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Dolly and Deadly – the story of the 1968 Ashes

Derek Underwood salutes the crowd following England's dramatic win at the Oval, 1968.

Dolly and Deadly – the story of the 1968 Ashes

Australia came to England in 1968 as holders of the Ashes, but an inexperienced side were very much underdogs to an England side unbeaten in twelve Tests, having returned the previous winter from a triumphant victory in the Carribean against the world champion West Indians – England had gone all twelve first-class matches without defeat and had won an eventful Test series 1-0, thanks in no small part to a sporting declaration by Sobers which allowed England a fighting chance, though scoring 215 in 165 minutes was no small feat. Colin Cowdrey, the victorious captain, had actually been third choice behind Brian Close, removed for alleged time-wasting tactics against Warwicksire, and Mike Smith who retired.

There was no doubting Cowdrey’s appointment as captain for this Ashes series however, and a victory over Australia would cement England’s position as world champions. The Australians arrived to a very wet English summer, with almnost three-quarters of their first 60 hours play, as well as much practise time, being lost to bad weather. Nonetheless, the Australians had fine warm-up games against the MCC and Somerset, against whom Redpath scored an 84-minute ton.

FIRST TEST – Old Trafford

For the first Test, the England selecters surprised everyone by first selecting fourteen players and then delaying the team announcement until the morning of the match – further surprise greeted the exclusion of three bowlers, Underwood, Cartwright and Brown, leaving only three bowlers (Snow, Higgs and Pocock) in the team. Australia by contrast chose a much more attacking line-up, with Hawke, McKenzie, Gleeson and Connolly all included. Lawry won the toss and elected to bat, which proved to be the right decision as they amassed a healthy 357, built on two large partnerships between first Lawry and Walters (144), then Sheahan and Chappell (157).

The second and third days were somewhat affected by rain and England struggled rather defensively to only 165, although Lawry decided not to enforce the follow-on. A second innings total of 220 gave Australia a lead of 413 with England having a day and a half to get them in. England began brightly but had lost five wickets with the score on 105 and the task looked beyond them, leading D’Oliveira to throw caution to the wind – his 87 not out was not enough though when he finally ran out of partners at 253. The young Australians had beaten the highly-rated England team by 159 runs and put England behind the pace right from the off.

Australia prepared for the second Test with a draw against Warwickshire, Chappell making a double-century and with two fifties from reserve keeper Brian Taber, followed by a decisive victory over Sussex.
Australia won by 159 runs; Australia lead the series 1-0


The second Test would be the 200th between the two countries, and appropriately was scheduled to be held at Lord’s. Following the first Test defeat, the selectors decided to drop Higgs, Amiss and Barber, adding the dynamic Colin Milburn and, with Barrington fit again, reduced the squad to thirteen. Cartwright then pulled out reducing the squad even further, with Barry Knight drafted in to take his place. The selectors again surprised most people by leaving out England’s most successful batsman and bowler from Old Trafford, namely D’Oliveira and Pocock, while the Australians were not surprisingly unchanged from their winning line-up. England won the toss and Cowdrey decided to bat, which initially looked the wrong call as the pitch proved very lively, Edrich saying goodbye with only ten on the board. After a short rain delay, things looked even worse (in England at that time, full covering of the pitch was not practiced), and Milburn in particular took a pounding. Play was suspended for the day shortly after lunch, when a torrential hailstorm took hold.

The wicket on the second day played much better for England, Milburn muscling his way to a thrilling 83, setting the tone for England who saw Barrington score his 2,000th run in Ashes cricket. Saturday was very well attended however overcast skies allowed only half an hour’s play before lunch. Barrington, who had gone off with a damaged finger the day before, returned to take his score to 75, however further rain meant an early finish, with England sitting on 351 for seven. Cowdrey, conscious of the amount of lost time, declared the following morning.

