Toss: Australia. Test debuts: Australia - C.G.Rackemannm K.C.Wessels.
Batting failures in their first innings, which could not be blamed on the pitch, coupled with some wayward fast bowling, always left England struggling in a match full of incident. Australia, in spite of dropping eight catches in England's second innings, deserved their success, owing much to Wessels, who made a remarkable début, and to Lawson, who finished with eleven wickets. Other features included a warning to Thomson for intimidatory bowling, and to Willis, Lawson (twice) and Cowans for running through on to the pitch. Crumbling footholds, especially at the Vulture Street end, were partially blamed for this, as they were for the 84 no-balls bowled in the match, this figure including those that were scored off.
Australia included the South African-born Wessels for Wood, Thomson for the injured Alderman and Rackemann for Lillee who, although in the original twelve, had had to have a knee operation. Ritchie was again made twelfth man. England included Hemmings for Pringle and Fowler for Cook, the latter having cracked a rib at practice the day before. Chappell again put England in, but a greenish pitch seldom provided the early assistance expected.
Lawson, bowling with the wind, soon put Australia in control, helped at this stage by some brilliant catching. Fowler and Tavaré went cheaply and Gower, having survived one chance to backward short leg, was held in the same place just before lunch. Lamb and Botham found little wrong with the pitch as they added 78 in thirteen overs before Botham sliced a drive to deep backward point. With three more wickets falling before tea, England were in deep trouble. A spectacular left-handed leg-side catch by Marsh ended Lamb's stay and gave the Australian wicket-keeper his 300th catch in his 88th Test match. When bad light brought the first day's play to a close, 65 minutes early, England were 219 for nine. Cowans was out first ball next morning.
Australia, like England, made a poor start, but they were rescued by a solid innings from the left-handed Wessels, who had taken up residence in Australia in 1978, specifically to become eligible for Test cricket. Wessels gathered runs steadily in an arc between cover point and third man, with occasional hits to the leg side. One of his few mistakes came when he was 15, a hard chance being put down in the gully off Botham. Willis bowled with determination; Botham, after starting well, and Cowans were both costly.
Australia were 130 for five after Chappell, when playing well, had badly misjudged a single to Miller at cover point and Hughes and Hookes had both gone cheaply. Marsh lingered for 78 minutes and Yardley stayed with Wessels as he inched his way towards his century. At 97 Wessels might have been stumped off Hemmings - the ball bounced awkwardly for Taylor - and by close of play Australia were 246 for six, Wessels having just become the thirteenth Australian to make a hundred in his first Test.
Australia's innings lasted until ten minutes before lunch on the third day, Wessels being the last man out after batting for seven and three quarter hours and hitting seventeen 4s. Towards the end of his innings he showed some freedom.
England, going in again 122 runs behind, were given a torrid time by the Australian fast bowlers. Tavaré was dropped twice before being caught at the wicket for 13, trying to leg-glance, and at tea England were 65 for one with Fowler in all sorts of trouble. The light deteriorated during the interval, and, one ball afterwards, a bouncer from Thomson was enough to bring a stoppage. An hour later, when fifteen more balls were bowled, Thomson was given an official warning by umpire Bailhache for under-pitching and Gower survived a chance in the gully. When bad light finally stopped play Chappell stayed in the middle to discuss with the umpires what, in their opinion, constituted intimidatory bowling.
There was no let-up for England after the rest day when Thomson, bowling to a slightly fuller length and with fine control, swung the game Australia's way, England's batsmen being tempted into rash leg-side strokes. Rackemann went off after half an hour with a groin strain, which meant that for the second successive Test Australia had a depleted attack. But Yardley again kept one end tight, and Thomson, bowling with pace and lift, took five for 12 in 47 balls, spread over three spells, to wreck the England innings. Fowler rode his luck outside the off stump for almost six hours, but there was little other resistance until Miller and Hemmings held out against a tiring attack through the last 100 minutes.
England thus went into the final day 157 runs ahead, with three wickets standing. Lawson collected the remaining wickets at a personal cost of 21 runs, leaving Australia 188 to win in five hours on a pitch with rough patches outside the left-handers' off stump. With England's new-ball bowlers in wayward form and Wessels being badly missed at cover point before he had scored, Australia raced to 60 in an hour, despite losing Dyson, hit on the shoulder by Willis. There was some excitement in the afternoon when Australia lost three quick wickets and Hemmings bowled well. But Hughes and Hookes batted carefully and, eventually, freely. The match ended in the second of the last twenty overs, having been watched by a total of 55,028 people. The nineteen catches which Australia held in the match constituted a world Test record.