ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1953

Second Test Match

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1953

R.J.H.

Toss

In its swift changes of fortune the cricket followed a pattern similar to that of the Nottingham Test, except that here the suspense continued to the last over of the fifth day. First one side, then the other, built up an apparently commanding position, only for a series of dramatic incidents to swing the balance again. Yet everything in the first four days paled before England's last-ditch stand which brought them a draw as stirring as the majority of victories.

The three England changes, Brown, Watson and Statham for Tattersall, Simpson and May, included the recall to Test cricket of the chairman of selectors, F. R. Brown, at the age of 42, presumably on the theory that the Lord's pitch often favoured a leg-break bowler. Probably that also was the reason for Ring displacing Hill in the Australian side, whose other change was wicket-keeper Langley for Tallon.

Although containing one exciting passage towards the end, the first day was the least eventful of the five. Hassett again won the toss and, on the persuasion of his colleagues, himself opened the innings with Morris. By this time the gates had been closed for over half an hour and the packed crowd soon realised that the work facing the bowlers would be far from easy. Worried by a strained arm, which was tightly strapped, Hassett at first did not reproduce his form of the First Test. In fact, several times he escaped narrowly. Twenty minutes before lunch a lightning stumping by Evans broke Australia's biggest opening stand against England since The Oval Test of 1948, but not until after tea did the fielding side enjoy another success. By that time Harvey, second man out, and Hassett had added 125 in three hours of solid, unspectacular batting. Although missed at slip when 55, Hassett shook off his early uncertainties, but as soon as he completed his second century of the rubber he retired through cramp. This bad luck for Australia occurred an hour and twenty minutes before the close. In Hassett's absence, and with Harvey recently out, the bowlers found fresh heart for tackling new problems, and in ten deliveries Wardle changed the face of the score by sending back Hole, Benaud and Miller, who hooked the previous ball for six. Australia finished the day 263 for five.

Apart from fielding errors, England felt thoroughly satisfied with themselves at the end of the second day. In good light and on a true pitch Australia lost their last five wickets, including that of Hassett, who added only three, for 83. The left-hander Davidson made 59 of these. Davidson excelled with drives and cuts of exceptional power, and his 76, scored out of 117, contained one 6 and thirteen fours. Twice, however, he was let off in the field. Hutton, who missed three chances, was England's unhappiest fieldsman. In conditions not suited to him, Bedser again stood out as the most dangerous bowler. The fielding errors, from one of which he bruised a thumb, did not upset Hutton's batting. He lost Kenyon, caught at short-leg, to the last ball of Lindwall's second over, but by the drawing of stumps the second wicket stand between him and Graveney had increased the total by 168 runs, so equalling the previous highest for England against Australia since the war -- that for the first wicket by Hutton and Washbrook at Leeds in 1948. Even more important than the numerical value of the partnership was the supreme confidence and freedom of the batsmen. The Australians tried everything in their power to shift or unsettle them, but Hutton and Graveney were masters. The sight of England batsmen giving free rein to their strokes brought undisguised delight to many who had bemoaned the lack of aggression in so much Test cricket. The spectacle was glorious to behold.

England resumed requiring 170 for the lead with nine wickets left, and on the third successive day of brilliant sunshine their chances of securing a substantial advantage looked high. So much for optimism. Not a run had been added when Lindwall, warming up for the new ball, hit Graveney's middle and off stumps with a yorker. Compton, understandably anxious to redeem a long sequence of failures against Australia, faced the new ball immediately, and he and Hutton were called upon to combat Lindwall and Miller at their best and most hostile. The battle between the four provided one of the season's highlights. Hutton, as classical as ever, and Compton, who gained assurance and freedom with almost every over, were the victors. When Hutton hit Johnston to the square-leg boundary and took his score to 145, he reached his 2,000 against Australia -- the fourth Englishman with this aggregate -- and sent the partnership into its second hundred. That was Hutton's last scoring stroke. He batted five and a quarter hours without visible mistake and sixteen of his elegant strokes sent the ball to the boundary. At lunch England, with three wickets down, stood no more than 59 behind. Then Australia hit back. In less than two hours the last seven wickets toppled for 93 runs giving England a lead of no more than 26. Watson was unlucky in being stumped off the wicket-keeper's pads and Compton misjudged the width of Benaud's leg-break after doing so much to re-establish his position in the England team, but the pace of Lindwall and Miller was too much for the other batsmen. The Australian fielding was in keeping with its usual high standard.

