The Story Of The Ashes – Part 2

The names of Jimmy Burke, Keith Slater, Ian Meckiff and Gordon Rorke formed the basis of Australia’s attack determined to take The Ashes back Down Under in 1958-59; four bowlers whose actions convinced England that the ‘Dirty Tricks’ exercised a quarter of a century before by Messrs Jardine, Larwood et al were being repaid in spades.

England themselves were no saints, including amongst their own number both Tony Lock (the only man on display who had been ‘called’ in a test match) and Peter Loader, both possessors of actions which were ‘jerky’ in the extreme, but it was Meckiff amongst the half dozen on display who gave the greatest cause for concern.

Neither side could really openly accuse the other for fear of being branded hypocrites, but it is safe to say that relations between the oldest protagonists became somewhat strained. Despite the fact that Australia won the series at a canter by the overwhelming margin of 4-0, Peter May maintained that it had been a personal high note, purely because he had kept much of the controversy firmly under wraps.

There were some notable batting displays, particularly from Neil Harvey, Peter May and Colin McDonald, but by and large the ball dominated. It is fitting to mention Richie Benaud who, with 31 wickets at a fraction under 19 and an impeccable action, was the biggest difference between the sides.

Australia held on the The Ashes right through the 1960’s, but by and large the series and the individual games were tight affairs with little between the sides. The 1961 series in England was typical, with Australia taking an early lead and England biting back immediately. The game was unmistakably Test Cricket in the classic sense of the word, with stoical, some would say stodgy, characters on display such as Ken Mackay, Brian Close, Trevor Bailey and a man whose very name would become synonymous with these grinding affairs, Bill Lawry.

When the Old Trafford test came around, the series was poised at one-all. Australia won the toss, batted and were soon in trouble against Trueman and home town boy Brian Statham. When rain brought a premature end to proceedings, the visitors were on a shaky 124-4, and that was as good as it got for some time. England closed in on the Australian total and were just three short at stumps on day 2 with seven wickets in hand.

England forged ahead on the Saturday with significant contributions from Ken Barrington and Peter May to lead by 177, then Bill Lawry got his head down when Australia came too bat again. His innings of 102 was far from his most fluent, but it was highly significant in that it turned a potentially disastrous situation into one of almost parity. When he departed, Australia were effectively 3 down, but in credit by 33. Davidson shepherded the tail and featured in a superb last-wicket partnership with ‘Garth’ McKenzie, which added 98, and instead of a formality, England were asked to make 255.

Raman Subba Row made a steady 40 at a run a minute, then when Ted Dexter started flaying the bowling, the crowd sensed victory. Enter Richie Benaud, not for the first time in Ashes contests, and exit the England batsmen in a steady procession back to the dressing-room. At one stage, England were 150-1 and needing just 105 – it might as well have been a thousand. Benaud grabbed five of the next six wickets in an hour, and England capitulated – and with them went The Ashes.

It was another finger-spinner who went some way toward giving England a fighting-chance of wresting the Big One back from the Antipodeans two years later. Fred Titmus, picking up the Jim Laker mantle, grabbed four cheap wickets at Melbourne before a fine century by Cowdrey kept England in the hunt. Brian Booth scored a ton of his own whilst Trueman and Statham were blowing the rest away before the Rev. David Sheppard faced down McKenzie and Davidson for the best part of a day.

Fred Titmus was at it again in the third test, grabbing 7-79 to bowl Australia out for 319, but a dreadfully poor batting display saw England collapse to 104 all out as Australia squared the series, thanks largely to an irresistible spell by Alan Davidson which saw him grab 5-25.

Adelaide saw honours very much even on a placid surface with Harvey (154) and O’Neill (100) setting their store out to bat England into submission. Graeme McKenzie ensured that the home side would remain in the ascendancy throughout the game, and the loss of early wickets ensured that a victory target of 356 in two sessions was never really on, despite a supreme undefeated 132 by Ken Barrington. With one match to go, the series was still up for grabs.

