1989: Jack Russell
Then: England's man of the series in the home side's dismal summer
Now: Professional artist
Rarely can English cricket have endured a more dismal summer, but Jack Russell has more reason than most to remember 1989 with fondness. Russell played all six Ashes Tests, and is one of the few Englishmen to come out of that 4-0 clobbering with credit. He was named England's man of the series, having scored his maiden first-class ton in a losing cause at Old Trafford.
Not that all Russell's memories of that series – during which England used 29 players – are good. "It was chaos in the England camp because you didn't know who was going to be sat next to you for the next Test match," Russell says. "You didn't even know if you were going to be there. It was like Waterloo Station, people coming and going. The selection policy was terrible and smacked of panic. There was no solidity."
Australia, under captain Allan Border, were perfectly placed to take advantage of a shambolic England, having decided after defeat in 1986-7 that they needed to get tough. "They never spoke to us," says Russell. "The only person who ever spoke to me, as I passed him going down the steps at Lord's, was my Gloucestershire team-mate Terry Alderman, who said, 'Alright Jack' under his breath so nobody could hear it.
"They never socialised. If they had done, I would have found out that Merv Hughes is just a big softie – it was hard to tell on the field because half the time he was trying to kill me!"
At least Russell had art to distract his attention from the carnage. In 1987, he had started sketching after he got bored waiting for play to re-start in a county game at Worcester. "I stormed out of the changing room one day and said, 'I'm going to teach myself to paint,'" he says. "'If Rembrandt can do it, why can't I?' I thought.
"But I had to work at it. When I started, nine canvasses out of 10 would go in the bin. It didn't come easy."
When he retired in 2004 he took up painting full-time. Now he has a gallery in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire. "I'm a bit of a loner, so painting suits me," he says. "I like the solitude of it.
"Hopefully in a couple of hundred years' time my pictures will still be here. When I was a kid I used to go round the graveyard and look at the headstones – 'Well, who's he, what did he do?' I wanted to leave something behind."
Jack Russell has painted a set of limited edition Sky+HD boxes for the 2009 Ashes Series. For information go to www.sky.com/jackrussell
1968: Derek Underwood
Then: Bowled England to an unlikely victory at The Oval
Now: MCC president and works for artificial pitches company
It is an unforgettable image. Ten England fielders, gathered around the bat, are facing with palms held out imploringly towards the umpire, whose finger is already on its way upwards. The Australian batsman, John Inverarity, has turned to leave the crease. The place was The Oval, the year 1968 and the bowler was Derek Underwood, who had just ensured that England completed one of the most remarkable victories in that or any era of Test cricket.
"We were steadily winning the Test match and then at lunchtime a huge, torrential storm broke over The Oval and it became a lake," says Underwood. "Most of us thought we would never play again but Colin Cowdrey thought we would and, sure enough, eventually out we went.
"But we didn't get a wicket for ages: the wicket did very little. Then Basil D'Oliveira got Barry Jarman out, we got people up around the bat, we created pressure and we crept home with three minutes to spare."
Underwood played in an era when both England and Australia were strong. "It was a very competitive contest," he says. "People sometimes look back at cricket in the past and think that it was pretty friendly but it could not have been more competitive. We had to give as good as we got, and we duly did.
"There was no better challenge than playing Australia. They're the old enemy. It is the most meaningful competition of them all."
The Kent spinner retired in 1987 and has worked for Club Turf ever since. "I've been very pleased that, having played professionally for 26 seasons, I've been able to stay involved in cricket," he says.
This year he is president of the MCC. "I'm concerned about the welfare of the spinner in modern cricket," he says. "We're trying to help the development of spinners."
His role with the MCC has given him great optimism for the future of the game and, indeed, for England's chances this summer. "I think England have got a good chance. It pleases me that we've got [Graeme] Swann and we mustn't forget Monty [Panesar]. I think he is the best bowler on a turning wicket in the country. There's every indication that cricket is booming. It's an exciting time for the game."
1981: Chris Old
Then: Partnered Ian Botham during his Headingley innings
Now: Cricket coach having recently sold his restaurant
Sometimes it can be hard to believe the evidence of your own eyes and ears. Just ask Chris Old, the Yorkshireman who played a key role in England's truly famous win at Headingley in 1981, sharing a partnership of 67 with Ian Botham during the latter's crucial second-innings knock.
"I can remember driving down the motorway to Sheffield the next day and hearing on the radio that we'd won – and I thought 'No, we didn't win that, we can't have done'," he said. "It hadn't hit home. It was only later on, in the evening, that I began to realise that, yeah, we had won."
Old's role during that partnership was to keep Botham calm, he says. "We'd got the field spread and it would have been ridiculous getting out caught in the deep trying to hit every ball for four or six," he said. "If Ian belted one for four, I'd say, 'Come on, keep working on it, just pick it out.'
