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5 great Ashes controversies


Ashes_controversies_Test_cricketWhile the 2017-18 Ashes is underway, the pre-series banter, primarily initiated by many of the Australians, really spiced things up. Good banter, sledging and controversies have always been a part of the Ashes, and are almost treated as a tradition of sorts. One can expect things getting a lot more heated up as the series continues.

In its rich history of 134 years, the Ashes has seen a plethora of controversies and unsavory moments. The nature of this fierce rivalry between these two highly competitive teams is such that in the desperation to win, things turn ugly. Here, we look at some memorable moments of controversy in Ashes history.

Ashes 1932-33 - Bodyline

Widely regarded as the most infamous event in cricketing history, ‘Bodyline’ has now become synonymous with the Ashes. While the English called it the ‘Leg Theory’, the Australians press referred to it as Bodyline. The idea for Bodyline came from England’s wariness of Don Bradman’s genius prior to the Ashes 1932-33 in Australia. To tackle the master batsman, the English bowlers devised a unique plan: bowling at the body of the batsman with the leg-stump line. A row of fielders would be set behind square leg in the hope that the batsman would deflect the ball to them eventually after being persistently hit on the body.

While the theory sounded innovative on paper, it turned ugly on the field. A vicious Bodyline ball delivered by England's Harold Larwood knocked Australian wicket-keeper Bert Oldfield unconscious. This resulted in a lot of bad blood between the two sides, but England captain Douglas Jardine remained undaunted. The Bodyline theory continued unabated and it also helped England win the series 4-1. The blood between the two sides, however, became so bad that Australian captain Bill Woodfull said: "There are two sides out there. One is playing cricket and one is not."

The controversy that erupted after the series threatened the diplomatic relations between England and Australia. Eventually, the rules were changed and the number of fielders allowed behind square leg was limited, which effectively eliminated a repeat of the Bodyline practice.

Ashes 2005 - Ponting lost his cool

While the 2005 Ashes is still recalled as one of the best in the tournament’s history, the series was not without its controversial moments. Perhaps the most infamous one was when Australian captain Ricky Ponting lost his cool after being run-out by substitute fielder Gary Pratt.

A little-known youngster from Durham, Pratt had replaced fast bowler Simon Jones in the field with the match hanging in the balance. Moments after he came onto the field, Ponting was called for a dodgy single by Damien Martyn. Fielding at cover, Pratt ran Ponting out with a superb direct throw for 48. This left the Australian captain, who had already been miffed with the way England had been using a high number of substitute fielders in the series, seething in fury. As he walked back to the dressing room, Ponting hurled a barrage of expletives at the England team’s balcony – particularly at coach Duncan Fletcher.

Eventually, Ponting was fined 75 per cent of his match fee.

Ashes 1978-79- Lillee walks in with a metal bat

On the second day of the first Ashes Test at Perth in 1979, Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee created a great furor among the English players as he walked onto the field brandishing a metal bat. The bat – also called as ‘ComBat’ – was actually made of aluminum and had been gifted to Lillee by a friend who owned a bat manufacturing company.

England skipper Mike Brearley was left unimpressed and raised concerns with the umpires that the metal bat might damage the ball after Lillee slapped a ball through cover with a resounding thunk. This led to a standoff for more than ten minutes during which play had to be halted. Lillee held his ground and refused to relent; he had already used the same bat in a Test against West Indies just 12 days prior to this match and had faced no objections then.

Ultimately, as tempers flared, Lillee angrily hurled his metal bat in the air and begrudgingly continued with a normal bat that his captain, Greg Chappell, brought on the field. After the match, the rules were amended, stating that all bats must be made of wood.  

Ashes 1975 – Vandals dig up the pitch

This remains an extremely unsavory moment in Ashes history that tarnished the game and robbed the fans off a very intriguing contest. At the end of the fourth day of the 3rd Ashes Test in 1975 at Leeds, the match was hanging in balance with Australia at 220-3. Requiring another 225 runs for victory on the last day, it seemed the match was heading for an exciting conclusion.

However, on the morning of the final day, groundsman George Cawthray found the pitch had been badly dug up. Huge chunks of the soil had been gouged out ruthlessly in the night by some vandals and the final day had to be abandoned, which unfortunately resulted in the match ending in a draw.

What was chilling was that the holes in the pitch had been filled with a gallon of oil and, curiously, the night watchman had not heard anything unusual when the deed was being carried out.

On further inspection it was learned that the act was done as a protest against the 20-year sentence of George Davis – a cab driver charged with armed robbery.

Ashes 2013 - Broadwalk

England bowler Stuart Broad has always managed to get under the skin of the Australians and after the Trent Bridge Test of Ashes 2013 he became Australia's "public enemy No. 1". On the third day of the Test, left-handed Broad, batting on 37, edged a delivery from left-arm spinner Ashton Agar to Michael Clarke at first slip.

It was a solid edge that had ricocheted off wicket-keeper Brad Haddin’s gloves onto the hands of Clarke at slip. However, as umpire Aleem Dar turned down the vociferous appeal by the Australians, Broad nonchalantly stood his ground. By that time, Australia had used by their reviews and hence could not challenge Dar’s verdict.

The replays then showed a clear and strong edge that left the Australians fuming. Broad went on to add 28 more runs and England eventually won the match by just 14 runs. The Australian camp was understandably miffed and the debate of ‘to walk or not to walk’ was pried open again.  

Given how distinct Broad’s edge was, his decision to not walk was decreed “against the spirit of the game”. In fact, Australian coach Darren Lehmann even called on fans to make Broad "cry" over his "blatant cheating". Ever since the incident, Broad has always got a mouthful from the Australian crowd in the Ashes.


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