Unfortunately, inclement weather ensured that barely an innings apiece was possible before lunch on the fourth day, and those innings had been painfully slow to boot. Hundreds by Barrington and Burge ensured that honours would be even going in to the final day, and a sporting declaration by Dexter asked Australia to score 241 in a little under four hours. At the close, an unmoved Bill Lawry had made just 45 out of a total of 152-4, but The Ashes had been saved.

The 1964 Trent Bridge opener was a non-event, barely one day’s worth of play being possible on the first two, and when the third was washed out, there was little chance of resurrecting the hope of a result. A similar story was heard at Lord’s as England’s weather threw everything it could at both sides.

The weather finally relented for the Headingley test, and a five-wicket haul by Neil Hawke blew England away before stumps on the first day. After Bill Lawry had given Australia the soundest of starts, Peter Burge played one of the innings of his life to give the visitors a significant first innings lead. When England continued to struggle second time around despite a fine knock of 85 by Barrington, victory was a near-formality. A grafting knock by Ian Redpath ensured that it came to pass with a day to spare.

Bobby Simpson’s marathon 311 killed the Old Trafford test as a sporting contest and ensured that it would purely be a quest for records. England”s opening attack of Fred Rumsey and John Price with Tom Cartwright as first change proved to lack the fire-power necessary to upset the very best. Bill Lawry batted the first two sessions himself before falling for 106, but Simpson just went on and on. When he was dismissed for 311, Australia were six down for 646 and thinking about their third lunch of the match.

England, too, found the going as easy as Australia had before them. After Edrich had departed early, Geoff Boycott demonstrated his own Lawry-like approach to batting with a three-hour half-century. Then Ted Dexter (174) and Ken Barrington (256) filled their own ample boots as England too made over 600 in even slower time than Australia had taken, but it mattered little – the contest for both match and Ashes had already been dead for days. Another insipid draw at The Oval merely confirmed the inevitable.

The 1965-66 series got off to a predictable start – a draw in a rain-affected match at Brisbane – but that only told half of the story. Lawry, resolute as ever, played second-fiddle to one of the great ‘dashing’ batsmen of the era, Doug Walters. Both managed big hundreds as Australia first of all ensured that there was no chance of defeat, then when Peter Philpott had England in a spin and following on, a resolute rearguard action by Geoff Boycott ensured that honours would remain even as the teams headed for Melbourne.

All-rounder Barry Knight grabbed 4 wickets as Australia were dismissed for 358, Bill Lawry as ever a thorn in the English side with 88. Bob Cowper was dismissed for 99 as Australia were dismissed for 358, a total England surpassed with 200 to spare thanks to hundreds by John Edrich and Colin Cowdrey. When Peter Burge and Doug Walters went to centuries of their own, there was never any likely result other than a draw.

Bob Barber’s 185, together with a hundred from John Edrich gave England the upper hand in the third test despite a seven-wicket first innings haul by Neil Hawke, and when David Brown grabbed five wickets, Australia were in big trouble and following on. A second low-key batting performance in the face of spinners David Allen and Fred Titmus gave England a comprehensive innings victory and a 1-0 lead in the series.

Australia struck back swiftly, inevitably and decisively at the Adelaide Oval. England won the toss, batted and fell foul of Graham McKenzie who grabbed 6-48 in 22 overs of hostility. England struggled to 241 all out, and when Bobby Simpson (225) and Bill Lawry (119) took the Australian reply beyond that total with all wickets intact, the writing was on the wall, despite the best efforts of Jeff Jones, father of Simon. Only Ken Barrington (102) stood firm in the second innings as the series was tied up once more.

Rain and Bob Cowper (307) ensured that the decider would end in stalemate, although Graham McKenzie grabbed three more wickets to his collection of ‘Pom’ wickets after tea. The series had ended with Australia still refusing to give up the treasured ‘Urn’, although the margin between the sides remained as close as it ever was.

