The last time England beat Australia in a Lord's Test was in 1934. Peter Grosvenor tells the story of an extraordinary match. This article appeared in The Cricketer in 2001
There is something about cricket's HQ that brings the best out of the men in baggy green caps. England have not beaten Australia at Lord's since 1934. And our previous victory there was in 1896.
Two men played key roles in England's innings win in 1934. Leslie Ames scored a century as wicketkeeper-batsman, and Hedley Verity took a then-record haul of 15 for 104. The Hand of God also intervened, in the shape of weekend rain on an uncovered pitch, which made Verity's superbly controlled spin seem even more unplayable to the Aussies than it actually was.
It was a very different world in that far-off summer. Hitler was the German Chancellor, and even as England completed their memorable victory on Monday, June 25, he was plotting the Night of the Long Knives. Such murderous intrigues would have been far from the thoughts of the 20,000 who packed into Lord's on the first day, a Friday. They paid a basic admission price of 3 shillings (15p) or 3/6 (17p) for reserved seats which today cost £33.
England, who won the toss and batted, had lost the first Test at Trent Bridge. After a steady opening stand of 70 by Walters and Sutcliffe there came, in the words of Wisden, 'that series of dreadful failures which characterised England's batting through the series'. Plus ca change. Hammond and Hendren went cheaply, but at 182 for 5 the dauntless, ruddy-faced left-hander Maurice Leyland was joined by Ames, probably England's best wicketkeeper-batsman until Alec Stewart in 1996.
By stumps they had progressed to 293 for 5 in spite of the tormenting skills of O'Reilly and Grimmett, and next morning they carried it to 311 before Leyland hit over a long half-volley from Wall. Ames was dropped when 96 by Oldfield, the world's foremost keeper at the time, but went on to make his first century against Australia, and to send CB Fry into raptures: 'He is a sort of troubadour of a batsman. He has a silky, semi-Oriental ease and a delicate touch ... Ames has delivered at call one of the best innings I have enjoyed in a Test match.'
Actually he had played more of a supporting role. But the tail wagged well to add 129, justifying Wyatt's decision to bat on after lunch on Saturday. England totalled 440 and the extra runs were to prove crucial.
Not that there was the merest hint of such a drama when Brown and Woodfull strode out to bat for Australia. By the close they were 192 for 2, Brown driving and cut ting beautifully to reach his century in just 23/4 hours and McCabe hooking ferociously. It looked even-stevens, except that Bradman was out for only 36, having played a most uncharacteristic innings of slog and swipe. 'He never looked like staying long, making many of his strokes without restraint,' sniffed Wisden. It was to prove a crucial wicket, and when The Don himself recalled it years later, he gave an inventive explanation: 'I just happened to be in very good form,' he wrote to Verity's biographer Alan Hill. 'I had made 36, including seven fours and three in succession off Verity ... My captain begged me to be less aggressive because, apparently, he feared I was going to give my wicket away ... I did restrain myself and in so doing "held" a shot against my better judgment and was out caught-and-bowled by Hedley. Had I been allowed to continue batting on the Saturday in my own way I am in no doubt we would have easily saved the follow-on ... England would have had to bat on that sticky on the Monday ... and Hedley would never have got the chance to ... put up such a wonderful performance.'
After the severe weekend storm, Verity looked out on the rainswept streets on Monday morning and told his team-mates: 'I shouldn't wonder if we don't have a bit of fun today.' The superstitious may care to note that despite running over a black cat on his way to the ground - and stopping to find the owner and say sorry - Verity was spot-on.
Brown's dismissal at 203 was the beginning of the end. Darling, McCabe, Bromley, Oldfield, O'Reilly and Wall all fell to Verity, who relented only when the teams were presented to King George V. The last eight wickets went down in just over two hours for 92 runs. The second innings became a procession after Verity came on. Again the dismissal of Bradman for a mere 13 to another rash stroke off Verity was crucial. The Don's wretchedly miscued drive flew off a top-edge and a few seconds stretched into an eternity before the ball fell into Ames's gloves. 'Everyone was petrified to go for it,' Ames said. 'Hammond could have caught it easily as could Sutcliffe or Verity, moving into position from the bowler's end. The shout went up, "Yours, Les." I would have been quite happy if someone else had taken it.' Cardus added the final gloss: 'Bradman stood aside, exposed in momentary embarrassment, like a dejected schoolboy.'
Skipper Woodfull, who was to defend stubbornly for two hours, gave The Don a withering look as he walked back. At 5.50pm it was all over. Seven men had gone in an hour for just 44 runs and England had won by an innings and 38. Verity, well supported by Bowes, took 14 wickets for 80 in the day, yet as Wisden commented: 'The wicket ... could scarcely be described as genuinely sticky except for one period after lunch. Verity's length was impeccable and he made the ball lift so abruptly that most of the Australians were helpless.' Jardine, now an ex-England player after the Bodyline crisis, criticised the 'foottied' Australians: 'Verity was allowed to pitch the ball time and again on the same spot. He may even have created a pitch for himself by his accuracy'- sentiments echoed by Wyatt: 'They thought it was a sticky wicket and we kept persuading them it was.'
From 1930 to 1939 Verity took 1956 first-class wickets at under 15 each, including 144 for England. Two days before Britain declared war, he took 7 for 9 on a drying wicket at Hove to dismiss Sussex for 33. As he walked off, he said: 'I wonder if I shall ever howl here again.'
Alas, he never did. Captain Hedley Verity of the Green Howards died in Italy on July 31, 1943, after a bullet was removed from his lung and infection set in. He was 38. Next day, Bill Bowes heard the news in a PoW camp, also in Italy. 'I walked out into the deserted roadway through the camp. The wind was cold but I did not notice it. Hedley dead. It was unbelievable. For a long time I walked up and down that road, time stilled, living again the many incidents and hours we shared together.'