Fourth Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1981

Derek Hodgson

A startling spell of bowling by Botham, from the Pressbox End, which brought him five wickets for one run in 28 deliveries, ended an extraordinary Test match at 4.30 p.m. on a glorious Sunday afternoon. And so, for a second successive Test, England contrived to win after appearing badly beaten. As at Leeds, a large crowd helped give the match an exciting and emotional finish and once again critics, commentators and writers were left looking foolish, a fact that the players of both teams were quick to point out afterwards.

For a third time in the series, after Trent Bridge and Headingley, the pitch was the centre of controversy, though when Brearley elected to bat on a fine sunny morning on what is traditionally regarded as one of the finest surfaces in England, it looked in superb condition. Hughes was reported to have said that it looked good for 800 runs. The outfield was fast and the temperature acceptable to Melbourne. Certainly no-one at Edgbaston could have dreamt that this would be the first Test since 1934, anywhere in the world, in which no batsman made a fifty.

Boycott and Brearley opened, a change in the order that had caused misgivings, and had reached 29 in forty-five minutes when Alderman's late swing defeated Boycott and then, two overs later, provoked Gower, a reluctant number three, to try, unsuccessfully, to hit over mid-on. Alderman had figures then of 7-4-4-2, and although Brearley denied himself a run for an hour, surviving a vehement appeal for a slip catch by Wood, he and Gooch saw Alderman and Lillee retire. It was Bright, making the spinner's now customary appearance just before the interval, who tempted Gooch into a rash pull that cost a third wicket at 60.

The afternoon was an English disaster. Bright, from the Pavilion End, used the rough outside the leg stump while Alderman, with Lillee in the unusual rĂ´le of deputy, and Hogg were straight and swift from the other. By 5.30 p.m. England had been dismissed for 189, of which Brearley had made 48 in just under four hours, four boundaries off Lillee promoting his innings from one of mere resistance. Alderman had taken five for 42 before Old, from that same Pressbox End, then rattled the teaspoons in the Australian dressing-room by removing Dyson and Border, in five overs, for 19 runs by the close.

The pitch, declared England's players the following day, after they had been roasted over-night by the media, was untrustworthy. It was too dry, the surface was less than firm, the occasional ball kept low, and there was turn for the spinner. Shoulder to shoulder, Australia's batsmen were later to demonstrate their solidarity with their English colleagues.

Friday was cool and grey and England did well to restrict the Australian lead to 69. Brearley was at his best, constantly varying pressure on each batsman by his bowling and fielding changes, never losing the initiative, while his men responded admirably, running out Wood and Hogg and causing enough apprehension to deter Australia from attempting up to a dozen further singles. Hughes, batting well through a stormy spell by Willis, whose five bouncers in two overs caused the umpires to confer, was unlucky to be leg-before to a low bounce. Although Brearley fell to Lillee on a gloomy evening, England had narrowed the margin to 20 runs.

Blue sky and Saturday sunshine attracted 15,000 spectators, whose holiday mood was not jollied along by Boycott, who spent three hours three minutes raising his score to 29 - 7 short of Cowdrey's Test aggregate record for an Englishman - before falling to Bright. So, too, did Gower, Gooch and Willey, and when Botham was caught behind off Lillee, England's lead was no more than 46, with four wickets standing. Fortunately for England their tail-end batsmen, urged on by the combative Gatting, batted bravely. Emburey, 37 not out, demonstrated that Bright's line allowed him to be swept profitably, while Old hit straight and hard before taking the ball to dismiss Wood in the evening haze. Yet Australia needed only another 142 to win, with two days to play. Miracles, wrote a distinguished correspondent, like lightning, do not strike twice.

Willis, bowling again as if the devil were at his heels, removed Dyson and Hughes in the first forty minutes on the fourth morning (Sunday), but Border was his resolute self and at 105 for four, with only 46 more needed, Australia seemed to have the match won. However, Border was then desperately unlucky to be caught off his gloves, a ball from Emburey suddenly lifting prodigiously. Brearley, who had ordered Willey to loosen up with the idea of using spin at both ends, in a last gamble, changed his mind and called on a reluctant Botham.

Somerset's giant bowled quicker than for some time, was straight and pitched the ball up, and one after another five Australian batsmen walked into the point of the lance. The crowd, dotted with green and gold, were beside themselves with agony and ecstasy as, only twelve days after Headingley, history amazingly repeated itself.

Botham was again named Man of the Match, though Emburey would have been the choice of many. Takings for the match amounted to £183,000 from a total attendance of 55,750.

© John Wisden & Co