First Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1985

Matthew Engel

The match had to withstand constant and inevitable comparisons with the epic Headingley Test of 1981, and to the end there was an outside chance that history would be reversed in an equally bizarre manner. Four years earlier, Australia, needing 130, had managed only 111. This time England, set 123, spluttered their way to victory with 13.2 overs left.

The game did not need the comparisons; it was a remarkable contest in its own right, effectively settled on a gloriously sunlit Saturday afternoon when the England batsmen seized the initiative spectacularly, led by Robinson, Man of the Match for scoring 175 in his first home Test, and Botham. The bat outshone the ball throughout, helped by a fast outfield. The pitch was less eccentric than many on this ground, but was uneven in bounce, and if either side had bowled more accurately, the scores would have been far lower.

Part of the bat's domination was dictated by conservative selection policies. Determined not to lose the first match in a six-Test series, both sets of selectors played an extra batsman. England brought back Gooch, Emburey, Willey, Botham and Allott, all of whom had, for different reasons, been unavailable for the previous Test in Kanpur. They replaced Fowler, Pocock, Cowdrey, Edmonds and Foster. Australia omitted Holland, who had engineered the triumph at Sydney in their previous Test, and were thus without a spinner at all. This looked a strange decision at the time, and stranger as the match wore on, when it seemed that Lawson, ill and in doubt in the days preceding the Test, was not wholly himself and that Thomson was off form.

None of this showed on the opening day when Australia, having won the toss, batted first and immediately took advantage of some short, wide bowling by England. Hilditch, after a wretched start to his tour, found form at the strategic moment (in contrast to his captain, Border, who went in the other direction), showing great skill, especially square of the wicket, and scoring 119 in 247 minutes, his second century in three Tests since being recalled against West Indies the previous December. At one stage Australia were 201 for two, but on a rain-affected second day England bounced back, taking the last four wickets in ten balls. Three of these fell in four balls to Botham, who narrowly missed a hat-trick when he whistled one past Lawson's defence.

On the Saturday, as the sun returned and all swing ceased, England took control. However defective the English bowling had appeared, the Australians were hopelessly exposed, and the youngsters McDermott (in his third Test) and O'Donnell (in his first) were forced to carry the attack. This proved impossible when Botham launched one of his most brilliant assaults: 60 off 51 balls in a golden hour of explosive batsmanship. While Botham was in, Robinson (firmly keeping his helmet on at the non-striker's end because Botham was a far greater danger than the bowling) was almost forgotten. But before and afterwards, he showed the technique and temperament that had made him a success in India. He surprised many people by the range and vigour of his stroke play, especially off the back foot. His 175 took only 271 balls, good going for a supposed anchor-man.

The Australians reached exasperation on the Monday morning when Cowans and Downton put on 49 for the last wicket. Their old feeling that Headingley had something against Australians was heavily upon them, and they lost six wickets before wiping off the first innings deficit of 202, despite another fine innings from Hilditch, well supported by Wessels. By now the bounce was becoming increasingly strange - Ritchie was bowled by a shooter - and England must have expected to wrap up the match early on the last day. The bookmakers stopped betting completely.

However, Phillips caused a delay with an innings too handsome and free to look like a serious match-saving effort but enough to keep England fielding until after lunch. They then had three hours twenty minutes to score the 123 runs they needed. But wickets kept falling, and England finally crawled over the finishing line like exhausted marathon runners. Even then, Willey, one of the not out batsmen, had given a simple chance off Thomson, which Border, at mid wicket, put down. This would have been Thomson's 200th Test wicket and, as he had had a poor match, no-one was sure when his next chance might come.

However, this was quickly eclipsed as a talking point by the crowd's performance at the end. Less than three weeks after the deaths at the European Cup soccer final in Brussels, an invasion of the field in England's moment of triumph gave more than usual cause for concern. The mostly young spectators who rushed on prematurely - described by England's captain as a pack of mad dogs - almost certainly distracted Lawson as he tried to catch Lamb and prevent the winning runs. The attendance was 54,018 and the receipts £321,250, a record for a provincial Test.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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