We are less than two weeks away from the start of another series between the oldest rivals in cricket.
The first Investec Ashes test is all set to begin on 8th of July at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.
Michael Clarke’s Australia and Alistair Cook’s England will face off in what will be the third Ashes series in last 3 years. Fortunes have swung from one end to the other since the last time Australia toured England. Australia once again start as favorites as they did in an entire decade and a half from late eighties to mid-2000s.
An entire generation of English cricketers competed for the Ashes during this time without ever winning the coveted trophy even once. In the 43 tests during this period, Australia won 28 and lost just 7. Of the seven, six of them came after they conceded the Ashes. The one other victory came for England in the first test of the 1997 series in Edgbaston.
This article is about an XI chosen from this generation of England cricketers who never won the Ashes. England used 74 cricketers in the eight series between 1989 and 2002. Of the 74, 12 had featured in a series victory before and six tasted success in the epic 2005 series. Among the remaining 56, Derek Pringle and Eddie Hemmings featured in the 1982 series in Australia, but ended up in the losing side. That leaves us 54 eligible candidates for selection and here’s the XI.
Tests: 33 Runs: 1900 Average: 29.68 100s/50s: 1/15
Atherton made his debut in the fifth test of 1989 series at Nottingham. In his very first day of test cricket, Mark Taylor and Goeff Marsh frustrated English bowlers piling up 301 runs at the close of play, still unseparated – a precedence which became too familiar for him later on in his career. He played the most Tests (33), batted in the most innings (66) and scored the most runs (1900) for England during this period. He was dismissed by Glenn McGrath a record 19 times – 17 times caught behind by keeper or slips.
Tests: 15 Runs: 1074 Average: 39.77 100s/50s: 2/7
Robin Smith played in 3 Ashes series from 1989 to 1993. In fact, he played the most Ashes tests for England without winning a single test. Of the 15 he played, 11 ended in losses and the remaining four in draws. Despite the losses, he contributed well with the bat – 1074 runs at 39.77 with two hundreds. Among the players who has scored over 750 runs for England during the time, only Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash have better average than Smith.
Tests: 20 Runs: 1287 Average: 33.00 100s/50s: 3/4
In at number 3 is Mark Butcher, who scored three Ashes hundreds with two of them paving way for rare England wins albeit dead rubbers. He made his debut in the Edgbaston test of 1997 and has scored 1287 runs at 33. His 173* at Leeds in 2001 lead England to one of their most memorable Ashes wins.
Nasser Hussain (Captain)
Tests: 23 Runs: 1581 Average: 38.56 100s/50s: 2/11
The only England player to score a double century in Ashes from 1989 to 2005. His 207 at Edgbaston in 1997 paved way for England’s only win during the period before the series was conceded. He captained England in 8 Ashes tests, well behind Atherton’s 15, but his astute display as captain makes him lead this XI. He averaged 38.56 in Ashes tests just ahead of his career average of 37.18.
Tests: 16 Runs: 1235 Average: 45.74 100s/50s: 3/8
Perhaps the only English player from “that” generation who could have walked into the best Australian XI. Easily England’s best and most reliable batsman, Thorpe scored 1235 runs at 45.74 with three centuries. He also made his debut in an Ashes Test, at Trent Bridge in 1993 and was the backbone of English batting line up till he was omitted from the squad to face Australia at Lord’s in the first test of 2005 Ashes. Among all the batsmen from either sides who have made 1000+ runs during the period, he is the only Englishmen to average above 40 and sits above Mark Taylor, Michael Slater and Ricky Ponting. Seven Australians feature in the above list indicating how excellent he was in a mediocre side.
Tests: 12 Runs: 933 Average: 42.40 100s/50s: 1/6
For a man who scored 114 FC centuries, a test average of 27.32 is nothing but a sign of an underachiever. He played only 42 tests in test career spanning over a decade. However he always stepped up his game when it comes to playing against Australia. In the 12 tests against Australia, he scored 933 runs (he scored 2350 runs in his entire test career) at 42.40.
Alec Stewart (Wicket Keeper)
Tests: 33 Runs: 1810 Average: 30.67 100s/50s: 1/13
Along with Michael Atherton, he played the most Ashes tests for England during this period – 33 from 1990 to 2003. He happens to be the wicket keeper of our XI pipping Jack Russel, Steve Rhodes, James Foster and Warren Hegg. His 107 & 52 at the Boxing Day test of 1998 lead to a rare England victory in Australia. He also took 76 catches and effected 2 stumpings as a wicket keeper.
Tests: 17 Wickets: 74 Average: 30.81 5 wkt/10 wkt: 4/0
Coming to the bowlers now. The ever enigmatic Darren Gough is the first and most obvious pick. He has taken the most wickets for England in the time, including a hat-trick at SCG in 1999. He also has a fifty to his name in the 29 innings he batted alongside nine ducks.
Tests: 18 Wkts: 64 Average: 40.00 5 wkt/10 wkt: 4/1
The 6’5” Andrew Caddick is Gough’s new ball partner. Though of the same vertical height as McGrath, McDermott, Gillespie and Kasprowicz he proved much lesser effective. His 64 wickets at 40 a piece looks pale in comparison to McGrath (20), Gillespie (26), McDermott (23) & Terry Alderman (20). However he had a couple of terrific performances that ended up as wins for England. His 5/42 destroyed Australia in a chase of a modest 124 at the Oval in 1997. In his last Ashes test at SCG in 2003, he led England to a consolation win taking 7/94 in the second innings and 10 in the match.
Tests: 12 Wkts: 46 Average: 30.06 5 wkt/10 wkt: 3/0
Fraser can be called as the Graham Thorpe of England in bowling department. A workhorse who kept on bowling ball after ball in the corridor of uncertainty and exploiting the slightest hint of uneven bounce was his panache of bowling. He featured in 6 Ashes series from 1989 to 1998, he won only 3 tests in all. Him running in tears after England win at MCG in 1999 in what turned out to be his last test is still etched fresh in the memory of many ardent English fans.
Tests: 12 Wkts: 36 Average: 38.13 5 wkt/10 wkt: 2/1
To complement the three pacers we have the slow left arm spin of the eccentric Phil Tufnell. At the Oval in 1997 his match haul of 11/93 made a mockery of Australian batting line up which chased 124 for victory in the last innings and got folded up for 104. He was often compared with his great Australian spin counterpart Shane Warne though they were as different as chalk and cheese.