Disasters in the drop zone: men who lost England the Ashes (maybe)

Catches have always won matches – and, indeed, spilled ones have regularly lost them. And they don’t come any bigger or important than in an Ashes series. Nigel Henderson looks back on three of the most crucial that went to ground for England against Australia.

Ashley Giles, Adelaide, 2006

In recent generations, England appeared to have cornered the market in left-arm spinners who can’t field: indeed with the selection of the likes of Phil Tufnell and Monty Panesar it’s seemed like a prerequisite. Ashley Giles though bucked the trend, his bucket hands usually reliable at gully. And, positioned on the square-leg boundary in Australia’s first innings in a bid to trap the master puller Ricky Ponting, there was no obvious reason to be fearful. Steve Harmison set up the plan, roughing up the Australian captain with a 93mph bouncer that put him on the floor, so when the less pacy Matthew Hoggard dropped short from the opposite end, the Tasmanian swivelled with lazy grace, lifting the ball invitingly towards Giles in the outfield. England, who had scored 551 for six before declaring, stood a split second away from removing their opponents’ most dangerous batsmen and having Australia tottering on 78 for four. A hush came across the ground, broken only, for those with radio earpieces, by Tony Greig shouting, almost triumphantly: “That’s out.” But Giles, slow to absorb the enormity of the moment, was sluggish in getting off the ground and the chance, just above his head, spilled from his hands. England fans groaned, Australians cheered – and a small but audible chant went up for Panesar, who replaced Giles in the next Test.

Impact: Ponting, on 35 at the time, went on to make 142, and add 192 for the fourth wicket with Michael Hussey. Giles was criticised for being too far in from the rope but assertions that he had dropped the Ashes were wide of the mark: England’s batsmen were more culpable in the subsequent defeat as they capitulated in their second innings.

Fred Tate, Old Trafford, 1902

Fred Tate

Impact: It would have been 16 for four and by the time Darling was out, the score was 74 – crucial runs as England eventually fell three short of a meagre target of 124. Tate was savagely booed by the crowd, labelled “the man who lost England the Test match” and never played for his country again.

George Duckworth, The Oval, 1930

George Duckworth

Impact: Australia ran up a first innings score of 695 and bowled England out a second time for 251 to win by an innings and 39 runs and clinch the series 2-1. It was not the result that Jack Hobbs had hoped for in his final Test.

Adapted from The Worst of Cricket 2: More Malice and Misfortune from the World’s Cruellest Game by Nigel Henderson.

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