The unforgettable pleasure of regaining the sacred urn

As England today stand on the verge of cricketing history, Paul Newman talks to players from the four sides who have regained the Ashes since 1945
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The Oval, 1953


Alec Bedser:

Today's players have 10 days' rest before a Test match, yet the bowlers seem to break down a lot. I think that's because they don't bowl enough. If you bowl in the nets for 10 days your muscles aren't toned and ready for the effort you put into a Test match.

In my day there was no question of resting. I bowled 1,200 overs for Surrey in 1953. I played at Leicester on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the last Test, which began on the Saturday. I bowled 21 overs on the Friday, drove home, got back at 10pm, got up the next morning and drove an hour to the Oval to play in the Test. We also didn't have a coach. We were England players: we understood the game and didn't need coaches. Today they have 12 players and 16 people behind the scenes.

When I got Ron Archer out it was my 39th wicket of the series (at 17 apiece), which broke Maurice Tate's record. The ball turned in Australia's second innings and Tony Lock and Jim Laker bowled them out. We got our target comfortably after the pitch eased up.

The crowd gathered in front of the pavilion, though there wasn't the euphoria that there is today. Everyone's a hero now if they take two wickets. You'd think they'd been at Dunkirk.

Sydney, 1971


Keith Fletcher:

It was Ian Chappell's first game as Australia's captain. He put us in to bat, which was a bit strange because the pitch was green and turned on the last day. Australia were 1-0 down going into that last Test and they needed a result pitch.

Australia had a young Dennis Lillee, but we had the better bowlers, with John Snow in his pomp. We had to go off the field after the crowd pelted Snowy with cans and other stuff while he was fielding. They were unhappy because he'd hit Terry Jenner on the head - but it was nothing compared with what Lillee and Thomson dished out on our next tour.

Australia needed 223 to win. The ball turned and Ray Illingworth, our captain, took wickets. I held the winning catch off Derek Underwood, but it should not have been given out. The ball came off Jenner's pad.

Any win Down Under is an achievement. The Australian players took defeat pretty well, but the crowd didn't. By the end, most of them had gone. They're a bit like Yorkshire crowds: if they look like losing they don't hang around.

Headingley, 1977


Graham Roope:

We were very confident going into the fourth Test, with a lot of people in good form. I'd come into the squad in the previous Test at Trent Bridge, where Ian Botham made his debut and got five wickets in Australia's first innings: you sensed then that you were in at the start of something big.

David Evans, who had a big office cleaning business and was a big cricket nut, decided before Headingley that to stop England players defecting to Kerry Packer he would pay them £1,000 a man.

He said the people who had signed up to Packer shouldn't get the money, but Mike Brearley, the captain, felt everyone should get it - which they did. There was a lot of talk about Geoff Boycott getting his 100th hundred to win the Ashes on his home ground.

It duly happened late on the first day, with me at the other end. Greg Chappell bowled him a long half-volley on leg stump which he on-drove. I jumped over the ball and it went for four. Boycs' reaction was quite restrained.

I put my arm round him and congratulated him and the crowd rushed on the pitch. Somebody pinched his cap and Boycs refused to carry on until he got it back. There was a public appeal and somebody in the crowd gave the cap to a policeman, who gave it to one of the Aussies, who rather reluctantly gave it back to Boycs.

The Australians weren't very pleased and not many of them had applauded his hundred. Boycs hadn't walked when he was 80-odd. He had hit the cover off one ball from Ray Bright which Rod Marsh caught down the leg side. I was next man in and the noise was so loud that I could hear it in the pavilion. I was already putting my pads on, but the umpire gave him not out.

Everybody had to lay about the Australian attack except for Boycs, who batted in his usual way. The captain wanted quick runs on the board because he wanted time to bowl Australia out twice.

We got them out cheaply, particularly in the first innings. Botham swung the ball and Mike Hendrick, the Derbyshire seamer, bowled consistently.

Derek Randall got the last catch after Rod Marsh slogged the ball into the air. Derek did several cartwheels and there was a lot of champagne in the dressing-room afterwards.

The Oval, 1985


Tim Robinson:

We were 2-1 up and went to the Oval needing only a draw to win the Ashes. Sound familiar?

It looked like a very good flat wicket and I was looking forward to batting on it, having already got a couple of good hundreds in the series. We batted first and although I was out early Graham Gooch and David Gower managed to get lots of runs.

Richard Ellison had come into the team towards the end of the series and did brilliantly.

He swung the ball and the Australians didn't play him very well, just as the present team have struggled against reverse swing. Ian Botham was always going to be another thorn in the Australians' side. By their second innings they were demoralised and just wanted to catch the plane home.

Australia were very gracious in defeat and we had a few drinks together. There was a very good relationship between the two sides, although I think Allan Border may have been right when he said, later on, that from Australia's point of view it was a bit too friendly.

Botham was a big mate of quite a few of the Australians and they were a bit in awe of him.

I was on the balcony when David Gower was presented with the urn. I distinctly remember thinking: "Blimey! We've done all that just to win that little thing." I was amazed at how small it was.

l England won the 1981 series after losing in 1979-80, but the latter was only a three-match Test series in which the Ashes were not at stake.