Cornhill Centenary Test



Toss: Australia. Test debuts: England - C.W.J.Athey.

It had been hoped that England's Centenary Test, to mark the centenary of the first Test played in England - at The Oval in 1880 - might be played in late summer sunshine with many a nostalgic reunion, some splendid fighting cricket and a finish to savour.

Over 200 former England and Australian players assembled from all over the world; it was impossible to move anywhere at Lord's without meeting the heroes of yesteryear. The welcoming parties, the dinners and the take-over by Cornhill Insurance of a London theatre for a night were all hugely successful. Sadly, however, the party in the middle was markedly less so.

After almost ten hours had been lost to rain in the first three days, the match ended in a tepid draw, with many people disappointed that England did not make a bolder bid to meet Australia's final challenge to score 370 in 350 minutes. With Boycott 128 not out and Gatting 51 not out they had reached only 244 for three at the finish.

As much as for the cricket, though, the game will be remembered for a regrettable incident, seen by millions on television on the Saturday afternoon, in which angry MCC members were involved in a momentary scuffle with umpire Constant as the umpires and captains moved into the Long Room after their fifth pitch inspection of the day. Ian Botham, the England captain, and Greg Chappell, his Australian counterpart, saw to it that matters got no worse. When play finally started at 3.45 p.m., police escorted the umpires through the Long Room and on to the field.

Two MCC members, identified by Chappell, were questioned by the Secretary, Mr J. A. Bailey, after the incident on Saturday afternoon. This was followed, on the Monday, by the following statement:

"Enquiries instituted today into the behaviour of certain MCC members towards the umpires and captains on Saturday leave no doubt that their conduct was inexcusable in any circumstances. Investigations are continuing and will be rigorously pursued with a view to identifying and disciplining the culprits. Meanwhile the club is sending to the umpires and to the captains of both sides their profound apologies that such an unhappy incident should have occurred at the headquarters of the game and on an occasion of such importance."

Fifty minutes had been lost to rain on the first day and all but an hour and a quarter on the second. On the third, the Saturday, ninety minutes' rain in the early morning left a soft area around two old uncovered pitches on the Tavern side of the ground. The ground staff, however, thought play could have started by lunch, as did a crowd of some 20,000 who were growing increasingly impatient in sunshine and breeze. Umpires Bird and Constant were the sole judges of when play should start, with one captain noticeably keener to play than the other; Australia being in the stronger position, Chappell was the more eager of the two. They conducted inspection after inspection, seemingly insensitive to the crowd's rising anger and the need for flexibility on such a special occasion. By the time the President of MCC, Mr S. C. Griffith, exerted pressure on the umpires to get the game started, the pavilion fracas had occurred. Although the authorities decided, when play did resume, that it could continue until eight o'clock that Saturday evening, it was fairly certain the light, by then, would not have been fit for play. In the event it soon rained again. An extra hour was also added to each of the last two days of the match.

On the field Australia were much the more convincing side, making a nonsense of the pre-match odds of seven to one against an Australian victory. After Chappell had won the toss Australia batted well through repeated interruptions before declaring on the Saturday evening at 385 for five. Wood contributed a battling 112, before being brilliantly stumped by Bairstow off Emburey, and Hughes graced the occasion with a highly talented and spirited 117 in which he hit three 6s and fourteen 4s, every stroke being played according to the fighting intentions of his side. Against such aggression England's bowling, with the exception of Old, looked very ordinary.

Lillee and Pascoe, with faster and more skilful bowling than their opponents', routed England for 205 on the Monday with enough time left that evening for Australia to score 106 for two, taking their lead to 286. In England's first innings Boycott, Gower and Old were the only batsmen to pass 20. Lillee, superbly controlled, removed the first four batsmen, and Pascoe finished the innings with a spell of five for 15 in 32 balls. Both bowlers took all their wickets at the Nursery End, once so infamous for its ridge. Chappell insisted that the ridge was still plainly visible and very much in play although the pitch had been shifted some four or five feet away from the Pavilion End in an effort to escape its influence.

England's first innings collapse, in which they lost their last seven wickets for 68 runs, had left Australia in a potentially winning position when the last day began. They hammered a further 83 runs in under an hour before Chappell's second declaration left England to score for almost six hours at over a run a minute. In Australia's second innings Chappell made a sound 59 and Hughes a brilliant 84. Moving into his shots with zest and certainty Hughes played the most spectacular stroke of the match when he danced down the pitch to hit the lively Old on to the top deck of the pavilion.

England did not attempt to meet Chappell's challenge. When Lillee trapped Gooch lbw for 16 and Pascoe removed Athey, to a bat-pad catch, for 1, survival became the priority. The in-form Boycott dropped anchor and Gower curbed his attacking instincts as they consolidated. When the score had reached 112 for two by three o'clock, with play possible until seven o'clock, many felt it would have been fitting if Botham had come in himself and had a fling. But the highest total England have ever made in a fourth innings to beat Australia in England is 269 for nine, at The Oval in 1902, and now they looked upon their first innings collapse as good enough reason for not risking another. Amid more boos than cheers they moved unhurriedly towards a draw. During the match the insatiable Boycott passed the Test aggregates of both Sir Leonard Hutton (6,971) and Sir Donald Bradman (6,996) and took his own Test aggregate to 7,115 runs. Boycott's second innings hundred was his sixth against Australia and his nineteenth in Tests.

The Cornhill Trophy and cheque for £500 as Man of the Match went to Hughes, and the prize-money of £4,500 was split between the sides. The official attendance was 84,938; takings were £360,850.50.

© John Wisden & Co