Second Test

England v Australia 1896

The second of the three great Test matches was in many ways one of the most remarkable matches of the season, for though the Englishmen were defeated at the finish, the two best performances of the game were accomplished for them, Ranjitsinhji playing perhaps the greatest innings of his career, and Richardson bowling in a style he has seldom approached.

Though England had won at Lord's by six wickets, the issue of the game at Manchester was awaited with unusual interest, owing mainly to the fact that the Australians from the time of their defeat at Lord's had been showing vastly improved form. The composition of the England team aroused considerable discussion, a good deal of exception being taken to the inclusion of MacLaren, who had had scarcely any practice in first-class matches during the season. Lohmann and Pougher were engaged to represent England, but the former, owing to slight indisposition on the first morning, did not care to play, and the selection committee left out Pougher. This had the effect of letting nearly all the work in bowling fall upon Richardson, J. T. Hearne, and Briggs, and it was generally admitted that a mistake was made in going into the field, in fine weather and on a beautiful wicket, without at least four first-class bowlers. Iredale had been making immense strides from the time of his being left out of the first Test match, and the men whom the Australian selection committee decided to dispense with were Graham, Eady, and Johns.

The match proved a great attraction on the first two days, and the attendance on the third only suffered from the fact that the Englishmen seemed in a hopeless position. As it turned out, however, the last day's cricket was the most remarkable of all, and those who had the good fortune to be present are never likely to forget it.

With the ground in such excellent condition for run-getting it was a fortunate circumstance for Trott to win the toss, and his team made admirable use of their opportunity. Richardson often puzzled the batsmen, and was many times unlucky in just failing to hit the wicket, but on the whole the English bowling looked anything but deadly, and the Australian stated so well that they seemed, in the first three hours, to have rendered themselves practically secure against defeat. Following up his recent success, Iredale played a beautiful innings of 108, and so excellent was the assistance afforded him by Giffen, Trott and Darling that at one time the score stood at 294 with only three men out. At this point the prospects of the Englishmen were particularly gloomy, but Richardson came with a fine effort, and before the call of time, eight Australian wickets were down for 366.

On the following morning, thanks to a useful stand by Kelly and McKibbin, the Australian total was carried to 412. With the conditions still most favourable and the wicket practically as good as ever, it seemed quite possible that the Englishmen would get very near to their opponents' total, but with a few exceptions the batting was particularly feeble and the whole side were out for 231. Trott changed his bowling with remarkable skill and judgement, and it was quite a stroke of genius to go on first himself with Jones. He had the satisfaction of easily getting rid of Grace and Stoddart, thus giving his side the good start they so needed. Ranjitsinhji and Lilley played exceedingly well, but the other batting was certainly unworthy of the picked representatives of the old country. Having slightly strained himself, Jones only bowled five overs and the best work was accomplished by McKibbin.

England had to follow-on against a majority of 181, and the start of their second innings was disappointing, as despite some admirable batting by Stoddart and Ranjitsihji, four of the best wickets on the side had fallen before the drawing of stumps for 109. At the close of the second day's play therefore, the Englishmen with six wickets to go down were still 72 runs behind, and nothing seemed less likely than that they would before the end of the game, hold practically a winning position. Such however proved to be the case, the Englishmen playing a wonderful uphill game and struggling hard, though without success to atone for the shortcomings of the two previous afternoons.

Much depended upon Ranjitsinhji, and the famous young Indian fairly rose to the occasion, playing an innings that could, without exaggeration, be fairly described as marvellous. He very quickly got set again, and punished the Australian bowlers in a style that, up to that period of the season, no other English batsman had approached. He repeatedly brought off his wonderful strokes on the leg side, and for a while had the Australian bowlers quite at his mercy. Could the other English batsmen have rendered him any material assistance, there is no saying to what extent the English total might have been increased, but as it was, there was no other score on the Saturday morning higher than nineteen. Ranjitsinhji's remarkable batting, and the prospect of the Englishmen after all running their opponents close, worked the spectators up to a high pitch of excitement, and the scene of enthusiasm was something to be remembered then the Indian cricketer completed the first hundred hit against the Australians last season.

MacLaren, Lilley and Hearne all tried hard to keep up their wickets for Ranjitsinhji, but Briggs after making sixteen, could not resist the temptation of jumping out to try and drive a slow ball from McKibbin. The innings came to an end for 305, Ranjitsinhji carrying his bat for 154. It is safe to say that a finer of more finished display had never been seen on a great occasion, for he never gave anything like a chance, and during his long stay the worst that could be urged against him was that he made a couple of lucky snicks. He was at the wickets for three hours ten minutes, and among his hits were twenty-three 4s, five 3s and nine 2s.

The Australians were left with 125 to get to win, and with the ground showing very few signs of wear, most people looked forward to seeing the number hit off for the loss of perhaps three or four batsmen. As it turned out, the Australians had many very anxious moments, Richardson making a magnificent effort in bowling, which was quite worthy of comparison with Ranjitsinhji's batting earlier in the day. Almost before one could realise what was happening, four of the best Australian wickets had fallen for 45, and with the prospect of a keenly exciting finish, the remainder of the game was watched with breathless interest.

Another failure for the Colonials might have been attended with most serious results, but Gregory and Donnan played with splendid nerve at the critical time, and the score reached 79 before the former was caught at short leg for an invaluable 33. Still the match was far from over. Donnan was out at 95 and Hill at 100, the position being that the Australians with three wickets to fall, wanted 25 runs to win. With Richardson bowling in his finest form, and nearly all the best Australian batsmen gone, the Englishmen at this point seemed to have actually the best of the game, and the excitement was intense.

Everything rested upon Trumble and Kelly, and it would be difficult to speak too highly of the manner in which they got through a terribly trying ordeal. The bowling was so good that they could only score at rare intervals, and generally by singles, but they surely and slowly paced their side on the high road to victory. When only nine runs were required to win, Lilley, who up to that time had kept wicket absolutely without a mistake, failed to take a chance offered him by Kelly. Had this come off, there is no saying what might have happened, but as it was, Trumble and Kelly hit off the remaining runs, and a splendid match ended in favour of the Australians by three wickets. Some idea of the excellence of the bowling may be gathered from the fact that the last 25 runs took just an hour to obtain.

There was a scene of great enthusiasm at the finish, the Australians being received with a heartiness that reflected great credit on the Manchester public. Richardson, who bowled for three hours without sending down one really loose ball, took in the innings six wickets for 76 runs, and conceding that the ground scarcely afforded him any assistance, it is safe to say he has never accomplished a finer performance. So great was the effort, that no one could help regretting it was not crowned by a victory for his side. Before giving the score of a game that will always be memorable in the history of cricket, it should be stated that Richardson in the whole match, bowled 110 overs and three balls, and took thirteen wickets at a cost of 244 runs. The Australians fairly beat the picked eleven of England, on a wicket that was firm and true throughout, and it would be hard to give them too much praise for their brillliantly earned success.

© John Wisden & Co