England and Australia face each other every two years in a fierce battle — The Ashes. And it’s not like any ordinary series. It has all the intensity, drama, and emotion that make it one of the greatest rivalries in cricket.
Both sides have faced each other in 357 Tests, including the recently concluded gripping Edgbaston Test of Ashes 2023. Australia has won 157 matches, while England has registered 110 wins. And the Ashes have produced some of the best Test matches in their 141-year history.
In this article, I will take you through the top 10 Ashes Tests of all time. So, let’s get the ball rolling.
10. The Oval, 1882 – The Beginning of the Ashes
The Oval Test of 1882 is famous for starting one of the fiercest battles in cricket. Although England and Australia started playing against each other in 1877, it was the Oval Test where it all began.
But what exactly happened, you ask?
Before this Test, England had never lost a Test match on home soil. But Australia handed them a humiliating defeat and shattered their record.
In a low-scoring affair, Australia scored a mere 63 runs in the first inning. In response, England could manage to score 101 runs with a handy 38-run lead.
And then in the second inning, England bowled out Australia for a meagre score of 122. It seemed like England would win this match with ease.
England started the chase needing 85 runs to win the game. But Australian fast bowler Fred Spofforth had some other plans. He took 7 wickets to help Australia restrict England to 77 runs. And the visitors won the game by 7 runs.
After the defeat, an Australian newspaper, The Sporting Times, published a mock obituary of English Cricket — “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” And as you know, the rest is history.
9. Sydney, 1894 – Winning after being asked to follow on
This Ashes Test from the 19th century is remembered for England’s win after the hosts asked them to follow on.
Australia put a staggering 586 runs on the scoreboard in the first inning. England, however, scored 325 runs (all out), and Australia enforced a follow-on.
In the second inning, Albert Ward’s century helped England amass 437 runs. And they set a target of 177 runs for the hosts. The target didn’t look big.
However, the Aussies lost the Test by just 10 runs, thanks to England’s slow left-arm bowler Bobby Peel. He helped England secure an unlikely victory by taking 6 crucial wickets.
8. MCG, 1982/83 – A Thrilling Ashes Test at “The ‘G”
The Melbourne Ashes Test in the 1982/83 series was nothing less than a thriller. Both teams struggled to put up a big score.
England managed to score 284 runs in the first inning. Whereas Australia scored just 3 more runs (287) than the English batters.
In the second inning, Graeme Fowler’s 67 runs powered England to 294 runs. While chasing the target of 292 runs, Australia was struggling at 218 for 9.
It looked like England was set to register an easy win, but Allan Border and Jeff Thomson gave them a hard run. With 74 runs needed to win and one wicket in hand, they added 70 runs before Ian Botham dismissed Thomson. And England won the game by 3 runs.
7. Trent Bridge, 2005 – Confident England Dominated the Aussies
The Trent Bridge Ashes Test of the famous 2005 Ashes Series was instrumental in England taking a lead of 2-1 over Australia.
A confident England side, after winning the second Test and drawing the third, dominated the Aussies.
In the first inning, England amassed 477 runs, which included Andrew Flintoff’s century. In response, Australia’s batting was bundled out for 218 runs.
The England captain, Michael Vaughn, asked Australia to follow on. The Aussies, however, put on a good batting display by scoring 387 runs in the second inning.
With a target of 129, England batters struggled at 116 for 7 in front of Brett Lee and Shane Warne. But somehow Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard managed to score 13 runs to win the match.
6. The Oval, 2005 – Reclaiming the Urn
The 2005 Ashes Test series was an evenly contested battle. England’s team made a blistering comeback in the series after getting hammered in the first Test by the visitors. And it all came down to the fifth and last Test of the series.
The hosts were leading the series 2-1. And Australia winning the Test would result in a drawn series. Moreover, they would retain the little urn (the Ashes Trophy) for another two years.
In the first inning, England scored 373 runs, with Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flintoff scoring centuries. In response, Australia posted 367 runs as Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden scored centuries.
England, in the second inning, was reeling at 126 for 5. However, English batter Kevin Pieterson’s 158 made sure the hosts reclaimed the urn after 18 years.
The hosts set a target of 342 runs, but the Aussies faced just 4 deliveries before bad light ended the game in a draw.