Australia then amazingly collapsed to only 78 all out, England’s bowlers forcing every ounce of assistance from the wicket with David Brown finishing with figures of five for 42. Cowdrey of course enforced the follow-on, although the pitch was not quite as lively and Lawry and Redpath were able to take Australia to stumps without loss. England must have fancied their chances of levelling the series, however the morning of the final day started with heavy rain, and when play eventually started at 3.15pm Australia were steered home safely thanks largely to Redpath, although Cowdrey refused to give up and claimed the extra half-hour. So Australia retained their 1-0 lead going into the third Test.
Match drawn; Australia lead the series 1-0

THIRD TEST – Edgbaston

By the time of the third Test Milburn was injured, and his place in the squad was taken by the uncapped Keith Fletcher, Ray Illingworth also being selected after his fine performance for Yorkshire against the tourists (69* in his one innings to go with eight wickets). On the occasion of Cowdrey’s 100th Test, once more heavy rain at Edgbaston dampened Australian enthusiasm with three inches falling in a single twenty-four hour period, no play being possible on the first day. England went into the next day’s play with no fewer than five bowlers, and with Cowdrey once again winning the toss he decided to bat. Australia replaced the out-of-form Neil Hawke with Eric Freeman, however the wicket was giving no help to the bowlers and at the end of the day England were 258 for three, with Cowdrey five runs short of a century.

Next morning Cowdrey duly made his century in his one hundredth Test, though he was out shortly after for 104. With Graveney adding 96 England pushed on to 409 all out, Edrich also scoring a slow 88 and Australia enjoying a fine debut from Freeman with four for 78. Australia were soon under the cosh when Lawry, taking a smart one from Snow on the finger, was forced to retire. A century partnership between Chappell and Cowper helped Australia steady the ship somewhat, ending the day on 109 for one.

Although Walters was in fine form the following day, Australia collapsed to 222 all out, marginally avoiding the follow-on. England started brightly and with Edrich scoring another fifty, Cowdrey declared on 142 for three. Australia were left chasing 329 in a day plus half an hour, reaching stumps at nine without loss. Next day, with the pace bowlers getting nowhere Underwood was brought on, and was so monopolized by Cowper that every ball of his first six overs was received by Cowper. Unfortunately, at 68 for one the rains came again, and that was that. England, having been again on top, were still behind in the series, needing to win the last two Tests to reclaim the Ashes.
Match drawn; Australia lead the series 1-0

FOURTH TEST – Headingley

And so to the fourth Test at Headingley, and this writer’s first experience of live Test cricket, red in tooth and claw. With Boycott out with a back injury, Milburn’s wrist still bothering him, and Cowdrey also not fit, further bad news was received that Graveney had suffered a deep cut on his finger; however, rather than have stitches he elected to have it waxed, meaning he could play in the Test. The England selectors called up Roger Prideaux and also recalled Ted Dexter, who had played little first-class cricket in the previous three years – he then turned out for Sussex against second-placed Kent, making a glorious double-century to silence the nay-sayers. Phil Sharpe was also a late call-up, receiving the word while taking guard for Yorkshire in Essex! The selectors opted to leave out Sharpe and Knight, so Prideaux and Fletcher made their debuts. For Australia, Jarman was fit again, though Lawry was not, so John Inverarity was called up and made his debut, opening the innings in Lawry’s place with Cowper. Australia’s first innings was however dominated by Redpath’s sparkling 92, achieved in the face of fine bowling by Snow and Brown. The home fans were left to rue the selector’s decision not to pick Yorkshire’s Phil Sharpe, a fine slip fielder, when Fletcher put down two chances, albeit difficult ones, so that at stumps Australia were 258 for five.

The second day opened with Fletcher spilling yet another difficult chance, though nevertheless Australia were soon all out for 315, Underwood finishing with four for 41 in 28 overs. Prideaux in his first Test started confidently and with Edrich shared an opening partnership of 123, the first century opening partnership of the series, but after Prideaux was out to a splendid catch by Freeman three wickets fell, so that at stumps England were 163 for three, still 152 behind. Jarman, captain in place of the injured Lawry, delayed taking the new ball immediately at 85 overs, but when he did so after 96 overs Graveney was immediately dismissed, followed quickly by the unfortunate Fletcher, out for a duck. England collapsed from 209 to three to 241 for nine, but some excellent hitting from Underwood brought him 45 in 51 minutes, taking England to 302 all out, only 13 in arrears. Australia closed the day at 92 for two.

