First Test

England v Australia

Norman Preston

At Edgbaston, June 8, 9, 10, 12, 13. Drawn. Australia held the initiative for most of the match, but both sides proved weak in bowling and on the last day England, having faced a first innings deficit of 321 runs, effected a recovery similar to the one they achieved on the same ground in 1957 when West Indies put them out on the opening day for 186.

Personal honours went to Subba Row who saved England by making 59 and 112 on his debut against Australia and to Dexter whose 180 on the last day was a superb innings of stylish, forceful strokes. For Australia, Harvey hit his fifth Test hundred against England and his twentieth in Test cricket; O'Neill, if at times uncertain, revealed his class while making 82 and MacKay excelled as an all-rounder. After taking three wickets in four balls he helped Australia to reach 516 by getting 64 in his own characteristic way.

This was the first time since 1909 that England had met Australia at Edgbaston and the Warwickshire officials and their supporters association deserved the highest praise for the excellent conditions provided for the players, spectators and commentators. Unfortunately, the weather was disappointing. Biting winds and frequent showers of heavy rain spoiled the first and fourth days; cricket proceeded in a light drizzle throughout Saturday and only on Friday and Tuesday did batsmen really enjoy themselves in sunshine. Time lost amounted to seven hours forty minutes during the five days; otherwise a definite result might have been possible.

England, still without P.B.H. May, originally chose twelve men, including B.R. Knight, the young Essex all-rounder. When Dexter became doubtful the selectors called up J.H. Edrich, the Surrey left-hander, but in the end they struck mainly to the players who had appeared the previous season against South Africa, the only newcomer being Murray, the Middlesex wicket-keeper.

Australia had their worries. Benaud, the captain, was a doubtful starter because of a damaged tendon in his right shoulder and O'Neill, like Dexter, was bothered with an injured knee. Yet, apart from Benaud, the invalids acquitted themselves splendidly.

Benaud batted well but when he was wanted most as a bowler on the last day, the pain was so severe he sent down only nine overs. If Benaud had been properly fit it might have been a very different story. Australia also had one man new to Test cricket in Lawry.

England having won the toss ten times in their two previous Test series against West Indies (May 3, Cowdrey 2), and South Africa (Cowdrey 5), were successful for the eleventh consecutive time when Benaud called wrongly after Cowdrey spun the coin. It was a green pitch and Richie Benaud did not seem to be worried.

The game had been in progress only fifteen minutes when the first interruption occurred in the fifth over with England 10 for no wicket. It proved to be a day of shocks for between the showers eight wickets fell for 180 runs.

Subba Row defied Australia for two hours, fifty minutes. At the height of the struggle MacKay, whose main virtues as a bowler were steadiness in length and direction, dismissed Barrington, Smith and Subba Row in the course of four deliveries split between overs.

Between half-past four and half-past six, MacKay bowled without relief sending down 19 overs, eight maidens for three wickets at a cost of 32 runs. Next day, Cowdrey did not have the pitch rolled, and MacKay and Benaud needed only twenty minutes to capture the two remaining wickets. While the rain-affected pitch encouraged the Australian bowlers, much of the England batting was careless.

Australia having dismissed England for 195 in 85 overs proceeded to take the lead in only 59 overs thanks mainly to a fine third wicket stand of 146 between Harvey and O'Neill. Cowdrey varied his bowling but throughout the long innings which lasted eight hours and thirty-five minutes and extended till half-past five on Saturday Statham alone did justice to his reputation.

Trueman lacked fire and consequently much of his work was done against the wind. His solitary wicket came in his thirty-second over after he had conceded 106 runs. The two off-spinners, Illingworth and Allen, failed because of imperfect direction and failure to maintain a tightly placed field.

Lawry and McDonald gave Australia a steady start and nearly an hour had passed before Illingworth held McDonald low in the gully. After lunch, taken at 85 for one wicket, Lawry was second to leave, caught by Murray at the second attempt very wide of the off-stump. Then came the big stand by Harvey and O'Neill which established Australia's supremacy.

A short ball from Trueman struck O'Neill in the ribs before he had scored and during his first hour at the crease Australia's young star dealt carefully with some accurate bowling by Statham and Illingworth. Some of the fielding was slow and untidy, but Dexter and Barrington did dazzling work in the covers.

When Dexter put in a spell of five overs he gained more lift than either Trueman or Statham. O'Neill really got going with a glorious cover-drive off the back foot and he proceeded to produce a wide range of excellent strokes. For a time he outshone Harvey and raced to his 50 in eighty-nine minutes.

England took the second new ball at 213 without unduly troubling the batsman until at 242 O'Neill chopped the ball into his stumps when he intended to late-cut. O'Neill took less than two hours making 82 out of a stand of 146 and he hit eleven 4's.

Harvey's only mistake occurred when at 97 he lay back to punish a short length ball from Statham and was dropped by Trueman at cover. In the end Harvey was leg-before playing back rather casually. He batted splendidly for three and a half hours and hit fifteen 4's. Burge played well for over an hour and at the close, with Simpson and Davidson in command, Australia were 359 for five wickets.

On a miserable cold and wet third day a record crowd for Edgbaston of 25,000 saw the Australian batsmen again subdue England. The pitch remained easy-paced, but stoppages caused two and a half hours' cricket to be lost. Simpson, MacKay and Benaud scored freely and Australia's total of 516 was their highest in England since their 701 at The Oval in 1934.

Murray, the England wicket-keeper, was put out of action temporarily with a gash on the side of the left eyebrow when a ball from Illingworth lifted from the rough in the bowlers' run-up.

England faced fifty minutes' batting before the close, but Davidson and Misson had each sent down one over when bad light and more rain ended play for the day with the score five for no wicket.

The weather interferred again on Monday, limiting cricket to two hours and twenty minutes. Persistent rain set in at half-past two when England were 106 for one wicket. Only five minutes remained before lunch when Misson sent a loose ball down the leg-side and a poor stroke by Pullar provided a catch for Grout.

Subba Row repeated his fighting display of the first day, but just before the rain came Dexter (nought and four) twice edged Davidson to second slip where MacKay lost sight of the ball against the dark background of the terraced stand. The umpires waited one and three-quarter hours and then decided the ground was so saturated no more cricket would be possible before the last day.

The sun shone on Tuesday, but the Australian bowlers never received the help they had reason to expect from the turf which played easily all day. England cleared their deficit of 321 for the loss of only three men and stood 80 ahead with six wickets left when the struggle was given up.

Dexter gave a glorious exhibition. He excelled with the drive, hitting thirty-one 4's in his 180, made in five and three-quarter hours. Australia did not see the back of him until England's total stood at 400 and only eight more minutes were left for play. Subba Row and Dexter added 42 in the first half hour and the left-hander, making his 112 out of 202, stayed just over four hours, hitting fourteen 4's. His stand with Dexter yielded 109 in under two hours. Cowdrey surrendered the initiative to the opposition before playing on for the second time in the match.

Then Dexter found another partner in Barrington who in a stand of 161 played most unselfishly for three hours and ten minutes, being content to let Dexter push the score along. When all danger had passed Dexter hit with complete abandon and was yards down the pitch when Grout stumped him. So England maintained their record of never having lost a Test at Edgbaston.

The total attendance during the five days including members was 83,000 compared with 91,000 who saw the West Indies Test in 1957. The receipts, £38,000, were a record for a Test at Edgbaston.

© John Wisden & Co