Authors: John Miller
Tags: #Sports & Recreation/Cricket
The greatest sportsperson Australia had produced was no longer playing. How was cricket going to cope, would crowds still turn up and would Australia still be dominant? Despite losing the first four Tests of 1950–51, England showed they were competitive and Australia that they weren’t as dominant. The closely fought encounters helped maintain interest in the game.
In Brisbane, Australia was bowled out for 228 on a good pitch. Rain intervened with day two washed out and the third a batting joke as twenty wickets fell for 130. England declared at 7–68 and Australia at 7–32, leaving England needing 193. At the end of the day they were 6–30 but their decision to hold back Len Hutton proved costly. He was 62 not out as he ran out of partners and England was dismissed for 122. Bowlers were on top in Melbourne as Australia made 194 and 181 while England made 197 and 150.
Injuries hit England heavily in Sydney where Australian all-rounder Keith Miller dominated with 4–37 in England’s first innings of 290 and 145 not out as Australia amassed 426. Jack Iverson then took 6–27 as England were bundled out for 123. In Adelaide, Australia won by 274 runs. After a series of failures, opener Arthur Morris hit back with his highest Test score of 206 in Australia’s 371. Australia took a commanding lead, declaring at 8–403. Missing captain Freddie Brown, owing to a car accident, England was bowled out for 228. England won the fifth Test at Melbourne by eight wickets, their first victory over Australia since 1938. Wickets tumbled as Australia made 217. Reg Simpson made his only Ashes century but it was a last wicket stand of 74 that saw England press home the advantage and Simpson go from 92 to 156 not out. Australia made 197, setting England a modest total.
Fittingly in 1953, the Coronation year, England won back the Ashes after almost nineteen years. The first four Tests were drawn with a result finally coming at the Oval, where Hutton became the first captain to win a series after losing all five tosses. Australia made 275 with ‘Fiery’ Fred Trueman finding life in a rain-freshened pitch, taking 4–86 in his first Ashes Test. During the tour’s final first-class match Richie Benaud blasted eleven sixes in his knock of 135, becoming the first Australian batsman to score a first-class century containing more sixes than fours. He became a leading all-rounder in the 1950s and 1960s, Test captain and the face, and voice, of Australian cricket through television commentary.
England retained the Ashes on its 1954–55 tour during which the speed attack, including Frank Tyson, was expected to rattle the opposing batsmen, although it finally took a knockout delivery from Ray Lindwall to get him firing. In Brisbane Hutton put Australia in and regretted it as his bowlers failed. England began badly, losing 4–25 before Colin Cowdrey, in his first Test, and Trevor Bailey steadied the ship.
Following on, only Bill Edrich and Peter May showed resistance as Australia won by an innings and 154. England struggled to 154 after being sent in and Australia led by 74 after the first innings. At 2–72 victory looked likely but Tyson blasted his way through the line-up as only Neil Harvey (92 not out) could cope in Australia’s 184.
It was similar in Melbourne, as Australia needed 165 on the final day with eight wickets in hand but Tyson again fired, taking 7–27 at devilish speed. Cowdrey’s 102 in England’s 191 was immaculate. England made it 3–1 in Adelaide but not before a scare when chasing 94. Australia made 323 and England established a slight lead with 341. Australia managed 111 with Tyson and Brian Statham on fire before Miller had England 3–18 in the quest for victory, which came at a loss of five wickets. Rain destroyed the chances of a result in Sydney but not before Bailey allowed himself to be bowled for 72 to become Lindwall’s one-hundredth Ashes victim as a draw was the only result.
England kept the Ashes in 1956 with a 2–1 home win with Jim Laker to the fore. The first Test was drawn as both sides were hit by injuries and rain intervened. A good team effort gave Australia victory at Lord’s as Miller took ten wickets, Gil Langley became the first wicket-keeper to achieve nine dismissals in a Test and Benaud made 97, the team’s highest score in the series. England levelled the series at Leeds when captain May (101) became the first England batsman to score five consecutive half centuries against Australia.
England only had to bat once at Old Trafford but the fourth Test is known more for Laker’s record haul. England made 459, and spinners Laker and Tony Lock were soon in action when Australia batted. After changing ends, Laker struck at 48 with Colin McDonald’s wicket. He then bowled Harvey for a duck and at tea Australia was 2–62. After the break Lock took the only non-Laker wicket. Australia made 84 with Laker taking 7–8 after tea. Following on, Australia made 205 thanks to a gutsy 89 from McDonald who was hurt early on. He returned on the final day after rain had intervened and batted to lunch when Australia was 2–112 with four hours to survive. Then the sun came out and the pitch stirred, as did Laker, taking three more wickets. He struck again before tea with Benaud joining McDonald and Australia still hoping for a draw. After a 340-minute vigil McDonald was dismissed and Benaud became Laker’s seventeenth victim. He bowled relentlessly with Lindwall next to go. Then, with an hour to go, Len Maddocks was leg-before and Laker had taken ten. Bowling aggressively, Lock held up the other end and finished with 0–69. The world-record effort was recognised by a printing firm which presented Laker with £10 for each wicket. With seven wickets in the drawn final Test, Laker extended his series haul to 46.