Day 4 started damp after early rain and Australia scored slowly, but England were not getting wickets so that an England win was looking unlikely. Ian Chappell batted particularly well for his 81 and when bad light stopped play Australia were 283 for six, their intention to play for the draw and thus retain the Ashes being obvious and largely successful. Batting on at the start of the final day, Australia took their total to 312, giving them a lead of 325. An England win was now extremely unlikely, particularly as England started slowly, reaching only 61 for one at lunch. Edrich pushed the score along after lunch, reaching his second fifty of the game, so that by tea England required 137 in the final session, improbable but not altogether out of the question. It seemed however that on resumption Barrington and Fletcher were content to play for the draw and the game ended with England 230 for four, a disappointing end to what had looked the most keenly fought game of the series. This meant that Australia were guaranteed to retain the Ashes as England could now do no better than draw the series, so the fact that England did not appear to be interested in going for the win was puzzling to say the least.
Match drawn; Australia lead the series 1-0


And so England, already resigned to ending another series without wresting the Ashes away from Australia, came to the final Test at the Oval 1-0 down and needing a win to square the series and regain a modicum of dignity. Cowper was injured and could not play, Ashley Mallet making his debut in his place while encouragement for Australia came with the news that the captain Lawry was fit again. England brought in D’Oliveira to replace Prideaux, suffering from bronchitis, while Milburn was now fit again and brought back into the squad.

The first day was blessed with glorious weather and Cowdrey had no hesitation in batting first, no doubt hoping that England could build up a good score and hopefully add to the series’ solitary century which he himself had scored. Edrich started shakily but soon settled down, but Milburn, promoted to open due to Prideaux’s absence, was bowled by Connolly with only 28 runs on the board. Lawry was trying various bowlers to force a breakthrough, though the batsmen were making little headway despite the apparent playability of the pitch. Dexter, hemmed in by Gleeson, was fortunate to survive a chance to Chappell in the slips, but the very next over Gleeson had him bowled. Edrich soon reached his fifty, the fifth consecutive such score this series. With the score advanced to 113, Ashley Mallet came on to bowl his first over in Tests – he couldn’t have asked for a better start, trapping Cowdrey LBW with his fourth ball. Graveney, who came in next, was not at all comfortable and may at first have been bothered by his finger injury, however he gradually became more comfortable and he and Edrich forged a fine partnership of 125 for the fourth wicket, Edrich reaching his century and Graveney his half-century in the process. Graveney fell on 63, bringing D’Oliveira in to bat. Since being dropped following his successes in the first Test he had averaged only 16 with the bat, but proceeded to make a mockery of that in the 45 minutes left before stumps, during which time he scored 24, England ending the day on 272 for four.

The weather on the second day was as good as it had been for the first, and Edrich and D’Oliveira responded by scoring at almost a run a minute. Lawry brought on the leg spin of Chappell to try to get the breakthrough, and in his first over he had D’Oliveira dropped by Jarman behind the wicket. Edrich and D’Oliveira eventually reached the hundred partnership with Edrich on 155 and D’Oliveira on 65. It was Chappell again who was to break the partnership, bowling Edrich middle stump – Edrich had made 164 in 460 minutes, with D’Oliveira supplying 77 of their 121 partnership. Chappell had at this point bowled 13 overs with a return of two for 26. D’Oliveira was joined by Knott and the pair took the score through 400, though Knott was immediately missed by Chappell, after which D’Oliveira reached his century in 195 minutes from 218 balls, his first against Australia. He immediately presented Gleeson with a simple caught-and-bowled, but Gleeson, caught by surprise, dropped the easy chance. D’Oliveira was dropped again soon after in the outfield by Connolly, but Knott wasn’t so lucky, caught behind off Mallett. D’Oliveira, dropped again by Gleeson on 154, was soon caught by Inverarity off Mallett, England being shortly afterwards all out for the not insignificant total of 494. When Australia opened their innings, Snow, bowling at top speed, immediately had Inverarity walking when Milburn took an acrobatic catch – Australia were seven for one. Nonetheless, Lawry and Redpath saw them safely to stumps with the scoreboard reading 43 for one.

