"What are you doing here, you are not good enough to play for England," Mark Waugh sledged debutant Jimmy Ormond in the 2001 Oval Test.
"Maybe so, but at least I am the best cricketer in my family," retorted Ormond, single child of his parents. This is just one of the infinite instances that shows the animosity between the two teams who actually believe in the phrase 'everything is fair in love and war’ - and this, my friend, is nothing less than war. The battle for the biggest prize in Test cricket for these two teams.
The fight is not just for an urn but what it signifies - history. More than a century of history is encompassed inside that tiny urn and the two teams - Australia and England - give it their all to get their hands on this prized possession, to give their fans the bragging rights over the other.
Over the years, many heroes have risen from the Ashes and gone onto rewrite the history books in the longest format of the game. There have been big names who have done justice to their reputations by producing the goods at this high-pressure stage, while the young ones, know if they pass this litmus test, the game then becomes a walk in the park for them.
Cricket, as they say, has become a batsman's game. But such is not the case when it comes to this series where the bowler not just after a wicket, but the batsman as well. Ask Glenn McGrath, ask Merv Hughes and they will tell you the same! There have been many instances in the past where the batsmen have taken the match by the scruff of the neck, but there have been innumerable examples of batsmen grinding out a result with their perseverance and class as well.
So here are few of such innings, which is still revered in the Ashes folklore -
Steve Waugh - 157* at the Oval, Ashes 2001
Injured Australian batsman Steve Waugh smacks a ball over the cover as he posts a century against England.
Legendary former Australia skipper Steve Waugh was one of those cricketers who always performed at their optimum levels, every time they went onto the field. But somehow, Waugh managed to take his game to a new level whenever he was playing in the Ashes. The older of the Waugh brothers, Steve, has more than 3,000 Test runs to his name against England but even he would agree that the 157 not out - he slammed at the Oval in 2001 was the best of the lot.
Australia had clinched the series in the third Test itself but it came at a cost - they lost their skipper to a calf injury. Waugh was advised four to six weeks away from the game, but the gritty character that he is, he returned for the final Test - after missing the fourth Test, which Australia lost eventually. Waugh came into bat after Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer had set the tone early in the innings. The skipper joined forces with his brother Mark at the crease and the duo took apart a mediocre English bowling attack.
Mid-way through his innings, Waugh grimaced in pain - holding his calf - but he carried on, with fear clearly showing on his face that if he had to leave the crease now, he will let his teammates down as he had forced his way into the team. When the Aussies finally declared at 641, Waugh remained not out at 157 and it paved way for an innings victory for the Kangaroos over their bitter rivals.
Mark Butcher - 173 at Headingley in 2001
England batsman Mark Butcher (C) runs from the field after steering England to victory over Australia with an innings of 173 not out on the final day of the fourth Test Match.
Mark Butcher was one of those cricketers who didn't shine the brightest in the Ashes but one masterful innings will have its place reserved in cricket folklore.
After losing the first three Tests in 2001, the hosts had already conceded the series against an Australian side that seemed to be on a rampage every time they took to the field.
Such was their level of confidence that even stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist didn't bat an eyelid before declaring their second innings on 176 for four after 39.3 overs, leaving their opponents a target of 315 to save some face.
After two early wickets, Butcher combined with Nasser Hussain and put on a sublime 181 run stand to keep the hosts in contention. Hussain fell for 55 but Butcher played like a man possessed and butchered the Aussie bowling attack.
His sensational 173 meant that England got over the line to restore some pride and thwart a whitewash.
Ricky Ponting - 156 at Old Trafford in 2005
Australian captain Ricky Ponting acknowledges the crowd's applause after achieving a century against England.
Arguably the greatest Ashes series of all-time, the 2005 edition of the series had it all - from breathtaking individual performances to sublime instances of grit and determination - Ricky Ponting's 156 is a story of the latter. Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss slammed centuries in first and second innings respectively for England and Australia were set a record target of 423 to go 2-1 up in the series.
However, the pace-heavy English attack ensured that the visitors lost wickets at regular intervals in their second innings. But one man stood his ground and kept battling it out - Ponting. The likes of Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard wrecked the Aussie batting line-up on one end, but Ponting kept going at the other.
The right-hander notched up a sublime ton and after he was dismissed, the last wicket pair of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath stood their ground and snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat. However, the foundation of this thrilling draw was firmly laid by Ponting, whose 156 is still regarded as one of the greatest Ashes innings of all-time.
Kevin Pietersen - 158 at the Oval in 2005
England's Kevin Pietersen acknowledges the crowd as he leaves the field after being bowled out for 158 against Australia during the fifth day of the 5th Test Match.
The selectors’ decision to include Kevin Pietersen in place of the experienced Graham Thorpe in the 2005 Ashes squad might have raised few eyebrows before the series, but as it turned out, it was an inspired one. Pietersen slammed a stunning century in the last Test of the series that clinched a historic first Ashes win since 1986/87.
Pietersen saved his best for the last and his enigmatic persona came to the fore when the hosts needed just a draw on the final day of the Test to win the series 2-1. However, things looked bleak as they staring down the barrel of defeat at 126/5.
Pietersen had other ideas as he launched a stunning counter attack that left the Aussies bamboozled and taken aback. The right-hander bludgeoned 15 four and 7 towering sixes to the likes of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne and by the time he was dismissed on 158, the English were already celebrating their historic victory.
Ashton Agar - 98 at Nottingham in 2013
Australia's Ashton Agar (L) is congratulated by England's Graeme Swann as he leaves the pitch following his dismissal for 98 runs during the second days play of the first cricket Test match of the 2013 Ashes series.
Yes, that's right! A full-time spinner is there on this list. A tweaker who outshone his illustrious teammates with the blade in hand while an in-form James Anderson, broke the very backbone of the Aussie batting line-up.
The visitors were firmly on the back foot when Agar joined Phil Hughes in the middle, tottering at 117/9. At this point, England were looking at a huge first innings lead but unbelievably, when Agar was walking back to the hut, the Aussies had turned the tables and taken a 65-run lead.
Agar (98) along with Hughes (81*) stitched a world record partnership of 163 for the last wicket, eclipsing the 151 held jointly by New Zealand duo Brian Hastings and Richard Collinge, made way back in 1973 and Pakistan pair Azhar Mahmood and Mushtaq Ahmed set in 1997. However, this historic innings from Agar could not save the match as the Aussies suffered a heart-breaking 14-run loss.
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