September 8, 2011

Summer of 242

The Headingley defeat rankled the Australians as they went to The Oval for the final Test in 1972. They had to win to square the series

Aggrieved is probably the best way to describe how we felt when we arrived at The Oval for the final Test of the 1972 Ashes series. We were not happy campers because of the way, we believed, the pitch had been prepared at Headingley. The official terminology was Fusarium, a disease which all of a sudden made the pitch have absolutely no pace at all, and made it turn square. This suited England a hell of a lot more than it suited us.

We knew we were as good a team as England, if not better, and we were starting to really emerge as a unit under Ian Chappell's captaincy. We knew we had to play well in the final Test to make it right. A lot of us felt as though we'd win the series by winning that match, which was to be played over six days.

We had got reasonably close to England in the first Test on a green seamer in Manchester, and then Bob Massie took 16 wickets at Lord's. Australia hadn't won a Test match for a little while before then, so it was a relief to be able to win there. I thought we had the better of the draw at Trent Bridge, and then of course at Headingley we got stuffed, so to win at The Oval was a necessity.

Doug Walters, who never quite found the right way to play in England, was dropped before the match, but it probably helped the rest of us to see how he took it. Doug realised if that's what the tour selectors decided, then that was the way it had to be. I don't think missing out on that game changed his life too much. There were six West Australian players in that side, and it was the first team in Australia history not to include a New South Welshman. No wonder we won!

Dennis [Lillee] was still a fast bowler then, bowling fast outswing very, very well. He'd only taken four wickets opposite Bob at Lord's, but I think everyone, Bob included, would agree that 10 wickets each would have been a fairer return. Dennis always bowled very well in England. He would have the seam upright, and bowl close to the stumps, so the umpires were always interested in his lbw appeals. I think his best years were after his back injury, when he became the complete fast bowler, but he was certainly very fast and very good in 1972. In 1970-71 in Australia, England had the aggressor in John Snow, but in '72 we had him in Dennis, and we were happy to repay the favour.

He and Ashley Mallett had England 181 for 8 on the first day after they won the toss, before Alan Knott made 92. He was a fantastic player, both as a keeper and a batsman. He was the best keeper I ever saw. Time and time again he got runs against us. He was very unorthodox, and he got them at a good rate too. He was very, very effective. I guess we never really worked out how to get him out, and he kept doing it in the Ashes for years.

Replying to 284, we lost two early wickets as happened often around that time, but Ian and Greg Chappell then put on 201 together. It was a sensational partnership - the first time two brothers had made hundreds in the same innings of an Ashes Test - and it set the game up for us. If we were good enough, we had a chance of winning it after that partnership. They were both really solid innings, and there was a lot of purpose in what we were trying to achieve. Geoff Arnold, John Snow, Tony Greig, Derek Underwood and Ray Illingworth - that was basically the line-up that had gone in against us for basically the whole series - were a good attack. Snow was a great bowler, and we were to get lucky in the second innings when he was injured.

We ground out 399. I got a duck, and that didn't help matters, and our tail wasn't great after that. John Inverarity got a few, but with Mallett, Massie and Lillee it could always happen that you lost three for nothing at the end.

We took over 150 overs to get those runs, and it is interesting to look at the scoring rates from then to now. I think because of the fact that we didn't play as much cricket, perhaps a higher price was put on our wickets. Blokes didn't like to get out, and in some ways it would be really nice to think we can get back to that a little bit, where blokes actually fight like hell not to get out. That sort of determination is always required in Test cricket, no matter what era it's in.

"Some will say it was an arrogant unit, but the thing was, we were arrogant because we were winning, and that was the cricket we played"

In their second innings they wouldn't give it away, and Alan was again a very pesky and unorthodox presence, batting with their tail.

Ian had a very important partnership with Keith Stackpole on the fifth evening. They both had pretty good series. Stacky was on fire for a couple of years there, and Ian was a fine player. Again there was determination - we knew we were going to win the damn thing, and that was that.

One of the reasons we got a bit lucky after being set 242 to win was that both Snow and Illingworth were injured on the last day and didn't get the opportunity to bowl. I think we were 116 for 1 and from there you would expect to win, even it was the sixth or seventh day - because we had a rest day as well - of the pitch.

Derek Underwood was a great bowler, particularly on a wearing pitch, and had they had Illingworth as well, it would have made it a lot tougher for us. His absence just eased the pressure a little bit, not having the extra spinner, and as a consequence we were able to get there.

Paul Sheahan and I joined each other with 71 still to get. He hadn't made a lot of runs in the series, but he'd made an unbeaten 41 in the second innings at Headingley, and was in pretty good knick by the time he got to The Oval. He was obviously happy with his batting. He didn't get many in the first dig, but he certainly played very well and very soundly in the second innings. He was very elegant, a big driver, a big front-foot player really, a beautiful mover in the field, and an athlete. He was about as excited as he's ever been, I reckon, when we got to 242. I'm not sure if he was quite as excited as me, however.

