The Centenary Test Match

Australia v England 1976-77

An occasion of warmest reunion and nostalgia, the cricket continuously compelling, a result straining credulity. Hans Ebeling, former Australian Test bowler and the inspiration of it all, should have been christened Hans Andersen Ebeling.

From Ebeling, a vice-president of the Melbourne Cricket Club, originated the suggestion to signalise 100 years of Test cricket by a match between England and Australia on the same ground - in 1877 the Richmond Police Paddock - on which David Gregory's team just beat James Lillywhite's all-round professional England side.

The Victorian Cricket Association and the Melbourne Cricket Club, co-operated to bring this about and, with sponsorship from Qantas, TAA, Benson & Hedges and the Melbourne Hilton Hotel, a masterpiece of organisation resulted in an event which none fortunate enough to present could forget. Unlucky were those who missed it.

Arrangements were made for the England team visiting India to extend their tour to play an official Test in the same month as the 1877 Test, and invitations to attend as guests were sent to the 244 living cricketers who had played for Australia and England in the series. All but 26 of these were able to accept for an event unique in history.

The oldest Australian Test player present was the 87-year-old Jack Ryder. Even though suffering from near-blindness, the 84-year-old Percy Fender made the enervating air journey from Britain as the oldest English representative. He was accompanied by his grandson, Jeremy, who became his cricketing eyes. Poor health alone prevented EJ "Tiger" Smith and Herbert Sutcliffe from travelling and, for the same reason, Frank Woolley could not leave Canada.

Of those who went to Melbourne many told unusual stories. Colin McCool was marooned in his Queensland home by floods and had to be hauled up from his front lawn by helicopter for the airport. Jack Rutherford's train broke down and he finished the journey to the airport by taxi. Denis Compton - who else?- left his passport in a Cardiff hotel and, but for the early start to the pre-flight champagne party at London Airport which enabled a good friend to test the speed limits on the M4, would have missed the plane.

Some ex-England players - Harold Larwood, Peter Loader, Tony Lock, Barry Knight, Frank Tyson - already lived in Australia, while the Australian Neil Hawke flew home from England. The gradual gathering at the Hilton Hotel, 200 yards across the Jolimont Park from the Melbourne Oval, brought meetings and greetings of unabated happiness. Not a hitch, not one.

Fittingly, this was also Melbourne's Mardi Gras, a week called "moomba", the Aboriginal word for "let's get together and have fun". After a champagne (much was drunk between London and Melbourne and back) breakfast and an opening ceremony on which ex-Test captains accompanied the teams on to the field, the crowd were also given the opportunity of a special welcome to all the former Test players.

Greig called correctly to Greg Chappell's spin of the specially minted gold coin and chose for England to field first. Probably he felt apprehension about his batsmen facing Lillee while moisture remained in the pitch. The resolute fast-medium bowling of Willis, Old and Lever, helped by Underwood's customary left-handed accuracy and breathtakingly supported in the field, appeared to justify Greig's decision in Australia's dismissal for 138 in front of a crowd of over 61,000.

Australia, handicapped by the early departure of McCosker, who fractured his jaw when a ball from Willis flew off his hand into his face, were always on the defensive. England's batting buckled even more swiftly against Lillee, at the zenith of his form and speed, and Walker - Australia's fielding being no whit inferior to that of England.

That was the last of the bowling mastery. On the second, third and fourth days Australia increased their first-innings lead of 43 so much that their declaration left England 463 to win at 40 an hour.

Marsh, who had already beaten Wally Grout's record of 187 Test victims, added to his triumph by his first Test century against England, and Walters joyfully rode his fortune in the manner that has charmed so many cricket admirers of the cavalier approach to batsmanship. Yet the spotlight centred on the 21-year-old David Hookes, who won his place on the forthcoming tour to England with an innings straight from the fount of youth. This six feet, two inches powerful left-handed batsman, who had scored five centuries in 1976-77 Sheffield Shield cricket, strode to the crease with a confidence even more apparent when he struck Greig for five fours in an over - off, pull, cover, mid-wicket, cover.

Then it was England's turn. And, in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh - during an interval they drove round the ground and were hugely acclaimed - royally did they apply themselves. Well as Amiss, Greig, Knott and Brearley batted, however, the innings to remember was played by Randall, a jaunty, restless, bubbling character, whose 174 took England to the doorstep of victory. The Australian spectators enjoyed his approach as much as the Indian crowds had done on the tour just finished.

Once, when Lillee tested him with a bouncer, he tennis-batted it to the midwicket fence with a speed and power that made many a rheumy eye turn to the master of the stroke, the watching Sir Donald Bradman. Words cannot recapture the joy of that moment.

Another time, when Lillee bowled short, Randall ducked, rose, drew himself to his full five feet eight, doffed his cap and bowed politely. Then, felled by another bouncer, he gaily performed a reverse roll. This helped to maintain a friendly atmosphere in what, at all times, was a serious and fully competitive match.

The Australians responded. When Randall was 161, umpire Brooks gave him out, caught at the wicket. Immediately Marsh intimated that he had not completed the catch before dropping the ball. After consultation, the umpire called Randall back. Would that this spirit was always so! At the end of the game Randall was awarded the first prize of $1600 as the Man of the Match. To be chosen ahead of the superb Lillee, whose colleagues chaired him from the field when he finished the match with an analysis of 11 for 165, was a feat indeed.

Some time after it was over someone discovered that the result of the 266th Test between the two countries - victory by 45 runs - was identical, to the same side and to the very run, with that of the 1877 Test on the same ground. Hans Andersen Ebeling had even scripted the final curtain.

© John Wisden & Co. Ltd.