Under Richie Benaud Australia came back strongly for a 4–0 win in the 1958–59 series, the first to be televised in Australia, and then retained the Ashes throughout the 1960s. The first Test in Brisbane in 1958 established several records for slow scoring. Bailey’s 68 spanned 458 minutes and 425 balls. For Australia, Jim Burke was slower with 28 not out in 250 minutes. The fourth day saw only 106 runs scored. Norman O’Neill, 21, on Test debut, injected some life into the match with 71 not out in Australia’s second innings of 2–147. Benaud captained Australia to an eight-wicket win.
Fast bowler Alan Davidson destroyed England in Melbourne, taking 6–64. Skipper May (113) showed resistance in England’s 259 while Harvey’s 167 was the key to Australia’s 308. Any English hopes were destroyed by Ian Meckiff’s 6–38 as they were bundled out for 87. A patient century to Cowdrey helped salvage a draw in the Sydney Test. McDonald’s 170 and Benaud’s nine wickets saw Australia take the Adelaide Test. Opener McDonald did it again in the final Test, scoring 133 in Australia’s 351 as Australia won by nine wickets.
Australia won two Tests in the 1961 series in England and the home side one. The first Test held at Birmingham’s Edgbaston ground saw Australia establish a good lead after dismissing England for 195 and making 516. England then dug in, aided by rain, to save the Test. It was a similar tale at Lord’s but there was no coming back as Australia won by five wickets. Davidson took 5–42 as England was dismissed for 206. Bill Lawry scored his first Test century in Australia’s 340 and England made 202. Australia lost five wickets in reaching 71.
Bowlers were on top in Leeds as England levelled the series with an eight-wicket win. Trueman took 5–58 in Australia’s first innings of 237 and England replied with 299. In its second innings Australia was 2–104 before Trueman (6–30) took five wickets with his off-cutters without conceding a run and Australia made 120. Australia wrapped up the series with a 54-run win at Old Trafford. England was in the box seat only to be bundled out late on the final day. Lawry played two good innings and teamed with Bob Simpson in an opening century partnership. It was to be the first of many fine opening stands between them. Lawry scored 102 in Australia’s 432 and Davidson 77 not out in what turned out to be a match-winning last wicket partnership of 98 with Graham McKenzie. For England May scored 95 out of 367 while Statham made excellent use of conditions to take 5–53. On the final morning three Australian wickets fell in quick succession to put the visitors at 9–334 and England had the rest of the day to make 157 plus whatever the final wicket added. The surprising stand of 98 set them 256 to score in 230 minutes. Ted Dexter came in and thrilled the crowd with 76 in 84 minutes, apparently making certain of the match for England who were 1–150 after 123 minutes. Benaud changed the match with a spell of 6–70, including 5–12 in 25 balls. England was dismissed for 201 and Australia had secured a sensational win. The Oval Test was drawn.
Australia retained the urn after the 1962–63 tour was tied one-all. England broke a long drought by winning the second Test at the MCG by seven wickets, its first in Australia since 1954–55. Brian Booth scored 103 for Australia while for England Cowdrey scored 113 and Trueman took five, but it was David Sheppard’s 113 that proved the key. Australia evened the score with an eight-wicket win in Sydney. England’s wicket-keeper John Murray batted one-handed due to a shoulder injury and took 100 minutes to score 3 not out, the slowest innings in any Ashes Test. England’s Ken Barrington, with 132 not out, saved England in the drawn Adelaide Test after Harvey had hit 154. Neither side was prepared to take chances in the drawn SCG Test. It was Benaud’s final series after leading Australia to three successive series wins. Successor Simpson won two more and Lawry one before England triumphed again.
