Sixth Cornhill Test


David Field

At The Oval, August 24, 25, 26, 28, 29. Drawn. Toss: Australia. An autumnal gloom descended on Kennington SE11 like a symbolic final curtain to close yet another English summer of despair and emphatic failure. The deteriorating visibility concluded the one-sided series with 20.5 overs remaining and spared England from an outside chance of another beating by an ultra-professional Australian side seeking to embellish its regaining of the Ashes with a fifth victory. It was widely believed that Gower would now resign the captaincy which the new chairman of selectors, E. R. Dexter, had conferred on him with great expectations 146 days earlier, thereby eliminating himself from the leadership of England's winter tour to the West Indies. Instead, Gower said he would ponder his position and then discuss his future with the selectors. Dexter himself amazed a defeat-saddened nation by insisting, during his post-match oratory, "I am not aware of any mistakes I've made".

Injury, which had disrupted every England Test selection during the series, reached a chaotic level and stretched the fast-bowling resources to their limit. Malcolm suffered a back spasm and was ruled out; his replacement, DeFreitas, pulled a hamstring; Fraser withdrew with the niggling effects of the knee he injured at Nottingham; and Thomas informed the selectors that he was joining the unofficial England tour to South Africa - as the replacement for DeFreitas. Ultimately Igglesden, of Kent, was recruited for his Test début 24 hours before the match, and Pringle was recalled to ease the crisis. Hemmings and the untried Hussain were omitted, Stephenson, the Essex opening batsman, was included for the first time, and Small finally took the place pencilled in for him at Trent Bridge. This increased to 29 the number of players used by England in the series, second only to the 30 called upon in the five-Test series of 1921.

Australia, meanwhile, were able to observe the opposition's problems from a distance and named an unchanged side for the fifth time in succession. They also won the toss, although a capacity crowd was initially informed otherwise, and chose to have first use of a splendid, straw-coloured pitch. Well before the end of the first day, England were facing a depressingly familiar uphill climb. The indomitable Taylor rendered the new-look attack as impotent as its predecessors and improved his aggregate to 791 in the series, a figure bettered only by D. G. Bradman (974, 810 and 806) and R. N. Harvey (834) among Australian batsmen. A rare error brought his downfall, and when Boon was taken at third slip by Atherton, England could feel relatively pleased with a scoreboard displaying 149 for three. However, Border and Jones ruthlessly added 176 in an untroubled manner before the close, Border supplying measured solidity and the highly competitive Jones providing brilliance and aggression as he completed his sixth Test hundred in just 119 balls.

Having amassed two 600s, a 500 and two 400s in their previous first innings, Australia were again in a position to maximise their advantage. And Border, resuming on the second morning with 66, seemed poised for a first hundred of the series to crown his Ashes triumph. It was not to be. England enjoyed one of their rare, sustained periods of dominance and captured the last seven Australian wickets for 143, Pringle claiming four of them. The decline was triggered by Border's uncharacteristic leg-side flick at Capel's first ball of the day, which lobbed gently to Russell down the leg side. The stand had produced 196. Next Jones, having hit seventeen fours in 180 balls, departed to an outstanding, left-handed slip catch by Gower, and Waugh was bowled off the inside edge. Healy, undeterred, provided a bristling run-a-ball 44 to help Australia advance to the still-imposing total of 468. Bad light and rain halted play for the day at 3.05 p.m., but not before Gooch had been lbw to Alderman in the first over.

Stephenson and Atherton revived England's morale with 44 minutes of fighting cricket on the third morning, but Alderman returned to the field after taking oxygen to counter a bronchial complaint and removed the middle order either side of lunch to increase his tally for the series to 38, 18 of them lbw. Gower, however, emerged from the wreckage, unbeaten with 43 when rain prevented any play after 3.25 p.m., his innings made with the air of a man shortly to be reprieved after a summer of unmitigating stress and struggle. At the start of the fourth day, England, with four wickets in had, still needed 145 to avoid the follow-on. Gower charmed the big Bank Holiday crowd with an array of sumptuous strokes in 79 before flashing unwisely at a leg-side ball and giving Alderman his sixth five-wicket analysis of the series. England owed their eventual survival to Small, who pluckily fought a successful rearguard action for two and a quarter hours and was rewarded with a best Test score of 59. Cook stayed with him while a vital 73 runs were added for the ninth wicket.

Australia led by 183 and still had sufficient time to embarrass England. With Taylor, the epitome of confidence, orchestrating affairs once more, their advantage was stretched to 270 by the close, prompting speculation on the timing of Border's declaration. In the event, he gave his bowlers four hours in which to win the match, declaring at lunch with a lead of 402 when, arguably, he could have closed the innings an hour earlier. Taylor's aggregate came to rest at 839, the second highest by an Australian and third best in Test history after Bradman's 974 and W. R. Hammond's 905. When England were 67 for four in the 27th over, and tea being taken, Border's strategy had high chances of succeeding. But Smith confirmed his status as England's premier batsman of the series and struck a fearless 77 not out, his fifty arriving in just 66 balls, before the bad light brought an early end to the summer's international programme.

Man of the Match: D. M. Jones. Attendance: 55,989; receipts: £746,359.

Men of the Series: England - R. C. Russell; Australia - T. M. Alderman.

Close of play: First day, Australia 325-3 (A. R. Border 66*, D. M. Jones 114*); Second day, England 1-1 (J. P. Stephenson 0*, M. A. Atherton 0*); Third day, England 124-6 (D. I. Gower 43*, D. R. Pringle 6* Fourth day, Australia 87-1 (M. A. Taylor 43*, D. C. Boon 29*).

© John Wisden & Co