The 1968 series saw Australia taking the lead at Old Trafford, a game which saw ‘mystery spinner’ John Gleeson making his debut against England. His first victim was fellow twirly Pat Pocock, but it was in the second innings when Gleeson made his first significant contribution, removing Tom Graveney. England’s victory target of 413 proved more than enough and when Gleeson finally removed Pocock for a duck, a 160-run victory was as decisive as it sounded.

Rain destroyed any real chance of a result at Lord’s, although an inspired spell by David Brown had Australia reeling. The visitors were sent back for just 78 on the fourth day, then only a resolute rearguard by Lawry and Redpath kept the second-innings wickets intact until stumps. Infuriatingly, weather had the last word on the final day too despite the best efforts of Derek ‘Deadly’ Underwood, who took the amazing figures of 2-8 off 18 overs.

England were in the ascendancy from start to finish at Edgbaston too, but once more so much of the match saw the teams idling the day away in the pavilion as England once again proved that it had little knowledge of the word ‘summer’. Again, Underwood issued notice of why he was rated so highly on rain-affected tracks with 3-48 from 25 overs, but it was all to no avail.

A draw at Headingley saw to it that Australia at least shared the series and retained the Ashes, although the way the game was allowed to peter out was indicative of the negativity which was so much to the fore during that particular era. Quick wickets on the fifth day saw England requiring 326 for victory in almost 5 hours of cricket, yet with Boycott and Dexter taking root during the early part of their innings, the gauntlet was never picked up.

So to The Oval, and a match writ large in the folklore of the game. Boycott had been dropped, not for the first time, for slow scoring, yet the rate at which John Edrich made his 164 made Boycott look positively reckless. An altogether different 158 by Basil D’Oliveira ensured a total a fraction under 500 would at least ask Australia some questions.

Bill Lawry, a man to whom dismissal was a personal insult, made his own statement, although in attempting to save a game, 135 in seven and a half hours is a meritorious performance. With the wicket showing signs of wear, it was England who continued to make all the running with a (relatively) quickfire second innings 181, setting Australia just over a day to make 352. Even on the fourth evening, Underwood was posing problems and it was no surprise when he nipped out Redpath.

England appeared to be cruising to victory at lunch on the fifth day as first Ian Chappell and then Doug Walters succumbed to the guiles of the Kent spinner. When Ray Illingworth had Paul Sheahan picked up by John Snow, Australia were 5 down with still four and a half hours to survive. It seemed that only John Inverarity stood between England and a most honourable draw. The last half an hour before lunch saw Inverarity and wicket-keeper Jarman survive against the odds – and then events took a dramatic turn.

A freak downpour of Biblical proportions took hold during the lunch interval and that seemed to be that. Water had not just invaded the playing area – it had flooded it. There followed an appeal for volunteers to help to dry the pitch with towels and anything that could be adapted to suit the purpose. All the time, the opportunity to wrest a draw from a series they had by and large dominated at times seemed to be drifting away. The sun came out and, eventually, so diid the combatants.

A total of 86-5 left Australia just an hour and a quarter to survive – and the ball wasn’t playing any tricks at all on the still damp wicket. Suddenly, D’Oliveira clean-bowled Jarman and an end was open. In the next over, Underwood had Mallett and McKenzie picked up at the silliest of short fielders by the diving Brown, then for fifteen agonising minutes John Gleeson held firm before he too went into Underwood’s sack.

Inverarity was resolute, and with the game having just ten minutes to run, last man Alan Connolly strode out to the wicket. Through luck rather than judgment he survived the end of Underwood’s over. At the other end, Inverarity grabbed a boundary and then a single to successfully get back to face Underwood. With just six minutes left of the clock, the arm-ball penetrated the defence for the first and only time in four hours of defiance. The pleading appeal was met by the outstretched finger and England had won the match and tied the series.

The England team which contested the 1970-71 series was led by Ray Illingworth, a gritty Yorkshireman who took defeat as a personal affront. Australia’s captain, Bill Lawry, shared a similar philosophy and one could be forgiven for thinking that the series would be a staid, even sterile affair.

