It’s the most important test series as far as English and Australian supporters are concerned. Bowlers can turn a match in a quick spell but who have been the most prolific across the course of an Ashes series?
Top 10 Wickets in Ashes Series History
Jim Laker (46 wickets)
When you take 19 wickets in a single Ashes test match, it’s no surprise when you lead the way in terms of victims at the end of the series. In the fourth test at Old Trafford in 1956, the off spinner Jim Laker returned the incredible match figures of 19/90 and in doing so he set a record over two innings that is never likely to be broken.
Laker would go on to take 46 wickets in that five-game series and his average was an impressive 9.60. It’s a milestone that is within the reach of others even if they haven’t quite got there yet.
Terry Alderman (42 wickets)
Australia’s Terry Alderman was England’s nemesis at times during the 1980s. He famously bowled a straight line from stump-to-stump and Graham Gooch was just one of many batters who had no answer.
His Ashes best of 42 wickets in a series came in his debut series of 1981. He took nine wickets in his very first match and, while Australia would eventually lose that series, Alderman kept the tourists in the hunt.
Rodney Hogg (41 wickets)
Unlike most of the Australian bowlers on this list, Rodney Hogg had to carry the team through a bleak period. After World Series cricket came along, the Aussies had to rebuild and, in all honesty, they weren’t a good team in the late 1970s.
All of this makes Hogg’s haul of 41 wickets in the Ashes series of 1978/79 even more remarkable. It should also be noted that this was his debut series, but he couldn’t quite maintain the same levels over the remainder of his career.
Form dipped and, when the World Series rebels returned following an amnesty, Rodney Hogg would play his last game for Australia in 1985.
Terry Alderman (41 wickets)
Terry Alderman is the only man to appear on this list on two separate occasions. In very helpful English conditions and, at a time when the home side couldn’t find a settled team, the seamer took full advantage.
The 1989 series saw Alderman take 41 wickets as the hosts capitulated to his swing and seam. This was a poor England side, but we shouldn’t take away the quality of the opposition throughout the series. Terry Alderman’s 41 victims included best figures in a match of 10/151.
Shane Warne (40 wickets)
Considering just how effective the great leg spinner Shane Warne was in several Ashes series, it’s maybe a little surprising that he appears on this list just once. It’s also remarkable that his 40 wickets came in a losing cause as England reclaimed the Ashes in that thrilling series of 2005.
This would be the only time that Warne would lose an Ashes series. In 2005 he kept Australia in the hunt and his wickets came at an average below 20 and with best match figures of 12/246.
Alec Bedser (39 wickets)
A high class seam bowler who took 236 wickets in just 51 tests, Alec Bedser claimed 39 of those victims in the Ashes series of 1953. It was a productive period for England who were strong in home conditions and they would win that series 1-0.
Bedser played a significant role in that victory and his 39 wickets came at 17.48 with a best match return of 14/99.
Dennis Lillee (39 wickets)
He was a fearsome sight for English batsmen throughout the 1970s and Dennis Lillee would save his best and most hostile performances for Ashes series. It may, therefore, be surprising to learn that his best return of 39 wickets came in the 1981 defeat in England.
Remember that Terry Alderman claimed 42 victims at the other end so what would the Aussies have done without those two bowlers? Lillee’s 39 wickets came with stunning match figures of 7/89.
Maurice Tate (38 wickets)
Maurice Tate took a wicket with his first ever delivery in test cricket and he was an effective bowler for England throughout his 11-year test career.
His best return of 38 wickets in an Ashes series came in 1924/25 and it was particularly remarkable as it came in Australian conditions. English bowlers had been struggling Down Under and Tate’s haul remains a record for an Englishman in Australia nearly 100 years later.
Mitchell Johnson (37 wickets)
As the song goes, he bowled to the left and he bowled to the right but when Mitchell Johnson’s radar was switched on, he was a big threat. The left arm paceman delivered the ball at high speed and with a slingy action to the extent that his inswinging yorkers were particularly hard to dig out.
Johnson’s best return of 37 wickets came in the Ashes series of 2013/14 which was a successful one for the home side. In the five tests that were played, the left armer produced best match figures of 9/103 and his average came in at a seriously impressive 13.97.
Glenn McGrath (36 wickets)
As with Shane Warne, I was a little surprised to see the prolific Glenn McGrath appearing just once on this list. The man known as Pigeon squeezes in at number ten so he may well disappear when the next Ashes series comes around.
McGrath had no great pace, but he possessed an almost perfectly vertical wrist position on the point of delivery which allowed for greater seam movement. He claimed his best Ashes return of 36 wickets in the 1997 series in England.
There were six tests in this particular series and McGrath produced best innings figures of 8/38 in the second game at Lord’s. His average over the six test matches came in at a highly respectable 19.47.
There are several interesting points to take from this list. Not only are there more Australians than Englishmen, the majority of those Aussies are modern-day cricketers. Over the course of Ashes history, results between the two sides have been fairly even but Australia have had the upper hand in recent years, and I think this is reflected here.
It’s also interesting to note that England’s two best bowlers are missing from the list. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are the highest test wicket takers in the country’s history but their tallies in Ashes series haven’t quite made it up to this point.