First Test Match, Edgbaston

England v West Indies 1957

Norman Preston

Toss: England. Test debuts: West Indies - R. Gilchrist, R. B. Kanhai.

The return of Test cricket to Edgbaston after an interval of 28 years produced one of the most remarkable matches of all time. Blessed with fine weather throughout, although the last day turned cold, the contest was notable for some excellent personal performances and a wonderful recovery by England who seemed on the brink of defeat when they began their second innings 288 behind. In the end, West Indies had their backs to the wall and had to fight strenuously to ward off disaster.

Among the records set, the following were most notable:

  • May and Cowdrey put on 411 together a Test record for the fourth wicket: the highest stand ever made for England and the third-highest for any side in the history of Test cricket. It fell 40 short of the highest -- 451 by Bradman and Ponsford for the Australian second wicket against England at The Oval in 1934. Roy and Mankad made an opening stand of 413 for India against New Zealand at Madras in 1955-56.
  • May's 285 not out was the best score by an England captain, surpassing Hammond's 240 against Australia at Lord's in 1938. England's best against West Indies is 325 by Sandham at Kingston in 1930.
  • May's 285 not out was his highest in first-class cricket and the highest individual score in all post-war Test cricket, beating Compton's 278 v Pakistan at Nottingham in 1954.
  • Cowdrey's 154 was his highest score in Test cricket and his first Test century in England.
  • Ramadhin, in his marathon performance, bowled 774 balls, the most delivered by a bowler in a Test, beating Verity's 766 against South Africa at Durban in 1939. He also bowled the most balls (588) in any single first-class innings, including Tests, beating his colleague Valentine who sent down 552 balls in the second innings against England at Nottingham in 1950. The highest number of balls ever bowled by one man in a first-class match was 917 by C. S. Nayudu for Holkar v Bombay in 1944-45.
  • O. G. Smith gained the distinction of hitting a century on his first appearance against England, a feat he had previously accomplished on his first appearance against Australia at Kingston, Jamaica, in 1954-55. Denis Compton hit hundreds on debut against Australia, South Africa and West Indies.
  • England were fortunate when May won the toss for the 12th time in 16 matches. From the original 13 players selected, they left out Graveney and Wardle, and West Indies omitted Valentine.

    Seldom can England have given such a disappointing exhibition on a perfect pitch. In four hours the whole side were dismissed for 186 and Ramadhin, with seven wickets for 49, had achieved his best performance in Test cricket.

    Ramadhin kept his opponents guessing by his peculiar flick of the right wrist. None could tell his intention, whether he was attempting offspin or legspin. As usual, he kept his shirt-sleeves buttoned at the wrists and it was difficult to see how the ball left his right hand. He acquired very little spin and the majority of his wickets were taken with straight balls.

    Gilchrist, a wiry, long-armed fast bowler, provided a contrast to Ramadhin. After lunch he bowled without relief for an hour and 50 minutes, maintaining a fiery pace for 17 overs.

    West Indies lost Pairaudeau to a yorker in Trueman's second over, but Kanhai and Walcott took command and saw the total to 83 for one wicket by the close of the first day. Early the next day, Walcott, stealing a single, pulled a leg muscle so severely that he collapsed and fainted. Soon he was compelled to have Pairaudeau as a runner and later in the innings Pairaudeau also acted as runner for Worrell. Further ill-luck overtook West Indies at another stage when Gilchrist went lame so that neither he nor Worrell could take part in the attack.

    The second day produced an unfinished stand of 119 by O. G. Smith and Worrell. When Statham removed Kanhai with the first ball of the day, and later Walcott went for 90 and Sobers for 53, England were holding their own.

    A wonderful slip catch by Bailey, who flung himself to his left and held with both hands a vicious cut, dismissed Sobers. Walcott showed much patience in an innings of four hours twenty minutes, but his punishing powers were revealed in the shape of eleven fours. By mid-afternoon half the West Indies wickets had gone for 197. They were no more than 11 ahead and Trueman and Statham had the new ball. Here began the long stand by Smith and Worrell. Often each was beaten by the two pace bowlers, but they survived, taking the score to 316 for five wickets.

    A record attendance for Edgbaston of 32,000 people saw the cricket on Saturday and still West Indies held the mastery. Indeed, the England bowlers toiled from 3.20 p.m. on Friday until 1.30 p.m. on Saturday before they managed to break the Smith-Worrell partnership of 190 made in five hours.

    Pairaudeau occupied an abnormal amount of time in the middle for a man who scored only a single. He spent three and a quarter hours as runner for Walcott and then five hours for Worrell.

    Even after Statham bowled Worrell with the last ball before lunch England had to wait another 85 minutes for their next success. Altogether Smith stayed six hours and 52 minutes for his 161, being eighth out at 469. He hit one six and eighteen fours and scored quite quickly after completing his hundred.

    When England batted a second time, West Indies had Hall and Asgarali as substitutes for Walcott and Worrell; later Alexander appeared for Gilchrist, who began the bowling with Atkinson. Ninety minutes elapsed before Ramadhin caused more consternation by deceiving Richardson and then bowling Insole in the next over.

    Fortunately for England, Close, despite a blow on the left hand, defended resolutely and he and May raised the score to 102 for two wickets at the close of the third day.

    Monday was memorable for the feat of May in batting all day and, excepting the first 20 minutes, Cowdrey was with him the whole time. It was a tremendous struggle. Both found the answer to Ramadhin by playing forward to him. His analysis for the day read: 48 overs, 20 maidens, 74 runs, 0 wickets. At the close England were 378 for three wickets; May 193, Cowdrey 78. While May took four hours ten minutes to reach three figures, Cowdrey, avoiding all risks, completed 50 out of 160 in three hours 40 minutes.

    As the wonderful partnership ripened on the last day many new cricket records were established. With the position still critical, defence remained the prime objective. Just after one o'clock Cowdrey completed his century in seven and three-quarter hours and thereupon he changed his tactics, driving and cutting powerfully so that his third fifty came in 55 minutes.

    At length, Asgarali caught Cowdrey at long-on. The stand had lasted eight hours 20 minutes, Cowdrey having hit 16 fours and 63 singles. In the next half-hour May and Evans put on 59 more runs before May declared. Beginning his match-saving effort at 5.40 p.m. on Saturday, May batted till 3.20 p.m. on Tuesday, and helped to change the total from 65 for two wickets to 583 for four. No man could have done more for England than the captain, whose record innings of 285 not out lasted five minutes short of ten hours. May hit two sixes, 25 fours and 111 singles. The perfect stylist and excelling with the cover drive, he made very few false strokes for such a long stay.

    Both Ramadhin and Atkinson bowled tirelessly. West Indies used only two balls throughout the innings, the first being changed after 96 overs, so 162 overs were bowled with the second.

    After their gruelling time in the field, West Indies, set to make 296 in two hours 20 minutes, lost Kanhai and Pairaudeau to Trueman for only nine runs. Then with the fielders clustered round the batsmen, Laker and Lock ran riot, seven wickets going for 68 runs, but Goddard, the captain, defended solidly for 40 minutes, constantly putting his pads to the ball, and Atkinson was there for the final seven minutes.

    No doubt May could have declared when Cowdrey left, but having seen his side out of trouble he was not prepared to give West Indies the slightest chance of success.

    Attendance 64,968; receipts £29,496.

    © John Wisden & Co