History against England's Ashes bid

LONDON: England head into the fifth and final Test against Australia here at the Oval with the series all square at 1-1 and needing a win to regain the Ashes.

Only twice before have they been in the exact same position at this stage of a five-match Ashes series - and on both occasions they failed to get the win they wanted.

Both matches came during the 1960s, when only 10 of 25 Ashes Tests ended in a positive result.

That decade saw England and Australia both accused in their matches against one another of excessive caution in not wanting to risk defeat in the pursuit of victory.

In the 1962/63 Ashes in Australia, an England side captained by Ted Dexter won the second Test at Melbourne to go 1-0 up with Fred Trueman, one of cricket's greatest fast bowlers, taking five second innings wickets and Colin Cowdrey and David Sheppard both scoring centuries.

However, Australia hit back in the third Test with fast bowling all-rounder Alan Davidson taking nine wickets in an eight-wicket win.

But the next two Tests both ended in draws as Australia retained the Ashes.

Crowds, enlivened by the bold approach of the West Indies side that played in Australia in 1960/61, were far from impressed and Australian cricket reporter Ray Robinson, writing in the Cricketer magazine, quoted a letter sent by a fan to one of the local papers.

"It is a sad blow to cricket that (Neil) Harvey and Davidson are quitting the game but they shouldn't be lonely, as they are retiring at the same time as 10,000 spectators."

It was a similar story in 1965/66 where England, strong in batting but weaker in bowling, again fell at the final hurdle.

But, as The Times' correspondent John Woodcock pointed out, it was a batting collapse that enabled Australia, who didn't lose an Ashes series throughout the 1960s, to get the win they needed in a campaign featuring three drawn Tests.

England, inspired by Bob Barber's 185 and five first innings wickets from fast bowler David Brown, won the third Test at Sydney by an innings and 93 runs.

"They were on top of the world when they went to Adelaide for the fourth Test match and yet they were bowled out for 241 and 266," Woodcock wrote in the Cricketer. England lost by an innings and nine runs.

With the series all square, the teams headed to Melbourne. England piled up 485 for nine declared, featuring a century from Barrington, only for Australia to respond with 543 for eight declared which included Bob Cowper's 12-hour 307, the first Test triple-century on Australian soil.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) is currently trying to crack down on pitches that are too batsmen-friendly, an issue at grounds around the world, but this is not a new problem.

"Australia would help themselves, as well as the game in general, if curators from Perth to Brisbane were told, in no uncertain terms, to make their pitches faster," Woodcock wrote at the end of the 1965/66 series. "That should be the next stage in restoring the popularity of the game."

But while the history books may be against Andrew Strauss's side at the Oval they can take comfort their performance in the second Test of this series, on the other side of London's River Thames.

England hadn't won an Ashes Test at Lord's for 75 years but that didn't stop them from triumphing by 115 runs at the 'home of cricket'.