Australia and England is cricket’s most storied rivalry.
Dating back to the 1800s, the Ashes are the biggest cricket series on the planet. Of that there can be no doubt.
At the time of writing (prior to the 2021 Ashes series), there have been 71 completed series and 335 Tests. Australia hold the upper hand, but only marginally, with 33 to 32 series wins (as well as six drawn series), while they have also won 136 Tests compared to England’s 108 with 91 draws.
The slightly lopsided Test match victory count comes on the back of plenty of big series wins, and that has created some of Australia’s best ever cricketers.
The Ashes can shape a legacy, and in Australian cricket history, there have been plenty who have done that.
All of the best have performed in the Ashes. Keeping in line with a general team selection, we will pick two opening batsmen, three more batsmen, an allrounder at number six, a wicket-keeper at number seven, followed by one spin bowler and three quicks.
Arthur Morris and Bill Lawry
Morris: 1946 - 1955, 24 Ashes Tests, 2080 runs at 50.73, 8 centuries
Lawry: 1961 - 1971, 29 Ashes Tests, 2233 runs at 48.54, 7 centuries
The spots at the top of the batting order were a race between three, with Morris and Lawry joined by Justin Langer in the top echelon of Australian opening batsmen.
While it could be argued Langer’s average of 50.24 for 1658 runs should have him ahead of Lawry, the cold hard truth of it is that Langer often failed to get going in Ashes cricket, mixed with some massive scores.
Langer’s average was inflated by three not out centuries and a single innings of 250, with Lawry proving far more consistent, going past 50 in 20 of his 51 Ashes innings, with seven of them converted to centuries. Langer only managed that ten times in 38 innings, with five converted to triple figures.
Morris’ spot at the top of the order is indisputable. A warrior of the back-end of one of Australian cricket’s most successful eras, Morris averaged more than 50 on some of the worst cricket wickets imaginable, also crossing 2000 runs against the old enemy.
Mark Taylor also came into calculations, having almost 2500 runs against England, however, his average of 42.3 wasn’t strong enough, while Matthew Hayden’s 1461 runs at 45.65 is also worth a mention.
Sir Donald Bradman, Steve Smith, Steve Waugh
Bradman: 1928 - 1948, 37 Ashes Tests, 5028 runs at 89.78, 19 centuries
Smith: 2010 - present, 27 Ashes Tests, 2800 runs at 65.11, 11 centuries
Waugh: 1986 - 2003, 45 Ashes Tests, 3178 runs at 58.75, 10 centuries
The first spot for the remaining batsmen isn’t up for dispute. The best cricketer the world has ever seen, Sir Donald Bradman, averaged almost 90 against the old enemy.
The Ashes is what made him the cricketer that he was, and he is a big part of the reason the rivalry between the two countries is where it is today. 19 centuries in 37 Ashes Tests is worth a mention on its own just quietly too.
The other two spots are a little more contentious. Australia had so many strong top and middle-order batsmen over the years that this is anything but clear cut, however, the New South Wales duo of Steve Smith and Steve Waugh take the spots in this team.
Smith’s career is still ongoing, so there is room for change, although that would take a cataclysmic failure in the upcoming series. He already averages 65.11 and has 11 centuries in just 27 Tests against England - the best since Bradman? It’s hard to argue.
Waugh’s spot came down to ultimately a two-way tussle with another former Australian captain in Allan Border. Waugh has a slightly higher average and more centuries than Border though, so it’s difficult to justify not naming the team this way.
Not that it came into calculations, but Waugh’s bowling ability also gives him an edge when it comes to overall team balance, although he wasn’t good enough with the ball to be named as the outright number six.
Other options included Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Greg Chappell, however, the trio all averaged under 50 against England. Mark Waugh may have been the closest competitor to the top four, 2204 runs at 50.09.
1946 - 1956, 29 Ashes Tests, 1511 runs at 33.57, 3 centuries, 87 wickets at 22.4
This probably seems the most clear-cut position in the team. Miller could have been close to a bowling spot in his own right, and his stats speak for themselves as most likely the best all-rounder Australia have ever produced.
