Jim Laker's other ten-for
Jim Laker's remarkable performance in the fourth Ashes Test of 1956 at Old Trafford has gone down in cricket legend. His 19 for 90 remains not only the best bowling in a Test but also in all first-class cricket, and his second-innings return of 10 for 53 is one of only two instances of a bowler taking all ten in a Test.
What is less well-known is that it was Laker's second ten-for against the Australians that summer. Three-and-a-half months earlier, he had grabbed 10 for 88 for Surrey in the tour match at The Oval. That feat was widely reported at the time, but has since been overshadowed by his achievements at Manchester.
The 1956 Australians started their tour with four draws, stifled by indifferent weather which continued throughout the summer, and the conditions were overcast and chilly when they arrived at The Oval on Wednesday, May 16. Laker himself was not in the best frame of mind after a sleepless night looking after his unwell daughter, and a half-hearted attempt to declare himself unfit was brushed aside by Stuart Surridge, Surrey's captain.
Ian Johnson, Australia's captain, won the toss and batted in front of a disappointingly small crowd. The first hour was uneventful, Jim Burke and Colin McDonald making steady progress. At 12.20pm Laker was brought into the attack from the Pavilion End, and over the next four hours and 20 minutes, he left the Australians in tatters.
Unlike Old Trafford, where the pitch was a spinner's paradise, at The Oval it was far less accommodating. "The ball turned only a little," Laker recalled, "and not consistently. It was never as difficult as was generally accepted at the time." He added that half of his wickets came with straight balls. "Yes, five victims were bamboozled by balls that did not turn at all."
Although he troubled both batsmen, his first wicket did not come until his seventh over, almost as soon as he switched from over to round the wicket, trapping Burke lbw when he missed an attempted sweep. That was the only success before lunch, but soon afterwards, Ken MacKay followed, edging to Surridge at point after four singles in an hour. As was the case at Old Trafford, while Laker whirled away at one end, Tony Lock snarled and cursed at the other without reward. Between them they strangled the Australians, and by tea the tourists were four down.
A tired Laker, who by then had bowled 30 overs on the trot, asked to be taken off at the interval, but for the second time in the day his request was dismissed by Surridge. In the first two overs Laker bowled after the restart he took three wickets - those of Len Maddocks, Ray Lindwall and Johnson - without conceding a run. As news began to spread what was happening, the crowd grew, slowly at first and then after tea, rapidly.
When Laker had taken nine, Keith Miller was joined by Jack Wilson, a slow left-armer from Victoria who was known as Chucker on account of his jerky action, a legacy of a footballing injury which at one time threatened to leave him with an unusable left arm. Wilson was no batsman, and Miller set about the bowling with characteristic gusto while ensuring that his partner did not have to face a ball, jokingly telling Laker: "You won't get all ten."
"Keith seemed to deliberately be hitting catches at the other end," Laker said. At one stage, Miller lofted Lock to Denis Cox at extra cover, but a straightforward chance was spilt. "I cannot figure out whether he did it on purpose," Laker said, but others were in no doubt. "I was so tired I just wanted the innings to end," he added. "I would certainly have held the catch had it been mine."
But the end did come soon after, as Miller took a single from the fifth ball of Laker's 46th over, and Wilson was caught - dubiously according to some, and certainly to the batsman's displeasure - by wicketkeeper Roy Swetman off the first ball he faced at that end.
"Laker, weary, happy, and somewhat embarrassed, led his team off the field to take a triumphant hero's ovation," wrote Peter West. Minutes later he was again cheered when he returned to be presented with the match ball. Tired he may have been, but in his benefit season he could not turn down such superb publicity.
In the Daily Telegraph, Jim Swanton described a great performance. "Nothing less describes the unfailing accuracy, the power of spin, and the little variations on a theme of a perfect length which brought him the glory." Laker himself said that this was, from a technical point of view, a better performance than for England at Manchester.
Second time round, still weary, he struggled, adding only two more wickets. Lock, who finished with 0 for 100 in the first innings, was given the end that favoured the spin and took 7 for 49. He wasn't so lucky later in the summer at Old Trafford, finishing with 1 for 106 in the match as Laker cleaned up.
Surrey went on to win by 10 wickets, the first county to beat the Australians since 1912, and Johnson presented Surridge with his Baggy Green, quipping that he had a spare and didn't think he would have occasion to give that away as well. How wrong he was.
Laker was immediately elevated into a media star. Within days he had signed a deal to write for the News Chronicle and was endorsing Lucozade. And yet the real story of the summer was still some three months in the future.
Australian opener Colin McDonald top-scored in all four innings of the two matches that Laker took his ten-wicket hauls.
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Spinning Round The World - Jim Laker (Muller, 1957)
Jim Laker - Alan Hill (Andre Deutsch, 1998)
Fight For The Ashes - Peter West (George Harrap, 1956)
The Cricketer - Various