As England and Australia prepare to resume their historic rivalry this summer, we take a look at the five most prolific bowlers in Ashes contests. The first Test of the 2013 Ashes starts on July 10 at Nottingham.
Shane Warne: Ever since he rattled Mike Gatting’s stumps at Trent Bridge in 1993, with his first delivery in the Ashes - dubbed ‘the ball of the century’ - Warne has had a vice-like grip on England batsmen. Throughout the 90s and 2000s, in fact until the last time he played Test cricket, Warne flummoxed and harangued England batsmen with his assortment of tricks, at times playing on their minds with such dexterity that it left the opposition in a daze. When he retired in January 2007 after helping Australia reclaim the little urn by a 5-0 margin - incidentally the first whitewash in Ashes cricket since 1920-21 - Warne’s tally against the old enemy was 195 wickets at 23.25. That included 11 five-wicket hauls and four ten-wicket matches, with his best returns for an Ashes contest being the 40 he took in that epic summer of 2005. That was the only Ashes series that Warne lost.
Dennis Lillee: Of the moustachioed fast bowler’s 355 Test wickets, 167 came against England. And, like all hot-blooded Aussie quicks, he was often at his most menacing against English batsmen. In his first Ashes, Lillee took 31 wickets at 17.67. In his second, he had 25 at 23.84 and along with Jeff Thomson (33) terrorised England as Australia won 4-0. Not long after, Lillee helped Australia keep the Ashes with a strong summer in England, where he started with seven wickets in an innings win at Edgbaston and never let up. In the one-off Test in 1976-77 at the MCG to commemorate the first-ever Test exactly 100 years earlier, Australia won an epic by 45 runs thanks largely to Lillee’s 11 wickets.
Glenn McGrath: Following Lilllee in terms of number of wickets taken in the Ashes is McGrath, who alongside Warne made life hell for England. His 157 Ashes wickets - out of a total of 563 - came at an excellent average of 20.92 with that trademark nagging accuracy and relentless pursuit of excellence against English batsmen. His most famous victim was a former captain, Mike Atherton, whose number he got 19 times in 17 Tests. Without McGrath, who slipped on a stray cricket ball on the morning of the second Test - after predicting a 5-0 whitewash for the hosts - Australia were beaten in 2005 but he stayed fit for one more Ashes. And he signed off with 21 wickets at 23.90, helping Australia win back the Ashes 5-0. McGrath promptly called it a day.
Ian Botham: Right from his Ashes debut, when he took 5 for 76 in the first innings at Trent Bridge in 1977, Botham has been a thorn in Australia’s side. He finished his Ashes career with 148 Australian scalps at an average of 27.65 apiece - the fourth-highest wicket-taker in England v Australia contests. Botham will always be remembered for his heroics in 1981 - ‘Botham’s Ashes’ - when his all-round efforts (399 runs and 34 wickets) were all the difference as England won 3-1, with his epic 149* at Headingley changing the tone of the series. His most memorable bowling performances came in Perth in December 1979, when he took 11 wickets in a losing cause; at Edbgaston in 1981 when he grabbed 5 for 1 in 28 balls; then in 1986-87, when his 5 for 41 on day one of the Boxing Day Test helped England grab the momentum for a series win. His most successful tour of Australia was in 1978-79, when he took 23 as England triumphed 5-1.
Bob Willis: There were quicker men than the bony Willis in the history of England-Australia series, and surely some more talented, but the frumpy-haired pacer from Sunderland comes in at five in the all-time wicket-takers list. Of his 325 Test wickets, Willis took 128 against Australia at an average of 26.14. His best? That would be 8 for 43 in the second innings of the epic Headingley Test of 1981, one of Test cricket’s greatest spells. Though Willis has named Jim Laker’s 19 for 90 against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956 as the most resonant bowling figures in the history of English cricket, his achievement on that day in 1981 can claim to be as significant. Following Botham’s 149*, Willis ran through the Australian lineup to help seal one of the most improbable wins of all time.
Have your say: What are your most memorable Ashes performances?