Those challenging Miller include Alan Davidson and Shane Watson, however, neither had the consistency in both batting and bowling that Miller did.
Watson might have averaged 42 with the stick, but his work with the ball in the Ashes saw him take just nine wickets at 68.
Alan Davidson wasn’t far off Miller with the ball, averaging 23 with 84 wickets, however, he only averaged 24.19 with the bat.
Miller is the clear-cut choice for number six.
2001-2007, 20 Ashes Tests, 96 dismissals, 1083 runs at 45.12)
Three wicket-keepers could realistically be named to this team and no one would bat an eyelid, with Ian Healy and Rod Marsh the other two in the discussion.
However, Gilchrist revolutionised what it meant to be a wicket-keeper with the bat, and not just that, for all his supposed keeping faults, he has more dismissals per innings than any other wicket-keeper in Ashes history who has played more than ten Tests, although that was under threat from Tim Paine until his recent exit from the Australian set up.
Gilchrist had 2.4 dismissals per innings to go with 1083 runs at 45 and a strike rate far beyond anything seen before, with his mammoth century in the 2006-07 Ashes in Perth a standout memory.
While it must be noted the quality of the attack he kept too had something to do with all of those dismissals, it doesn’t diminish the returns on field, and while Healy and Marsh both had more dismissals, they both played more Tests than Gilchrist by a significant margin.
Glenn McGrath, Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman
McGrath: 1994-2007, 30 Ashes Tests, 157 wickets at 20.92
Lillee: 1971-1982, 24 Ashes Tests, 128 wickets at 22.32
Alderman: 1981-1991, 17 Ashes Tests, 100 wickets at 21.17
The first two quicks - McGrath and Lillee - pick themselves in this time. McGrath has the second-most wickets in Ashes history, and Lillee is only two spots behind him.
Their averages are ridiculously good for players who had such long Ashes careers, and they were both integral parts of successful Australian teams throughout their careers, which is defined nowhere better than at Ashes level.
The third quick bowling spot was far less open. Lillee’s terrorising opening partner Jeff Thompson, Fred “The Demon” Spofforth and Ray Lindwall were all in the mix for the spot which we have given to Terry Alderman.
Alderman provides a handy option with his swing bowling in this team, and also averaged just 21.17 with the ball across his 100 wickets in Ashes cricket. Ray Lindwall had 114 wickets at 22.14, while Spofforth actually averaged less than 20, but playing on rather dodgy pitches in the late 1880s, and taking just 59 Ashes wickets, meant he couldn’t truly knock Alderman or Lindwall out of the way.
Jeff Thompson was the player who came under the most serious consideration for Alderman’s spot, but despite his terrorising pace, the average at almost 24 left him just out in the cold behind the deadly accurate Alderman.
1993-2007, 36 Ashes Tests, 195 wickets at 23.25
There was really only two spinners in the mix for inclusion, and it was never going to be anyone else but Warne.
Warne took a staggering 195 wickets and struck once every 55 balls - remarkable when you consider how tough it can be to bowl spin in Australia, and that conditions generally favour quicks in England.
Warne has taken more wickets than any other player in Ashes history, making it untenable for him to miss out on this side, even though Hugh Trumble - who played his 31 Ashes Tests between 1890 and 1904 - had 141 wickets at 20.88.
When you look at the raw figures, there isn’t much in it, but Warne was a key figure in Australia’s most successful ever cricket era, and deserves every bit of recognition he gets and then some.
Interestingly, Nathan Lyon is starting to creep up the honour board for total wickets, with 85 going into the 2021-22 series, but his average at 30 isn’t in the same ball park.
And in batting order, the team looks like this.
1. Bill Lawry (Victoria)
2. Arthur Morris (New South Wales)
3. Sir Donald Bradman (New South Wales)
4. Steve Waugh (New South Wales)
5. Steve Smith (New South Wales)
6. Keith Miller (Victoria)
7. Adam Gilchrist (New South Wales)
8. Shane Warne (Victoria)
9. Dennis Lillee (Western Australia)
10. Terry Alderman (Western Australia)
11. Glenn McGrath (New South Wales)