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Match Of My Life: The Ashes Ed by Sam Pilger & Rob Wightman

Release date: 10th November, 2006
Publisher: Know the Score Books Ltd

List Price: £16.99
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Edited by Sam Pilger and Rob Wightman
Know The Score Books Ltd price: £11.21, saving £5.78 on rrp

When Andrew Flintoff and Ricky Ponting walk out at the Gabba on November 23rd, it will signal the start of the most anticipated series of matches in cricketing history. Much of this is attributable to England's unexpected victory in 2005, but it is also because as a contest, an Ashes series is arguably the most historic encounter of any national team sport.

As an appetiser for this main event, 'Match of My Life - The Ashes' brings together twelve players, six from each country, to describe in detail their favourite game. Apart from providing readers with a number of entertaining 'inside' stories, the format serves to reinforce how much the Ashes mean to participants.

For example, the compelling tale of Australia's 1948 side, who earned their 'Invincible' soubriquet during an undefeated march round the British Isles, is told by Neil Harvey, the youngest tourist, who wasn't expected to play in any Test matches. However, when Sid Barnes, Australia's opener, received a crippling blow during the Lord's Test, Harvey was called up at Headingley to make his debut. He top-scored with a first innings century before joining Don Bradman to score the winning runs as Australia chased more than 400, then the highest score by a team batting last to win a Test match, and take the Ashes. It's fairy tale stuff, but gripping nonetheless.

Ray Illingworth, in typical curmudgeonly style, recalls the seventh Test of the 1970/71 series in Australia when England retrieved the urn after a 13-year gap. Not surprisingly, Jeff Thomson selects the first Test of 1974/75, going into gory detail of how he and Dennis Lillee frightened the life out of England's batsmen. Following a self-imposed exile, Geoff Boycott recounts the angst of his return at Trent Bridge in 1977, when he laboured to a century after infuriating the home crowd by running out local hero Derek Randall.

Bob Willis regrets his broadside at the media immediately following his match-winning performance at the famous Headingley Test in 1981, David Gower gives an illuminating insight into what it's like to play your way into form as he leads England to victory in 1985, while John Emburey explores the manner in which negative press coverage of a touring team can serve as a motivating factor, as it did for England in Australia in 1986/87.

Mark Taylor remembers how the1989 Australians, lampooned as probably the worst team to visit these shores, then dismantled England's much-vaunted bowling attack from start to finish. Merv Hughes and Justin Langer add their entirely subjective (but no less readable) two'penneth's worth.

Contributions from the class of 2005 bring matters up to date, with Glenn McGrath recalling how he captured his 500th Test wicket, while Ashley Giles, who suffered inner turmoil as he endeavoured to justify his England place, but ultimately found relief as he and Kevin Pietersen produced the Ashes-winning partnership at the Oval.

If there is a gripe, it is that the 1950s and 1960s are ignored. It would have been nice to hear from one of the players who witnessed Jim Laker at Old Trafford in 1956, or perhaps from Derek Underwood regarding the Oval Test in 1968. On the Australian side, Richie Benaud's 1961 tour was something of a landmark, as was Bobby Simpson's triple century in 1964, although neither series is mentioned.

Nevertheless, these enjoyable vignettes offer readers an insight into Ashes history and serve to whet the appetite for what promises to be another compelling series.

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