Fifth Test match

England v Australia 1926

Toss: England.

After a wonderfully interesting struggle, the Fifth Test Match - arranged, however long it might last, to be played to a finish - ended shortly after six o'clock on the fourth day in a splendid victory for England by 289 runs. Winning in this handsome fashion, the only one of the five Test games in which a definite issue was reached, the old country regained possession of the mythical ashes that Australia had held since the wholesale triumph over the English team led by John Douglas in the Commonwealth during the winter of 1920-21. Looked forward to with extraordinary interest, the contest underwent some truly dramatic changes. England, on the opening day, appeared to have jeopardised their chances by some strangely reckless batting, and yet left off on the first evening in distinctly the stronger position. On Monday, Australia played an uphill game to such good purpose, that they gained a slight lead. Tuesday brought with it some superb batting on a difficult wicket by Hobbs and Sutcliffe, and to wind up, came the collapse of Australia, who, when set 415 to win, failed so completely, that they were all out for 125 - their second lowest total during the whole tour.

England's eleven underwent no fewer than four changes from that which had met Australia three weeks earlier at Manchester. Chapman succeeded Carr in the captaincy, of the side, and Geary, Larwood and Rhodes displaced Ernest Tyldesley, Kilner and Root. The inclusion of Rhodes, a man nearly 49 years of age, naturally occasioned a good deal of surprise, but it was crowned with complete success, the bowling of the veteran Yorkshireman proving no small factor in determining the issue of the struggle. Chapman, too, despite lack of experience in leading a first-class team in the field, turned out a very happy nomination for the post of captain, the young amateur, for the most part, managing his bowling with excellent judgement, and in two or three things he did, showing distinct imagination. Anxious to strengthen the batting, the Selection Committee decided that George Brown of Hampshire should keep wicket instead of Strudwick, but circumstances intervened to prevent this alteration in the constitution of the side. Brown damaged his thumb, and so the authorities once again called upon Strudwick, who giving away only 5 byes, making two catches and running out Ponsford, rendered England excellent service. Collins, having recovered from the illness which prevented him playing at Leeds and Manchester, resumed the captaincy of the Australians, Ryder making way for him.

Chapman, winning the toss, secured first innings for England on a wicket which varied in pace at times, but otherwise played well. The start was full of hope, Hobbs and Sutcliffe settling down in excellent style, and in rather less than an hour, putting on 53 runs. Then, to the general amazement, Hobbs, who appeared to be in particularly fine form, was bowled by a full pitch. A googly dismissing Woolley, and Hendren pulling an off ball on to the wicket, there were three men out for 108 at lunch time. This poor beginning, notwithstanding, Chapman, on resuming, hit out in vigorous fashion. Possibly he considered the position called for an endeavour to knock Mailey off his length. At any rate, he made 49 out of 87 in an hour and a quarter, but, following upon his departure, Mailey and Grimmett met with such poor resistance, that the last six wickets went down in an hour for the addition of 91 runs. Sixth out at 214, Sutcliffe batted admirably for three hours and a half, his clean off driving and the certainty of his strokes on the leg side being the chief features of his play. His innings had an unfortunate termination, a ball rising off his pad and striking him on the tip of the nose, and the next, a leg break which he did not appear to see, taking his wicket. Tate - missed when 12 - hit up 23 out of 35 in a quarter of an hour, but the innings was all over in four hours and a quarter for 280. In a match unlimited as to time, the lack of restraint shown by several of the batsmen was difficult to understand. Mailey met with a good deal of punishment, but he mixed his break and pace in a way very difficult to judge.

Having disappointed so considerably in batting, the England team proceeded to atone for their shortcomings in that department by the excellence of their out cricket. Australia's score was only 9 when a catch behind the wicket sent back Bardsley, and Macartney, having scored 25 out of 35 in half an hour, played on in attempting to hit a long hop to leg. Shortly afterwards, Ponsford, starting for a foolish run, could not regain his crease before a smart gather, and return by Larwood had enabled Strudwick to whip off the bails, while at 59, a fine break-back knocked Andrews' off stump out of the ground. Collins had just joined Woodfull when stumps were drawn for the day, Australia, with four men for 60, being 220 behind and having six wickets to fall.

While on Saturday the attendance did not exceed that of a popular county match - the public having been frightened away by prophecies of over-crowding and tales of all night vigils outside the ground - the crowd on Monday was so large that the gates had to be closed shortly after noon. Collins and Woodfull, with Australia in so anxious a position, naturally batted stubbornly, but the former had only added 7 when a fieldsman, quicker on his feet than Stevens, might have caught him. Australia's captain proceeded to make a great effort for his side, but he lost his partner at 90. Only once previously had Woodfull faced Rhodes and on that occasion the second ball from the left hander brought about his dismissal. Now he encountered Rhodes a second time, and the veteran, after sending down two maidens, led the famous Australian to play on and so ended a watchful innings of more than two hours. With Richardson in, Collins was guilty of a strangely foolish action. A ball from Tate bounced back off Strudwick's gloves. Collins caught it and threw it back to the wicket-keeper. Had an appeal been made against Collins for handling the ball when in play, the umpire could scarcely have avoided giving the batsman out under Rule 29. Richardson tried hard to bat as cautiously as his captain, but his patience at length deserted him, and lashing out, he fell to a beautiful catch low and wide by Geary at mid off. At this point Australia, with six men out, were 158 runs behind, but Collins then found a splendid partner in Gregory. While his captain continued to bat with extreme caution, Gregory hit up 73 out of 107 in an hour and three-quarters, with ten 4's as his chief strokes. Not only did Gregory bat so freely, but he showed rare judgement in picking the ball to hit. The stand completely altered the aspect of the game. Collins, who left directly after Gregory, withstood the England attack for three hours and forty minutes. It was gratifying to notice that the excellence of the skill he displayed in trying to save his side was thoroughly appreciated by the crowd. Following Collins' departure, came some capital batting by Oldfield and Grimmett, who not only headed the England total, but altogether added 67 for the ninth wicket in an hour and a quarter. Out at last for 302, Australia, at the wickets two hours longer than England, secured a lead of 22. Tate bowled with remarkable steadiness; indeed, except just before the tea interval, when Oldfield and Grimmett were together, the English attack always looked as though it wanted a lot of playing.

