Fifth Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1981

John Thicknesse

England regained the Ashes by going three-one up in the series. Like its two predecessors, the fifth Test was a game of extraordinary fluctuations and drama, made wholly unforgettable by yet another tour de force by Man-of-the-Match Botham, who, with the pendulum starting to swing Australia's way in England's second innings, launched an attack on Lillee and Alderman which, for its ferocious yet effortless power and dazzling cleanness of stroke, can surely never have been bettered in a Test match, even by the legendary Jessop.

Striding in to join Tavaré in front of 20,000 spectators on the Saturday afternoon when England, 101 ahead on first innings, had surrended the initiative so totally that in 69 overs they had collapsed to 104 for five, Botham plundered 118 in 123 minutes. His innings included six 6s - a record for Anglo-Australian Tests - and thirteen 4s, all but one of which, an inside edge that narrowly missed the off stump on its way to fine leg, exploded off as near the middle of the bat as makes no odds. Of the 102 balls he faced (86 to reach the hundred), 53 were used up in reconnaissance in his first 28 runs (70 minutes). Then Alderman and Lillee took the second new ball and Botham erupted, smashing 66 of eight overs by tea with three 6s off Lillee, all hooked, and one off Alderman, a huge pull far back in the crowd to the left of the pavilion. He completed his hundred with his fifth 6, a sweep, added the sixth with an immense and perfectly struck blow over the sight-screen, also off Bright, and was caught at the wicket a few moments later off 22-year-old Mike Whitney. The brisk left-armer, after only six first-class games (four for New South Wales, two for Gloucestershire), had been plucked out of obscurity on the eve of the match when Australia learned that neither Hogg nor Lawson was fit to play.

Unkindly, it was to the greenhorn Whitney, running back from deep mid-off, that Botham, at 32, offered the first of two chances - nearer quarter than half - a high, swirling mishit over Alderman's head. The other came at 91 when Dyson, sprinting off the third-man boundary, then sliding forward on his knees and elbows, made a heroic effort to get his hands underneath a sliced square-cut off Lillee.

Of the 149 Botham and Tavaré added for the sixth wicket - after a morning in which England had lost three for 29 off 28 overs - Tavaré's share was 28. But his seven-hour 78, embodying the third-slowest 50 in Test cricket (304 minutes) was the rock on which Knott and Emburey sustained the recovery as the last four wickets added 151.

With the pitch growing steadily easier throughout the match, the full value of Tavaré's survival was seen on the fourth and fifth days when, thanks to Yallop's artistic 114 (three hours) and a fighting 123 not out in six and threequarter hours by Border, batting with a broken finger, Australia more than once seemed to be within reach of scoring 506 to win. Border's hundred, taking 373 minutes, was the slowest by an Australian in any Test, beating by four minutes Hughes's time for his hundred against England in 1978-79.

Had Australia managed to win, it would have been in keeping with a bizarre series; but with Lillee buoyantly supporting Border for the eighth wicket, Brearley threw a smokescreen over proceedings by allowing both batsmen singles - and the Australians, suspecting some sinister motive, lost impetus and purpose. The end came with 85 minutes left for play, when Whitney was caught by Gatting at short leg.

Except that after Headingley and Edgbaston one was forewarned that the impossible was likely to become commonplace, there was no indication on the first day that the match would produce such captivating theatre. Paul Allott, who was to play a vital rôle, was one of three England changes from the fourth Test, winning his first cap on his home ground in place of the injured Old, while Tavaré came in for Willey and Knott for Taylor. Underwood, in the original twelve on the assumption that the pitch would start bone dry and later crumble, was left out in favour of a fourth seamer when moisture was found beneath the surface following a storm the week before.

It was a toss Brearley would not have minded losing. But with Australia's fourth innings collapses in mind, he chose to bat. On a slowish, seaming pitch and in often gloomy light, Lillee and Alderman, with help from Whitney, reduced England to 175 for nine by close of play, with forty minutes lost to rain. Boycott passed Colin Cowdrey's record of 7,624 runs for England, but the only innings of note was Tavaré's stoic 69 in four and threequarter hours - the first half-century in twelve Tests by an England number three.

Next morning Hughes unaccountably used Whitney as Lillee's partner rather than Alderman, his most prolific bowler, and Allott and Willis added a priceless 56. Allott, displaying a technique and calmness well above his station, mingled some good strokes through the covers with a few lucky inside edges to make 52 not out, his highest score in first-class cricket.

Wood began with three hooked 4s and a 6 off Willis and Allott, like a man working off an insult. But just as suddenly Australia were 24 for four and en route to their shortest innings since 1902, when Rhodes (seven for 17) and Hirst (three for 15) bundled them out for 36 in 23 overs after rain. But on this occasion they had no such excuses to fall back on; indeed, they batted with a manic desperation wholly at odds with their need to win the match. The collapse began with three fine deliveries from Willis and one from Allott in the space of seven balls, a combination of disasters to shake the most confident of sides. In Willis's third over, Dyson and Yallop could not keep down rapid, rising balls, while Hughes was trapped lbw by a breakback; and the first ball of the next over, by Allott, came back to have Wood lbw. Kent counter-attacked strongly with 52 in 70 minutes, but the loss of Border, to a stupendous overhead catch by Gower at fourth slip, and Marsh, when he could not pull his bat away in time to avoid another lifting ball from Willis, wrecked Australia's chances of recovery.

Just under a day later, when England had slumped to 104 for five, Australia may have entertained the hope that their 130 would not be terminal. But then came Botham...and it was.

Attendance was 80,000 and receipts were £295,000.

© John Wisden & Co