Third Test Match

England v Australia

Norman Preston

Toss: England. Test debut: England - Phil Edmonds.

Abandoned as a draw after vandals had sabotaged the pitch in the early hours of Tuesday -- the fifth day. The perpetrators got under the covers at the pavilion end and dug out holes with knives near the popping crease and poured a gallon of crude oil in the region where a good length ball would have pitched.

They made certain that millions of people in England and in Australia would be deprived of the enjoyment of what promised to be a truly great day's cricket. As it happened, rain set in at mid-day and would have washed out the proceedings in any case.

There had been a night-guard of one solitary policeman and following this outrage it was obvious that in future much greater vigilance would be necessary to ensure that cricket grounds and particularly pitches, should receive better protection.

The captains, Greig and Ian Chappell, looked at other parts of the square but could not find a suitable alternative pitch on which to continue the match, nor could the authorities find any way to arrange another match so late in the season and when most of the Australians were committed to return home immediately after The Oval Test.

During the four days when cricket did take place there were many exciting moments and much splendid play. England showed four changes from the eleven which played at Lord's, Hampshire, Fletcher, Edmonds and Old replacing Amiss, Gooch, Woolmer (now twelfth man) and Lever.

Australia could not again omit Gilmour after his great performance on the same ground in the Prudential Cup and so they left out Turner, and Marsh was promoted to open the innings.

Early on the third day England held a first innings lead of 153 and eventually Greig set Australia to get 445 to win in ten and a quarter hours. Never had a Test side in England made so many runs in the fourth innings and won, but Australia faced the fifth day favourably poised, having already knocked off 220 runs for the loss of only three wickets.

After Greig had won the toss on what turned out to be a slow easy paced pitch and one which lasted much better than most of the experts expected, England scored 251 for five off 83 overs on the first day when the gates were closed with at least 21,000 present.

Edrich shaped well for more than two and a half hours for 62 out of 137. He hit nine fours and his stand of 112 with Steele placed the innings on a sound foundation. Steele repeated his competent display at Lord's where on his Test début he made 50 and 45. Now he was top scorer in both innings with 73 and 92. He defied the Australian bowlers for four and a quarter hours on Thursday, but Hampshire and Fletcher failed. Happily, Greig was in fine fettle, full of aggression.

Except when he delivered two overs at the end of the day, Ian Chappell relied solely on his four quick bowlers who were quite content to bowl off the wicket. Sometimes the batsmen were compelled to play only one or two balls an over and one gained the impression that the tourists would be satisfied to go away with a draw which would suffice for them to retain the Ashes.

Anyhow, next day England collapsed, their five remaining wickets all falling to Gilmour for the addition of only 37 runs. First Gilmour, at short leg, ran out Greig, and in 10.1 overs he claimed four wickets for 14 runs, giving him six for 85 on his début against England -- a most impressive performance.

Facing a modest total of 288, Australia soon lost McCosker, held low at second slip by Hampshire, Ian Chappell settled down and Marsh defended nobly until Snow, coming back for a second spell, removed his off stump as he played back.

Suddenly the situation changed completely, for in the last seventy minutes of this second day, Australia, at 78 for three, lost six more wickets for 29 runs and slumped to 107 for eight.

England's hero was Edmonds, the tall left-arm slow spinner, who in his first twelve overs in Test cricket took five wickets for 17 runs from the pavilion end. He came on at 77 while Underwood at the Kirkstall Lane end was beginning with a series of six maiden overs.

The sight of Edmonds turning two balls in his first over clearly disturbed the Australians and in his second over, Ian Chappell, with the intent probably of knocking him off his length, pulled heartily over a shortish ball which kept low and upset his middle stump. Edwards, who injured and ankle while fielding, arrived with a runner only to pad away a straight ball and was lbw. Greig placed eight men round Walters, who prevented a hat-trick, but the procession continued.

Next morning, Edmonds bowled eight more overs without effect and so Snow came back and promptly removed Lillee and Thomson. For all their success in the field, England put down three catches, whereas throughout the game the Australians excelled in this department and until he ran into a low boundary board Edwards saved many runs at cover and mid wicket.

When England batted a second time a grim struggle ensued while the specialist batsmen endeavoured to consolidate the side's advantage. In five hours they squeezed out 184 runs from 72 overs for the loss of Edrich, Wood and Fletcher. Again Steele kept his end firmly closed, making 59 in the last three hours and twenty minutes.

The four Australian seam bowlers gave little away and Mallett sent down twelve overs of off spin, but the ball turned only slightly and slowly.

During the week-end both teams, and particularly England, realised a sense of urgency and so on the fourth day the tempo changed, 327 runs being scored while ten wickets fell. The remaining seven England wickets were sacrificed in ninety-five minutes for 107 runs off 22 overs. Even Steele came out of his shell. He straight drove Mallett for 6 and there were also seven fours in his 92 which occupied him four hours and twenty-six minutes.

To McCosker (95 not out) and Ian Chappell went the main honours in the final innings. It began with odds of 9-1 against Australia making 445, but at the end of the day these were halved to 9-2.

Marsh stayed to see the opening stand to 55 and then two hours passed while Ian Chappell put on 116 with McCosker before begin lbw when hitting across to Old. It was soon evident that Edmonds was not getting the same response from the pitch as in the first innings and moreover his direction strayed too often to the leg side. Ian Chappell hit Greig over mid-wicket for 6 and he also struck eleven fours, clearly showing that he was all out to win.

Greg Chappell began with three priceless boundaries only to edge Edmonds to slip. That opened the door for England, but McCosker, who dealt faithfully during a stay of four and a quarter hours with the loose ball and hit twelve 4's, found a valuable assistant during the last fifty minutes in the experienced Walters.

On three of the four days the gates were closed, but rain at breakfast time on Saturday kept the attendance down that day to 14,000. Full attendance was 75,000 with receipts £54,466.

© John Wisden & Co