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Australia having already won the rubber, the fifth and last of the Test matches had not at starting the same importance that would under other circumstances have attached to it, but it produced a never-to-be-forgotten struggle and a more exciting finish, if that were possible, than the one at Manchester. In face of great difficulties and disadvantages England won by one wicket after the odds had been fifty to one on Australia. Some truly wonderful hitting by Jessop made victory possible after all hope had seemed gone, and Hirst and Rhodes got their side home at the close. In its moral results the victory was a very important one indeed, as no one interested in English cricket could have felt other than depressed and low spirited if all the Test matches played out to a finish had ended in favour of Darling's team. In making up the English side the Selection Committee restored Jessop and Hirst to the places they ought to have filled at Manchester, and for the first time in the series of games gave a place to Hayward, Ranjitsinhji, Tate and Abel being left out. Hayward had done enough to deserve a trial, but, as it happened, he proved a great failure as a batsman and was by no means lively in the field. The Australians of course kept to the team that had been victorious at Sheffield and Old Trafford. The wicket, though a trifle slow from the effects of recent rain, was in very good condition, and the Australians, staying in for the whole of the first day, made the highly satisfactory score of 324. At one time they did not seem likely to do nearly so well as this for, though Trumper and Duff scored 47 for the first partnership, there were four wickets down for 82 and five for 126. The change in the game was brought about by Hirst, who for a time bowled in quite his form of 1901. Duff was out to a marvellous catch by the wicket-keeper standing back, Lilley jumping a yard or more on the leg side and holding a ball that would have gone for four. Noble and Armstrong by putting on 48 runs considerably improved the Australians' position, but with seven wickets down for 175 the outlook was none too promising. However, all these disasters were so well retrieved that the three remaining wickets added 149 runs, an invaluable partnership by Hopkins and Trumble putting on 81. The batting was very painstaking, but an unlucky mistake by Lilley at the wicket when Trumble had made nine had, from England's point of view, a deplorable effect on the game.
If the weather had kept fine the Englishmen would not on an Oval wicket have been afraid of facing a score of 324, but the bad luck that had handicapped them at Sheffield and Manchester still pursued them, heavy rain during the early hours of Tuesday morning making a great difference in the pitch. Under the circumstances they did not do at all badly to score 183, but apart from some bright hitting by Tyldesley there was nothing remarkable in the efforts of the early batsmen. At lunch time six wickets were down for 83, and it seemed certain that the side would follow on and be beaten. Braund and Hirst made a great effort, the latter hitting with the utmost freedom, but when he left the total had only reached 137, England still wanting 38 runs to avoid going in again. Thanks, however, to a bad blunder by Hill, who palpably missed Lockwood at long-on when that batsman had made eleven, the follow-on was saved, the innings ending for 183 or 141 runs behind. Braund was often beaten by balls that missed the wicket, but in staying in for an hour and a half he did invaluable work for his side. Trumble bowled throughout the innings in splendid form and took eight wickets for just over eight runs apiece. Possessing such a big lead the Australians looked, when they went in for the second time, to have the match in their hands. They opened their innings with a great misfortune, Trumper throwing away his wicket in attempting a foolish run, and for the rest of the afternoon the batting was marked by such extreme care that at the drawing of stumps the score, with eight men out, had only reached 114, two hours and three-quarters being occupied in getting these runs. The wicket was still rather difficult and Lockwood bowled very finely. Hill was out to a magnificent catch low down in the slips in one hand by MacLaren, and Noble bowled off his pads by a ball that he did not attempt to play with his bat.
On Wednesday morning Lockwood quickly obtained the two outstanding wickets, bringing the Australian innings to a close for 121, and then England went in with 263 wanted to win the match. Tuesday's cricket, while the turf was still soft after rain, had damaged the pitch to no small extent, and up to a certain point the batsmen were so helpless against Saunders and Trumble that the easiest of victories for Australia appeared in prospect. Three wickets fell to Saunders for ten runs and but for Gregory missing Hayward badly at short-leg there would have been four wickets down for 16. Even as it was half the side were out for 48 and the match looked all over. At this point Jackson, who had gone in third wicket down, was joined by Jessop and a stand was made which completely altered the game. At first, however, Jessop's cricket was far from suggesting the wonderful form he afterwards showed. When he had made 22 Kelly missed stumping him and at 27 he gave a rather awkward chance to Trumper at long-off. At lunch time the two batsmen were still together, Jackson, who had played superb cricket, being 39 and Jessop 29. After the interval Jackson was far indeed from keeping up his previous form, being repeatedly in difficulties and giving a palpable chance to Armstrong at slip. Jessop, on the other hand, settled down at once, and hit as he only can. At one point he scored four 4's and a single off successive balls from Saunders. The partnership had added 109 runs in sixty-five minutes when Jackson was easily caught and bowled. Jessop went on hitting for some little time longer, but at 187 he closed his extraordinary innings by placing a ball gently into short-leg's hands. He scored, in just over an hour and a quarter, 104 runs out of 139, his hits being a five in the slips, seventeen fours, two threes, four twos, and seventeen singles. All things considered a more astonishing display has never been seen. What he did would have been scarcely possible under the same circumstances to any other living batsmen. The rest of the match was simply one crescendo of excitement. Hirst played a great game and, after Lockwood's dismissal at 214, received such help from Lilley that victory gradually came in sight. The score was advanced to 248, or only fifteen to win, and then from a good hard drive Lilley was finely caught at deep mid-off. Rhodes as last man had a trying crisis to face, but his nerve did not fail him. Once, however, he nearly lost his wicket, Armstrong at slip getting a catch in his hand, but, being partly overbalanced, dropping the ball. Hirst went on imperturbably, scoring again and again by means of cleverly placed singles, and at last he had the extreme satisfaction of making the score a tie. Then Rhodes sent a ball from Trumble between the bowler and mid-on, and England won the match by one wicket. Hirst's innings was in its way almost as remarkable as Jessop's. So coolly did he play that of his last fourteen hits that scored thirteen were singles, whereas in the early part of his innings he had hit half-a-dozen fours. Darling is not often at fault in the management of his bowling, but he leaned too heavily on Saunders and did not make enough use of Noble. Trumble, bowling from the Pavilion end, was never changed during the match.
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