Fourth Cornhill Test



At The Oval, July 24, 25, 26, 28, 29. Drawn. Considering a complete day was lost to the weather, that only 29 wickets fell, and that West Indies averaged 12.3 overs an hour, the fourth Test was a much better match than it might have been. Its main features were Gooch's tremendous attacking 83 which inspired England's best batting of the summer, a West Indian collapse that put them in momentary danger of a follow-on, and an unbroken last-wicket stand of 117 between Willey and Willis that saved England from defeat.

How England came to be 92 for nine in their second innings after making 370 in the first is something that requires no explanation to anyone familiar with the brittleness of their batting, or with the potency of Holding, Croft and Garner. When Willey and Willis came together a West Indian victory looked likely with England only 197 ahead and with three and a half hours left. Yet they played with exemplary coolness and courage, and after a surprisingly short time showed no sign of being parted.

West Indies were badly handicapped by injuries to Croft and Garner, but Holding and Marshall were still relatively fresh when the ninth wicket fell twenty-five minutes after lunch. Willis's 24 not out equalled his highest score in 80 innings for England and followed a sequence of ten innings in which he had only once reached double figures. Sadly, because of his lost bowling form, it proved to be his last Test innings of the season.

For all that was owed to the ungainly effectiveness of Willis's lunging forward stroke, it was to Willey that England were mainly indebted for survival. Ironically, he would not even have been playing had Greenidge caught him at 13 in the Old Trafford Test a fortnight earlier - an escape which enabled him to add 62 not out to an aggregate of 90 in his ten previous innings for England. It was to his reputation as a fighter that Willey owed his continued presence in the side, and at The Oval he justified the selectors' faith in him. Arriving at 67 for six, thirty-five minutes before lunch, he showed the full face of the bat to the West Indian fast bowlers from the moment he came in. He held concentration and resolve as Botham, Knott and Dilley were briskly swept aside, resourcefully protected Willis from the strike and, when the West Indian effort faded, availed himself of a well-deserved first hundred.

England were unchanged from the side which drew at Old Trafford, with Old again twelfth man, while West Indies brought in Croft for Roberts, whose back was still not better. It proved an unlucky match for West Indies with injuries for, as well as the loss of Croft and Garner for part of England's second innings, Lloyd badly tore a hamstring chasing a leg-side hit by Emburey. Lloyd would have batted with a runner had West Indies needed him to save the follow-on, having been hastily summoned from the tourists' hotel during their collapse, but in practice he took no further part in this Test nor the fifth.

Botham won the toss for the third time in four Tests and Gooch and Boycott launched an England innings which, but for the funeral over-rate, would have been recognised for its enterprise as much as its effectiveness. It began unpromisingly when Croft, attacking Boycott round the wicket, worked a bouncer through his guard. Although Boycott took some of the weight off the ball with a forearm, it cannoned hard enough into the visor of his helmet to draw blood from his right eyebrow, and to blacken both eyes for the remainder of the match. Rose, who took his place with the score at 9, began uncertainly, but Gooch hooked, drove and cut with the authority of his century at Lord's, and his confidence was infectious.

Rose was soon straight-driving and scoring off his legs with equal assurance, and the innings was in only its 44th over when Gooch missed a back-foot stroke at Holding and was lbw for a majestic 83 after he had hammered Croft for 13 in one over. Rose was bowled by Croft at once, but Boycott, returning at the fall of Gooch's wicket, helped Gatting take England to 236 for three at close of play. On the second day Boycott was brilliantly run out by Greenidge from mid-on, and Gatting was bowled by Croft in the over before lunch. In the afternoon, Willey and Emburey batted sensibly and it was not till after tea that the innings ended. In ten and a quarter hours, West Indies had bowled only 129 overs, all but three by the fast bowlers.

After another blank Saturday, a great gulley catch by Willey gave Botham the pleasure of claiming Richards as his 150th wicket in his 29th Test. With Dilley at his fastest, West Indies collapsed to 105 for five, but Bacchus played his best innings of the series and, with confident help from Marshall, the follow-on was avoided before Garner and Croft added 64 for the eighth wicket. Even so, West Indies, 105 behind with seven hours twenty minutes left, were 100 to one with the bookmakers, Ladbrokes, before Holding and Croft cut England down to 20 for four in eighty minutes before the close.

Next day they looked like pulling off an extraordinary victory until the Willey-Willis stand. West Indies' last chance went when they had been together for forty minutes, Greenidge missing Willis low at second slip when England's lead was 216 with three hours left for play.

The official attendance was 49,287; takings were £236,000.

© John Wisden & Co