"I thought we could win. The balance of power had changed. Panic was setting in for the Australians. The captain [Kim Hughes] wasn't setting the field, there were three or four of them doing it. There were two or three people talking at the same time and people moving in all directions. I thought: 'If we get a decent lead here, we've got a very good chance.'"
He was right, of course – England won by 18 runs – but it was to prove a last hurrah for Old, whose Test career ended two weeks later. Then, in 1985, he retired from first-class cricket after a spell with Warwickshire. "I had no plans for retirement," he says. "I got by: somebody I'd met had started a hospitality company, and I still played minor county cricket."
Old went through two or three jobs before, in 1998, he opened a fish restaurant in Cornwall with his second wife. "We'd moved down to Cornwall but we couldn't find any jobs so we decided to look at other ways to employ ourselves," he says. They sold the restaurant this year. "It was hard work," Old says. "This time of year, in particular, is very hard. From July onwards, it's seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. I'm 60 now and it was getting harder and harder to keep going."
He is a coach now for Chance To Shine, a scheme that aims to bring competitive cricket back to the country's state schools. "We teach the kids how to catch, how to hit a ball," he says. "We're trying to make it fun: hopefully we can encourage kids to go on with cricket, through local clubs. It is a great scheme."
1993: Tim May
Then: Australian spinner who took 21 wickets in the series
Now: International players' representative
Tim May can remember exactly where he was when Shane Warne bamboozled Mike Gatting with the "Ball of the Century": looking on from the Australian balcony at Old Trafford, annoyed that he hadn't been picked to play in that first match of the 1993 Ashes. "The selectors got it wrong," he says. "That was a track that was suited to spin, as Shane proved. I was in good form coming up to that match and I should have played. When Shane actually bowled his first ball, I was half-dozing on the balcony and it was only when we saw a replay on the TV screen that we saw what a good ball it was."
Despite his omission for Old Trafford, May would go on to have a memorable summer, taking 21 wickets as he and Warne terrorised the English batsmen. "The pitches that summer were very, very dry," he said. "When you've got a guy like Warne in your side, well, that makes it easier.
"We had a great collection of blokes: the selection philosophy then was to consider the team dynamic. The English crowds really appreciated the Australian team – at times we felt like we were playing a home series. It was thoroughly enjoyable."
Sixteen years on, May is based in Austin, Texas, from where he carries out his duties as chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA). "My wife is American and when we got married we had an agreement that we'd live in my country for a certain number of years and then move to the States," he says. "I agreed, fully expecting her to fall in love with Australia – but on the dot of the agreed time, she tapped me on the shoulder and said 'The family is moving!'"
May, who held the same post with the Australian Cricketers' Association until his move to the States in 2005, says there are three major issues facing FICA. "The key ones are player burn-out, the direction of the game and the security of players.
"The relationship between FICA and the ICC's executive board, also, is a constant battle. There are some countries, such as India, that don't recognise player associations. They make life a lot tougher and it's out of step with the times. After all, there's no game without the players."
2005: Gary Pratt
Then: England's substitute fielder who ran out Ricky Ponting
Now: Property developer and minor counties cricketer
Ricky Ponting may have lost the Ashes as captain in 2005, but if his team-mates had played as well as he did then Australia would surely have won. The Tasmanian saved the Old Trafford Test with a magnificent 156 on the final day and was well set in his side's second innings in the next match, at Trent Bridge, when one of that summer's most memorable moments occurred.
Gary Pratt was the man who ran out Ponting for 48 and, in the process, struck a vital blow for England. "It was just one of those things – everything clicked," Pratt says. "I was caught up in the moment. It was like every other time you pick the ball up and throw it – if it hits, it's a bonus, if it doesn't... well, you don't expect it to. But it did. It was chaotic afterwards. It was a massive moment. He was playing quite well and we were struggling to get him out. It was amazing. I was pretty chuffed."
Ponting, infuriated at England's use of substitute fielders, directed a rant at the home balcony on his way back to the dressing room. "I didn't know anything about that until we came off at the end of the day's play," says Pratt. "It was funny, because that was one of the only occasions when England had a really good reason to have a 12th man on, what with Simon Jones being in hospital."
Durham released Pratt, 27, in 2006 and he now plies his trade in minor county cricket with Cumberland. "I enjoy it. It's a lot more relaxed," he says. "I'd love to get back into the first-class game, though."
In the meantime, he has gone into property development in Bishop Auckland after a spell managing a storage company. "I'm selling up my share in the storage business," he says. "It's a good time to go into property development up north. You can pick up properties for £40,000 or £50,000 a piece. I want to get a portfolio together and go from there."Reuse content