Fourth Test Match

England retain the Ashes

At Melbourne, December 26, 27, 28. England won by an innings and 14 runs. A combination of excellent out-swing bowling by Small, playing in his first Test of the series, and an inept appraisal by Australia of their best means of success, effectively decided the match, and the destination of the Ashes, by tea on the first day. Australia, put in on a pitch not fully dry, were bowled out for 141 in 235 minutes, Small maintaining a high degree of accuracy to take five for 48 in 22.4 overs. A last-minute replacement for Dilley, who failed a fitness test on a jarred knee on the morning of the match, Small amply justified his preference to Foster by dismissing five of the first seven batsmen in the order. With two more wickets in the second innings, including that of Border when with Marsh the captain was showing signs of keeping Australia in the match, a valuable 21 not out at No. 11, and a good catch in the deep to finish the game, Small was a deserving winner of the Man of the Match award in only his third Test.

Well as Small bowled, however, both he and more especially Botham, for whom Whitaker made way, were helped by Australia's ill-conceived approach. Botham, bowling off the shortened run he had used three days earlier in Canberra, took five for 41, a disproportionate reward for sixteen overs at medium pace with faster variations. The loss of Boon in Small's third over did nothing for Australia's confidence. But it was hard to disassociate the way they set about their innings from a well-publicised comment by Border, in a pre-match interview, that to revive their chance of winning back the Ashes, Australia needed to play boldly.

On quite a lively pitch, with a stronger growth of grass than for some years following a transplant of couch grass from a local golf course, Kingston Heath, Australia should have been content to let runs come. Jack Lyons's last Test pitch as head curator was never a straightforward one to bat on, yielding extra and variable bounce for the faster bowlers when they bent their backs, but the home side should have known from experience that at Melbourne, with its huge, slow outfield, a first-innings total of 250 would have given them at least an even chance. Marsh, for one, looked to lose his wicket through eagerness to follow the assumed instructions of his captain. Anything but a regular player of the hook - in some 30 hours' batting against England on the tour, he had produced no more than half a dozen - he attempted to hook a rising ball from Botham which pitched well outside off stump; Richards took the first of five catches in the innings with a gymnastic upward leap.

That wicket made the score 44 for two, and when, 40 minutes later, Richards took a second fine catch to dismiss Border, diving to his left, Australia were in trouble. Against the advice of Border and R. B. Simpson, Australia's cricket manager, the selectors had omitted Ritchie, a specialist batsmen, in favour of an all-rounder, thought to be Matthews, to give the side an extra option in the field. In practice, with Matthews not called upon to bowl in an England innings lasting 120 overs, the decision served only to weaken the batting. McDermott, who in effect came in for Ritchie, and Zoehrer, who reclaimed his place from Dyer, were the changes from the team that drew at Adelaide.

Jones, who hit Emburey out of the attack with two lofted leg-side fours, was the one batsman to pass 20. He batted 154 minutes, hitting one glorious on-drive off DeFreitas, before being caught at mid-off off the leading edge, attempting to tuck Small to leg. A wonderful running catch by Richards, who sprinted 30 yards to square leg to take a mis-hit hook by McDermott, hastened Australia's downfall.

It was a lamentable piece of batting which was duly reflected in a second-day attendance more than 20,000 down on the 58,203 of Boxing Day. England had set themselves to bat for two days. But a mixture of over-attacking batting, and Australia's best bowling and fielding of the series - Matthews was outstanding in the field - saw them out for 349 at stumps, despite at one time being 163 for one through a second-wicket stand of 105 by Broad and Gatting. Broad was the one batsman who played the bowling strictly on its merits, while making due allowance for the foibles of the pitch. He demonstrated the right combination of patience and sound method to produce a lengthy innings, showing the bowlers the full face of the bat and waiting for the ball to drive. His 112 took 328 minutes, although Sleep played a part in fanning the impatience of the batsmen by bowling most of his overs round the wicket into the rough outside leg stump.

Australia, starting their second innings on the third morning with a deficit of 208, were never on course for the score of 450 that would have made a match of it. Border's dismissal at 113 after 85 minutes' resistance, superbly caught by Emburey at third slip after driving at a wideish ball from Small, wrecked their chances. Not until Marsh was run out by Edmonds in the covers, however, did England have prospects of an innings win. Unsettled by being given the benefit of the doubt by umpire French earlier that over, when a ball from Emburey bounced from his gloves to Athey at short leg, Marsh was sent back by Waugh after embarking on a risky single and never had a hope. He had batted determinedly for 213 minutes. On his departure Australia lost their will to battle on. The last six wickets fell for 41 in 80 minutes to the spin of Emburey and Edmonds; just 40 minutes after tea the game was over, leaving the Australian Board to rue attendance figures that were 125,000 down on those of 1982-83.

Man of the Match: G. C. Small. Attendance: 107,817.

Close of play: First day, England 95-1 (B. C. Broad 56*, M. W. Gatting 8*); Second day, England 349.

© John Wisden & Co