When Australia won the toss at Brisbane and had progressed to 308-2 at the end of a largely uneventful first day with Keith Stackpole well on the way to a double hundred, home supporters could be forgiven for thinking that it was ‘business as usual’. Just before lunch on day 2, John Snow had Stackpole fishing outside off stump and Alan Knott took the catch.

At the other end, a man who needed no introduction (Derek Underwood) was just warming up too, and Redpath, Sheahan and Walters followed procession-like. It was left to Snow, frighteningly quick and hostile, to simply blow away the tail. Australia’s last 8 wickets had fallen by the wayside in no time at all on a perfect surface for batting.

Australia gave debuts to Terry Jenner, Rod Marsh and a quick bowler by the name of Thomson, although this was Alan, and his one wicket haul cost 136 runs. Still, it was that of the England captain, Ray Illingworth. England themselves were dismissed for 464 and the game ended in stalemate.

The second test followed a similar pattern to the first, although on this occasion England batted first. Brian Luckhurst scored 131 out of 397, Graham McKensie continued to be Australia’s main bowling threat and Snow continued in similar vein for England. On this occasion, Australia showed character to recover from 17-3 with Redpath notching up 171 and debutant Greg Chappell scoring a fine ton of his own. Again, stalemate, but that wasn’t going to last much longer, and the fur was going to fly.

The New Year test at Melbourne went the way of the weather, abandoned without a ball being bowled, then England won the toss at Sydney and batted. A steady start by Boycott and Luckhurst had 116 on the board before the wickets started to tumble. Significant runs were added by Snow and Lever at the death, and with the wicket playing a few tricks, 332 looked to be quite a reasonable total.

Derek Underwood continued to be a thorn in Australia’s side, picking up 4-66 as the home team fell away themselves, ending on 236 with only Redpath and Walters making half-centuries. Over the second half of day three and the first half of day four, Geoff Boycott demonstrated why for many years he and Bill Lawry were the yardsticks by which opening batsmen were measured, blocking the good ball and punishing the bad on his way to an undefeated 142, allowing England the luxury of declaring at 319-5 and setting Australia the small matter of 416 for victory.

John Snow struck as early as the first over, having Ian Chappell caught by Basil D’Oliveira for a first-ball duck, and over the next four hours of play Snow was largely responsible for defining the method by which England would wrest control of the Ashes again, and it was frighteningly familiar. As had happened four decades before, it had people muttering the words ‘Not cricket’ .

Only Bill Lawry stood firm, not for the first time, whilst all around him wickets were falling like ninepins. Snow’s method was simple – peg the batsman on to the back foot then nail him with the fuller ball – a method which was considered perfectly acceptable in any era of cricket. what set Snow apart was his short ball, usually delivered around the wicket and always aimed at the body. Number one or number eleven came and went the same. By the time Graham McKenzie had been smacked in the face and forced to retire hurt, Australia were a beaten side and Snow was on the way to figures of 7-40 – the finest of his career.

The fifth test at Melbourne was a typically sterile affair on a paradise of a batting track which blunted even the pace of Snow and Bob Willis. Australia made 493 with Ian Chappell making 111 and Rod Marsh an undefeated 92. England didn’t fare anything like so well, but with Luckhurst and D’Oliveira scoring snail-like centuries, the game petered out as a contest long before the end.

The sixth test followed suit with this time England grinding out 470 (Edrich 130). When Australia made just 235, Illingworth refused to enforce the follow-on, preferring to keep his pace attack as fresh as possible. A typically resolute Boycott 119* and a not-too-sporting declaration left Australia the small matter of 469 for victory – the fact that they lost just 3 wickets in reaching 328 could well be said to have vindicated Illingworth’s earlier decision.

So to Sydney once again, and the the first and only ‘seventh test’ in the series, set up to replace the one rained off earlier. Australia won the toss and inserted England on a more than helpful track, and with no-one making fifty, a total of 184 seemed to have left the door open for Australia to win the game and retain their by now tenuous grip on The Ashes.