In the 1964 English series Australia won the Headingley Test with the others drawn. Injuries, rain and slow play took away any chance of a result at Trent Bridge. English opener Geoffrey Boycott made his Test debut for a cautious 48. Stand-in opener Fred Titmus was given a reprieve when keeper Wally Grout refused to break the stumps after Titmus collided with the bowler while taking a run. It was again wet in the drawn Test at Lord’s. In Leeds, wonderful fielding and accurate bowling paved the way for the only result. England made 268 and at 7–178 Australia was in trouble before Queenslander Peter Burge featured in impressive partnerships with Neil Hawke and Grout. Batsmen were on top in the drawn Manchester Test as Australia made the Ashes safe and declared at 8–656 before England replied with 611 in the only Test match where both sides scored 600 in the first innings. Simpson’s 311 was his maiden Test century and is the highest Test score by an Australian captain in England. Barrington scored 256 and Dexter 174 for England. In the final Test at the Oval Boycott’s 113 was his first Test century.
The Australian series in 1965–66 was one-all and featured the debut of dashing nineteen-year-old batsman Doug Walters. Lawry scored 166 and Walters 155 in Brisbane as Australia declared at 6–443. Walters became the fifth Australian to score a century in the first innings of his maiden Test. England replied with 280 and batted with more purpose in the follow-on, reaching 3–186. Walters hit another century in the drawn second Test. Australia looked doomed after trailing by 200 in the first innings but Burge and Walters put on 198 to save the match. An opening stand of 234 between Boycott and Bob Barber set up an England win in Sydney. Despite 102 from Barrington England lost by an innings in Adelaide due to a 244 opening stand between Lawry (119) and Simpson (225). A day was lost to rain in the final Test at the MCG in a drawn match best remembered for the 307 scored by Bob Cowper, the only triple-century in a Test in Australia. It was Australian keeper Grout’s last match and he died two years later from a heart complaint.
Lawry led a young Australian side to England in 1968 with Ian Chappell, Paul Sheahan and Ashley Mallett among the debutantes while for England John Snow, Basil D’Oliveira and Derek Underwood were also setting out. The series was drawn with Australia retaining the urn. Old Trafford hosted the first Test with Australia scoring 357. Hampered by drizzle and poor light England struggled to 165. Walters hit 86 as Australia led by 412. South African-born D’Oliveira averted a total debacle with 87 not out but England was dismissed for 253.
Rain made only half the scheduled 30 hours of play possible at Lord’s in the 200th Test between the two countries. England declared at 7–351 after a hailstorm had flooded the ground and then humbled Australia for 78. Rain spoilt the contest again in Birmingham and with England holding the upper hand. Cowdrey became the first player to appear in 100 Tests and scored 104 in England’s 409. Australia then went from 4–213 to 222 all out with Lawry unable to bat after Snow broke his finger. England declared at 3–142 but rain intervened. Both captains were unable to play at Headingley due to injury and again it was drawn.
England won the Oval match by 226 with John Edrich (164) and D’Oliveira (158) featuring in the first innings of 494. Lawry’s 135 was the mainstay of Australia’s 324. England made 181 for a lead of 351 and when Australia was 5–65 just before lunch on the final day the match was England’s. However, a storm turned the field into a lake, with abandonment certain before a miraculous transformation saw p l ay resume at 4.45pm after ground staff, helped by volunteers, spiked the outfield and mopped up, enabling Underwood to secure the result.
Ashes honours were even in the 1970s, an era dominated by fast bowlers John Snow, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, the brilliant wicket-keeping and batting of Alan Knott and Rod Marsh, and the determined captaincy of the Chappell brothers. However, the decade ended in turmoil with the introduction of World Series Cricket.
In the first Test of 1970–71 in Brisbane, Keith Stackpole scored 207. After reaching 4–418, the Australians lost 7–15 with Snow (6–114) taking four and spinner Derek Underwood three in seven balls. England matched Australia before the hosts struggled to make 214. Bill Lawry’s patient 84 proved a match-saver. The second Test was the first in Perth and, although drawn, featured a debut century from Greg Chappell, 22. England’s 397 was founded on Brian Luckhurst’s 131. Australia struggled early against Snow and were 5–107 when Chappell (108) joined Ian Redpath (171) and took the attack to the bowlers. England were in some peril on the final day until captain Ray Illingworth and Knott stayed with John Edrich (115 not out).
The third Test in Melbourne was a washout although the captains tossed. The fourth in Sydney was won by England thanks to Snow’s 7–40 in Australia’s second innings of 116. The drawn Test in Melbourne was notable for some unpleasant crowd behaviour with ground invasions, theft of playing equipment, catcalling and objects thrown onto the ground. Australia made 9–493 with Ian Chappell scoring 111 and Rod Marsh stranded on 92 when Lawry declared. At 3–88 England was in danger but were stabilised by Luckhurst (109), batting with a broken finger, and Basil D’Oliveira (117), before reaching 392. Australia had the advantage but were slow to capitalise and advanced to 4–194. Illingworth decided not to chase 271 and, to the accompaniment of jeers, England played out time to reach 0–161.
