Fifth Test

Australia v England 1998-99

Gideon Haigh

At Sydney, January 2, 3, 4, 5. Australia won by 98 runs. Toss: Australia.

Australia held the initiative throughout this eventful match from the moment Taylor became the first Australian captain to coinwash an Ashes rival since Lindsay Hassett in 1953, though England's brave attempts to wrest it back kept an aggregate crowd exceeding 142,000 intrigued almost throughout. It was a triumph for the 27-year-old leg-spinner Stuart MacGill, whose 12 for 107 were the best Test figures at the arena whose initials he bears since Charlie Turner's 12 for 87 at England's expense in February 1888.

CAPTAINS WINNING ALL FIVE TOSSES IN AN ASHES SERIES

†Won series.

Lucky captainUnlucky captain
F. S. Jackson (England)† J. Darling (Australia) 1905
M. A. Noble (Australia)† A. C. MacLaren (England) 1909
A. L. Hassett (Australia) L. Hutton (England)† 1953
M. A. Taylor (Australia)† A. J. Stewart (England) 1998-99

Note: Taylor won 11 out of his last 12 Ashes tosses, dating back to Perth 1994-95, failing only at The Oval, 1997.


Given Sydney's reputation as a spin haven, both sides prepared accordingly. Australia recalled both Miller and Shane Warne, for his first Test since Bangalore in March 1998 and a subsequent operation on his shoulder; England included Crawley, as their best player of spin, off-spinner Such and left-armer Ashley Giles - who had flown out ostensibly to take part in the one-day series - in their squad, before omitting Giles in favour of Tudor. Croft was spurned; Fraser and Mullally were dropped. And, finally capitulating to his aching back, Atherton was a last-minute scratching.

Tickets for the first day were sold out and the 42,124 who got in - representing the biggest SCG Test crowd for 23 years - were rewarded by proceedings that sustained the tempo established in Melbourne. England started and finished memorably. Australia lost three for 52 in 68 minutes, including Taylor for two; he had been garlanded as 1998 Australian of the Year by The Australian newspaper that morning, which was a class above the award of an MBE to Fraser. They also lost an astounding five wickets for three in the day's last 15 deliveries, including a hat-trick by Gough, the first by an Englishman in an Ashes Test since Jack Hearne at Leeds in 1899. After getting Healy and MacGill, he completed the set with a swerving torpedo that robbed Miller of his off stump.

Between times, however, the Waughs put together a stand of 190 at close to a run a minute, encompassing Mark's 16th Test hundred - after two let-offs - and Steve's record ninth Test ninety. It was their second-highest Test partnership together, beaten only by their 231 at Sabina Park in the crucial Test of 1994-95. It was also batting of the highest quality, enterprise without recklessness, power without force, and something England could not emulate on the second day. Faced by niggardly bowling, smart fielding and adroit captaincy, they interspersed long periods of inertia with foolhardy strokes, and could squeeze out only 41 singles in 80 overs. Warne trapped Butcher with his fourth delivery, to the acclaim of the second consecutive full house, but was generally outshone by the increasingly buoyant MacGill, who improved on his Test-best figures with five for 57. Further personal milestones included McGrath's 200th Test wicket (Stewart snared at slip) and Mark Waugh's 100th Test catch (Hussain at silly point).

England fought manfully on the third day, Such pursuing a more attacking line than in the first innings and bagging five for the first time since his baptismal Test in June 1993. But the tourists were checked by a contentious and crucial umpiring decision. Slater was 35 and Australia 60 for two then, returning for a second to long-on, he seemed to have been caught short by a direct hit from Headley on the non-striker's stumps. Slater penitentially sloughed off his gloves as umpire Dunne referred the arbitration to third umpire Simon Taufel but, after a long delay, he received the benefit of video doubt. It transpired that the cameras on which Taufel relied were not perpendicular to the crease, and that the bowler, Such, had inadvertently obscured the precise instant of the stumps' disintegration.

After this intimation of mortality, Slater watched everything right on to the bat and abstained from extravagance until his score had doubled and the last recognised batsman, Steve Waugh (batting at No. 7 because of a hamstring strain), had departed. He then cut loose with a starburst of boundaries, including a skimming drive past mid-off from the flagging Gough to register his 11th Test hundred - and seventh against England. Responsible for 66.8 per cent of Australia's 184, Slater almost disturbed the oldest Test record remaining: Charles Bannerman's 67.34 per cent of Australia's total in the inaugural Test match of March 1877.

HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF COMPLETED TEST INNINGS

%
67.34165*out of 245 C. Bannerman Australia v England at Melbourne 1876-77
66.84123out of 184 M. J. Slater Australia v England at Sydney 1998-99
63.50134out of 211 C. G. Greenidge West Indies v England at Manchester 1976
63.4152*out of 82 A. P. Gurusinha Sri Lanka v India at Chandigarh 1990-91
62.89100out of 159 J. R. Reid New Zealand v England at Christchurch 1962-63

BEST BOWLING IN A TEST MATCH AT SYDNEY

12-87 C. T. B. Turner Australia v England 1887-88
12-107 S. C. G. MacGill Australia v England 1998-99
12-128 S. K. Warne Australia v South Africa 1993-94
12-165 Imran Khan Pakistan v Australia 1976-77
12-175 H. V. Hordern Australia v England 1911-12

By this stage, indeed, it was becoming difficult to keep pace with the profusion of landmarks. The completion of McGrath's pair equalled a 20-year-old Ashes record at the opposite end of the spectrum to Slater's: the 37th cipher of the series (22 to Englishmen, 15 to Australians). When both England's openers were stumped that evening after a promising start to their pursuit of 287, it was only the fourth such instance in Test cricket. Ramprakash's edge in the fifth over of the fourth day furnished Taylor with his 157th catch, passing Allan Border's 156 to reach the top of the fielding-honour roll.

Ramprakash's failure also undermined England's quest, and their remaining seven wickets could muster only 78 as MacGill mocked their immobility. Some abominable strokes were played against him - the most egregious being Hick's absent-minded sweep - but his third-day figures of six for 23 from 73 deliveries were just reward for intelligent exploitation of the conditions; only Hussain resisted for long. England's experiences were summed up by their final wicket: Such middled MacGill firmly, only to see it rebound from silly point Slater and arc gently back to the bowler for his seventh victim. Four weeks later, Taylor was to announce his retirement from international cricket after captaining Australia in 50 tests. He had won 11 series out of 14. The contrast with England's travails was overwhelming.

Man of the Match: S. C. G. MacGill.

Man of the Series: S. R. Waugh. Attendance: 142,282.

Close of play: First day, Australia 322; Second day, Australia 13-0 (Slater 11*, Taylor 2*); third day, England 104-2 (Hussain 17*, Ramprakash 14*).

© John Wisden & Co