Ashes heroes one and all, but who would you rank as the best eleven?

COMPARISONS may be odious but they are also unavoidable.

When Andrew Strauss's men retained the Ashes, it was

inevitable they would be compared with Mike Gatting's class of 1986-87.

Prior to the achievement of Strauss and his players, Gatting's was the last England side to win the Ashes in Australia.

They recorded a 2-1 victory 24 years ago – the prelude to five successive Ashes defeats away from home.

It is impossible, of course, to make a definitive comparison.

Not only has the game changed much during the past generation, but the quality of the opposition must be taken into account.

Just as the respective England sides must be weighed and balanced, so must those of their oldest rivals.

It is as much a moot point whether Allan Border or Ricky Ponting had the superior unit as whether Strauss or Gatting had the finer combination.

In 1986-87, England used 13 players during the five-match series: Chris Broad, Gatting, Allan Lamb, David Gower, Jack Richards, John Emburey, Phil Edmonds (all five Tests); Bill Athey, Ian Botham, Phil DeFreitas, Graham Dilley (four Tests); Gladstone Small (two Tests) and James Whitaker (one Test).

Australia, in contrast, employed 17 players: Dean Jones, Border, Steve Waugh, Geoff Marsh, Bruce Reid (five Tests); Greg Matthews, Greg Ritchie, David Boon, Tim Zoehrer, Merv Hughes (four Tests); Peter Sleep (three Tests); Chris Matthews (two Tests) and Peter Taylor, Geoff Lawson, Dirk Welham, Craig McDermott, Greg Dyer (one Test).

Interestingly, the personnel tally this winter was exactly the same – reflecting the consistency of England's selection and the inconsistency of Australia's.

The 13 England players used were: Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, James Anderson (five Tests); Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn (three Tests) and Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan (two Tests).

Australia's 17 were: Mike Hussey, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Michael Clarke, Peter Siddle (five Tests); Mitchell Johnson, Ricky Ponting, Ben Hilfenhaus (four Tests); Steve Smith, Phillip Hughes, Ryan Harris (three Tests); Simon Katich, Marcus North, Xavier Doherty (two Tests) and Usman Khawaja, Michael Beer, Doug Bollinger (one Test).

Doubtless you will have your own view whether Strauss or Gatting had the stronger team, or whether Ponting or Border had the better unit.

But it is instructive to observe how the various departments of the teams performed.

BATTING

Very much the key to England's success in 1986-87 and 2010-11 was their ability to put big runs on the board.

Twenty-four years ago, it was the likes of Chris Broad, David Gower and, to a lesser degree, Mike Gatting and Bill Athey who gave the bowlers a platform to exploit.

Broad was the undisputed star of the show, making 487 runs at 69.57, including three centuries.

Gower also topped 400 runs as Australia's bowlers were put to the sword.

England's run-making this time was even more eye-catching.

Alastair Cook led the way with 766 runs at 127.66 and, in the process, emulated Broad's achievement of scoring three hundreds.

Jonathan Trott weighed in with 445 at 89.00, while Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior all averaged above 50.

Strauss weighed in with 307 runs at 43.85 – figures similar to Gatting's 393 at 43.66.

One thing worth noting is that England's tactical approach to the two series was different.

In 1986-87, Gatting went with five specialist batsmen, five specialist bowlers and an out-and-out all-rounder in Ian Botham, who struggled with the bat after scoring 138 in the opening Test at Brisbane and who captured only nine wickets at 32.88.

This time, Strauss opted for six specialist batsmen and only four specialist bowlers, along with wicketkeeper-batsman Prior.

So England, theoretically, had more batting strength in the series just gone – emphasised by their record total of nine centuries in Australia.

However, in 1986-87 they still managed seven tons, with Broad's 162 at Perth the highest individual score.

Another interesting statistic is that six Australian batsman averaged over 40 in 1986-87 – Dean Jones, Greg Matthews, Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Greg Marsh and Greg Ritchie.

