him he was probably expecting a bouncer in return, but he got a yorker instead and was clean bowled.

At the end of the tour we played two Tests in New Zealand. It took us four days to get home. We stayed a day in Honolulu after flying via Fiji and Canton Island. Then we flew to San Francisco, where we spent a day before flying to Chicago and another stopover in New York. We finally flew home via Greenland.

When we got to London we got the train to our homes. We'd been away for more than six months. I was married, but families were used to us being away for such periods. It was part of the job.

Prediction for this winter: Australia don't have the bowling firepower they used to have, but they always seem to produce someone out of the hat. They might just come out on top on their own patch.

1958-59 Australia won five-Test series 4-0
Now 78, he lives in retirement in his home city of Bristol

I played both football and cricket in my early years. I'd won the First Division with Arsenal in 1952-53 and been fortunate enough to win an England cap, but I retired from football in 1955. I always loved my cricket, though. It was more of a social game than football.

We were the last England team to go out to Australia by boat. We went via the Suez Canal and it took three weeks. It was a wonderful trip, but I wouldn't have wanted to do it again. We were away a long time. My middle son was born during the tour and I didn't feel good about that. Today's players come home for the birth of their children.

Most of my opinions of the cricket wouldn't be printable. It was my only tour and not very enjoyable. People said we were the best side England had sent out there, but we were outplayed from the start.

Neil Harvey had been expected to captain Australia, but they chose Richie Benaud instead. He did an excellent job and outshone Peter May, our captain.

Harvey could be a beautiful batsman and was the greatest fielder I've ever seen. He was usually out in the field for New South Wales, but Benaud wanted him close to him, so he fielded in the slips for Australia. He caught everything.

Although I wasn't happy about a couple of their bowlers, who were clearly chuckers, I wouldn't blame that for our performance. The relations between the two teams were fine. The Australians were quite friendly - until they got a ball in their hand.

I think we knew we were going to lose after the first Test. Trevor Bailey took seven and a half hours to score 68. I remember someone saying: " Get him out, for Christ's sake!"

Trevor ended up opening the innings in place of me in the final Test, though Ray Lindwall did him for a pair.

Not many of us scored runs. It was all a question of getting used to the pace of the ball off the wicket. I would like to have gone again, because the conditions suited me. I was used to playing on the worst wicket in the country at Bristol. I much preferred it when the ball bounced and I think I came back a better player.

I actually flew home early after breaking a finger. I was met at the airport by MCC officials and was told not to say anything about the chucking. They didn't want to stir up any trouble.

Prediction for this winter: I fear Australia will be too good for us. Shane Warne's a winner for them if they bat first.

1974-75 Australia won six-Test series 4-1
Now 62, he is cricket development coach at Essex

Shane Warne has made a huge difference to Australia for nearly 20 years, but history generally tells you that fast bowlers win Test matches. John Snow had been the biggest difference between the two sides four years earlier and I think it was a bad mistake for us not to take him in '74.

The Australians, in contrast, had Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson firing on all cylinders. We hadn't seen Thomson at all before that series. With his unusual slinging action he was an unknown quantity and it took us a while to adjust. Lillee was simply the best bowler I ever faced.

We faced a lot of short-pitched bowling. I remember Don Bradman saying it was almost as bad as the "Bodyline" series. Four bouncers an over was almost the norm.

It was surprising that nobody got hurt. You had to keep your eye on the ball, because these were the days before helmets. I remember gloving one ball from Thomson on to my cap badge though, surprisingly, it didn't hurt much.

I don't recall the umpires intervening at all. Yet in the series before "Snowy" had been warned after he hit Terry Jenner on the head with his first bouncer, which made Ray Illingworth go ballistic.

A lot of those fast bowlers aren't so keen when it's stuck up their own nose. I remember Lillee batting in Sydney after he'd thrown everything at us. Tony Greig, who was quite capable of looking after himself, bowled a bouncer which hit Lillee on the elbow. I picked Lillee's bat up to hand it back to him, but he lost it completely and responded with a stream of abuse. I threw his bat back on the ground and let him pick it up himself.

When he bowled to me the next day, the crowd were chanting "Kill! Kill! Kill!" He let me have two or three bouncers straight away, but he didn't actually get me out. He would have done better to pitch the ball up, because the pitch was a bit up and down.

Prediction for this winter: We need Flintoff and Harmison fit and bowling in tandem to the best of their ability to have any chance. If I had to stick my neck out, I'd say Australia will win 2-1.

