90 Days Until the Ashes…
If either side loses the first two tests at Brisbane and Adelaide then they can pretty much write off their hopes of winning the series. That is because only once in Ashes history (and indeed test history), has a side ever come back from two-nil down to win a five test series.
And that side contained (and was led by) one Donald George Bradman – the greatest batsmen (and perhaps cricketer) of them all. At number 90 in our Ashes 100-1 countdown, we take a brief look at the series in question – the 1936/37 series in Australia, where the England side was captained by Gubby Allen.
1st Test – Brisbane: England won by 322 runs
In the run-up to the test series, Allen’s side were not given much of a chance of regaining the Ashes. Results in warm-up matches had been poor, they were playing in Australian conditions and their hosts had Bradman newly installed at the helm of a fine side. But a combination of shrewd selection, winning the toss, good cricket and rain later in the match saw England record a big victory. Leyland’s century formed the basis of England’s 1st innings of 358 before Voce inspired an Australian collapse to earn England a 124 run lead, despite an even hundred from Fingleton. A battling 68 from Allen meant that Australia needed an unlikely 381 to win. This task became impossible when an overnight thunderstorm meant Australia had to bat on a sticky dog. They duly subsided for 58 in less than 13 overs with Voce ending up with match figures of 10 for 57.
2nd Test – Sydney: England won by an innings and 22 runs
Allen’s luck with the toss continued and England closed on a rain interrupted day two on 426 for six with Hammond unbeaten on 231. Then heavy overnight rain led to Allen declaring, even though this was a timeless test. This proved a shrewd move as once again the Australians were caught on a wet pitch and were unceremoniously bundled out for 80 – Bradman making a duck. The Australian captain did better in the 2nd innings making 82 after Allen enforced the follow-on. McCabe also did well, hitting 93 but when he was sixth man out on 318 the end followed soon after as Australia lost their last five wickets for six runs. A jubilant England were now 2-0 up in the series and had one hand on the urn.
3rd Test – Melbourne: Australia won by 365 runs
This test started on New Year’s Day and it was certainly a case of out with the old and in with the new as Australia made four changes to their side. This time Bradman won the toss and again the weather over the five days made this crucial. On a rain-affected first Day, England restricted Australia to 181 for six, but more heavy overnight rain made the uncovered pitch a minefield when the second day’s play finally began after lunch. Bradman declared the Australian innings at 200 for nine in order that his bowlers could take advantage. They did this with aplomb as England crashed to 76 for nine, when Allen also declared. Bradman countered by sending in his tail-enders first and when batting conditions improved on day 3, he was ready to make hay. This he did with inimitable style adding 346 for the sixth wicket with Fingleton (136). By the time Bradman was the ninth man out he had made a colossal 270 and England were doomed. Set 689 to win they made 323 with a brave undefeated 111 from Leyland. Australia were back in the series and Bradman was back in form.
4th Test – Adelaide: Australia won by 148 runs
Bradman won the toss for the second match in a row, but this time it didn’t look like it would be crucial when England were sitting comfortably at 259 for four in reply to Australia’s 1st innings of 288. But the loss of Barnett (129) started a slide, which led to England succumbing for 330 and only a small lead of 42. This proved small fry to Bradman as he hit his second successive double century to put Australia in the ascendancy and set England 392 to win. Despite reaching 148 for three with Hammond looking good, Fleetwood-Smith (six for 110) made use of the fifth day wicket to spin Australia to victory. Parity had been restored.
5th Test – Melbourne: Australia won by an innings and 200 runs
A third successive toss for Bradman meant that the result was never in doubt from the start. Once again Bradman led from the front with 169 and centuries also from McCabe and Baldock enabled Australia to make 604 – their then highest total on home soil. England reached 184 for four by the end of the third day, so they were already up against it. The thunderstorms that came that night made a difficult task impossible and fourteen English wickets fell the next day as O’Reilly (match figures of eight for 109) exploited the conditions. The last rites were read on the morning of the fifth day and Australia had completed an unlikely comeback.
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