In contrast, only three Englishmen – Broad, Gower and Gatting – did likewise, with Jones (511 runs at 56.77) even outscoring the prolific Broad, whose performances earned him the accolade International Player of the Year.

BOWLING

One thing that can seemingly be stated with certainty is that Australia had a better attack in 1986-87 than in 2010-11.

Pace bowler Bruce Reid (20 wickets at 26.35) was superior to anyone Ponting had at his disposal, while Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes were hardly mugs.

This time, Australia were embarrassingly deficient in the bowling department.

Apart from one good performance at Perth, Mitchell Johnson was horribly ineffective, while Ben Hilfenhaus managed only seven wickets in his four appearances.

Ponting also suffered from the lack of a quality spinner.

Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer were never going to worry a quality top-order, while Australia's decision not to play Nathan Hauritz in any of the Tests was baffling.

Spin, however, did not play the overall part one might have expected.

Graeme Swann's return of 15 wickets at 39.80 was steady rather than spectacular – and not as good as John Emburey (18 wickets at 36.83) or Phil Edmonds (15 at 35.86) in 1986-87.

Instead, it was England's pace bowlers who did the damage.

James Anderson was outstanding with 24 wickets at 26.04, while no one could have predicted the impact of Chris Tremlett – 17 wickets at 23.25 in just three appearances after replacing injured Stuart Broad.

Tim Bresnan's haul of 11 wickets at 19.54 emphasised the Yorkshireman's improvement and England's strength in depth, while Steven Finn's 14 at 33.14 should not be forgotten; indeed, the Middlesex man was England's leading wicket-taker before losing his place to Bresnan for the last two Tests.

FIELDING

In no department was England's superiority more graphically highlighted.

Strauss's side were routinely sharp and alert, while Ponting's sometimes resembled Captain Mainwaring's Dad's Army.

Paul Collingwood's flying slip catch to dismiss Ponting at Perth was one of the most stunning grabs one could possibly witness.

Collingwood might not have contributed much with the bat during his final Test series, but his fielding epitomised England's energy.

VERDICT

Strauss's men deservedly get the nod over Gatting's team, while Border's defeated squad get the vote over Ponting's very poor line-up. What can you remember about 86/87?

When England last won the Ashes in Australia on December 28th 1986...

Jackie Wilson was No 1 in the charts with 'Reet Petite' while other memorable hits of the year had included Madonna's Papa Don't Preach, Chris de Burgh's Lady in Red, West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys, with the biggest selling record 'Don't Leave Me This Way' by the Communards.

The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, was more than halfway though her 11-year tenure as Prime Minister while former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan was sitting as US President.

An audience of more than 30 million people tuned in on Christmas Day to watch that rascal 'Dirty' Dennis Watts hand poor, suffering wife Angie her divorce papers in Eastenders, making it the highest-rated episode of any soap in British television history.

Top Gun, Aliens and Platoon were some of the notable films released in cinemas that year.

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson were engaged and then married in July.

The Space shuttle Challenger and Chernobyl Power Plant disasters both occurred during 1986.

Boxer Mike Tyson won his first heavyweight world title after defeating Trevor Berbick.

Statistically, the best of the best

So who would get in a fantasy England XI based on the performances in both the 1986-87 and 2010-11 series? Here is Chris Waters's side:

Chris Broad (1986-87):

487 runs at 69.57

Alastair Cook (2010-11):

766 runs at 127.66

Jonathan Trott (2010-11):

445 runs at 89.00

David Gower (1986-87):

404 runs at 57.71

Mike Gatting (capt 1986-87):

393 runs at 43.66

Ian Bell (2010-11):

329 runs at 65.80

Matt Prior (2010-11):

252 runs at 50.40; 23 catches

John Emburey (1986-87):

18 wickets at 36.83

Chris Tremlett (2010-11):

17 wickets at 23.25

Gladstone Small (1986-87):

12 wickets at 15.00

James Anderson (2010-11):

24 wickets at 26.04