At The Oval, July 27, 28, 29, 31, August 1. England won by seven wickets in the third of the last twenty overs. This was a hard-fought contest on a pitch which always gave the bowlers encouragement. In the latter stages Edmonds, from over the wicket, exploited the footmarks on or outside the right-hander's leg stump and he presented many problems.
For a long time New Zealand held their own after Burgess had won the toss, but only three batsmen reached double figures. Their last seven wickets produced only 43 runs after Wright, Howarth, and Burgess had given fine displays. For England, Willis swept through, taking five for 42.
In gaining a lead of 45 runs, and one that proved most valuable, England were indebted to the youthful, left-handed, fair-haired Gower, who hit his first Test hundred in just over three and a half hours. By the end of the third day England appeared to have gained complete control with New Zealand, at 123 for seven, only 81 runs ahead.
Not a ball was bowled on the fourth day, Monday, when nearly an inch and a half of rain fell. However, The Oval groundsmen worked through the night, and thanks to the large green tarpaulins, borrowed from the All-England tennis club at Wimbledon, which had protected the square, play was resumed promptly at 11.00 on the fifth morning.
Whereas Bevan Congdon made a record 59th appearance for New Zealand, the side also included Brendon Bracewell, at 18 years 316 days the third youngest player to represent his country, and Bruce Edgar, 21 and also making his Test début. An injury prevented Parker playing; his absence gave Edgar his chance and although he failed to score in the first innings, this tall, stylish left-hander created a splendid impression with 38, top score, in the second innings.
After the early dismissal of Anderson, New Zealand began well with a second-wicket stand of 123 between Wright and Howarth. They exercised great care at first. Wright (16) offered a chance to Roope at second slip off Old and Howarth (26) also had a life, from Roope off Botham. Much later, when both batsmen had established themselves, Wright turned Willis off his legs and Radley held the catch at mid-wicket.
Howarth continued to prosper. He excelled in driving and placing the ball either side of the wicket, but when within 6 runs of being the first New Zealander to hit three successive Test hundreds he hooked a slower short-pitched delivery from Botham, only to see the tall Edmonds hold it at square-leg high above his head. Burgess, seeking to find his true form, played sedately for 34 before falling in the last over of the day when New Zealand finished 224 for seven.
Two spectacular catches, by Taylor wide of the off stump which sent back Bracewell, and one by Brearley at first slip after Botham had knocked up a snick by Hadlee, marked the opening of the third day when the last three New Zealand wickets fell for 10 runs, all to Willis. Brearley had called on five bowlers and each performed well, notably Miller, whose off-spin cost only 31 runs off 25 overs.
England made a disastrous start. Bracewell claimed a wicket with his third ball in Test cricket; it travelled low and trapped Gooch, and a similar delivery accounted for Brearley, the two wickets going for 7 runs. So Gower arrived and with Radley repaired the damage in a partnership of 116. Confident and careful from the start, Gower chose the right ball to punish, being severe on anything outside the leg stump. He also played some delightful cover drives, but midway through his innings he survived two chances to mid-on when 44 and 52, off Congdon and Boock. After an opening spell of eight overs, Hadlee felt some back strain and bowled no more that day. The tall left-arm Boock was most economical and Cairns maintained a steady medium pace. Congdon, too, gave little away as England reached 225 for seven at the close.
Next day, prolonged resistance came from Edmonds and Old when Hadlee was again in action. In the humid atmosphere, the ball swung a good deal, and when New Zealand batted again, Botham found the conditions ideal. He took three of the first four wickets. With Edmonds removing Edgar, Edwards, and Hadlee in the course of 22 overs at a personal cost of 14 runs, New Zealand were in dire straits by Saturday night. This third day yielded no more than 177 runs, a fact which indicated the difficulties that beset all the batsmen.
After the blank fourth day, New Zealand had to fight a rearguard action, and Congdon and Cairns, who had survived the weekend, rose to the occasion. With the sun making fitful appearances and the clouds high, the pitch was normal for The Oval with low, slow, and consistent bounce. Brearley relied on his two spinners, Miller and Edmonds, for the first forty-five minutes, during which time only seven runs were scored. A spell of bouncers from Willis and Botham with the new ball made no impression and soon the spinners were back again. Congdon consistently drove Miller through the covers and Cairns scored well off his legs until the stand had put on 69 in two hours. Then Miller dismissed Cairns and Bracewell- a pair in his first Test- and finally Edmonds bowled Congdon with an almost unplayable ball of perfect length which whipped across and took his off stump.
England needed 138 to win. Brearley and Gooch began most carefully in face of admirably hostile bowling by Hadlee and Bracewell. At the end of an hour, Brearley, playing back to Boock, was leg-before. Radley, never comfortable, occupied forty minutes for 2, but Gooch never faltered and Gower helped him to add 31 in half an hour. With rain forecast and obviously imminent, Gooch cast care aside and launched a brutal attack. In thirty-five minutes he made 34 of the last 41 runs and his not out 91 contained eleven truly hit boundaries. Trevor Bailey named Gower Man of the Match.