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Toss: England. Australia's win at Old Trafford gave them the series and the Ashes, and Border thus became the first captain since W. M. Woodfull in 1934 to win back the trophy in England. It was a success which was all the more noteworthy because few people in this country gave the tourists much chance of victory when their party was first announced.
Paradoxically, England played more positively on the third and fifth days than they had at any stage of the series up to that point, and centuries were scored by Smith, on his return after injury, and Russell who, apart from keeping wicket immaculately and at times spectacularly, registered a maiden first-class hundred, the fourth Englishman to do so in a Test match. It was a game played not only beneath the familiar Manchester clouds but also others of an even more threatening nature hovering over Gower, the England captain. He had been the object of an increasingly virulent campaign in some newspapers since the first defeat of the series, and even the more sober and responsible journals had expressed disquiet at what seemed to be a lack of positive leadership. Gower's resignation after four Tests appeared to be unavoidable when salvation came from an unexpected quarter. On the final morning of the Test came formal confirmation that a party of sixteen players would go to South Africa to play between January and March, thus effectively debarring themselves from playing international cricket for England for the next seven years.
Three of the players named were currently involved in the Fourth Test - Robinson, Emburey and Foster; a fourth, Dilley, had been selected to play but was unfit on the first morning. Five of the others - Gatting, Broad, Jarvis, DeFreitas and Barnett - had already played in the earlier Tests of 1989, and of the remaining seven, six were former internationals. Only Graveney, the Gloucestershire slow left-arm bowler, who was named as player-manager, had not won an England cap.
News of the tour was not unexpected. Indeed, some major cricket correspondents abandoned the Fourth Test in search of information about it which could be used to pre-empt the formal announcement from South Africa at a slightly later date. It was certainly a subject of dressing-room conversation, and very much a topic of press (and broadcasting) discussion of a less guarded nature than that in the pavilion. This then, was the atmosphere in which the haunted Gower won two tosses of the coin half an hour before play began. One gave him the prerogative of batting first on a pitch which, like the previous three, had been prepared specifically to last five days and not much else. The other was to decide to use the Reader ball rather than the Duke, which was the Australian's preference.
In the event, this seemed to have little effect on the progress of the game. The fallibility of England's leading batsmen was once again evident, and this time it was the quicker though less subtle bowling of Lawson which brought about the downfall. Smith, with noble help from Foster in the later stages, scored his first hundred for England, and apart from one fiendishly difficult chance offered to gully, he rarely appeared to be in trouble in almost six hours at the crease. Since his arrival to qualify for Hampshire in the wake of his elder brother, Robin Smith had been assessed as an outstanding prospect; now we saw him reach full stature in scoring 143 from 285 balls out of a total of 260. It was a fine innings by any standards; amidst the fragility of so many more experienced players it was outstanding. Sadly, it was not destined to inspire his senior colleagues to more assertive efforts in the second innings.
Australia approached the matter of their reply with the air of men with a specific sense of purpose, a factor which had characterised their entire operation in this and previous Tests. Border at all times showed a keen eye for detail in his forward, long-term planning, as well as in the more immediate tasks of dealing with each batsman (and bowler) on his merits. All too clearly the Australian captain had done his homework industriously - in the Bradman manner, dare one say? Field-placing was carried out with a certain knowledge of technical shortcomings and weaknesses. His bowlers, not the most penetrative, potent or gifted to leave Australia's shores, did their work like honest craftsmen by bowling the right line and length. Little more but nothing less.
Throughout Saturday afternoon Border's intentions were very clear indeed: to pass England's total with wickets to spare, to achieve as big a lead as possible without heroics or exhibitionism, and to present the opposition with an impossibly uphill struggle. Border ground out his own 80 runs (266 balls) with an ominous inevitability, and Taylor played a similar role with 85 from 180 balls. That left Jones and Waugh (again!) to please the spectators, if not the chauvinists, with their panache. Australia achieved a lead of 187 on the fourth morning and before lunch had destroyed what last quivering remnants of morale might have remained in the English dressing-room...10 for one, 25 for two, 27 for three, 28 for four. After the interval Botham went for 4 (38 for five) and then Gower, the cares of the world on his bowed shoulders, departed for 15 (59 for six).
Russell and Emburey were together when rain, it seemed, prevented a premature end to the decisive Test. Incredibly, they were still together through the following morning's session in sunlight, and they remained together in the afternoon until Emburey finally left for 64, having batted for 220 minutes in his last innings for England. Russell valiantly battled on to the end, with 128 not out (fourteen fours), forcing Australia to bat again in search of 78 runs to win. It was little short of tragic that Russell's 5 hours 51 minutes' representation of English cricketing pride should be squeezed into far fewer column inches than it deserved, overshadowed instead by the announcement of the South African venture. But Australia, their own problems of banned tourists to South Africa behind them, could rejoice in the recovery of the Ashes. That so clearly meant more to Australia than the loss of them appeared to mean to England.
Man of the Match: G. F. Lawson. Attendance: 59,300; receipts: £565,000.
Close of play: First day, England 224-7 (R. A. Smith 112*, N. A. Foster 36*); Second day, Australia 219-3 (A. R. Border 19*, D. M. Jones 49*); Third day, Australia 441-9 (G. F. Lawson 13*, T. M. Alderman 5*); Fourth day, England 123-6 (R. C. Russell 47*, J. E. Emburey 23*).