Fourth Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA 1993

Peter Johnson

Toss: Australia. Test debut: M. P. Bicknell

England lost the Ashes and, within minutes, their captain too when Graham Gooch honoured his promise to resign. In his final, most unwanted, press conference he explained haltingly: "It is the best way forward... the team might benefit from fresh ideas, a fresh approach, someone else to look up to." His departure was inevitable. This was his 34th Test in charge and, though ten of those ended in victory, this was England's eighth defeat in their last nine. It was by far the most comprehensive and, six weeks earlier, Gooch had said he would go if there was no improvement.

Ironic, though, that it should all end so meekly at Headingley where, in the two previous summers, Gooch had made defiant, match-winning centuries against West Indies and Pakistan. But this was not the Headingley he knew and loved, the pitch which traditionally transforms the tidy English seam bowler into a monster. To Gooch's unconcealed disgust, that had been dug up after bad reports from umpires Ken Palmer and Mervyn Kitchen the year before. The Test and County Cricket Board denied that they had ordered the excavation but Yorkshire, fearful that another pitch scandal would cost them their place on the Test rota, felt obliged to do it anyway. The new strip, laid in 1988 and used for only one first-class match - in which Essex, without Gooch, lost to Yorkshire by an innings - was an unknown quantity and called for some shrewd guesswork from the captains.

Gooch guessed wrong. Having named an unchanged squad, apart from Igglesden, who was unfit again, England left out off-spinner Such, gave a Test debut to Surrey's Martin Bicknell and went into the match with four pace bowlers who had a combined experience of five Tests. By the end of the first hour - traditionally the bewitching hour at Headingley - it was clear that they were ill-equipped. Through an innings lasting nearly 14 dismaying hours, Bicknell who trapped Taylor leg before with only his 17th delivery, was the pick of the attack. But that is not saying much. England had an unforeseen problem when, on the second day, McCague went off with an injury later diagnosed as a stress fracture of the back. Their bowling, however, was shorter and shoddier than at any time in the series; long before they adjusted their sights they had been, literally, cut out of the match.

Slater glided to 67 before he got too audacious and played across the line at Ilott. Boon, the rock on which so many Australian innings had been balanced, gratefully took everything on offer. His five-hour 107 was his third century in successive Tests and took his average to 100.80 for the series. It was the second morning before Ilott got him leg before, the only wicket to fall on Gooch's 40th birthday. By then he had shared one punishing stand of 106 with Mark Waugh - their fourth century partnership of the series - and another cold-blooded affair of 105 with Border. The Australian captain's first double-hundred in England was always intended to be psychologically brutal. He was not building an unassailable total so much as grinding down the will to resist. In the course of an innings lasting 569 minutes he equalled Sobers's total of 26 Test centuries - only Gavaskar and Bradman have more - and shared an unbroken stand of 332 with Steve Waugh. This was the Waugh of 1989 when, it seemed, England were destined never to get him out. The pickings, it has to be said, were just as easy. Nearly half his 157 came from boundaries, hit with wrists of flexible steel. Only S. G. Barnes and Bradman had exceeded their partnership for the fifth wicket in Tests - against England in Sydney, 1946-47. Border's declaration came on the third morning when he drove his 200th run and carried on running, fists pummelling the air, into the pavilion.

England simply shrank in awe from a total of 653 for four - the highest ever made at Leeds, but Australia's second over 600 in successive visits. When Lathwell chased Hughes's third ball into Healy's gloves, the pattern was set, the sense of futility rampant. Significantly it was Reiffel, the closest thing the Australians had to an English seamer, who did the damage. He began the series third in line behind McDermott, who departed, and Julian, now injured. Yet he took five for 65 in the first innings and always looked quicker and better able to move the ball than the England quartet. Only Atherton and Gooch, with a fourth-wicket stand of 108, challenged the supremacy of the Australians, as well as the doubtful wisdom of dropping Gooch into the middle order. Atherton was widely believed - rightly so, it transpired a few days later - to be batting for the captaincy. He spoiled a solid half-century by shouldering arms to an in-ducker from Reiffel. But he returned next day, when England followed on 453 behind, to get another 63 and make it a long weekend by spending more than seven hours at the crease.

This time he fell to a stumping decision so hairline that even the TV Umpire, Barrie Leadbeater, lingered over his verdict. Then Gooch was stumped, leaving only a few formalities to be completed on the final day. Stewart, formerly the favourite for the captaincy, aimed for an electioneering hundred but fell 22 short. Hughes took some punishment from him but became the seventh Australian to reach 200 Test wickets when he got Caddick. At 2.22 p.m. it was Border, fittingly, who accepted the skier from Ilott which gave him victory, the Ashes, the series and the unwelcome distinction of costing his old mate Gooch his job. The crowd at the end was very subdued. But as in other recent Tests at Leeds and elsewhere, the chanting and swearing from the lager-drinkers through the game, especially on the Western Terrace, caused great offence to other spectators.

Man of the Match: A. R. Border. Attendance: 70,450; receipts £1,018,900.

Close of play: First day, Australians 307-3 (D. C. Boon 102*, A. R. Border 38*); Second day, Australians 613-4 (A. R. Border 175*, S. R. Waugh 144*); Third day, England 195-7 (A. R. Caddick 9*, M. P. Bicknell 7*); Fourth day, England 237-4 (A. J. Stewart 59*, G. P. Thorpe 10*).

© John Wisden & Co
 
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