Douglas Jardine sets Australian hearts a-flutter.
The (unfathomable, to some, at least) ICC Test ranking system uses as its basis a series points total, calculated from a product of the total number of wins and the strength of the opposition (assuming the two teams are reasonably closely matched, otherwise the team's own rating is taken into account) - this total is added to the previous series totals during the period in question, then divided by the total number of Tests and series to give the average rating. For example, if England win the upcoming series 3-2 they will score 760 series points - this is based on the number of wins by each team (plus an additional point for the series win) and the current Australian rating of 110, and would result in an increase to England's average rating from 112 to 114. A more likely 5-0 whitewash would give England 969 series points and an average rating of 118.
An offshoot of this is that we can look at the past Ashes series points totals and see which victories were most successful in terms of series points. Here are the ten most highly rated England Ashes victories in reverse order (note: the 1978-79 victory has been excluded as the Aussie side had lost many of its top-rated players to WSC and I didn't want any bellyaching how it's not fair to include it - that tour scored 986 series points over six Tests and would have ranked ninth):-
10. 1970-71 England 2-0 Australia, 881 series points (6 Tests)
The series that saw the birth of international one-day cricket (and possibly the death of five-day cricket). This series was so one-sided that the Aussies insisted on a seventh Test being added to give them one last chance at a win, but to no avail. Australia failed to win a Test in an Ashes series for the first time since 1888. Illingworth actually took his troops off at one point, after John Snow had been roughed up in a thinly-veiled attempt to rob England of its best bowler.
9. 1985 England 3-1 Australia, 892 series points (6 Tests)
With the Ashes series poised at 1-1 with two Tests remaining and Australia needing only one victory to retain the Ashes, so toothless was the Aussie "attack" that England were able to produce two innings victories to win back the urn. Actually toothless is probably a little unfair - the bowling could give the English batting a nasty suck when McDermott had the ball. How they could have used a bowler like Ellison, who took seventeen wickets in the last two Tests. Australia were quite possibly distracted by Botham's awesome mullet.
8. 1953 England 1-0 Australia, 852 series points (5 Tests)
After the first four Tests of this series, England sat level with Australia on 0-0. Australia only needed a draw to retain the Ashes, but England won to take the series and claim back the Ashes. Aussie skipper Lindsay Hassett magnanimously took off Lindwall and Johnston towards the end and bowled himself with Morris, allowing Compton to smack the winning boundary off the latter.
7. 1928-29 England 4-1 Australia, 860 series points (5 Tests)
England were able to call on the likes of Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hendren, Mead, Leyland, Tate, Ames, Jardine, Larwood and Freeman, so it's no wonder the first Test was won by a whopping 675 runs. In the game preceding the final Test, against Victoria, Larwood bumped Ironmonger and the resultant barracking from the Aussie faithful caused Chapman to lead his side in a sit-down protest. In the fifth and final Test, with England going for the whitewash, only a non run-out, with Ryder a full yard outside the crease, prevented England from a glorious 5-0 away victory.
6. 2009 England 2-1 Australia, 880 series points (5 Tests)
England's victory against the odds in 2009 rounds out the first half of the top ten, as once again Flintoff proved to be no less a talisman than he had been in 2005. An England victory was on the cards from the off, when the Aussie bowlers could not dislodge that noted batsman, Monty Panesar, and was completed with an inspired performance from Stuart Broad. In between were Flintoff's heroics, as well as great performances from Swann and Onions with the ball, Strauss, Collingwood and Trott with the bat.
5. 1954-55 England 3-1 Australia, 886 series points (5 Tests)
This victory, retaining the Ashes won in 1953, signalled the start of the climb to the top of one of the best England teams of all-time. The presence in the side of such batting luminaries as Hutton, May, Edrich, Cowdrey, Compton and Graveney, coupled with the bowling of Frank Tyson and Brian Statham, took England to victory over a strong Australian side. However, topping the bowling averages was a man with only one good lung, Bob Appleyard.
4. 2005 England 2-1 Australia, 892 series points (5 Tests)
England's sweet victory in 2005 is seen by the ratings as the fourth best English Ashes victory, ranking a little ahead of the 2009 campaign, and being somewhat better than Mystic Glenn's prediction of a 5-0 reverse. Flintoff was
England's player of the series, his foot being in mint condition at this time, but there were also noteworthy efforts from Jones, Vaughan, Strauss, Pietersen and Jones. Oh, and let's not forget Gary Pratt (I'm sure Punter won't).
3. 1911-12 England 4-1 Australia, 922 series points (5 Tests)
Australia were put to the sword by Frank Foster and Sydney Barnes, who took 66 wickets between them. Plum Warner, originally chosen to captain the England side, had to give way before the first Test due to illness, and his
replacement was Johnny Douglas, who was thus captain on his Test debut. Douglas led England to a 4-1 triumph, only four years after he became Olympic middleweight boxing champion by beating - you guessed it - an
Australian (Aussie legend, Snowy Baker, no less).
2. 1977 England 3-0 Australia, 931 series points (5 Tests)
Australia never came close to winning a Test in England in 1977, as Mike Brearley made England fans forget about the loss of skipper Tony Grieg to the upcoming WSC. The third Test at Nottingham was significant for two reasons, first the triumphant return from self-imposed exile of England's best batsman, Geoff Boycott, who would average 147.33 for his five innings, and the debut of one IT Botham. But it was the fourth Test at Headingley which lives longest in the memory, as Boycott scored his hundredth first-class century on his home ground.
1. 1932-33 England 4-1 Australia, 989 series points (5 Tests)
And so to the leg-theory series. Discussion of this series is always emotive, a good example being the insistence of those down-under on describing Woodfull as having been hit "over the heart" rather than simply "on the chest".
It's interesting to note that Jardine was hit several times by Harry "Bull" Alexander during the last Test after daring to complain about his follow-through and, although Alexander drew blood, Jardine never flinched - Alexander
was to say years later that Jardine "had a ton of it" (the right stuff).
The sharper-eyed among you will have noticed that the 1981 Ashes doesn't figure in this list - this is because the Australian side at that time was not a good one, decimated as it was by Packer defections, with the result that England's victory registers only 836 series points for the six Tests, coming in at number eleven on our list.
So that's it - the "Bodyline" series is seen by this system as the greatest ever English Ashes triumph. I'm sure that won't rankle our Australian breathren at all, after all it was almost seventy years ago and there can't be too many alive who were even around to enjoy it, ample time for the Aussies to forgive and forget - right? Let's see if in the build-up to the 2075 Ashes they're still moaning about Murray Mints.