Sixth Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1981

Graeme Wright

Although the Ashes had already been retained by England, there was none the less an air of expectancy among the capacity crowds who basked in the sunshine of the opening days. The previous Test matches had prepared them for drama, but in the event this was more an occasion for the Test match statistician: Wellham's début hundred, Boycott's 21st Test and 124th first-class hundred, Lillee's best-ever analysis, Brearley's 50th catch and unbeaten home record as England's captain, Willis's passing Rhodes's 109 wickets against Australia, Marsh's 3,000th run and Yallop's 2,000th, Botham's 200th wicket and Alderman's 42 wickets in a series against England. Even the match itself was significant: the first sixth Test of a series in England.

Brearley gambled on putting Australia in, whereupon Wood and Kent showed handsome appreciation in compiling Australia's first century opening partnership since January 1977. Kent's promotion to play his Queensland rôle saw the omission of Dyson in favour of Wellham, while England brought in Larkins and Parker for Gooch and Gower. Hendrick, a late replacement for the injured Old, was preferred to Allott, but it was again Botham who changed the pattern, in ten minutes removing Wood, unable to avoid contact with a rising delivery, and Kent. When, at third slip, he clutched from high above his head Yallop's flick at Willis, Australia had gone from 85 for no wicket at lunch to 169 for three at tea.

Hughes and Border displayed how fast and true the wicket was by the sureness of their timing until Hughes, pulling Botham to bring up the 200, dislodged a bail in playing the stroke. Border gave no such sign of fallibility, a pulled 4 taking him to 50, and despite the new ball at 247 for four, Australia ended the day without further loss. Wellham, solid in defence and deft of foot, looked ominously competent, but next morning Willis tore through his defences as he and Botham put England back in contention. Only Border thwarted them, going from 80 to his hundred with strokes classical and improvised while Whitney hung on. Border's hundred, off 213 deliveries, took four hours thirty-five minutes and included twelve 4s: his innings took his unbeaten occupancy of the crease to eleven hours fifty minutes. Botham, for the seventeenth time, finished with five wickets in a Test innings.

England began their innings at 2.42 p.m. and by the close had lost Larkins, playing back and edging Lillee's leg-cutter with the score at 61. With him went any impetus, for in the remaining 21 overs England crawled to 100 with Boycott - dropped when 29 at slip off Whitney - 47 and Tavaré a mere 8. Saturday's full house saw Boycott go to a Test-record 61 half-centuries off the first ball of the morning, and then settled back to await his hundred, which took 328 minutes and included only three boundaries - a fair reflection of an innings built mainly on tucks and touches. In contrast, Gatting's half-century (five 4s) fairly bristled with aggression until, padding up once too often, he was beaten by the new ball. Brearley, promoting himself to protect Parker, got a nasty one from Alderman, and three balls later the unfortunate Parker followed the wrong ball.

Boycott, meanwhile, batted on, a flier off Lillee passing through first slip's hands to bring up England's 250, and it took a brilliant catch by Yallop, high, wide and one-handed to his right at gully, to end his innings in the 105th over. Knott brightened the post-tea period with his tip-toe driving and cutting, his 36 coming from 49 deliveries before he became Lillee's seventh victim - the first time he had taken more than six in an innings. In 21 overs of the new ball, eight wickets had fallen for only 68 runs.

Australia had just under an hour to bat, during which time Brearley made seven changes in fourteen overs and was rewarded with the wickets of Kent and Hughes. But on Bank Holiday Monday, the excellent wicket, an injury to Willis and a half-fit Botham dictated the course of the game as Border, Wellham and Marsh secured a commanding lead. Border, having batted for another three hours twelve minutes, finally yielded up his wicket, propping forward at Emburey; Marsh, given two lives by Knott, hit a typical 52 (seven 4s) before Gatting's over-the-shoulder catch gave Botham his 200th Test wicket; and finally Wellham, after twenty-five minutes on 99, struck a 4 off Botham to become the first Australian since H. Graham in 1893 to score a hundred in England on his Test début. Dropped by mid-on at 18 and by mid-off at 99, he batted four hours twenty-five minutes for his hundred and hit twelve 4s.

Having held back until Wellham's hundred, Hughes declared overnight, giving England all day to score 383 to win. But the only likelihood of a positive result was in Australia's bowling out England, and Lillee made this a possibility when he removed Boycott with his fourth delivery. In the eighth over Whitney persuaded Tavaré to jab uncharacteristically at a ball slanted away from him, but Gatting, with seven 4s in his half-century, put the Australian attack in truer perspective. Brearley, too, batted with distinction and determination for two and threequarter hours to record only his ninth Test 50, and later in the afternoon Knott again showed his appetite for the tiring Australian bowlers, hitting eleven 4s in his unbeaten 70 and seeing England safely through. Brearley, caught with nonchalance in the eighth over of the final twenty by Marsh - his 77th catch off Lillee's bowling - received a well-merited ovation as he left a Test arena for what was surely the last time.

Lillee was nominated as Man of the Match, and Botham was indisputably the Man of the Series. The attendance for the five days was 63,600, with receipts of £282,408.

© John Wisden & Co