Australia knew that they needed to bat all day to minimise England’s chances of winning, and Lawry was doing his best to achieve that, reaching his fifty during the morning session, as did Redpath, the pair bringing up the hundred partnership as they got through to lunch with the score on 120 for one. Amazingly, from this seemingly comfortable position, Australia contrived to collapse astonishlingly between lunch and tea, falling from 136 for one to 188 for six. Lawry and McKenzie were able to settle things down after tea, the former reaching his century after almost six hours at the crease. Following the introduction of the new ball, however, Brown had McKenzie bowled after the pair had added 49 for the seventh wicket. Mallett proved an able replacement and Australia reached stumps without further loss, at 264 for seven with 31 runs still needed to avoid the follow-on.

Early on the fourth day, Snow had Lawry caught behind after having made a solid 135, with Australia still requiring 26 to save having to bat again. The tail now began to wag and with a rousing rear-guard from Mallett and Connolly Australia took the score to 324 before the last man was out just after lunch, the follow on having been successfully avoided – Mallett, who had bowled very well in England’s innings, was undefeated on 43. For England, Milburn was predictably aggressive, hooking the first ball for four and following that with a huge six over the close field. A similar shot was mistimed and Lawry took an easy catch, with England 23 for one. Mallett missed Dexter from his own bowling, and the crowd was now enjoying a tense battle, exacerbated when Lawry again made a catch, this time sending back Edrich. Connolly shortly afterwards bowled Edrich and the rest of the side soon capitulated, England being dismissed for only 181, a lead of 351. Australia were now firmly back on top, and only had 35 minutes to see out the day’s play, however Milburn made a great diving catch from Brown to dismiss Lawry for four. Then in the last over, Underwood had Redpath out LBW – disaster for Australia, reaching stumps with 13 on the board and two of their best batsmen gone!

The scene was now set for a gripping final day’s play, but when Australia went into bat on the final day with thunderstorms forecast they no doubt were looking to force the draw which would give them the series win. However, Underwood soon added to Australia’s woes, trapping Chappell LBW, Australia now being 19 for three and looking less likely to survive the day. Ten runs later and incredibly Walters was gone, again victim to Underwood as he was caught behind by Knott – Australia were now 29 for four and England could sense victory as a distinct possibility! Underwood’s bowling was such that Cowdrey could afford to have eight men close in, as Australia continued to defend dourly, however Sheahen decided the best form of defense was attack and hit out whenever possible. With Inverarity shoring up the other end the pair continued to frustrate the England bowlers, but after dragging the score through 50 in 32 overs Sheahen played a loose shot and was caught by Snow off Illingworth. Australia were now 65 for five and in real trouble, with more than four hours still remaining. Jarman was immediately dropped by Knott, and further encouragement for Australia appeared in the form of dark clouds gathering overhead, with rain beginning to fall just before lunch, becoming torrential before the players had left the field. With the ground covered in water after lunch, things looked grim for England, however the ground staff and volunteers from the crowd worked miracles, though the umpires declared that further inspection would be delayed until 4.15pm. Further mopping up operations in the interim brought a faint hope of resumption, and after sawdust had been deposited around the popping creases play indeed resumed at 4.45pm.

England now had 75 minutes to polish off the last five Australian wickets, but the wicket was undoubtedly saturated. Inverarity reached 50 in confident fashion, hooking Underwood for four, though he was fortunate that Dexter dropped him without addition. Illingworth then bowled Jarman to give England increased hope, though there was now only 35 minutes remaining for Australia to survive. Cowdrey brought back Underwood, with Mallett, hero of Australia’s first innings, now at the crease. Underwood remarkably had him first ball with a great diving catch by Brown – England now definitely had their tails up! With the last ball of the same over, Brown again made a wonderful catch to send McKenzie back – Australia had lost three wickets for no runs in only six minutes – incredible drama, only two more wickets required!

