The Ashes Years
During the summer of 1981 I was probably the only nine-year-old in Britain annoyed when Bob Willis bowled England to a miraculous victory at Headingley to level the Ashes series.
You see my older brother was supporting England and therefore of course I had to go for the opposition. After the opening Test matches at Trent Bridge and Lord's it appeared my faith in Kim Hughes's side was well-placed and when England were forced to follow on in Leeds, I felt sure that bragging rights in the Mountford household would at last belong to me.
What followed of course has now gone down in sporting history as England's incredible fightback at Headingley, dramatic victory in Birmingham and subsequent Ashes-clinching success at Old Trafford turned me, as I'm sure it did many other nine-year-olds, from being a casual cricket watcher to being a cricket obsessive.
So I for one will be tuned to Five Live Sport from 2100 BST on Monday evening for a new series as Arlo White presents "The Ashes Years" looking back on that incredible summer of almost 30 years ago. Arlo will be joined by some of those who played in 1981 including Willis, Mike Gatting who I remember taking a brilliant and crucial catch in that Headingley victory, and Australian Geoff Lawson, who Ian Botham struck for four to reach his hundred in Leeds.
Although many of my memories from that year come from watching the drama unfold on BBC Television, who can forget for example Richie Benaud's description of yet another Botham six: "It's gone straight into the confectionery stall and out again".
This was also the summer where I first discovered the magic of Test Match Special. I can still recall the very words Henry Blofeld used when describing the end of that sensational third Test: "Bright's bowled, the middle stump's out of the ground, England have won".
I remember that afternoon when Willis produced his 8-43. I was forced by my inconsiderate mother to accompany her on a shopping trip. All I wanted to do was keep in touch in whatever way I could to the drama unfolding at Headingley . Whenever we were in the car I forced her to tune the radio to TMS, at any opportunity I would sneak off to the nearest television shop to take a glance of the action and I even remember forcing a sales assistant in one shop to let me look at Ceefax so I could check out the latest scorecard.
I was totally gripped by that cricketing summer. Although the recent BBC time travel drama 'Ashes to Ashes'set in 1981 takes its name from the early eighties David Bowie record, as far as I was concerned there was only one Ashes on my mind that year.
There was quite a lot going on I seem to recall that summer - the shooting of Pope John Paul II , the start of the Toxteth riots, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was on at the cinema and of course the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana took place a few days after the Headingley Test. But for me July 29 was marked not by getting ready for a Royal street party, but by getting prepared for the Edgbaston Test which began next day.
By the fourth Test of that series my aim was not to miss a single ball of the game, so I carried a portable radio with me on the rare occasion when I was forced to leave the sitting-room. Then come close of play I would be straight outside where my brother would be Bob Willis thundering in from the garden fence end and I would be Kim Hughes trying to repel him. I was always a big fan of Kim Hughes but to this day I have no idea why.
As I grew to understand the game more I realised that his captaincy in this series was open to a lot of criticism especially when compared with that of Mike Brearley who returned to the side at the age of 39 to mastermind one of sport's great comebacks.
As a series, 1981 seemed to have everything and until the Ashes of 2005 I thought it may never be surpassed as a cricketing event. There was personal triumph after adversity with Ian Botham both resigning and being sacked following his pair in the second Test at Lord's when he returned to the famous Long Room to silence. Yet a few days later his barnstorming 149 at Headingley rescued the series and opened the way for Willis to be the hero on the final day.
There was a young hero in Graham Dilley who actually outscored Botham during their thrilling partnership in Leeds and held a crucial catch on the boundary towards the climax of the game. And as I mentioned there was the return of the grey-haired genius Brearley, about who Rodney Hogg famously remarked: "He had a degree in people". England were at one stage quoted as 500-1 against to win that Test match and after pulling off the miracle victory the England team were forced to beg their opponents for some of champagne the Australians had on ice for what they believed would be a comfortable victory.
Headingley may be the game which is most widely remembered but the England win at Edgbaston was equally amazing.
In a low-scoring game where no batsman scored a half-century, England secured a 29-run win thanks to an incredible spell of 5-1 from Botham as Australia seemed destined to take the advantage again. Then at Old Trafford, Botham hooked the Aussies out of the series with a brilliant 118 including several swats off Dennis Lillee played with his eyes closed described by Richie Benaud as "like he was swatting a fly". The Ashes were England's again and Botham was a national hero.
Those summer months left an indelible mark on me. For ever more the number 149 means just one thing, Botham's score at Headingley. I would bore family and friends with tales of those who played more minor parts in the series such as Mike Whitney, Dirk Welham, Chris Tavare and Paul Parker. Or I would test fellow cricket lovers with 1981 trivia such as: "Did you know England used three different wicket keepers during that series ... Downton, Taylor and Knott?".
But more than anything else that summer of 1981 was not about statistics or trivia - it was about amazing sporting drama featuring great personalities - Botham, Willis, Lillee, Marsh to name but a few. It was about a team coming back from the dead and producing the most unexpected of comebacks.
And at the end of that summer I didn't even mind that my older brother, yet again, was the one who had backed the right side.
(YOU CAN HEAR CLASSIC MOMENTS FROM THE TEST MATCH SPECIAL ASHES ARCHIVE ON BBC FIVE LIVE DURING FIVE LIVE SPORT, 9PM MONDAY 15TH JUNE. IF YOU HAVE ANY MEMORIES OF 1981 LEAVE THEM ON THIS BLOG AND WE'LL TRY AND INCLUDE THEM ON THE PROGRAMME)