It’s no exaggeration to label Thursday’s second Test at the revamped Adelaide Oval as the most important of the seven Anglo-Australian meetings so far in 2013.
Both teams find themselves at crossroads: Australia, buoyed by a first win in ten Tests and close to leaving a turbulent 2013 behind, have arrived in Adelaide looking and sounding calm and confident; England, so settled just a month ago, will have their resources tested not only by the loss of a crucial batsman but by the struggles for form of others.
Victory for the visitors throws the series right open. Another defeat will seriously loosen their hold on the urn – and mean the early comparisons with the “Ashes horribilis” of 2006-07 might just become a reality.
The twin spires of St Peter’s Cathedral may still, just about, be visible but the Adelaide Oval does not look the same as it did when England last visited. Alongside an impressive new South stand, the iconic ground has a drop-in pitch. Keith Bradshaw, Chief Executive of South Australia Cricket Association, has promised that the track’s traditional character will not be compromised by the new pitch.
The two Sheffield Shield matches played at the re-opened ground have resulted in draws, in contests dominated by batsmen, suggesting that life might be even trickier for the bowlers than on the Adelaide track of old.
Twelve of the last 15 Test matches on the ground have produced results and there hasn’t been an Ashes draw in the City of Churches since 1991. In that period, Australia have won three and England two. Game on!
Here’s a look at recent history’s finest Ashes clashes in Adelaide – and there’s been some belters.
1995 – Gatting’s last hurrah; England win in Australia, finally
The visitors nabbed their first win in Australia for eight years as Tubby Taylor’s side set out on an ill-advised final-day chase of 263 to win the match and series. England, handicapped by an injury-ravaged touring party, managed a par first innings score of 353, thanks in no small part to an arduous 410-minute 117 from the recalled Mike Gatting in his penultimate Test match. Greg Blewett, on debut, hauled the visitors to a 66-run lead with a spritely and chanceless 102 not out as Australia’s tail capitulated early on the fourth day. On a pitch still favouring the bat, Mark Waugh out-bowled Warne to record Test-best figures of 5/40 as Graham Thorpe scored a dashing 83 to lead England to a precarious lead of just 154 with four wickets, and a day’s play, remaining. Phil DeFreitas clubbed Craig McDermott to all corners of the famous old ground, however, as England scored 108 in 18 overs on the final morning. With the hosts 0-16 at lunch, a draw was the favourite. A run of four wickets in 17 balls followed the break, however, and Australia never recovered, and found themselves 8-83 at the tea break. Only Ian Healy, with 51*, and the hamstrung Damien Fleming, provided any resistance as England won with 35 balls remaining.
1998 – Normal service resumed
Australia won the Ashes before Christmas for the first time ever as they annihilated England to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in a one-sided series. Justin Langer’s first innings ton was the cornerstone of the home side’s handsome 205 run victory as they posted 391 in conditions touching 40C. It was a simple victory – they ran the visitors ragged in the field before waiting for their batting to collapse. It duly did, twice. In the first innings, England lost their last seven wickets for 40, and in the second their last five for 16 in 23 minutes. The match’s key moment came when, early on Day 3, Mark Rampraskash edges to 2nd slip to leave England 4-187 and precipitate batting break down number one. In between the collapses, Michael Slater scored a typically flamboyant century as the home side set England a notional target of 443. The inevitable followed, with the tourists never appearing to have the aptitude or attitude to save the game. The Ashes in the 1990s succinctly summed up by one match.
2002 – All in vain for Vaughan
Michael Vaughan provided lone resistance as England crumbled once again in the face of the great Australians of the early 2000s. When the Yorkshireman fell at the end of Day One, for 177, England’s strong position (3-295) was surrendered and they managed to add less than 50 the following morning. Messrs Ponting and Martyn made merry in the South Australian sun to set up an imposing lead of 210 before McGrath and Warne sealed an innings victory with some miserly and attacking bowling, and in the case of the former, one of cricket’s most memorable catches to dismiss Vaughan, running at full tilt, at deep-square leg.
2006 – Where did it all go wrong?
You could call this one a slow-burner. For four days and about 40 minutes, this most incredible of matches, on that most torrid of England tours, looked set for a whitewash-saving draw. England had posted 6-551 on days one and two, with Collingwood scoring a double-century and Pietersen matching the 158 he’d so famously scored at the Oval 15 months earlier. Then Ponting scored his seventh Ashes ton and Michael Clarke his first. At 11.43 on day five, England were 1/69, a lead of 107. All pretty normal at this stage. Enter Warnie. Carnage ensued. Suddenly, cracks emerged and a classic Adelaide pitch began to spit and bubble and the demons inside England’s batters’ heads reappeared. By 3.42, the visitors’ second innings had evaporated into thin air as they capitulated to 129 all out, four falling to Warne. With the draw forgotten, the crowds arrived to cheer an unlikely Australian victory. Galloping along at more than five an over, the hosts swept aside England, their bowling manfully led by a beleaguered Andrew Flintoff, to win with just over three of the 36 overs on offer to spare. This was a match that went from lethargy to light-speed in a matter of minutes to produce one of the most memorable days in Test cricket’s history.
2010 – England bite back
If ’06 was languid to light-speed, then 2010 was lightning to leisurely. Thirteen balls into the match, Australia had Katich, run out without facing, Ponting and Clarke, both c Swann b Anderson, back in the hutch with just two runs on the board. Another Hussey-led recovery saw them post a below-par but not disastrous (at least not as disastrous as it could have been) 245. Then England batted. And they just kept batting… and batting… and batting. They posted 5-620 with Pietersen creaming Australia’s lacklustre attack to the tune of a Test-best 227 and Cook picking up where he left off in Brisbane with 148. Australia’s efforts to reach 375 to save the game were thwarted by Clarke’s dismissal, to Pietersen’s part-timer’s, late on the penultimate evening as the then vice-captain walked, and then waited, having become tangled and edging to short leg. An apologetic tweet and a clinical England performance followed before the heavens opened less than hour after the match concluded. What could have been, eh?
Will MacPherson writes about cricket at Back Page Lead.