Fourth Test Match


Swiftly recovering from the shock of Melbourne, England, with a team weakened by a virus infection and heat exhaustion, retained the Ashes after staging one of Test cricket's most astonishing recoveries.

At lunch on the second day Australia seemed to have taken a giant stride towards victory and squaring the series. Hurst (five for 28), with his most effective Test bowling, had played a large part in dismissing England for paltry 152, and Australia were 126 for one. No side could have been better placed. Hughes, however, drove the first ball of the afternoon session straight to mid-off and ended his second-wicket stand of 125 with Darling.

England's position worsened with the departure of the sick Willis after two overs - and only five in all - but Australia's control began to decline against the determination and ability of Hendrick and Botham, and Brearley's astute captaincy. Because of the heat and the absence of Willis, Brearley was obliged to manipulate his resources with a fine balance and skill. Consequently, although the much-improved Darling and Border - unbeaten in both innings - batted well, the lead was restricted to 142; large enough but manageable. When Boycott was out leg before to Hogg off the first ball of the second innings, however, Australia's prospects again soared. It was Boycott's first duck for England in 67 innings since 1969 at Trent Bridge.

An enormous responsibility fell on the out-of-form Brearley and Randall, and they were not found wanting. With intense concentration they put on 111 for the second wicket in three and a half hours, and at the end of the third day England were only 9 runs in arrears with eight wickets left. Slowly but surely Randall pulled England round and the match away from Australia in the longest innings of his career. Missed at 113, 117 and 124, he batted in all for eleven minutes under ten hours with thirteen boundaries, three of which came in four deliveries when Hogg took the new ball. It was Randall's first century in Tests since his 174 in the Melbourne Centenary Test in March 1977, and it earned him his second Player of the Match award in the series.

Randall's discipline and stamina in the heat were considerable, and ultimately his innings was the match-winning effort. Gower, running a temperature, and Botham, also less than well, lent valuable support. Higgs' leg-spin proved too much for the tail-end batsmen, however, and Australia were left to score 205 to win in 265 minutes, including the last arbitrary fifteen eight ball overs.

From an early stage in the match Brearley had contended that a total of around 200-220 would be difficult to score in the last innings. It was a sound prediction. Darling and Wood started splendidly, clearly aiming to unsettle an attack deprived of Willis for all but two overs, and to deny Brearley a close-set field. Again Hendrick bowled with consummate skill, and once Darling fell to a good falling catch by Gooch at second slip, and Wood went for a single that was never safe, the trap was set. Wood drove to Botham's right hand at cover and set off. Hughes refused to accept the call and, with both batsmen at the same end, all Botham needed to do was return the ball to Taylor.

Only the left-handed Border, who batted well in both innings, escaped the spinning web of Emburey (four for 46) and Miller (three for 38). Sure in defense and quick to punish the loose ball, he was in a lonely class of his own as Brearley applied all the pressure needed with his field on top of the batsmen.

When Australia were dismissed in three and a half hours for 111, Brearley could justifiably claim he had led the greatest comeback of his career - perhaps in the long history of the Ashes. Moreover he became the first captain to retain the Ashes since Sir Len Hutton in 1954-55. For England, it was a triumph of astute captaincy, individual resolution, and highly professional teamwork. For Australia, it was a singularly disconcerting experience coming so closely after the Melbourne success. Having led on points they were knocked out in the final round.

© John Wisden & Co