England’s pace trio of Snow, Lever and willis had Australia first 32-3 and then 66-4, but Redpath and Greg Chappell saw the home side to 264 and a useful lead of 80. The problem as far as questions regarding the spirit of the game came with the total on 195-7. Snow, bowling around the wicket, felled Jenner with a bouncer as good – or as bad – as it is possible to bowl. Jenner left the field temporarily, the umpires warned Snow for intimidation, the bowler was in turn grabbed by a spectator, and Illingworth took the England side from the field of play citing ‘player safety’. It was only a threat that the game and the Ashes were about to be awarded to Australia that encouraged England to take the field once more.

The visitors made a better fist of things second time around, again without any big scores, but the total of 302 left Australia with the hardly-daunting target of 223 to win, and with Snow injured, England’s best chance of bowling Australia out cheaply appeared to be fading. Snow lasted just two overs, blowing away Eastwood for a duck, but with the wicket playing tricks medium-pacer Basil D’Oliveira and spinners Underwood and Illingworth had more than enough in hand as England won the game and with it the series.

When Australia returned to England in 1972, it was with Ian Chappell at the helm and with a tearaway fast bowler – Dennis Lillee – beginning to show some signs of turning into one of the greatest openers of all time. It was England, however, who got off to a flyer at a rainy Old Trafford with John Snow again proving more than a little hot to handle. Lillee picked up 6-66 in England’s second innings, but an Australian victory target of 342 was always likely to be more than a little daunting.

On to Lord’s, and one name will always be linked with the ‘Home of Cricket’ — that of Robert Arnold Lockyer Massie. His career analysis tells it all – 31 wickets at a fraction under 21 leads one to believe that he ought to have gone on to bigger things, yet over half of those wickets fell to him in a single game. Two years after his moment in the sun he would no longer be playing first-class cricket let alone tests, but his fame lives on.

There is no way of describing the Lord’s match of 1972 without repeating oneself over and over again. Massie’s performance was in every way a demonstration of a swing bowler’s art as that of Jim Laker at Old Trafford in 1956 could be considered the pinnacle of a spinner’s craft. England won the toss and batted, and after an hour, it was Lillee who had sent back two of England’s upper order. Massie though continued to bowl wicket to wicket, extracting prodigious late swing to give every English batsman a thorough working-over.

When England’s first innings was complete on the second morning, Massie had 8-84, an immensely impressive haul for a world class veteran, let alone a debutant at Lord’s. England’s total of 272 looked to be thoroughly inadequate, yet might have proved significant if it hadn’t been for a brilliant hundred by Greg Chappell who ground his way to 131 when Australia had their own problems in the middle.

On the third afternoon, England needed to bat with much more authority than they had shown two days earlier, but they batted with less – far less. Again, it was Lillee who started the rot, bowling Boycott before having Brian Luckhurst caught behind. By the time England had seen off the tiny deficit, they were five down and Massie was well into the swing of things, to state the obvious. At the close, they stood on 86-9, and Massie was already rewriting the record-books.

England staged a mini-recovery on the fourth morning, with John Price and Norman Gifford taking their last-wicket partnership to 35, the biggest of the innings. There was an air of inevitability when Massie grabbed his eighth of the innings to finish with the quite incredible match analysis of 16-137, leaving his team just 81 for victory. A half-century by Keith Stackpole wrapped up the victory post-haste in a game that will forever be remembered for one man alone.

Massie was at it again at Trent Bridge as he and Dennis Lillee shared eight wickets between them in bowling England out for just 189, a deficit of 124. Earlier, Keith Stackpole had battled nearly the whole of the first day in compiling 114 to put his side in the box seat. Later, as the pitch really flattened out, Ross Edwards scored an impeccable unbeaten 170 out of 324-4 before England were set 451 to win in four sessions. There was little chance that so large a target would be even contemplated, so it was no surprise when they ground out 290-4 in 148 overs to draw the game.

On to Headingley, and victory to England inside three days. ‘Deadly’ Underwood did much of the damage in the first innings, taking 4-37 in a remarkable 31 over spell, but he received great support from seam bowlers Geoff Arnold and John Snow. Australia struggled to 146, a total England surpassed thanks largely to an eighth-wicket partnership of 104 between Illingworth and John Snow.