The early departure of Hassett in Australia's second innings brought together Morris and Miller, and, largely by defence, they remained until the close, when Australia stood 70 ahead. Thus, once more, the initiative had changed hands. Before lunch on Monday, Miller and Morris swung the game still further in Australia's favour. In the first two hours 113 runs were added for the loss of Morris, who revelled in the chance to play all his strokes on a pitch of eminently easy pace. Compton, going on for a short spell before the taking of the new ball, broke the stand of 165, Statham holding a dazzling catch, running backwards at speed and tumbling head over heels as he took the ball. Whereas Morris always sought to hit the ball hard, Miller subjugated his natural inclinations, but his was an equally valuable contribution. This was emphasised after lunch, when England hopes rose again through the capture of five wickets for 96. Punishing hitting by Lindwall checked the collapse. He smote the bowling to all parts of the field in gathering 50 out of 63 in three-quarters of an hour. His strokes included two sixes and five fours. Langley helped him add 54 for the ninth wicket in twenty-five minutes.

One hour remained for play on the fourth day when England began the last innings, needing 343 to win. That was an hour to make Australia happy and England miserable. Lindwall struck two shattering blows at once, getting Kenyon caught at mid-on and Hutton at slip, and when Langley made a thrilling diving catch off Graveney three men were out for 12. Although Watson stayed with Compton to the close, he might have been caught off Ring at short-leg in the last over. The costliness of that miss was to be seen on the last day.

The general view of England's prospects of saving the game was shown by the size of the crowd which gathered for the final stages. In contrast to thousands having to be turned away, the crowd numbered only 14,000. Few of those could have imagined they would witness anything approaching the gallant resistance by which England escaped defeat. First came the not out batsmen, Watson and Compton. Compton held out for ninety-five minutes before being leg-before to a ball that kept low. This brought in Bailey, the last of the recognised batsmen. Nearly five hours remained for play. The odds on Australia winning were high. At first Australia did not appear unduly worried, but, as Bailey settled down to his sternest defence, the bowlers produced all they knew. Still Bailey went on playing a dead-bat pendulum stroke to every ball on his wicket. His batting was far from attractive to the eye but it was thoroughly efficient and founded in first principles. Watson, too, met the ball with the full face of the bat. The most testing period came midway through the afternoon when Lindwall and Miller took the new ball. Both bowlers tried every trick and wile in their armoury, but they could not get through. Three times Bailey was struck on the hand by a bouncer, but after each he paused only to wring his hand. Then the struggle was joined anew. When Australia's fast bowlers went off after an all-out spell of forty minutes the total had risen by only twelve runs. As a result any visions of England snatching a sensational win had disappeared, but by now Australia showed their anxiety. The batsmen, unmoved and seemingly immovable, pursued their determined course. Their mood so infected spectators that often cheers broke out for purely defensive strokes.

At the end of five and three-quarter hours Watson's vigil came to an end. Soon afterwards Bailey, who stood in the breach for four and a quarter hours, shook off his self-imposed shackles and essayed a cover-drive which resulted in a fairly easy catch. His annoyance was plain for all to see. At the fall of the sixth wicket thirty-five minutes were left for play, and the way the ball turned to Brown and Evans gave rise to thoughts that, after all, Australia might finish England's resistance in time, but, riding his luck, Brown struck out boldly. Even so, feelings were such that when Brown was out in the last over the prospects of Benaud taking three wickets in the last four balls to win the match were discussed seriously. Wardle soon brought speculation to an end.

So finished a Test of wonderful character. Without detracting from the merit of Watson, Bailey or Compton, the Australian slow bowlers did not make the best use of a pitch from which the ball could be turned sharply. No doubt Hassett would have preferred to give his spinners longer spells, but, in view of their lapses on length and direction, he had to think of the possibility of England accelerating sufficiently to knock off the runs. As it was, at the end England wanted 61 to win with three wickets left.

The receipts of £57,716 15s. were a record for any cricket match. The aggregate attendance was 137,915. The weather was perfect all through and the cricket worthy of the setting and the occasion.

© John Wisden & Co