A draw was again the result in Adelaide but the Test was controlled by England thanks to two century opening stands by Boycott and Edrich, and in the end saved for Australia by centuries to Stackpole and Ian Chappell. An extra Test in Sydney was added owing to the washout. After failing to win any of the previous Tests Lawry was dropped, with Ian Chappell appointed captain. It was an unsuccessful debut as England won by 62 and Illingworth became the first English captain to recapture the Ashes in Australia since Douglas Jardine. Chappell put England in and they were out for 184. On the second day Snow cut Terry Jenner’s head with a bouncer, was warned by the umpire and then had his shirt grabbed by a spectator. Beer cans rained onto the ground, Illingworth sat down as did others in his team and soon after led them off the field. The umpires warned him he would forfeit the match if the players did not return, and, peace restored, Australia was ahead at the close of play with three wickets remaining. The final lead of 80 was cleared in the first-wicket stand and Australia was set a tricky target of 223. Snow took an early wicket but then broke his right forefinger, placing pressure on spinners Underwood and Illingworth. The last day began with Australia still needing 100 but with Greg Chappell and Marsh in. Illingworth got the vital wicket of Chappell by having him stumped. With surprising ease the rest of the batsmen were accounted for as Australia was dismissed for 160. No Australian batsman was dismissed lbw in the series.
The 1972 series in England was drawn. England won an Old Trafford Test in which bowlers were on top. South African-born Tony Greig had a superb English debut, scoring 57 and 62, holding two catches and taking five wickets. Almost single-handedly Bob Massie swung Australia back into the series at Lord’s with sixteen wickets. The 25-year-old took 8–84 in England’s first innings of 272, and 8–53 in its second of 116. Australia began its first innings badly but Greg Chappell scored a fighting 131 to put Australia on top. The series remained level after a drawn Trent Bridge Test.
A bare pitch in Leeds caused by a turf disease meant paradise for Underwood and humiliation for Australia. Underwood took 4–37 and 6–45 as Australia was dismissed for 146 and 136. England made 263 thanks to an eighth-wicket stand of 104 from Illingworth and Snow. A fired-up Australia squared the series in a thriller at the Oval, spurred on by Lillee who took 5–58 and 5–123. Ian and Greg Chappell became the first brothers to score centuries in the same Test innings with 118 and 113 as Australia established a 115-run lead. With D’Oliveira unable to bowl and Snow injured by a Lillee bouncer, England made little impression and Australia made 5–242.
Speedster Jeff Thomson made his Ashes debut at the Gabba in 1974–75 and made an instant impression, taking 3–59 and 6–46. He established a fearsome combination with Lillee that mastered England. In Brisbane, England’s problems were confounded by the loss of Dennis Amiss and Edrich, who both had bones in their hands broken by fast deliveries. Fast bowlers Bob Willis and Peter Lever were hostile at times for England but the tall English batsmen had to contend with the raw, sometimes wild and lifting speed of Thomson, the deft variations of the slightly less fast Lillee and the swing of Max Walker. Australia set up a big lead by declaring at 5–288 and in the chase England could not cope with Thomson, supported by an umbrella field.
Mike Denness’s tourists were again outclassed on a fast Perth pitch. England made 208 and Australia replied with 481, featuring a century to Walters in a two-hour session. England scored 293 in its second innings. The third Test at the MCG was drawn, as neither side committed itself boldly enough for victory. At the SCG Australia regained the Ashes. Denness dropped himself with Edrich taking over the captaincy, only to be hospitalised when on the final day the first ball from Lillee cracked two ribs. Australia made 405 and only Knott offered any real fight as England was dismissed for 295. Australia made 4–289 and set England 400. Despite some resistance from Greig and Edrich, after returning from hospital, England was all out for 228.
In Adelaide, the first day was lost through rain and Australia was put in. After being 0–52 Underwood (7–113) was introduced on a drying pitch and took five as the hosts were in trouble at 5–84. Walters and spin bowler Jenner (74) extricated their side and Australia made 304. England batted dismally for 172 as Lillee and Thomson bowled at great pace. Australia pushed home the advantage with 5–272 and the total was clearly beyond England but Knott again showed his class with 106 not out. England took advantage of Thomson’s injury-enforced absence and Lillee’s retirement with a foot injury after six overs to win the sixth Test at the MCG by an innings for a 1–4 series loss. Peter Lever routed Australia, taking 6–38 as the home side struggled to 152. After only one century partnership in the series, England made three in this match as Denness scored 188, Keith Fletcher 146 and Greig 89 in 529. Australia tried hard to bat out the remaining time but succumbed for 373.
