First Test Match

Botham turns back the clock

Toss: Australia. Test debuts: Australia - C.D.Matthews; England - P.A.J.DeFreitas, C.J.Richards.

Following England's poor performance in their preceding match at Perth and the development of several of their own players on the recent tour of India, Australia were widely fancied to achieve what would have been their seventh victory in eleven post-war Tests against England at Woolloongabba. Lamb and Botham were the only England batsmen in good form, while Slack's failure against Western Australia left the tour selectors little alternative but to entrust Athey with the task of opening against the type of bowling - fast-medium left-arm - which had caused such problems in the state games. Another handicap for England was that on a ground on which, for several Tests, fast bowlers had been in their element, theirs had been inconsistent and the slip-catching unreliable. By contrast, Australia's batsmen with the exception of Ritchie had been making runs, while Reid and Matthews, the left-arm new-ball bowlers, had shared ten wickets for Western Australia the weekend before. It was understandable therefore that, when Border won the toss and followed recent precedent by putting England in to bat, only their most phlegmatic supporters received the news with an outward show of confidence.

England's emphatic victory, which was completed 35 minutes after lunch on the fifth day, was a salutary reminder of the dangers of reading too much into omens and too little into experience, especially in the first match of a series when nerves - and nerve - play such a part. Selection was another vital factor. Australia, uncertain of Lawson's stamina after his playing only two Sheffield Shield games following a ten-month break with back trouble, omitted him before the start, thus committing themselves to three new-ball bowlers who had played only nine Tests between them. England, despite the 'Gabba's reputation, chose both spinners and left out Small. Although Gatting, too, would have bowled first had he won the toss, the control exerted by Emburey and Edmonds in both Australian innings suggested that, had he done so, England's balance of three seamers and two spinners would still have proved his side's best combination. C. D. Matthews (Australia) and Richards and DeFreitas (England) won their first Test caps.

The opening session was to have a decisive bearing on how the match developed. Though Reid moved one away to have Broad caught at the wicket after 35 minutes, Australia's attack lacked the accuracy to put England under pressure, too many balls being bowled short or off the stumps. Gatting, taking the onus of batting at No. 3 after Gower's failure at Perth, had an edgy start, nearly playing on to Reid at 2; but Athey was composed, showing good judgement of the ball to leave alone. When England went in to lunch at 65 for one, much of the advantage of the toss had disappeared.

Australia, ill served by their fast bowlers, at no stage promised to recover. Hughes ended a stand of 101 by bowling Gatting off his pads, but Lamb was soon into his stride. When rain and bad light took 80 minutes off the final session, England at 198 for two were nicely placed. Athey had been a model of concentration and correct technique, his only blemishes two or three uppish strokes between the slips and gully from mistimed square-drives.

On the second morning, however, the game changed rapidly. Lamb was out first ball, Athey three overs later with the score unaltered, and still at 198 Gower was missed off Hughes by C. D. Matthews at third slip, a sharp chance off a slash two-handed to his right. The match turned in that instant. While Gower took half an hour to settle, Botham played with much authority; he dominated their stand of 118. Australia had an opening when C. D. Matthews had Gower caught at wide mid-on and bowled Richards in successive overs, but Border surrendered the initiative by pushing seven and sometimes eight fielders on to the boundary to deprive Botham of the strike, Emburey made only 8 before slicing Hughes to gully, but the lessening of pressure in the 40 minutes of his innings had much to do with DeFreitas's confident contribution as with Botham he added 92 in not much more than an hour. Botham's 138, which included an assault on Hughes which brought 22 in the over of his century, was comparable to his 118 at Old Trafford in 1981 for power and control. He batted 249 minutes (174 balls) and hit four sixes - straight drives - and thirteen fours before Hughes sprinted in to catch him at long-leg.

Australia lost Boon, pulling to mid-wicket, to close the second day at 33 for one. But on a pitch now free of moisture, there seemed little danger of their failing to score 257 to avoid the follow-on as Zoehrer, the night-watchman, was helping Marsh add 70. Dilley made the breakthrough with a highish lbw and Australia lost their grip as he maintained good line and pace to achieve his first five-wicket return in Tests. However, the critical dismissal was that of Border at 159. Tied down for an hour by Emburey, he made an ill-judged attempt to assert himself when Edmonds took over; the result was a skied catch to cover from a mis-hit drive. As they were to in the follow-on, the spinners played a crucial role by restricting Australia to 191 off 85 overs, when the new ball came due.

Marsh's disciplined 110 - he batted in great heat for 392 minutes (311 balls, twelve fours) - was the cornerstone of Australia's resistance in the follow-on. But three wickets, including Border's, fell for 92, and only while Ritchie shared a fourth-wicket stand of 113 in 175 minutes did Australia look to have a fair chance of survival. When DeFreitas ended that partnership with the new ball - a second debatable lbw decision - and G. R. J. Matthews was caught and bowled off a front edge by Dilley fifteen minutes from the close, Australia started the final day only 35 ahead at 243 for five, needing a lengthy stand between Marsh and Waugh to leave England a task against the clock.

They began with confidence, scoring 15 in two overs. Then, after 28 minutes, Marsh's gritty innings ended when he edged DeFreitas into his stumps, and in 31 minutes the last four wickets fell for 20. Emburey picked up three for 2 in 23 deliveries, belated reward for dismissing Border to a bat-pad catch in one of the best overs of the game. He finished with five for 80, claiming Waugh as his 100th Test victim in the process. England, needing 75, were certain winners from that point; but starting shakily they reminded their followers that the contest might have finished otherwise had Australia scored another 100 runs.

Man of the Match: I. T. Botham. Attendance: 33,638.

Close of play: First day, England 198-2 (C. W. J. Athey 76*, A. J. Lamb 40*); Second day, Australia 33-1(G. R. Marsh 17*, T. J. Zoehrer 0*); Third day, Australia 2-0 (D. C. Boon 1*, G. R. Marsh 1*); Fourth day, Australia 243-5 ( G. R. Marsh 108*, S. R. Waugh 12*).

© John Wisden & Co