1982-83 Australia won five-Test series 2-1
Now 57, he is a cricket commentator and analyst on Sky Sports

It was a difficult time. Mike Brearley, our captain, had retired and we'd gone on to play what must have been six of the most tedious Test matches in the history of the game in India. It left quite a lot of the team rather disillusioned.

More importantly, many of our best players had been banned after going on a "rebel" tour to South Africa. I wouldn't want to do the rest of my team a disservice, but apart from people like Derek Randall, David Gower, Ian Botham, Allan Lamb and myself, most of the rest of our side wouldn't have been picked in other circumstances.

We didn't bowl particularly well - and I include myself in that criticism. Kepler Wessels got a lot of runs. By the time we worked out how to bowl to him it was too late.

We were relieved to draw the first Test in Perth, where Terry Alderman dislocated his shoulder after tackling a fan who had run on to the pitch. For a remote and sleepy city, Perth had a surprisingly large hard core of hooligans. However, Terry was stupid to head off in pursuit of that idiot and the injury set back his career a lot.

We were outplayed in Brisbane and then some fool called Willis put Australia in at Adelaide. I wanted to bat, but I think our senior batsmen - Lamb, Gower and Botham - had been wearing the same pair of green-tinted spectacles and they persuaded me to bowl.

We came back well in Melbourne, winning a very tight match by only three runs. People criticised me for constantly trying to get Jeff Thomson on strike [Thomson and Allan Border had come together for the last wicket with Australia still 74 runs short of their winning target] but I never thought they would get the runs and the tactic worked in the end. When Thomson eventually edged a ball from "Beefy", Chris Tavare fortunately parried the ball upwards rather than downwards and Geoff Miller completed the catch. We walked off a relieved team.

Border and Thomson had declined a lot of singles and I think that experience might have changed the way Australians thought about batting with tail-enders. Thereafter Steve Waugh always took the view that you should take every run you could get.

Prediction for this winter: I'm normally a pessimist - or a realist - but I feel optimistic about this series. I'm hoping Flintoff can galvanise Harmison into action, the series finishes 2-2 and we retain the Ashes.

1986-87 England won five-Test series 2-1
Now 45, he is a director of the Professional Cricketers' Association

We didn't do well in the early matches - being beaten by the Queensland Country Farmers XI wasn't quite the preparation we wanted - but we got together the night before the first Test and I remember Ian Botham saying: "Right, boys, the party's over. Now the real test begins." He immediately set the tone for the rest of the tour by scoring 138 in our first innings.

Mike Gatting was an excellent captain and very happy to take advice from people like Beefy. And he always made me feel part of the process. I was very much a junior player, but he would ask me what sort of field I normally bowled to, how I thought the batsmen would play, how I wanted to bowl to them.

I was having a good tour, despite not making the side for the first three Tests. On Christmas Day, before the start of the Melbourne Test, I got phone calls from friends I'd made there the previous year while playing for South Australia. They said: "Come on, join our party, you're not going to play tomorrow."

Luckily I resisted. It was always stressed that we had to be ready to play, even if we hadn't been named in the team.

The following day I was in the dressing-room sorting out the guys' drinks half an hour before the match when Gatting came in and told me: "Don't worry about that, Smally. You're playing. Graham Dilley's failed a fitness test."

It turned out to be a great match for me. We won by an innings to retain the Ashes. Beefy and I took five wickets each in the first innings, I got another two in the second and I was named man of the match.

Phil Edmonds got the final wicket when I caught Merv Hughes, my old sparring partner. Phil was really pedantic about his field placings. I think he generally did it as a piss- take when he got bored. He moved me to deep square leg and said: "Mark an X on that spot and don't move from there." I did as I was told and, sure enough, next ball Merv swept and got a top edge. I caught the ball, threw it 200 miles into the air and ran off the field.

It was only mid-afternoon and we began the celebrations in the dressing-room. I think we were drunk by the time we left the MCG.

We moved on to Beefy's presidential suite in the hotel, where the party was just dying down at about 10 o'clock when in walked Elton John with a line of waiters carrying trays of champagne.

He'd been out there on tour and every chance that he got, he came to see us. He was DJ for the party for the rest of the night.

I remember being out on the balcony when the sun came up as the locals were setting off for work.

Prediction for this winter: I see the Aussies as marginal favourites, although I think it will be really close. They got a bit complacent until we beat them last summer, but they have played much tighter cricket since then.