The England cricket team completed a remarkable and unexpected turnaround in fortune on this day in 1981, beating Australia in the fifth test at Old Trafford to retain the Ashes.

The victory gave the home side an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series, an outcome that had seemed hugely unlikely a month earlier: Australia had won the first test and forced England to follow on in the third at Headingley.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man; Ian Botham – who had been out for a pair in the drawn second test and resigned as England captain, to be replaced by Mike Brearley – produced an unbeaten innings of 149 to turn the match around.

Ian Botham

With bowler Bob Willis then taking eight wickets for 43 runs, England became only the second team in history to win a test match after following on, levelling the series – and a reinvigorated Botham would carry his form into another comeback win in the fourth test at Edgbaston.

[Read more: July 30, 1966: England win the World Cup in front of 97,000 fans and the Queen at Wembley]

With Australia at 105 for four and needing only 151 runs to win in their second innings, the Somerset all-rounder showed he could be just as effective with the ball as with the bat. Taking five wickets for a mere 11 runs, he led England to a 29-run victory.

By the fifth test, a relaxed Botham was at his imperious best at the crease. He hit a second innings century, scoring 118 runs off just 102 balls, including six sixes – a record for the Ashes at the time – inspiring them to a series-clinching victory by 103 runs.

England team

For a team that had struggled so badly for the past 18 months under his captaincy, it was an extraordinary win – typified by swashbuckling, carefree performances from the icon of English cricket, which ensured the 1981 series will forever be known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’.