|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
Toss: England. Test debuts: A. R. Caddick, P. M. Such; B. P. Julian, M. J. Slater.
An enthralling match of splendid individual achievements was won by Australia with 9.4 overs to spare. A rarity among modern Tests in England, it was shaped by slow bowling and finally decided by leg-spin. Warne, the 23-year-old Victorian, returned match figures of eight for 137, the best in England by an Australian leg-spinner since W. J. O'Reilly took ten for 122 at Leeds in 1938. One particular delivery from Warne set the tone for the series. His first ball in an Ashes contest pitched outside leg stump and hit the top of Gatting's off stump. Gatting looked understandably bewildered as he dragged himself off the field. Thereafter only Gooch played Warne with conviction: never, perhaps, has one delivery cast so long a shadow over a game, or a series. Warne also produced a stunning catch at backward square leg to dismiss Caddick in the tense final stages as England tried to salvage a draw. He was rightly named Man of the Match.
No time was lost in the Test but a succession of wet days beforehand had hampered the preparations of the groundstaff. The soft pitch was not planned but it allowed the spinners to hold unexpected sway on the first two days, and improved the cricket. It ought to have given England the advantage since they fielded two spinners to Australia's one. There was more confusion, though, about England's seam attack. Alan Igglesden was prevented from adding to his solitary cap when he sustained a groin strain in the indoor school the day before the game. Defreitas was summoned from Lancashire's match and then picked ahead of Ilott, who had been in the original 12. Defreitas did little to justify his selection.
Such, however, found himself bowling before Thursday lunchtime and shared the first day's honours with Taylor - who made another impressive start to an Ashes series - and Slater. The opening pair, both from the New South Wales town of Wagga Wagga, began with a stand of 128 but then Australia lost three wickets for 11 in the final hour, including Steve Waugh, who was bowled off stump trying to drive - a classic off-spinner's dismissal. On the second day, Such moved on to take six for 67 and his cool and control compared favourably with the palpable lack of confidence shown by Tufnell.
With Australia out for 289 and Gooch and Atherton resuming their sequence of reassuring opening partnerships England briefly looked like a team ready to compete for the Ashes. Then Atherton was out, Warne came on for the 28th over, bowled what became known as The Ball from Hell and the series really began. Gatting's departure was followed by that of Smith, caught at slip, and Gooch, who hit a full-toss to mid-on. By the close England had eight down and Keith Fletcher, the England manager, was saying he had never seen a Test pitch in England turn so much.
The third day began with another flurry of wickets. Such came on to bowl the ninth over of the Australian innings and with his fifth ball had Taylor lbw, sweeping. But Boon then batted with his customary pragmatism while Mark Waugh unleashed a series of glittering strokes. The cricket was more attritional after Waugh was out but Australia were just as sure-footed: Steve Waugh and Healy batted England out of the match with an unbroken stand of 180 in 164 minutes. Healy became the first Australian to make his maiden first-class century in a Test since H. Graham, exactly a hundred years earlier, at Lord's. England looked depressingly pallid in the field during this partnership. With the pitch drying out and the spinners negated by the lack of bounce, there was little attempt to wrest the initiative.
The declaration came at 3 p.m. and England were left to score 512 in a day and a half. Gooch and Atherton again batted securely, with the captain notably authoritative. Then Gatting played with freedom until he was bowled off his pads from the last ball of the day by the indefatigable Hughes, a due reward for his willingness to vary his line and length. Gooch was understandably more circumspect on the final morning and - although Smith was tormented and then bowled by Warne - he reached his 18th Test hundred and England had the chance of a draw. Yet half an hour after lunch Gooch became the fifth cricketer, and the first Englishman, to be dismissed handled the ball in a Test as he instinctively flicked out with a glove at a ball dropping on to his stumps. Umpire Bird had no hesitation in giving Gooch out, with the moral victory, if not the wicket, going to Hughes for extracting extra bounce on an increasingly lifeless pitch.
Although the first ten English batsmen all batted for at least half an hour in the second innings, none could match the technical skill and authority of Gooch. For a time Caddick and Such threatened an unlikely stalemate but brilliant catches by Warne and Border completed their downfall. The Australians embarked on some typically committed celebrations.
Man of the Match: S. K. Warne. Attendance: 55,788; receipts £812,100.
Close of play: First day, Australia 242-5 (A. R. Border 9*, I. A. Healy 6*); Second day, England 202-8 (A. R. Caddick 6*, P. M. Such 9*); Third day, Australia 231-3 (D. C. Boon 85*, A. R. Border 29*); Fourth day, England 133-2 (G. A. Gooch 82*).