With Illingworth bowling to Inverarity, all of the England fielders were positioned around the bat, however Cowdrey missed a chance which went for four. Underwood then bowled Gleeson while not offering a shot, thus bringing in Connolly, who had so far managed a paltry seven runs in five innings – only one wicket needed. Then, in the second to last over, and with only six minutes remaining, Inverarity was LBW to underwood, after more than four hours at the crease – what an incredible last half hour! England had taken five wickets, with Underwood capturing four of them in only 27 balls, finishing with figures of seven for 50.

England, on top for much of the series but seemingly likely to reap no return, had saved the series in the most dramatic possible fashion!
England won by 226 runs; series tied 1-1

1968 – Some Perspective

In cricket, 1968 was an eventful year to say the least – it had started in dramatic fashion with the riot at Kingston during the West Indies-England Test match following a contentious umpiring decision which went against the home side. Back in England it seemed that it would never stop raining, a state of affairs which was claimed by a hypnotherapist calling herself Mrs Munday as having been initiated by her in response to non-payment by the Australians, after she had provided them with favourable weather during an earlier Test series! The effect of the poor weather on playing conditions was noticeable and Jack Fingleton referred in Wisden to a committee report stating that Old Trafford had not been up to Test standard for the first Test (not that it had done England any good).

England had opened its doors at last to overseas cricketers (without the need for prior qualification) and the best of these illuminated the county game that year, names such as Sobers, Kanhai, Gibbs, Asif Iqbal, Barry Richards and Mike Procter. The abolition of bonus points for first innings leads and the introduction of a new system which rewarded good batting and bowling led, for a while at least, to more entertaining play. Ken Barrington, fifth all-time in Test runs at that point, retired following a mild heart attack, as did Fred Trueman, the leading wicket-taker on 307.

But by far the most important event came as a result of that final, thrilling Test match at the Oval, with the omission by the selectors of Basil D’Oliveira, in spite of his swashbuckling 158 which had helped steer England to a victory which saved the series. It is not unreasonable to say that this event changed the world as we know it – consider if Jarman had not dropped him when he was on 31, the selectors would have been able to drop D’Oliveira and, crucially, no one would have thought this unjustified – the tour of South Africa would presumably have gone ahead and cricket lovers everywhere might have enjoyed years of watching Pollock, Richards, Procter et al play Test cricket against the best (at least until Packer came along and signed them up to WSC).

But who knows how things would have developed after that – it’s safe to say that the Apartheid regime would have been brought down at some point in the not too distant future, for example there were already rumblings against South Africa in other sports, but as to when and how it would have been achieved, who knows? It seems that some things are just meant to be.


Lovely read. Thank god uncovered wickets in ENG where abolished fairly soon after this series though.

Comment by aussie | 12:00am BST 21 August 2010

It was another 11 years before uncovered wickets in England were abolished. Pakistan got caught in 1974 and England in 1975. In Pakistan’s case they survived when the final day was washed out but England lost to Australia – had Mike Denness batted on winning the toss England would have won the match and the series.

Comment by Lillian Thomson | 12:00am BST 22 August 2010

The Oval Test is my earliest memory of watching a Test match – I’ll never forget sitting on the floor in our living room with one eye on my Dad sat on the edge of his seat getting more and more animated as Underwood ran through the tail – punching the air wasn’t normally his thing but I certainly recall him doing it then – in my hazy memory the drama unfolded over a couple of hours but you remind me Dave that the denoument took just half an hour – thoroughly enjoyed being reminded of it!

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am BST 22 August 2010

[QUOTE=fredfertang;2299968]The Oval Test is my earliest memory of watching a Test match – I’ll never forget sitting on the floor in our living room with one eye on my Dad sat on the edge of his seat getting more and more animated as Underwood ran through the tail – punching the air wasn’t normally his thing but I certainly recall him doing it then – in my hazy memory the drama unfolded over a couple of hours but you remind me Dave that the denoument took just half an hour – thoroughly enjoyed being reminded of it![/QUOTE]

I had a lot of fun reminiscing over the fourth Test with my Dad, and we went on to discuss his early days following cricket – he may have told me when I was younger, but I don’t recall him telling me that he saw the 1950s West Indians play live.

Comment by chasingthedon | 12:00am BST 22 August 2010

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