First Test Match

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1953

R.J.H.

Toss: Australia. Test debuts: A.K.Davidson, J.C.Hill.

So stirring was the cricket of the first three days that the anti-climax brought about by prolonged bad weather aroused bitter disappointment. Chiefly through the magnificent bowling of A. V. Bedser, England finished on Saturday needing 187 to win with nine second innings wickets left. The position promised a tremendous struggle, but heavy rain washed out any hopes of play on Monday and a resumption was impossible until half-past four on the last day. In the two hours remaining England did not attempt a task which would have been charged with risk and, with the conditions of no use to bowlers, the cricket contained little other than academic interest.

The consequences of the weather break must have been particularly galling to Bedser. He was England's hero, with a match analysis of fourteen wickets for 99 runs. Only the Yorkshiremen, Wilfred Rhodes and Hedley Verity, who took fifteen wickets apiece, had dismissed more batsmen in any of the previous 159 Tests between England and Australia. Bedser deserved to join them, but, as it was, he made the match memorable for himself by passing the English Test record of 189 wickets held by S. F. Barnes, who, at 80 years of age, saw his own figures overtaken. Barnes was among the first to congratulate the new record-holder.

The omission of Statham from the original twelve meant that England went into the field with only four front-line bowlers, but Bedser put Australia on the defensive by uprooting Hole's middle stump with the first ball of his second over. Hassett and Morris countered with extreme care, only 11 runs coming in the first half-hour and 34 in the hour. Rain stopped the game a quarter of an hour before lunch, by which time the score had risen to 54. Afterwards the bowlers were handicapped by a wet ball, but Bedser was always menacing, and, when he took the new ball, he promptly broke the century stand and followed by trapping Harvey into giving a leg-side catch. When bad light brought the day's play, restricted to four and a half hours, to a close, Bedser's figures told of his toil. They were 25--12--26--3. Hassett was Australia's most accomplished batsman.

Australia, 157 for three, resumed confidently against bowlers using a towel and sawdust on a ball saturated by grass still wet from rain in the night and intermittent light drizzles during play. Although the soggy ball would not swing in the damp, heavy atmosphere, the possibilities of a new ball doing so, should the rain abate and the grass dry, were unmistakeable. No doubt this influenced Hutton to give Bedser only a short spell before lunch. Bailey, who conceded only 17 runs in ten overs, kept the batsmen tied down, but, on first going on, Wardle was erratic. Hassett gratefully punished two short balls and so completed his ninth century in Test cricket. Still, a few minutes before the interval Wardle broke the big stand, Bailey at mid-wicket taking a fine catch from Miller over his shoulder as he ran backwards. At lunch Australia were 243 for four.

The game moved so swiftly afterwards that by the end of the day most of the spectators felt exhausted through the sustained excitement. By this time the outfield had dried but the atmosphere remained favourable to swing bowling, and, with the new ball, Bedser and Bailey swept away the rest of the Australian batting in three-quarters of an hour, the six wickets crashing for six runs. From Bailey's first delivery with the new ball Evans began the debacle by a superb left-hand catch off Benaud's leg-glance, hit from the middle of the bat.

Evans made several feet before hurling himself sideways and grasping the ball full stretch as he thudded to the ground. Next Bedser, fresh and alive to his chance, brought Hassett's innings to a close with a ball which pitched on the leg stump and hit the top of the off. For six hours and a half Hassett devoted himself to his defensive role with that sure application and calm so typical of him. He was never anything but graceful. Tallon could offer no answer to a similar ball from Bedser; the Evans-Bailey combination quickly disposed of Lindwall, and Bedser wrecked the wickets of Davidson and Hill. His three spells with a new ball in Australia's innings of seven hours twenty minutes gave him figures of one for seven, two for five, and four, all clean bowled, for two.

The Australian collapse, however, was but a prelude to a series of England failures caused by Lindwall's skill in exploiting the conditions, with late swing at slightly varying shades of fast bowling. In Lindwall's fourth over Kenyon edged an in-swinger to short fine-leg, where he was well caught. Another in-swinger dismissed Simpson second ball, and a lovely swooping catch in the gulley sent back Compton, who drove square and low. These three wickets fell to Lindwall in eight balls at the same total, 17. Hutton and Graveney checked the collapse, but, in worsening light, England's batting slumped again. Benaud made excellent catches from Graveney, at short-leg, and Hutton, from a forcing stroke to gulley, and soon after an unsuccessful appeal against the light May edged Hill to the wicket-keeper. Immediately afterwards the umpires decided the gloom was too much. England finished this eventful day with six men out for 92 and requiring eight runs to avoid the danger of following-on. Between lunch and the close twelve wickets fell for 98. The honours went to Lindwall and Bedser, and to the fieldsmen on both sides. Everything to hand was snapped up.

Conditions for the third day were almost identical with those on the second. Before lunch bowlers had to use a wet ball, but afterwards the grass had dried and the new ball moved considerably in thick atmosphere. Once more the cricket moved at breathtaking pace, fifteen wickets going down in the day for 217 runs. First, England saved the follow-on easily. Australia's lead was restricted to 105. Bailey performed the first of his many defensive acts in the series by staying an hour and forty minutes for ten runs. Wardle, hitting cheerfully, was second highest scorer in the innings. Australia opened their innings just before the first interval and afterwards Morris began a fierce assault. Bedser, however, soon penetrated Hole's defence, and when a good-length ball stood up and struck Hassett on the glove before lobbing to short-leg, two wickets were down for 44.

Australia never recovered from this, and the manner of their batting indicated that they distrusted the pitch. Yet Hassett received one of the few balls which behaved awkwardly from the turf and, for all the considerable ability of Bedser, several batsmen were out attempting strokes bordering on the reckless. Bedser, who took the first five wickets for 22 runs, was again in his most dynamic form and, when Bedser took a rest, Tattersall maintained England's grip. Morris, who batted freely for 60 out of 81 in an hour and three-quarters, was his first victim, bowled round his legs. More spectacular catches, this time by Graveney and Simpson, accounted for Davidson and Tallon, and, with Tattersall's help in the field, Bedser swiftly closed the innings. Once again Bedser was a model of accuracy and his controlled swing took effect so late that not one of the batsmen shaped well against him. Morris, the most successful run-getter, received comparatively few balls from him.

After a break of ten minutes for bad light England began their task of making 229 to win. Against a close encircling field, Hutton and Kenyon played safely through the new-ball attack, and Kenyon looked to be going well until he lifted a full toss to mid-on. Simpson might have been caught at slip second ball, but, that apart, the batting was more than adequate. Bad light again brought play to an early closure and left the match in the intriguing situation the development of which was ruined by the heavy rain over the week-end. Attendance 86,000; receipts £29,261.

© John Wisden & Co