Australia retained the Ashes with a 1–0 series win in England in 1975. The first Test in Birmingham was the only one with a result as Australia won by an innings and 52. The visitors dominated from the start, scoring 359. An over into England’s reply a thunderstorm drenched the ground, turning the pitch into a bowling dream. Lillie (5–15) and Walker (5–48) responded and at the end of day two England was 7–83. The next morning they struggled to 101. Following on, England made 173 and had to contend with Thomson (5–38).
Greig was made captain for the Lord’s Test in which England showed more resilience but were unable to press home the advantage in the fourth innings as Australia played out a draw. The Test marked the debut of Michael Angelow, who became England’s first Test match streaker. The third Test at Leeds was abandoned with the match interestingly poised going into the final day. England set up a big lead with 288 and 291. Australia scored 135 in its first innings but Rick McCosker (95 not out) and Ian Chappell showed the way as they made it to 3–220 at the end of the fourth day. That night vandals gouged the pitch and poured crude oil over it in an attempt to draw attention to an alleged judicial injustice.
Australia made certain of holding their lead by finishing the first day in the fourth and final Test of the series at the Oval at 1–280. Captain Ian Chappell made 192, and McCosker 127 as the tourists declared at 9–532. There was a change in the weather on the third day and in poor light and drizzle England laboured to 8–169, making just 22 more the next morning. Following on 341 behind and in better conditions England made a better fist of it. Showing plenty of patience, England made 538 by the sixth day. Bob Woolmer’s drive to the boundary on the sixth morning brought up his century in 396 minutes.
A one-off Test in Melbourne in March 1977, to celebrate the centenary of Test cricket, resulted in a fairytale result with Australia beating England by exactly the same margin, 45 runs, as the first Test in Melbourne. The Test was celebrated in grand style and enjoyed by the 247,873 spectators. The presence of almost 200 former Test cricketers might have reduced the match to exhibition status and after two days with Australia 3–104 batting a second time, there were doubts it would last beyond three days. An exhibition match was mooted to fill the time and to welcome Queen Elizabeth II on the fifth day, but the pitch and players settled and the match lasted until a thrilling final day.
After Australian captain Greg Chappell tossed, Greig called correctly by sending in the hosts. Their destruction for 138 was made certain by wild stroke play and brilliant catching. The captain hit 40 while McCosker was bowled off his jaw by Willis, the resulting fracture rendering him an unlikely starter in the second innings.
On the second day Lillee (6–26) and Walker demolished England for 95. Wicket-keeper Marsh passed Wally Grout’s all Tests Australian total of 187 dismissals while Knott passed the English keeping record of 84 Australian wickets. By the end of day three the Australian batsmen had put their side 430 ahead with two wickets left. On Test debut, David Hookes stroked five fours in an over from Greig while Marsh was within five of the first Ashes century by an Australian keeper. The following day he went on to 110 not out while a bandaged McCosker came in at number ten and made 25. Chappell declared at 9–419 an hour before lunch with England needing 463. By the end of the day they were some way towards the improbable target at 2–191 with Ashes debutante Derek Randall on 87 and Amiss 34.
On the final day the third wicket stand reached 166 before Amiss fell, Randall having reached his century. Soon after he was felled by a lifting delivery from Lillee only to spring back upright with a grin and a rub of the head. With his departure for 174 the end was predictable, and when Lillee (5–139) trapped Knott lbw, England had lost but given an admirable effort.
The euphoria was soon forgotten, as within weeks it transpired that while the Centenary Test was being played moves were afoot to set up a ‘commercial cricket circus’ involving almost all the Australians, key English players and dozens from other countries. In the 1970s many players believed they were grossly underpaid and wanted to see changes made to a game they believed was becoming set in its ways. Their rumblings about keeping jobs and making ends meet while playing Test cricket coincided with Australian media baron Kerry Packer’s irritation at the intransigent behaviour of the Australian Cricket Board, which would not let him buy exclusive television rights to Tests. Packer and many players formed a breakaway system called World Series Cricket (WSC) that saw players paid more and the game commercialised for television purposes.
The WSC ‘revolution’ disjointed international cricket with separate international competitions played and most of the best players contracted to WSC. Despite the scepticism of many experts, who believed WSC and its focus on the one-day game could be the death of Test cricket, the traditions associated with Tests overcame the setbacks; today—thanks also to the increased flow of money, the influence of one-day cricket and the influx of new supporters it has brought—Test cricket has never been stronger. England’s dynamic Ian Botham also helped refocus attention on Tests.