Odds of 500/1 for England to Win the 1981 Ashes

The Ashes 1981

John Sutton / Headingley Cricket Ground: old pavilion and rugby ground

The third Test on the 1981 Ashes was arguably the most dramatic game of cricket in history, and although the trophy was ultimately won by England that year, the bookies seemed to be having a laugh at their expense at one point.

They went as long as 500/1 for England to win before the 3rd Test, no doubt thinking they could reel in some easy money from mug punters who wouldn’t be able to resist those odds.

The man in charge of the scoreboard even flashed up the odds as a joke so that everybody could see them, which drew a lot of attention, and therefore, a lot of bets.

It’s the punters who were laughing in the end though.

One of the most astonishing things about this story is that some of the people betting on England that day, were the Australian cricket team.

The ringleader was apparently Dennis Lillee, who loved a bet, and when he saw the odds flash up on the scoreboard he said he was going to put £50 from the team’s kitty on their opponents.

He was stopped from doing this, so instead asked everyone else to hand over what change they had, and managed a £10 bet. Lillee asked his good friend, Rod Marsh, to stick a fiver on as well so they could enjoy the bet together, but Marsh said no.

They sent their coach driver to the betting tent to place the wager, and as he disappeared, Marsh called his name and held up five fingers, indicating that he had changed his mind. So the Aussies bet £15 against themselves that day,

A few of the English lads attempted to get to the marquee where bets were being taken too, but were mobbed by autograph hunters and ran out of time before the game restarted.

They must have been absolutely gutted by the end of the day.

How England Won the 1981 Ashes

Bothams Ashes 1981Although England were the dominant team during the 1970s, for a while there in 1981, it looked like their time to hand over the trophy had come.

The five-match series began with England trailing 0-1 after two Tests, the second being a draw, but a remarkable 3rd test that still lives long in the memory would turn the tide in their favour.

During the third Test at Headingley, and facing a target of 130 runs in the fourth innings and struggling at 135/7, England’s Ian Botham played a standout innings of 149 not out, supported by Graham Dilley and Chris Old. This extraordinary effort led England to an improbable victory by 18 runs.

That third test marked only the second time in Test history that a team had won after following on, and it triggered a turnaround in England’s fortunes.

England went on to dominate the fourth Test at Edgbaston, with Bob Willis’ exceptional bowling performance claiming 8 wickets for 43 runs, and propelling England to a commanding win by 29 runs.

Interestingly, Bob Willis almost never made it to the competition at all, being deemed unfit as the team was being selected, and having to convince the selectors himself that he was well enough to play by taking part in a local second XI match.

With the series at 2-1, the fifth Test at The Oval sealed England’s triumph. Botham’s all-round brilliance, taking 5 wickets for 11 runs, paved the way for Australia’s defeat by a margin of 103 runs.

To my knowledge, odds of 500/1 have never been offered on a cricket match since, and they probably never will after the bookies were burned in 1981.