Another irrepressible Underwood performance bowled Australia out for 136, the Kent spinner bagging 6-45. A victory target of 20 was achiieved for the loss of John Edrich and The Ashes had been retained.

The fifth test at The Oval was a match for which Australia owed much to Dennis Lillee. His languid approach to the wicket was the perfect deception, for at this stage in his career he was genuinely quick. It is arguable that years later he became a better bowler, but he was never at his more frightening than in the 1972 Ashes contests. Lillee at The Oval would not be denied, bagging five wickets in each innings of an intense contest.

For all Lillee’s heroics, it is likely they would have meant for nought if it hadn’t been for centuries from both Ian and Greg Chappell, the first time such a feat had ever been achieved by brothers in a test match. A stout 79 from Ross Edwards was just as valuable in establishing a first innings lead of 115. England’s second innings again saw Lillee charging in heroically as one by one the stubborn rearguards were breached. England’s second innings of 356 left Australia with a troublesome 242 for victory, and for all the guile of Tony Greig and Underwood, it was achieved with five wickets to spare. So Australia returned home without The Ashes again, but it was easy to see that this was a side of prodigious talent.

The 1974-75 series saw for the first time the linking up of the most fearsome fast bowling partnership since Larwood and Voce. Dennis Lillee had spent almost a year struggling to overcome a series of injuries which at one time threatened his whole career. England were without Geoff Boycott and had been described as “Dad’s Army” with five specialist batsmen over 30 and one well over 40.

The first test at The ‘Gabba proved for a time to be quite a tight affair with a late-order affair by Max Walker and Jeff Thomson the only difference between the sides after an innings apiece. Ian Chappell had battled almost 5 hours for 90 before Tony Greig matched him and more with a fine 110 of his own. When England had Australia 59-3 second time around, there looked to be a serious possibility that Australia’s much-vaunted side would be looking at the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline. Greg Chappell and the middle order soon fixed that, and when the declaration came, England had over a day in which to make 333.

Jeff Thomson saw to it that it would be the visitors who would be on the back foot at this early stage of the series, with a frighteningly hostile spell of fast bowling. More than one English batsman has subsequently suggested that Thomson’s ‘Slingshot’ action made it terribly difficult to pick the ball up early enough in its flight, and this, coupled with Thomson’s fearsome pace, made him a difficult prospect indeed. Of his six second innings victims for just 46 runs, two were caught by Doug Walters and four were clean bowled. For England, the problems were only just beginning.

The veteran Colin Cowdrey was called into the side for the second test at the WACA, and from the moment Luckhurst was dismissed by first change bowler Max Walker, Australia were in the ascendancy. Only a typically resolute 49 by David Lloyd and a half-century from Alan Knott kept the England innings from total capitulation, but 208 was thoroughly inadequate.

Australia made a similarly shaky start but there the similarities ended. Edwards and Walters threatened to take the game completely away from England on the evening of the second day, both progressing to three figures, and only a late-order collapse kept Australia below 500.

England’s second innings followed the trend set during the first – a steady start followed by the loss of a number of wickets in quick succession. Jeff Thomson was again the architect of the visitors’ downfall and the victory target of 21 a formality. Thomson, in partnership with the revitalised Lillee, was a revelation.

A thoroughly absorbing encounter in a rain-affected Boxing Day match at Melbourne saw Australia draw first blood through Thomson, picking up four wickets as England slumped yet again to 242, then it was the turn of Bob Willis to administer fireworks of his own with a five wicket haul which gave England the smallest of leads.

Ashley Mallett turned in creditable figures of his own as England again scored in the 240’s second time around, and then Australia, teased and tormented by Tony Greig, slumped to 121-5 before recovering in their quest to score 246 to take an unassailable 3-0 lead. As it was, the game ended in a draw with Max Walker batting for almost two hours and Australia, eight wickets down, were as many runs shy of victory.