Exactly an hour remained for play when Hobbs and Sutcliffe entered upon England's second innings. As no object was to be served by forcing the runs, they proceeded quietly and if Hobbs took a little time to settle down, he and Sutcliffe at the close had raised the total to 49. This hour's steady cricket had, unquestionably, a big influence upon the later stages of the struggle.

The crux of the match came before lunch on Tuesday, when Hobbs and Sutcliffe excelled themselves. A thunderstorm, accompanied by a good deal of rain had broken over south London on Monday evening, rendering the pitch slow and dead to begin with, and afterwards very difficult. The two batsmen, it is true, enjoyed the advantage of playing themselves in before conditions became distinctly awkward for them, but, admitting this, their performance during the last hour before lunch in withstanding all endeavours to separate them, was an achievement of the highest order. While giving Hobbs and Sutcliffe all praise, those two famous men were fortunate in the fact that Richardson, while making the ball turn and rise quickly, stuck doggedly to the leg theory. He was awkward enough pursuing that method. He would probably have been deadly had he bowled over the wicket with something like a normally placed field, and point of course close in. As it was, Hobbs and Sutcliffe added 112 runs in rather less than two hours and a half before lunch, but directly afterwards Hobbs, having just completed his 100, was at 172 bowled by a ball that came back a little and touched the top of the off stump. He and his partner batted superbly for three hours and forty minutes; indeed, his innings which included ten fours, must be regarded as one of the most masterly displays of his great career. His 100 was his eleventh three-figure innings for England against Australia, while the stand was the seventh of three-figures he and Sutcliffe had made in Test matches with Australia. Woolley helped to put on 48, Hendren stayed while 57 runs were obtained, Chapman shared in a partnership of 39, and Stevens remained to add 57, but all the time interest of course, centred chiefly on Sutcliffe. The Yorkshireman withstood Australia's bowling for rather more than seven hours and then in the last over of the day was bowled by a fine ball from Mailey. He gave no real chance, hit fifteen fours and shared with Hobbs in a memorable piece of work. England left off 353 ahead with four wickets to fall, and thus in a very strong position. On this day the Prince of Wales was present, and on the concluding afternoon the visitors included Prince Arthur of Connaught and the Prime Minister.

On Wednesday there was a slight shower before play started, and further rain setting in at a quarter past one, there was no more cricket until ten minutes past three. While never heavy, the rain, being followed by sunshine, of course affected the pitch, but it is doubtful whether the conditions when Australia batted were ever as difficult as during the hour before lunch on Tuesday. To begin with, on the last day sixty-five minutes of actual cricket sufficed to finish off England's innings for the addition of 61 runs. Rhodes - missed when 12 by Gregory at slip - helped in a partnership of 43 for the eighth wicket, but the best batting was that of Tate, who hit up his 33 in fifty minutes. In all, England's innings lasted eight hours and ten minutes.

Under the conditions which obtained, there never existed the slightest likelihood of Australia making the 415 runs required for victory, but no one could have been prepared to see a famous batting side collapse so badly. As matters went, an easy win for England was assured in fifty minutes, the first four wickets falling for 35 runs. The heavy roller brought up little moisture but Larwood made the ball fly, and Rhodes, directly he was tried, made it turn. Woodfull putting a ball up in the slips, Chapman brought Rhodes up from deep fine leg to the gully, and moved Geary to third slip. The effect was instantaneous, Woodfull with only one run registered, edging the next ball straight into Geary's hands. Macartney joining Ponsford, the score was carried to 31 before he also gave a catch to Geary, and then in quick succession, Rhodes got Ponsford taken low down at second slip, and Collins - cheered all the way to the wicket - at first slip. Andrews and Bardsley made something of a stand, but at 63, Andrews, hitting a little too soon at a long hop, was finely caught one hand at short leg by Tate. Twenty runs later, Bardsley, after a stay of sixty-five minutes, gave the simplest of catches to slip, and Gregory, lashing out at Tate, placed the ball in the hands of mid off. Eight wickets were down for 87, and although Oldfield and Grimmett remained together half an hour to add 27, the side were all out for 125. Rhodes, with four wickets for 44, and Larwood with three for 34, had the chief share in the cheap dismissal of Australia, but all round, the bowling was excellent. Moreover, not a catch was missed nor was a run given away, the whole England side rising gallantly to the occasion. Naturally a scene of tremendous enthusiasm occurred at the end, the crowd swarming in thousands in front of the pavilion, and loudly cheering the players, both English and Australian. The number of people paying for admission during the four days was 76,472. This, with members and holders of privilege tickets, brought the full total to nearly 103,000. The amount taken at the gates was about £11,470.

© John Wisden & Co