THEY are a special breed, the men who have won back the Ashes for Australia.
Retaining the urn is one thing.
Wresting it from the enemy’s grasp is something else altogether.
Michael Clarke and his men now join the ranks of Australian folk heroes whose deeds on the pitch have restored the natural order of things.
Here’s how the Ashes have come home:
2013-14 (captain Michael Clarke) — England is belted and sandshoe-crushed on the ever-widening cracks of the WACA pitch. A bare four months after Australia succumbed on the dustbowls prepared by obliging English groundsmen, David Warner, Mitchell Johnson, Clarke and co complete a merciless display in furnace-like heat. Series score: 3-0 and counting. Who would bet against 5-0?
2006-07 (Ricky Ponting) — Having surrendered the trophy in England in 2005, in possibly the greatest Ashes series ever played, Ponting oversees a 5-0 whitewash in the return fixture. It begins with Steve Harmison sending the first ball of the series so wide it burns the hands of his skipper at second slip, and finishes with the triumphant retirements of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer. Warne’s bamboozling of an apparently dominant England in Adelaide and Adam Gilchrist’s 57-ball century in Perth stand out. 5-0.
1989 (Allan Border) — The men who would come to be known as Border’s Heroes arrive with the label of “worst team ever to tour England”. AB responds by refusing to talk to the Englishmen, earning himself the soubriquet Captain Grumpy. Mark Taylor takes guard on the first morning at Headingley and is still batting in late August, scoring a Bradmanesque 839 in 10 completed innings. Steve Waugh scores 388 before they get him out, and lbw Alderman becomes the commonest phrase in English literature. 4-0.
1982-83 (Greg Chappell) — Australia had already morally won back the Ashes three years earlier when England refused to put up the urn for a reconciliation series following the WSC rupture. There are no arguments this time, except from a drunken pitch invader who cuffs Terry Alderman from behind in Perth. In the ensuing scuffle Alderman dislocates his right shoulder and is never as fast again. Geoff Lawson steps up with 34 wickets. England’s only win is in a fabulous match in Melbourne where Border and Thommo almost chase down 74 runs for the last wicket only to fall three short to a slips catch juggled between slips fieldsmen. 2-1.
1974-75 (Ian Chappell) — Two words. Lillee and Thomson. The series attains legendary status (“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if Lillee don’t get yer, then Thommo must”) through Australia’s awesome pace attack. So many English batsmen are injured that portly Colin Cowdrey, aged 42, is summoned from the warmth of his Kentish fireside to face up in Perth. After surviving a fearsome first over from Thommo, the Englishman holds out his hand and says: “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name’s Cowdrey.” The politeness is not reciprocated, and a despairing England captain Mike Denness drops himself from the team. He returns with a big century to claim a consolation victory in the final Test when Lillee and Thommo are incapacitated. 4-1.
1958-59 (Richie Benaud) — In retribution for the 1956 series in which Jim Laker took 46 wickets on bone-dry pitches, Benaud stamps his name on Ashes history by leading his side to a comprehensive victory. The series is notable more for its attritional batting than anything else. Trevor Bailey sets England’s tone by scoring 68 in Brisbane at the rate of nine runs an hour. Alan Davidson and Ian Meckiff, later outed as a chucker, are Australia’s most damaging bowlers. 4-0.
1934 (Bill Woodfull) — The get-square for Bodyline. Don Bradman pounds out 758 runs and legspin duo Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett tie the English bats in knots, sharing 53 wickets. Bill Ponsford and Bradman combine in a monumental 451-run stand in the last Test. Set 708 to win, England succumb for 145. 2-1.
1930 (Bill Woodfull) — Enter The Don. Barely out of his teens, Bradman scores almost 1000 runs in five tests, including 252 at Lord’s, 334 at Headingley (including 309 on the first day) and 232 at The Oval. England are so pole-axed they hatch a nasty plot for the return journey to Australia two years later. It comes to be known as Bodyline. 2-1.
1920-21 (Warwick Armstrong) — The “Big Ship” Armstrong and his crewmates are far too strong for the English, led by JWHT “Johnny Won’t Hit Today” Douglas. With leggie Arthur Mailey taking a record 39 wickets Australia win all five Tests by resounding margins. 5-0.
1907-08 (Monty Noble) — An understrength England is outclassed by opponents whose ranks include Victor Trumper, Clem Hill, Jack Gregory and Charlie Macartney. England manage a dramatic one-wicket win in Melbourne. Noble later gets a stand named after him at the SCG. 4-1.
1902 (Joe Darling) — A triumphant if soggy tour. Trumper dazzles everyone by making 11 tour centuries, mainly on wet pitches. The series is notable for two of the closest matches in history — Australia’s series-clinching three-run win at Old Trafford and England’s one-wicket consolation victory at The Oval. 2-1.
1897-98 (Harry Trott) — The Indian prince KS Ranjitsinjhi rises from his sick bed to score a majestic 175 in the first Test, then Australia sweep the remaining four. South Australian Ernie Jones becomes the first bowler no-balled for throwing in a Test and England captain Arthur Stoddart complains about unseemly barracking from the crowd. 4-1