Ashes 100-1 Countdown: 43 Days Until the Ashes…
Being a child of the late 1970s and 1980s, the English all-rounder that immediately springs to mind for an all-time England Ashes XI is that hammer of the Aussies – Ian Botham. But before we come to Beefy, there are a handful of other English all-rounders who warrant consideration.
When you read the reports of the time about the 1981 Ashes Series where Botham almost single-handedly ensured that the Ashes stayed in English hands, a number of writers compared Botham’s quickfire hundreds at Headingley and Old Trafford in terms of brutality to Gilbert Jessop.
Even as a nine year old this piqued our interest to find out more about Jessop. We quickly learnt that like Botham in 1981, Jessop had turned an Ashes test match England’s way pretty much on his own. in The Oval test of 1902, Jessop came to the crease with England 48 for five chasing 263 for the win and proceeded to make 104 out of 139 in 75 minutes, taking England to an improbable victory. However, this was the only time that Jessop’s star really shone in test cricket despite many similar feats at county level.
The next all-rounder has much more claim to be England’s greatest despite playing his first test as a number 11 (indeed he was at the crease when England hit the winning runs in Jessop’s test). The legendary Yorkshireman Wilfred Rhodes is the highest wicket taker ever in first-class cricket with 4204 victims. By the time he retired after a long and glittering career he had become Jack Hobbs’ test opening partner. In Ashes tests, Rhodes snared 109 victims in 41 tests at 24 and hit 1706 runs at 31 including one hundred (179 at Melbourne in 1912). Even if he doesn’t get the nod here then Rhodes will come into the frame again when we look at the spinners.
The third candidate is Tony Grieg. Like Botham, the South African born all-rounder was a larger than life character who thrived on standing toe to toe with the Australians. In 1974/75, England were outgunned, outclassed and undone by the pace of Thomson and Lillee, but Grieg was uncowed as evidenced by his brave hundred at Brisbane where he riled the Australian bowlers by signalling his own boundaries. In all Grieg played in 20 Ashes tests, hitting 1244 runs at 36.58 and taking 42 wickets at 38.03 with his cunning brand of medium pace. Unlike Botham and the final candidate, Grieg was also a decent captain.
Post-Botham, we lost count of the number of so-called English all-rounders who were tagged as the ‘New Botham’, but it wasn’t until the emergence of Andrew Flintoff that a true successor presented himself. Due to injury, Freddie had to wait until 2005 to make his Ashes bow, but he made up for lost time by being the man of the series with 402 runs and 24 wickets and putting in a Bothamesque performance in the infamous Edgbaston test in particular. Things didn’t go so well of course, when Flintoff led England to a 5-0 defeat in 2006/07. He bounced back in 2009 when he may have played a peripheral role in the series, but he did provide crucial flashes of brilliance such as on the final morning at Lord’s and in his run out of Ponting at The Oval. In all, Flintoff played 14 tests against the Australians and hit 856 runs at 34.24 and took 43 wickets at 36.11.
But it is Botham that stands out from the crowd. From the moment he took five wickets on debut at Trent Bridge in 1977, Botham put in a series of inspirational performances whenever the Baggy Green came into view. In all, he played in seven Ashes series, winning five and it was Botham who invariably played the crucial innings or took the vital wickets that took England past the winning post. In addition to his well-documented heroics of 1981, Botham took 31 wickets in the 1985 series and hit a hundred at Brisbane and took a five for at Melbourne in the two wins in the 1986/87 series. In all, he took 128 Ashes wickets (he took another 19 in the 1979/80 series where the Ashes weren’t at stake) at 28.04 and took seven five fors. In addition, he hit three hundreds (four if you include the one at Melbourne in the aforementioned 1979/80 series) and scored 1486 runs at 29.13.
For his ability to win test matches single-handedly and his all-round brilliance and dominant personality, there is only one possibility for the all-rounder position in an all-time England Ashes XI and that is IT Botham.
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