Amid simmering angst and soporific batting, the 1970–71 Ashes brought some notable historic precedents: a new venue, a seven-Test summer, the unplanned birth of one-day internationals, the removal of a captain and the arrival of three youngsters destined to be all-time greats.
It was, however, a tour forever associated with a moment of infamy that rivalled Bodyline for its provocative build-up and explosive aftermath.
The moment England fast bowler John Snow felled rival tailender Terry Jenner during the final match of the longest Ashes summer, months of abrasive personality conflicts and festering bad blood crystallised into threats, violence and the real prospect of the series outcome being decided by forfeit.
Ultimately, it would end with England captain Ray Illingworth — a central figure in the drama — being chaired from the field and feted for his nation’s first Ashes success in 14 years.
A straight-shooting Yorkshireman, Illingworth galvanised his team around a shared but single goal — to be the first England outfit to regain the Ashes on Australian soil since the Bodyline campaign of 1932–33.
He adopted Douglas Jardine’s ‘whatever it takes’ philosophy, with his chosen weapon being Snow, who held a fondness for penning poetry and was the son of a village vicar.
Snow played villain to hometown sheriff Lou Rowan, umpire in all but one of the fractious Tests who, away from cricket, was a detective with the Queensland Police drug squad.
From the showdowns in Brisbane and the newly minted Ashes venue in Perth, Rowan drew the battle lines by repeatedly warning Snow over his ‘intimidatory’ bowling tactics.
It set a tone of dissatisfaction with the local officials that spread malignantly through the England squad across the series, in which they were granted not a single lbw decision.
Australia, by contrast, gained five.
England’s mood darkened further when the tour schedule was rewritten without Illingworth’s knowledge or consultation.
No sooner had he won the toss for the third Test at the MCG than rain arrived and stayed for three days.
Officials then ruled it abandoned without a ball bowled but, to placate disgruntled fans and out-of-pocket administrators, a world-first one-day international of 40 eight-ball overs per side was scheduled instead.
The first England knew of that ruling was when then chairman of Australia’s Board of Control, Don Bradman, visited the tourists’ dressing room as the rain fell to thank them for agreeing to the limited-overs fixture and dropping a planned tour game to squeeze in a hastily appended seventh Test.
Up to that point, neither side had been prepared to risk defeat by pushing for victory, with the first two Tests prior to the wash-out ending as stalemates.
Both Illingworth and his Australian captaincy counterpart, Bill Lawry, eyed Sydney’s spin-friendly pitch as the likely source of a result.
This proved to be the case, although it was Snow’s hostility rather than the slow men’s guile that was decisive.
Not only did Snow take 7-40, the best bowling by an England quick in Australia since Frank Tyson at the MCG 16 years earlier, he also raised early ire among the SCG crowd when a rising delivery he bowled smashed into the face of tailender Graham McKenzie who, soon after, quit Test cricket.
Snow’s devastating bowling carried England to a 299-run win and a 1-0 series lead with three Tests (including the auxiliary seventh match in Sydney) to play.
Despite constant tinkering with their playing XI — wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, batsman Greg Chappell and paceman Dennis Lillee all earned their first Baggy Green caps in this series — a mix of go-slow batting and uninspired captaincy saw Australia unable to secure the win needed to level the Ashes and retain the urn.
Further draws in Melbourne and Adelaide meant the unprecedented seventh Test would decide the trophy and, realising major change was required, the Australia selectors — including Bradman — sacked their skipper.
Lawry had been the sole source of resistance against Snow in the previous SCG rout, where he carried his bat for an unbeaten 60 in his team’s 116, and was averaging 40 against the new ball when he learned of his axing via a radio news bulletin.
England were also hampered for the decider, their best batsman Geoff Boycott absent after having his left arm broken in a tour game prior to the final Test.
Australia’s new captain Ian Chappell immediately showed his preparedness to gamble by choosing to bowl first on winning the toss and, despite fielding an attack that boasted just six Test wickets between them, they kept England to 184.
Nursing severe inflammation in his lower back from an arduous workload, Snow then took aim, firstly at Ian Chappell and then at Australia’s number nine Jenner who had shown a distaste for short-pitched bowling earlier in the series.
When Snow took the second new ball, Illingworth manoeuvred his field — placing two men behind square leg and another at silly mid-on — and ghosts of the long outlawed Bodyline strategy spooked the Saturday afternoon SCG crowd.
Jenner negotiated three deliveries fired at pace into his torso, but the fourth tracked menacingly towards his left shoulder and, as he instinctively turned and ducked, struck him flush above the left ear.
The shadow of Bert Oldfield and Graham McKenzie accompanied Jenner as he was helped, bleeding, from the field.
Rowan then demonstratively informed Snow and Illingworth the tactic was contrary to the game’s laws which, in turn, brought animated responses from the bowler and his captain.
After Illingworth argued vehemently with Rowan, Snow theatrically snatched his towelling sun hat from the umpire and stalked to his fielding position at the foot of the SCG’s volatile crowd on Paddington Hill — with only the wooden picket fence separating him from the baying mob.
One drunkenly aggrieved Australian then grabbed Snow by the shirt sleeve and, as the Englishman wrestled himself free, a hail of steel drink cans rained down.
Fearful for his team’s safety, Illingworth ordered them off the field without informing umpires or batsmen, prompting a seven-minute hiatus that ended when Rowan issued a blunt ultimatum: if England did not return to the contest, the match — and therefore the Ashes — would be Australia’s on forfeit.
It was sufficient to coax Illingworth’s men back to the fray, from which point they wrested back control of the Test to win by 62 runs — with Snow restricted to two overs in Australia’s second innings having badly fractured fingers on his right hand when attempting to take a catch against the outfield fence.
Illingworth was carried from the ground on the shoulders of delighted teammates, and the subsequent presentation ceremony provided a telling snapshot of the bruising series — Boycott and Snow both sporting slings to protect their broken bones.
This is an extract from ‘Under the Southern Cross – The Heroics and Heartbreak of the Ashes in Australia’ published by Harper Collins and licensed by Cricket Australia. It is available for purchase here
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Match drawn. Scorecard
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Scorecard
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21