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Controversial moments in Ashes history

Alex Perry
July 5, 2013
The infamous 'Bodyline Series' of 1932-33 © PA Photos
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Strewth mate! The two and a half years since the last Ashes have felt like a wallaby's lifetime - so let's hope the rain does not leave the wicket looking like a billabong! But before the real bizzo gets underway on Wednesday, grab a jar of amber nectar, stick another shrimp on the barbie and have a read of ESPN's top ten most controversial moments in the competition's history.

If you do, we promise to stop the Aussie accent…

1912: Selection fisticuffs

The selectors are used to getting stick from fans and the media about the players they pick to represent their countries - but it's not common to come under fire from your own colleagues.

In 1912, a selection meeting between the Australian Board of Control and several players ended in captain Clem Hill and player Peter McAlister, who had enjoyed a frosty relationship previously, coming to blows.

After sharing a few choice phrases, Hill gave McAlister the punch "he had been asking for all night."

1932-33: Leg Theory vs. Bodyline

England called it "leg theory"; Australia called it "Bodyline" - probably with a few select curse words thrown in. Whoever you side with, it is easily the most controversial tactic in Ashes, if not cricket, history.

Designed specifically to combat the threat of Australian batting genius Don Bradman, the leg theory involved the ball being bowled toward the body of the batsman in line with the leg stump, in the hope that any deflections would be snaffled by the quadrant of fielders waiting behind square leg.

After witnessing wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield knocked unconscious by a bodyline ball from England's Harold Larwood, Australian captain Bill Woodfull said: "There are two sides out there. One is playing cricket and one is not."

English skipper Douglas Jardine did not flinch - mainly because the leg theory had helped lead his side to a 4-1 series win.

It was not long before the rules were rewritten to limit the amount of fielders allowed behind square leg - effectively eliminating leg theory bowling for good and returning cricket to the gentlemen's sport it was designed to be.

1975: Vandals stop play

The fourth day's play of the third Test at Headingley ended with the match balanced on a knife-edge. Australia, chasing a record 445 to beat England and retain the Ashes, had reached 220 for 3 heading into the final day.

But when groundsman George Cawthray pulled back the covers, he was greeted with the sight of a pitch which had been vandalised. Several lumps of soil had been gouged out of the surface just short of a length at the Rugby Ground End - damage that would force the final day's play to be abandoned.

While Cawthray later admitted that he could have repaired those sufficiently to allow play to recommence, what sent a chill down his spine was that the holes had been filled with about a gallon of oil. Cawthray found the solitary nightwatchman, who had not heard anything unusual, and then summoned the police.

1979: Lillee shows his metal

Dennis Lillee is Australia's third most successful Test bowler of all time with 355 wickets. But his defining Ashes moment came with the timber in his hand. Well, kind of…

At the WACA, Lillee headed to the crease with an aluminium bat manufactured by a company owned by a personal friend. But when Lillee pinged one away to score three runs, both captains were irked - Aussie skipper Greg Chappell because he thought the ball would have gone for four with a wooden bat, and counterpart Mike Brearly who complained it was damaging the ball.

The stand-off lasted for ten minutes before Lillee threw a tantrum and launched the bat into the air.

Following the Test, the laws of the game were amended to state that all bats must be made of wood.

1981: Lillee's winning wager

Ah, the infamous third Test at Headingley during the 1981 Ashes. While most of us remember it for the extraordinary performances from England's Ian Botham and Bob Willis, it is often forgotten that Dennis Lillee (again) found himself in a spot of bother.

With England following on, bookmakers slapped a price of 500-1 on the home side winning and flashed it across the scoreboards. Lillee, along with wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, sent a third party off to put a few quid on such a result happening.

The pair won £7,500 and were left with some explaining to do.

1982-83: Alderman vs. the slapper

In an incident more befitting of the football terraces, an England fan burst onto the field of play and landed a slap on the face of Australian bowler Terry Alderman.

Naturally, the seamer gave chase, only to dislocate a shoulder while tackling the intruder - ruling Alderman out for more than a year.

1985: Lamb shows off his soccer skills

It was the catch that effectively regained the Ashes for England in 1985 - and it remains a mystery to this day.

With just an hour of the fifth Test remaining, Wayne Phillips was 59 not out and digging in for the draw. But at 113 for 5, he hit a shot that crunched into the foot of Allan Lamb - who was attempting to jump out the way.

The ball popped up and allowed David Gower to make a simple catch. After lengthy consultation, the umpires sent Phillips packing. Judge for yourself here:

2005: Ponting throws his toys out

One now plays Minor Counties cricket for Cumberland; the other is not long retired as Australia's most successful batsman.

But in the 2005 series, little-known Durham youngster Gary Pratt found himself on the wrong end of a Ricky Ponting tantrum.

Moments after replacing the injured Simon Jones in the field, Pratt latched onto a Damien Martyn stab and whipped the ball at the stumps - running Ponting out just two runs short of his half ton and swinging the momentum in England's favour.

Unhappy with what he perceived to be an unfairly high number of substitute fielders during the series, Ponting stormed from the pitch pointing and hurling expletives at the England balcony.

As a result, Ponting was relieved of 75 per cent of his match fee.

2007: Revenge is a dish best served with a whitewash

Still buzzing from that 2005 victory, England headed to Australia two years later fully believing they could retain the crown. And why not?

But the tone of the series would be set with the very first ball, when Steve Harmison launched the ball so far wide of off-stump that new captain Andrew Flintoff had to stop it at second slip.

Ricky Ponting's men went on to inflict the first whitewash in the Ashes since the 1920-21 series. Now that is how you prove a point.

2009: Strauss's time-wasting tactics

With tail-enders Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar at the crease and needing to cling on, England were accused of deliberate time-wasting by Australian captain Ricky Ponting when opposite number Andrew Strauss twice sent 12th man Bilal Shafayat out into the middle.

Strauss defended his decision. "There was a lot of confusion," he explained. "We firstly sent the 12th man out to let Jimmy and Monty know there was time left and not just the overs.

"Then the drinks spilt on his glove and Jimmy called up to the dressing room and we weren't sure whether we needed the 12th man or the physio - so we sent both out."

We want to believe you, Andrew. We really do...

Alex Perry is an assistant editor at ESPN and can be found tweeting here

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