I hit out towards the finish because I was very keen to get it over and done with. I didn't see there was any need to procrastinate any further. We could have faltered, but we didn't. We weren't going to lose the game. That was just not even in our thoughts. That was the way we played it, and that was the way it happened. That is probably why it is my favourite Test match - though the Lord's Test in the same series and the 1977 Centenary Test are close - because it actually went to plan. The plan was, "we're going to win".

I've got no doubt the fact that we were not only team-mates but also mates made a hell of a lot of difference to the team that went on from that match to be successful. We would do anything for each other, and the one thing we didn't want to do for each other was to be responsible for a loss. We'd do anything and everything in our power to prevent a loss, which tends to make good cricket teams. Some will say it was an arrogant unit, but the thing was, we were arrogant because we were winning, and that was the cricket we played. We were in-your-face players who really played the game hard, but fair.

As told to ESPNcricinfo assistant editor Daniel Brettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • david on September 9, 2011, 16:03 GMT

    i was at the lords match of that series the 2 things i remember not even about that match was. we were walking thru the north gates and ian chapell was hitting the bowsl high into the crowds coming in and a jobsworth gateman about 60 yo 5 foot tall was in a argument with ic they were going hammer and tong. and the 2nd was my 1st try of aussie beer. i was used to paying 18p for a pint of lager at my local and here was a large container with australian beer in the lords food area. it cost me £1.20p for 3 small cans i nearly dropped. my brother for years would remind all and sundry about that. mind last year at lords i think it was £3.20 a pint. oh happy days. i bet u aussies wish you could get bear that price now. dpk

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2011, 18:49 GMT

    Lillee was the greatest bowler of all times. 1972 Series was the launching pad for him. 1973 stress fractures halted his rise a bit , but he came strongly back in the 1974-75 Ashes Series, where Englishmen were traumatised by Lillee, and one opener of England namely David Llyod was hit on the guard by Lillee and this fear really made him frightened. That Series is remembered as Lillee-Thommo series. Ian Chappell transformed this team of 1970-71 Ashes losing Austraila into an unbeatable team. Before him Bill Lawry was a defensive Captain. Bobby Simpson was a great Captain after Richie Benaud, who made this team into a winning combination from 1958 till 1963. Among all of them Ian Chappell was the most inspirational captain ever produced by Australia. Steve Waugh comes close to match him.

  • Richard on September 8, 2011, 13:23 GMT

    @Meety-Yep, the '70s were it for me as well mate, and if I had to pick a favourite series it would be 75/76 Vs the Windies. That was a titanic series despite the lop-sided result (5-1 to us) and the one that made me into a life long cricket tragic, one of the more sensible (?) and rewarding discoveries I've ever made. The '77 Centenary test was wonderful too. I was 14 at the time and I vividly remember a bunch of us rushing of to the school library during lunch to watch the game on a colour television (still pretty new at the time, colour telly having only begun two years previously, just in time for that Windies series). With no helmets, you could really see the players. Loved it. Geez....I'm beginning to sound like an old man.....I'd better go before I embarrass myself!

  • Andrew on September 8, 2011, 12:57 GMT

    @lyoung - true, it was late 70s but they had some rising legends in their team. They definately used to give the WIndies a run for their money in the 80s. Reverse or Irish swing had been around long before Sarfraz, I think he re-ignited it, they had several ways of producing that type of swing, one legitimate, the other since outlawed. The legitimate was the pouring of sweat into one side of the ball, dunno if it was done by other countries before, certainly not at the time, the other was by scuffing one side by any means (Imran even admitted this).

  • Grant on September 8, 2011, 12:26 GMT

    This match took place almost exactly at the time I must have been concieved. I mustask my dad if that is coincidence.

  • Ian on September 8, 2011, 11:27 GMT

    One of the greatest Ashes series ever in terms of equal powers slugging it out!

  • Lance on September 8, 2011, 11:24 GMT


    Not to mention the emergence of Pakistan during that era, with legends such as Imran Khan, Mustaq Mohammed, the great Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal, and Sarfraz Nawaz, who some say was an early exponent, if not the inventor, of reverse swing.

  • Kall on September 8, 2011, 9:53 GMT

    Can't beat the Bob Massie + D K Lillee legend of 20 wickets!

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2011, 7:44 GMT

    Those were the days of proper cricket, 100 x 8 ball overs per day, no helmets.

  • Andrew on September 8, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    Good old fashioned Test cricket, 2.5 rpo was good going in those days. I think the 70s had the best cricket of any era, as there was a very strong English side, an emerging WIndies, strong Ozzys (minus the Packer yrs), & could of been stronger had the Saffas not been barred! India had a few good sides as well, & towards the end of the 70s, NZ was emerging on the back of Hadlee!

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