Fourth Cornhill Test


Mark Ray

Toss: Australia. Test debut: A. M. Smith.

In the Third Test, Australia had levelled the series through fine work from some of their senior players. The most notable aspect of Australia's comprehensive win in the Fourth Test, which gave them the lead for the first time, was that the protagonists were young players in their first Ashes series. Elliott, aged 25, and Ponting, aged 22, scored centuries to lead Australia out of trouble and into an unbeatable position, after the 22-year-old Gillespie had destroyed England's first innings with seven for 37, the best figures by an Australian in a Headingley Test. England returned to their old ways, bowling and fielding poorly to concede a huge first-innings score, and batting with minimal application under sustained pressure. But the Australians were back to their best, combining tightly disciplined play with just the right amount of risk-taking.

Before the start of play on the first morning, Australia announced that they had lodged a formal complaint about the alleged role of England chairman of selectors David Graveney in the decision to switch pitches less than two weeks before the game. The Australians cried foul, though the ECB claimed Graveney was merely kept informed of developments. In the end, the protest appeared to have been lodged more to spark Australian pride than to right any grievous wrong. If motivation was the aim, the plan worked perfectly.

England had announced the day after their defeat at Old Trafford that they would retain the same eleven, plus Phil Tufnell, for Headingley. A few days before the game, they added Gloucestershire's swing bowler, Mike Smith, to the squad, and he made his debut in place of Caddick, while Tufnell was sent away again. Smith was to take no wickets on a pitch of uneven bounce. Australia's one change, Ponting for the out-of-form Bevan, was far more successful.

Having won his fourth consecutive toss, Taylor chose to bowl on a green pitch. Rain restricted the first day's play to 36 overs, which Atherton survived unbeaten on 34, with England 106 for three. The apparent solidity of that start crumbled to dust the next day when Gillespie produced a spell of genuine speed and outstanding control. After he had caught Atherton at long leg, out to McGrath yet again, Gillespie took the last five wickets as England added just 18 runs in nine overs. They were all out for 172.

That fragility with the bat was to be mirrored by a sloppy performance in the field. Not for the first time, they made a fine start, on a pitch offering England's seam attack more than enough assistance. Australia were in some strife at 50 for four in the 18th over. That brought their two most inexperienced batsmen, Elliott and Ponting, together. They promptly accepted the challenge by counter-attacking with courage, common sense and, in Elliott's case, a little luck. As in his century at Lord's the left-handed Elliott was dropped three times. Yet, in between those lapses, he drove, hooked and cut with impressive assurance and deceptive power. The first miss, when Elliott was on 29 and Australia still only 50, was a relatively easy chance to Thorpe at first slip off the bowling of Smith. It was deemed by many observers to be the sort of dropped catch that costs a Test series. Although that is too simplistic, Thorpe's lapse was typical of England's poor play. Elliott went on to bat for seven and a half hours and 351 balls, hitting three sixes and 23 fours, before being bowled, one short of a double-hundred, by a superb swinging yorker from England's best bowler, Gough. Meanwhile, Ponting's chanceless maiden Test century, on his Ashes debut, was as near perfection as could be expected from a young player returning to the team; he had missed the previous eight Tests through a selection decision that still seemed harsh some seven months later. From the start, he drove and pulled superbly, to gather 19 fours and a six. Together, Elliott and Ponting added 268 for the fifth wicket in 263 minutes, and Elliott shared further half-century partnerships with Healy and Reiffel.

When Taylor declared at lunch on the fourth day, Australia had reached 501, a lead of 329. But England played well over the next two sessions. By stumps, they were 212 for four. Hussain had completed his second century of the series and had put on 123 with Crawley. Any hopes of a draw inspired by their stand were dashed early on the final morning, however, when Warne took his only wicket of the match (he bowled one solitary over in the first innings): he deceived Hussain in flight for a simple catch to Gillespie at mid-off. Crawley went on to 72, but the end came quickly enough. England were bowled out for 268 to lose by an innings, with Reiffel adding five more wickets to his 54 not out. It was Gillespie, though, who won Ian Botham's vote as Man of the Match for setting up Australia's winning position in England's first innings.

Gillespie had bowled down the hill from the Kirkstall Lane End to excellent effect, something none of the England bowlers seemed able to do. In hindsight, the decision to omit Caddick in favour of Smith looked a disaster: uneven bounce was more relevant than swing, Caddick should have been able to exploit that far better.

Once again, there was tension between the fierce Headingley stewards and the sometimes raucous spectators in the Western Terrace, especially those keen on the fashion for attending Tests in fancy dress. Two men dressed in a pantomime-cow costume cavorted round the boundary, and were crash-tackled by officials after play: the man playing the rear end, Branco Risek, needed treatment in hospital. Brian Cheesman, a university lecturer dressed as a carrot, was frogmarched from the ground for drunken and abusive behaviour. He vehemently denied the allegations. Mr Cheesman has been attending Headingley Tests in fancy dress since 1982.

Man of the Match: J. N. Gillespie. Attendance: 66,694; receipts £1,310,200.

Close of play: First day, England 106-3 (M. A. Atherton 34*, D. W. Headley 0*); Second day, Australia 258-4 (M. T. G. Elliott 134*, R. T. Ponting 86*); Third day, Australia 373-5 (M. T. G. Elliott 164*, I. A. Healy 27*); Fourth day, England 212-4 (N. Hussain 101*, J. P. Crawley 48*).

© John Wisden & Co