First Test Match

Gunned down at the Gabba

Toss: Australia.

A Test which looked evenly balanced after two days ended in an astonishingly easy win for Australia on the evening of the third, following a familiar England collapse in the face of Alderman. Outshone by Reid in the first innings, the 34-year-old Western Australian bowled his out-swing with excellent control to take six for 47, his best figures in Test cricket. Yet future generations will surely wonder how Marsh and Taylor scored 157 without being parted, a ground record against England, to complete Australia's win, after the first three innings had yielded 194, 152 and 114. The short answer is that England had no bowler to match Alderman or Reid, and that by the third day the pitch had belatedly turned in favour of the bat. Australia reached their target at 3.41 runs per over, the fastest scoring of the match by nearly 1 run an over. In effect the game had begun a day too early.

In humid weather after a rainy night, which had turned the pitch green under its tarpaulin covers, there was enough moisture in the pitch to make Border's decision to field a formality. Enough remained on the second day for England, bowling well and catching brilliantly, to find themselves with an unexpected lead, but the position was deceptive in that nearly every uppish stroke had gone to hand. Moreover, England's good fortune was to rebound on them. Batting again before the pitch was fully dry, they lost three wickets before the close.

Gooch's absence was a huge blow to England, both in psychological terms and the loss of the runs he might have scored. But with the ball swinging and seaming as it did, there was nothing to be ashamed of in their first-day batting, disappointing as it was to make only 194 after reaching 117 before the third wicket, that of Lamb, fell. The acting-captain's 32 took him past 4,000 Test runs and 25,000 in first-class cricket. Had Gower not used up three innings' worth of luck in making 61, however, England's limit might well have been 150. Smith, yorked by a fast in-ducker from Reid, was the victim of the day's most fiendish ball, while Border took a lovely catch, right-handed at second slip, to see the back of Lewis.

Australia's troubles on the Saturday began in the second over when Fraser had Marsh lbw with a ball that straightened. Then, 39 minutes later, Lewis in the gully took a firmly hit square-cut by Taylor with sublime ease, and the pattern of the day was set. Of seven later chances, six were taken, among them outstanding efforts at mid-off by Small and at cover by Smith, and two very droppable ones by Atherton at second slip. Australia had every right to be dissatisfied with their batting. Only Matthews, back in favour after four years, and Healy played as the situation demanded, in a stand of 46. Nevertheless the ball did run badly for them.

Reid struck an immediate blow in the second innings when Larkins, who had fielded only in the later stages because of an infected tooth, went back to a full-length in-swinger first ball and was lbw. Even so, England were in sight of finishing the day strongly placed until, in the last half-hour, Atherton lost his off stump to an unplayable late out-swinger. from Alderman, and Gower, in the next over, dragged a wide ball from Hughes into his stumps. It was the second time in the match that Gower had been out in the over after the loss of an important wicket, and both times to strokes of poor conception. When next morning Lamb was lbw to the sixth ball of the first over, mistakenly on the back foot, England had lost three wickets for 18 runs. With the exception of the night-watchman, Russell, who stayed for 116 minutes, they subsided without fight.

Man of the Match: T. M. Alderman. Attendance: 32,244.

Close of the play: First day, Australia 16-0 ( G. R. Marsh 6*, M. A. Taylor 4*); Second day, England 56-3 ( A. J. Lamb 10*, R. C. Russell 1*).

© John Wisden & Co