Ashes 100-1: 81 Days Until The Ashes…
In many respects, Australia could consider themselves very unlucky to lose the 1981 Ashes. They had the outstanding batsman of the series in Allan Border, who hit two centuries and was the only player from either side (who played more than two tests in the rubber) to have a batting average over 40 (Border’s was 59.22).
Australia also had the two leading wicket takers in Terry Alderman (42 at 21.26) and Dennis Lillee (39 at 22.30). Having won the first test at Trent Bridge and then seen off Ian Botham’s troubled reign as England skipper at Lord’s (where Botham bagged a pair in a draw), Australia looked set to go two-nil up at Headingley, but Botham and Bob Willis had different ideas.
When England’s seventh second innings wicket fell, they were still 92 runs away from avoiding an innings defeat. Indeed they were such outsiders that in these more innocent times, Lillee and Rod Marsh took odds of 500/1 to bet on an England win. But Botham had been unburdened by the loss of the captaincy and decided that if England were to lose they would go out all guns blazing. Graham Dilley (56 off 75) and Chris Old (29 off 31) provided the support as Botham (149 off 148), smashed England into a 129 run lead.
Now it was Willis’ turn. Having been deprived of the new ball by the shrewd England captain Mike Brearley (whose man-management of Botham was impeccable) and with his place in the side at risk, Willis bowled with controlled fury and menace to inspire an Australian collapse from 56 for 1 to 111 all out and take career best figures of eight for 43. Incredibly, England had won by 18 runs and like many awe struck young schoolboys watching at the time, the Reverse Sweep’s addiction to the sport and the Ashes in particular had been sealed.
Botham went on to deprive Australia again in the next test at Edgbaston, where his spell of five for one from 28 balls stole the match for England by 29 runs after the Australians had looked like winning a low scoring encounter. Then in the following test at Old Trafford, Botham sealed the Ashes for England with a stupendous 118 from 102 balls with six massive sixes. A draw at the Oval meant England triumphed 3-1, which no doubt left the Australians asked “how did that happen?”
Botham’s stats for the series were 399 runs at 36.27 and 34 wickets at 20.58, which meant he was England’s leading run scorer and wicket taker. He also took 12 catches. Botham went on to achieve many other notable feats and was to terrorise the Australians on numerous other occasions, but 1981 was his zenith and sparked an interest in cricket in football obsessed England that was not to be repeated until 2005.
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