Sixth Test Match

England's Pyrrhic victory

Toss: Australia.

England's big victory, impossible to foresee before the match even though Australia were without the injured Thomson, had its roots in Lever's excellent bowling on the first morning when in six overs he took four wickets for five runs.

Chappell had a difficult decision when he won the toss for a hot, oppressive morning made it likely the ball would swing, and to complicate matters there was a damp patch in line with the stumps at the southern end where water had splashed off the covers as groundstaff were removing them following a rainy night.

The patch was a yard or so short of a good length for Lever, who replaced the injured Willis, and none of his wickets was taken with a ball that pitched on it. One that did, however, climbed viciously to hit Greg Chappell on the jawbone and there was no doubt that from then on its existence weighed on the batsmen's minds.

Without going out of his way to avoid him, it fell out that Ian Chappell saw less of Lever than his team-mates. But with Australia in bad trouble, he produced his best innings of the series and it did not look beyond him to rescue them when he was given out caught at the wicket attempting to glide.

This was the first of several arguable decisions in the match, the majority arising from rejected lbw appeals lodged by England; though in Australia's second innings Chappell again seemed to be unlucky with another catch by Knott standing back down the legside.

By tea Australia were dismissed for 152, Lever finishing with six for 38, great figures stemming from sustained speed, accuracy, and movement away from the bat to a field usually including three slips and two gullies.

Rain delayed the start of England's reply and then Lillee revived Australia's hopes by dismissing Amiss fourth ball, his third duck running. Lillee followed two big outswingers and a wild delivery out of Marsh's reach down the legside with a fast breakback that Amiss not surprisingly played outside.

Australia seemed to have a real chance of recovering lost ground when in the first over of the second day Walker got one to lift to Cowdrey's gloves, bringing in Denness with the ball still shiny. Lillee briefly troubled him. After two overs Lillee left the field, boot and sock in hand, suffering from a bruise on the ball of his right foot -- and England became free.

Never was the value of two men more obvious than in their absence, for without Lillee and Thomson to worry about England's next three wickets added 149, 192 and 148 ... compared to a lone three-figure stand in the previous ten innings of the series!

On a pitch now dry and slow Walker and Dymock, a nippy left-hander, posed few problems, and though Denness was badly dropped at 36 by McCosker at square-leg from a chip-shot off Walters, the bat was in control. England were ahead by the time Edrich, cutting hard, was superbly dragged down by Ian Chappell at first slip, but with Fletcher in the consolidating role he plays so patiently and Denness lancing the offside off both feet with lovely timing, the lead at stumps was 121.

Denness, then 133, had offered two more chances, sharp ones to Marsh (legside) at 98 and Ian Chappell at 121, in his first hundred against Australia; but on the third morning neither he nor Fletcher made a relevant mistake as England extended their advantage.

After eight and a half hours Denness was on the verge of joining R.E. Foster and Hammond (three times) as the only England players to have reached 200 in a Test in Australia when a mistimed forcing stroke gave Walker a sprawling caught and bowled.

With the total at 359 for three the position was set up for Greig and in just over two hours he hammered 89, including thirteen 4's, in an innings exactly suited to the situation. Fletcher opened up after passing his first hundred on two tours of Australia, and England were approaching a declaration when Walker broke up the innings shortly after tea.

Greig and Fletcher fell to mishits in the same over, whereupon with the ball occasionally seaming on an overcast evening Walker completed a spell of five for 17 as six wickets crashed in thirty-six minutes.

Walker's eight for 143, his best in Test cricket, was a fitting reward for the willingness with which he shouldered extra work in Lillee's absence. Dymock, unlucky against Edrich early in the innings, deserved better than his one for 130. But without their fearsome warhead Australia's attack lacked penetration in the slow conditions.

Australia, 377 behind with thirteen hours to play, faced a big task to save the match. Redpath and McCosker got over the first hurdle by staying till stumps, and on the fourth morning completed Australia's first three-figure opening stand of the series against an attack lacking Lever, who had 'flu. Arnold surprised McCosker with a ball that hurried off the pitch shortly before lunch, but Redpath and Ian Chappell batted through the afternoon and Australia were still in control when Chappell was out.

Fifty minutes later England's hopes revived when Redpath, after six hours dogged occupation, hooked Greig and was splendidly caught at the second attempt by Amiss at leg-slip. No more wickets fell before stumps when with Greg Chappell and Edwards together and the new ball four overs old, Australia were 103 behind at 274 for three.

The match was effectively decided in the opening hour on the last day when Australia lost Edwards and Walters to Arnold -- the latter to a fine ball that pitched middle-and-off and hit the top of the off stump -- and Marsh to a recovered Lever.

Walker stayed with Chappell for seventy-five minutes, but soon after lunch, before his presence became worrying, lost his concentration against Greig (bowling off-breaks) and was caught and bowled. Three overs later Chappell, having completed a flawless hundred in four hours five minutes, misjudged Lever's length and was bowled attempting a back-foot forcing shot, and soon the match was over.

It was England's first victory at Melbourne since 1962-63, when Dexter's side won by seven wickets, and more than 100,000 paid to watch it despite Australia's four-love lead and Thomson's absence.

Denness (188) recorded his highest innings in first-class cricket and the highest by an England captain in Australia, beating 173 by A.E. Stoddart at Melbourne in 1894-95.

Knott set a new Test record when he caught I.M. Chappell in the second innings. This brought his total of dismissals for England to 220 (204 caught, 16 stumped) in 72 Tests -- one more than T.G. Evans (173 caught, 46 stumped) achieved in 91 Tests.

© John Wisden & Co