Jousts, more than a century old

The Ashes series have always kindled high expectations. Nandita Sridhar takes a look at some of the dramatic moments in the long history of the event.

Sustained rivalries have their own recipe. They require a constant need to look back at staggering achievements and red-faced failures, they require the need to dislike and if required, deplore (it could be spontaneous, orchestrated or otherwise) the idea of losing to each other, and most importantly, they require pride at being part of a glorious tradition. With these ingredients intact, The Ashes has managed to stay alive despite its share of controversies, blink-and-miss Tests and yawning decades of one-sided domination.

Highs and lows, best and worst moments are purely subjective, based on which team you belong to, and support. But there have been moments that pleased the neutrals, or shocked them or even led opposition teams into a state of grudging admiration. Here are some of them.

Highs: Ball of the century (1993):

The outside-leg-stump-to-off-stump ball from Shane Warne has the aforementioned stamp for various reasons. Some overlook the act for the stage, while a few others rely on relevant statistics like the distance the ball travelled and trivialities, like how long it took for Mike Gatting to notice an absent off-stump bail, for giving it its place in history. For whatever reasons, the ball remains significant for quickly ushering in the game's greatest leg-spinner.

Ashley Giles booked his spot in the 21st century nominees list last year, with a similar looking dismissal, leaving Damien Martyn light-years away from his classy and elegant self. But it looks doubtful if the image of Giles's left-arm routine will create the same was-that-real effect that the blonde act did.

Jim Laker's feat:

Perhaps the only moment in history when a bowler wished he hadn't taken a wicket (Tony Lock was the unfortunate wicket-taker), and perhaps the only moment in history when nine wickets seemed insufficient. Notwithstanding all these, Jim Laker's 19 wickets in 1956 at Old Trafford is a statistical Everest. Only, this peak almost looks unreachable.

Frank Tyson's vengeance-filled method of madness in the 1954-55 series was brilliant, but for the simple reason that his record has remained untouched, pushes Laker's feat a notch above the rest.

The Follow-on Test

England carved its own place in history by becoming only the second team to win a Test after following-on (1981, Headingley).

Ian Botham entered with England at 105 for five. Two more wickets fell, with England needing 92 to avoid an innings defeat, after they had followed-on. What followed was licensed massacre, with Botham very nearly reducing the ball to a leather carcass. Bob Willis then used the slope brilliantly for his eight wickets. England had done the unthinkable.

Edgbaston 2005 very nearly went the comeback-from-the-brink way, but Geraint Jones's catch ended a remarkable period of batting by Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz

Lows: Bodyline:

"There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not," said a bruised Bill Woodfull to the then England manager Pelham Warner, when the latter expressed his sympathies for the Aussie captain's injury, in the 1932-33 series.

Douglas Jardine's `fast leg theory' which involved a crowded legside field, a vacant offside, and Harold Larwood hurling the leather towards the batsman's ribs was enough to send bruised and battered batters into a fury

Mayhem followed and required police intervention to soothe enraged crowds and, political intervention to calm player and Board nerves. The incident affected England-Australia ties, while the man at the centre of it all, Jardine, remained defiant.

Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson exacted some sort of revenge in the 1974-75 series with their own brand of no-sympathy fast bowling.

99.94

It's not often that one googly shocks a 30,000-plus crowd into a gasping state of disbelief. As anti-climaxes go, this was heart-breaking. Moist-eyed, as the legend goes or otherwise, the game's greatest batsman could not read Eric Hollies's delivery, and walked away from the game, leaving behind its most talked about number. Despite anti-climactically falling four runs short of an average of 100, there is something deliciously entrancing about his average, almost like Laker's 19 wickets, that suggests cricketing immortality alright, but with an endearing aura of human imperfection.