Throughout the history of the oldest and longest running international sporting contest, the Ashes have not been without their moments of controversy, most famously of course in the ‘Bodyline’ series of 1932-33 when Douglas Jardine’s leg theory strategy to nullify Bradman and his general animosity to all things Australian nearly led to a diplomatic incident between the two countries.
So to mark us reaching number 33 in our Ashes countdown, here are ten of the best Ashes controversies we’ve managed to dig out from the history books:
The most rancorous cricket series of them all. It slid from crisis to crisis and having at one time reached governmental level looked set to be called off. An unrepentant Jardine spoke openly of his dislike of all things Australian and there were near-riots at Adelaide. Despite overwhelming pressure the immovable Jardine refused to change his strategy and England won 4-1. The controversy ran on though and prompted rule changes, which effectively outlawed Bodyline tactics. Larwood never played for England again and Jardine’s captaincy ended before the teams next met in England in 1934.
2. Fisticuffs and withdrawals
Today’s PCB may be bad but 100 years ago the Australian Board of Control (BOC) was even worse. A meeting to confirm the touring party to England in 1912 resulted in a fight between Australia’s captain Clem Hill and BOC representative Peter McAllister. As part of the fallout Hill and five other leading players - Warwick Armstrong, Victor Trumper, Tibby Cotter, Hanson Carter and Vernon Ransford - refused to tour and Australia were soundly beaten.
3. Vandals stopped play
The last day of the third Test of the 1975 series at Headingley was evenly poised with Australia 225 for 3 chasing 420 to win the series and so retain the Ashes. However, the pitch was vandalised overnight by protesters campaigning for the release of convicted robber George Davis. Captains Tony Grieg and Ian Chappell both reluctantly agreed the game could not continue, although rain would have meant a draw in any case. Davis was freed the following year but was soon behind bars again after being caught red-handed.
4. Captain Pratt
Ricky Ponting’s frustration at England’s bowlers continually taking breaks from the field of play during the 2005 series boiled over at Nottingham when he was run out by substitute fielder Gary Pratt. As the video shows as he left the field, Ponting visibly swore and gesticulated at the England dressing room. England won a tight match by three wickets after collapsing when chasing a small target.
5. The Packer Affair
The 1977 series in England was completely overshadowed by the furore surrounding World Series Cricket, news of which broke as the Australian side arrived. Mike Brearley, who replaced the sacked WSC player recruiter and ringleader Tony Grieg, led England to a 3-0 win against a divided Australian side full of soon-to-be Packer players. International cricket would never be the same again.
6. The Aluminium Bat
Although not strictly an Ashes controversy due to the Ashes not being at stake in the three match 1979-80 series, the episode of Dennis Lillee’s aluminium bat is still worthy of inclusion. England captain Brearley, sporting a beard that made him look an Ayatollah, strongly objected and two proud men went toe to toe. The umpires sided with Brearley and in frustration, Lillee flung the bat across the WACA pitch. Priceless.
7. Bottles and walk-offs
After a long and drawn out series, the 1970-71 encounter went down to a decider at Melbourne. In a tight match, England’s John Snow was warned for short-pitched bowling after striking Terry Jenner on the head. The crowd didn’t like it either and Snow was grabbed by a spectator and bottles and cans were thrown at him. England captain Ray Illingworth responded by leading his side from the field. They returned after warnings from officials, and with their resolve emboldened won by 62 runs to regain the Ashes.
8. Chuckers and draggers
England were thrashed 4-0 in 1958-59, but much of their ire was reserved for what they considered the illegality of some of the bowlers they faced – throwing in the case of Ian Meckiff and dragging by the ‘Blond Giant’ Gordon Rorke. Later events would suggest that England were right where Meckiff was concerned when he was called for throwing four times in his only over in the first test of the 1963/64 home series with South Africa.
9. Gower goes to the theatre
The 1989 series was a disaster for England and captain David Gower regularly felt the heat of some pretty hostile press conferences. After a dismal third day at Lord’s in the second test, Gower answered a few questions before deciding it was all too much and stood up to announce that he had tickets for the theatre to see Anything Goes, that the taxi was waiting, and then proceeded to walk out stage left leaving a bemused press lost for words. Even though Gower returned after the rest day and scored a hundred, his reign was doomed. As were England.
Our last controversy would have caused headlines across the World today, but in a more innocent 1981 rarely raised a whimper. With England crashing to seeming defeat at Headingley in 1981,Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh couldn’t resist the odds of 500/1 for the England win. Then came the heroics of Botham and Willis, which led England to the most unlikeliest of victories. Rightfully, no-one questioned the efforts of Lillee and Marsh though who both battled to the end in an attempt to lose their stake.