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On the Front Foot: Oval anniversary puts new spin on the work ethic of modern players


It is the 60th anniversary tomorrow of England recapturing the Ashes at The Oval. Australia had held them for a record period of 18 years and 362 days. The country, already excited that year by the Coronation, the ascent of Everest and the only Derby win for the jockey Gordon Richards, had been at fever pitch in the week before. Four draws had already been played – this was England's big chance.

Things were different then. The ground held 30,000, the vast majority of whom had to queue for admission, with most standing or sitting on the grass, their view impeded. But the main difference was in the preparation of the players. Nobody doubts that today's stars work hard, but a look at that 1953 side tells its own tale.

Six of the players involved had been playing in County Championship matches the day before the Test started. Alec Bedser and Jim Laker had both bowled more than 20 overs for Surrey against Leicestershire at Loughborough, and Peter May also played. Tom Graveney had been playing for Gloucestershire against Worcestershire until 6pm.

But surely the captain, Len Hutton, would be fresh as a daisy? Well, no. Hutton was playing for Yorkshire against Derbyshire in Scarborough. Captaincy duties were performed by Norman Yardley, but Hutton was not able to make the journey south until victory was complete in mid-afternoon.

It was different for Fred Trueman, recalled to the England side and taking 4-86 in Australia's first innings. He was doing his National Service so had played little cricket. Fred liked to tell the story that as soon as the match finished – his pass extending only to the end of the day – he had to take a train back to camp in Lincolnshire, walking the two miles to the barracks. Upon arrival, the guard sergeant said: "Back off leave, Trueman? I'll sign you in."

Oval and out

How strange it seems that the Ashes have already been decided going to The Oval. It always seems to be the place where the spoils are determined. Actually, this is the 21st occasion since the advent of five-match series that the destination of the urn is known. Only on six occasions, including the past two, have the Ashes still been up for grabs.

Score and order

England may be 3-0 ahead in the series, but it is not consequence of their top-order batting. What a transformation there has been. In the 2010-11 Ashes, Nos 1 to 3 made 1,518 runs at an average of 84.33, with six centuries and six fifties. So far in this series they have scored 668 runs at 29.04, with one century and four fifties. This is better than in 1902, when the aggregate was 410 at 17.82 with one fifty, but then the Ashes were lost.

Going for broke

Everything seems hunky-dory for cricket, with England winning in front of full houses. Spare a thought for Zimbabwe, whose players have just abandoned a strike called because of non-payment of wages. Their board had debts of $18 million (£11.5m), which the recent home one-day series against India managed to reduce by a third because of the sale of foreign TV rights.

Players have been paid intermittently for years, and the establishment of a union and an agreement for match fees are almost certainly temporary remedies. They are about to embark on a home series of Tests, ODIs and T20s against Pakistan, who are also broke, which few will watch. The game needs support and action from the ICC as never before. It cannot always be England v Australia.