The fourth test was comfortable for Australia from the moment Redpath and McCosker put on 96 for the first wicket. A total of 405 included contributions all down the order despite the best efforts of Greig and Arnold. When it was England’s turn, Thomson again proved to be the difference. Only Knott with 82 gave England any hope of establishing any sort of a reply.

After Redpath and Greg Chappell had helped themselves to centuries off England’s beleaguered attack, a target of 400 was far more than England were capable of. Once again, Ashley Mallett proved himself to be a more than useful spinner and sorry England were all out for 228 despite a futile gesture from John Edrich, returning when defeat was all but inevitable to resume his innings following a fearsome blow in the ribs earlier in the innings.

With the series and The Ashes well and truly in the bag, Australia had more than enough in hand to see off England at Adelaide too. A helpful wicket following a first day lost to rain saw Underwood run through the Australian upper order but as the wicket improved, normal service was resumed. Underwood took the first seven but any thoughts of emulating Laker went with the run out of Walker.

By the time Thomson had been removed by Geoff Arnold, an unlikely 304 had been achieved. Lillee, Thomson and Mallett skittled the Old Enemy in less than 47 overs and in the process achieved a lead in excess of 130. Underwood took his match total to 11 wickets in the second innings but he was the only potent threat available to the visitors.

Lillee and Walker tore through the England upper order and any thoughts of chasing 405 were soon nothing more than a pipe-dream. Keith Fletcher stood resolute for 63 and an undefeated century by Alan Knott, England’s one real batting success on the tour, was too little, too late and the home side found themselves 4-0 to the good.

England rang the changes for the final match at Melbourne, and a rainy first day saw the visitors make a mockery of Australia’s decision to bat first. Australia were 4-23 and later 5-50 with Peter Lever rampant, picking up 6-38 from 11 overs. England’s reply was impressive on an improving pitch, only Max Walker offering any real threat with an impressive 8-143. Mike Denness and Keith Fletcher both hit big centuries before England were dismissed for 529, a total which left Australia the small matter of scoring 377 to avoid an innings defeat.

At 215-1, Australia would have been forgiven for harbouring thoughts of saving the game, but a mid-order collapse in the face of quality bowling from Lever and Arnold had them fighting a rearguard action. Greg Chappell was eighth out shortly after progressing to a fine hundred before the final two wickets fell without addition to the total. This Australian vintage was well worth the 4-1 scoreline, and it was maturing with age.

1975 saw battle joined again, this time a short series following the inaugural World Cup in place of a proposed South Africa tour. One notable inclusion for England was Graham Gooch, and there was a recall for John Snow.

The first test saw England start off badly and fade away, unable to exert any sustained pressure on the Australian batsmen. There were four half-centuries in Australia’s opening 359, and to add insult to injury, Jeff Thomson chipped in with 49 of his own. England’s reply barely made three figures. Lillee grabbed 5-15 and Walker 5-48.

Only three England batsmen made it to three figures when they followed on as this time Thomson was the five wicket hero. Graham Gooch spent eight minutes at the wicket and faced just ten balls. He would make up for his ‘pair’ in years to come. The winning margin of an innings and 85 runs to Australia frankly flattered England. They were not even in the same ball-park.

England’s response was to sack Mike Denness, give the captaincy to Tony Greig and a debut to ‘Silver Fox’ David Steele. Neither captain nor debutant let England down on that first day, but Jeff Thomson for Australia certainly found matters not to his liking. On the first day alone, he was responsible for 22 no-balls and 4 wides as Steele (50), Greig (96) and the ever-reliable Knott (69) helped England to a respectable 315.

Australia’s top and middle order were simply blown away by Snow and Lever and only a defiant and ultimately unlucky 99 by Ross Edwards together with a belligerent and at times hysterically funny 73* by Dennis Lillee kept Australia in touch. England’s second innings on the by now flat Lord’s was notable for a nine-hour marathon by John Edrich, adding 175 out of England’s second innings haul of 436-7.