5. Old Trafford, 1993 – Warne’s Ball of the Century
This Ashes Test was not about who won or lost the match. Rather, this was about a player who announced himself in style and later went on to become a legend.
Australian leg spinner Shane Warne was playing in his first Ashes Test. On the first ball of his first Test in England, he stunned Mike Gatting by delivering the “Ball of the Century”!
The leg spinner pitched the ball outside leg, and somehow it gripped the surface and rattled the off stump. Just imagine the amount of turn the ball generated!
That delivery left everyone inside the stadium shocked, including Gatting, who was the best batter of spin bowling.
4. Cardiff, 2009 – Tailenders to the Rescue
A thrilling draw in the Cardiff Ashes Test later helped England win the Test series 2-1.
The hosts scored 435 runs in the first inning. In response, Australia put up a mammoth score of 674/6 with captain Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich, Marcus North, and Brad Haddin scoring hundreds.
The visitors declared their first inning on the fourth day, and a draw was on the cards. But Australian bowlers turned a dull match into a thrilling one by reducing England to 233 for 9.
It seemed like the game was drifting away from England’s hands. However, James Anderson and Monty Panesar batted 11.3 overs to secure a fascinating draw for the hosts.
3. Headingley, 2019 – The Heroics of Ben Stokes
The Headingley Ashes Test witnessed the heroics of current England captain Ben Stokes. He, along with No. 11, Jack Leach, pulled off a 1-wicket victory for the hosts and helped level the series 1-1.
Australia, having put in to bat first, were all out for 179, thanks to Jofra Archer taking 6 wickets. The Australian bowling attack proved formidable, as they bowled out the England batters for a mere 67 runs.
In the second inning, the visitors scored 246 runs, putting them in control of the game. While chasing the target of 359, England found themselves reeling at 286 for 9.
With 73 runs needed to win, Stokes (135*) unleashed a stunning assault to take England home. Luck also played a part in England’s victory, as Marcus Harris dropped Stokes’ catch on 342/9. Later, Nathon Lyon also missed an opportunity to run out Jack Leach when England was just 2 runs short of the target.
In the next over, Stokes smashed a boundary through covers that erupted the whole stadium in wild celebrations.
2. Headingley, 1981 – Ian Botham’s All-round Performance
Another Headingley Ashes Test from 1981 is regarded as one of the greatest Test matches. England’s legendary Ian Botham showed his all-round skills with both bat and ball.
After winning the toss, Australia elected to bat first. The visitors declared their inning at 401 for 9. Botham picked up 6 Australian wickets. In response, England could score a meagre 174, with Botham scoring the highest score of 50.
Having been asked to follow on, England went on to score 356 in the second inning, courtesy of Botham’s unbeaten 149 off 148 balls. While chasing the target of 130 runs, Australia was the favourite to win.
At one stage, the Aussies looked comfortable at 56 for 1, but then came England’s bowler Bob Willis. His 8 wickets helped England restrict the Aussies to 111 and register a win by 18 runs.
1. Edgbaston, 2005 – Winning by the Barest of Margins!
This Edgbaston Ashes Test is famous for England’s comeback after losing the first Test by a huge margin. This match seemed like it would go either way, but England had the last laugh.
Having put in to bat first, England managed to score 407 runs. England then bowled out Australia for 308 runs, taking a lead of 99 runs.
In the second inning, Australia dismissed the hosts for 182 runs, with Shane Warne and Brett Lee taking 6 and 4 wickets, respectively.
With a target of 282 runs, the Australian batter failed to stay longer on the pitch. At one stage, they were reeling at 175 for 8.
But the Australian tailenders showed fighting spirit to nearly pull off a victory. Warne put on a brave batting effort and scored 42 runs before losing his wicket at 220 runs.
With 62 more runs needed, Lee and Michael Kasprowicz put up a partnership of 59 runs before losing the last wicket.
Steve Harminson bowled a short ball to Kasprowicz, who edged it behind the stumps. Then keeper Geraint Jones dived to his left and took the catch.
Umpire Billy Bowden raised his finger, and England won the match by the closest margin of 2 runs. Because of all the drama and intensity, this Ashes Test is regarded as the Greatest Test of All Time.
So which Ashes Test is your favourite? Comment below. And if I missed any thriller matches, let me know in the comments.