Australia’s target of 484 was so far off as to be meaningless – instead it became a battle for survival. Four out of the top five made fifties and after a day and a bit, only three wickets had fallen. England had, at least, stopped the rot in achieving a ‘winning’ draw.

One name was to dominate the Headingley test match, and for all the wrong reasons, and a very good game was spoiled as a result – but more of that later.

England won the toss and elected to bat. They owed a debt of gratitude to John Edrich and David Steele for a century partnership which went some way to giving them some semblance of respectability, despite a superb bowling performance by Gary Gilmour who produced lifetime-best test figures of 6-85 in helping restrict England to 288.

Australia were totally under the cosh during the second half of day 2 as Phil Edmonds and John Snow bowled the visitors out for just 135. England’s second innings stretched their lead to such an extent that by the time Gilmour and Mallett had brought matters to a close, Australia required a world-record 445 runs to win at a distinctly manageable three runs per over. A great start by McCosker, undefeated on 95, and Ian Chappell, out for 62, saw Australia reach 220-3 by stumps on day 4.

Day 5 dawned fair and everything seemed set for a gripping final day with all four results possible – until, that is, the covers were removed. The pitch had been dug up, the legend “Free George Davis” cut into the turf and engine oil strewed on the pitch. After much to-ing and fro-ing and the offer to cut another strip had been made and declined, the match which had promised so much was abandoned as a draw.

George Davis was an habitual criminal who, it was alleged, had been the subject of a miscarriage of justice. Subsequent events and numerous convictions proved that it was the game of cricket which had been the victim on this occasion.

If England had possibly enjoyed a moral victory in the third test, the loss of half a day’s play during the fourth at least ensured that Tony Greig’s team could claim to have stretched their unbeaten run to three games against Australia. McCosker (127) and Ian Chappell (192) put on no less than 277 for the second wicket out of a total of 532-9.

England successfully negotiated the tricky last half hour of day 2 but on a rain-affected third day, found themselves restricted to 169-8 before the weather finally closed in for the day. Thomson, Walker and Lillee did the damage as usual, and it was no surprise when England were finally bowled out for 191 on the fourth morning.

The remainder of the game saw England fighting tooth and nail to avoid a 2-0 series margin. Barry Wood went early but Edrich and Steele stayed firmly behind the ball, taking a number of painful blows to the body. When the pair departed, both skittled by a hostile Dennis Lillee, they were replaced by Graham Roope and Bob Woolmer who carried on in similar vein. Woolmer battled for more than eight hours for his 149, and when England were finally all out for 538, the game had been effectively saved.

Although not strictly an Ashes contest, March 1977 saw the enemies locked in combat again in a game put together in order to celebrate 100 years of test cricket. An amazing game saw the England seam trio of Lever, Willis and Old together with the slow left arm witchcraft of Derek Underwood dismiss Australia for 130 in a severely weather-affected first day.

Day two saw England collapse from their overnight 29-1 to 95 all out with Dennis Lillee as he had done on so many occasions before destroyer-in-chief with 6-26. With the pitch improving, Rod Marsh (110*) shepherded the lower order through from 187-5 to 419-9 before Greg Chappell declared, asking England to make 463 to win.

Bob Woolmer departed early bringing Nottinghamshire’s dapper Derek Randall to the crease to join Mike Brearley. The pair successfully repulsed everything the Australians could hurl down for a while, but in effect the home side were a man down, Gilmour having been sidelined by injury.

When Brearley was trapped in front by Lillee, Dennis Amiss stepped into the breach and he and Randall at 279-2 seemed to be swinging the game toward the visitors. A few choice words, a disputed catch and Randall doffing his cap toward Lillee having been felled by a bouncer all added to the atmosphere of the occasion, but as has happened so many times both before and since, the pressure exerted by Australia became too much to bear.

England fell away following the departure of Amiss (64) and Randall (174). Greig and Knott tried to hold things together but an end was open and Lillee in particular poured through. England eventually capitulated for 417, losing by the margin of 45 runs and roundiing off 100 years of Ashes cricket nicely. It was exactly the same margin by which the home side had won the first encounter.

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Eddie Sanders