On Wednesday August 1 2018 at Edgbaston an England team walks on the field to begin a Test match for the 1000th time.
Among the reflections, the listicles and the shallow on-line polls, people have been choosing their greatest and/or favourite Test matches of the previous 999 (actually 1004 if you count washouts and cancellations). Headingley 1981 and Edgbaston 2005 are both, quite rightly, very popular selections. Lack of television footage and eyewitness recollections from The Oval 1882 have prevented it from polling as high.
I’ve chosen a different Test as a personal favourite, an eventful match that occupies a seminal place in England’s Test cricket history. I give you 1970-71’s Seventh Test against Australia.
Commencing at the Sydney Cricket Ground on February 12 1971, the match was originally scheduled as the Sixth and final Test of the series. Rain washed out the Third Test at the MCG and a replacement was arranged three weeks later which bumped the numbering of the Fifth and Sixth up by one.
Australia was trailing the series 1-0 after a huge defeat in the Fourth Test and needed a win in the Seventh to retain the Ashes. There was uproar before the game began when captain Bill Lawry was dropped from the side, his Victorian team-mate Ken Eastwood coming in, with Ian Chappell taking over the leadership for the first time.
Lawry was not directly informed of his omission by chairman of selectors Sir Donald Bradman, saying later that he first heard about it on the news on his car radio.
As was the practice at the time, the last Test was scheduled for six days because the overall outcome of the series was still undecided. With a rest day included this meant an entire week was set aside for the match. Chappell won his first toss as Australian captain, put England into bat, and had the opposition dismissed on the opening day for 184. Australia, however, were 2/13 by stumps with both openers Eastwood and Stackpole removed cheaply.
Day two, Saturday February 13, produced the sequence of incidents for which this Test is best remembered. In the post-tea session, John Snow bowled a short ball to Australian tail-ender Terry Jenner. In the days before helmets, Jenner took his eye off the ball and ducked into it.
Jenner was able to walk off the field with assistance, but Snow was warned by the umpires for intimidatory bowling – bouncers to non-recognised batsmen were forbidden in those days. England’s captain Ray Illingworth was furious. Richie Benaud, in a later narration of the incident, described Illingworth’s behaviour as like a “prima donna of a South American football side”.
Play continued in front of an enraged and lubricated Saturday afternoon SCG crowd. Snow took up his fielding position at fine leg. Emptied tin vessels of said lubrication rained down from the Hill and a chap, identified many years later as Trevor Guy, leaned over the fence and grabbed Snow by the arm.
This was enough for Illingworth to decide to take the England team off the field till things settled down. Umpire Lou Rowan threatened Illingworth with awarding a forfeit, and play soon resumed, with fourteen spectators arrested.
Bill O’Reilly, writing in the “Sun-Herald”, invoked memories of Bodyline and the Adelaide Test of 1933 when Larwood flattened Oldfield before describing Illingworth’s walkoff as a “foolhardy show of temperament”. No ICC Code of Conduct forty-seven years ago.
In the days before HIAs and proper duty of care over concussion, Jenner returned to the crease the following morning and added 22 more runs to his score. Australia made 264 in its first innings, a lead of 80.
Midway through the fourth day, England was dismissed in its second innings for 302. Australia needed 223 to win and had over two days to do so, but the pitch had taken spin since day one and the slow-bowling trio of Illingworth, Derek Underwood and Basil D’Oliveira pinned Australia’s score down to 160.
Keith Fletcher’s catch of Jenner off the bowling of Underwood on the fifth morning gave England an historic victory. Ray Illingworth was chaired off the field by his team. Snow himself took little part in the victory rites, having dislocated a finger on the picket fence while attempting a catch.
Australia had won the Ashes in the week I was born, at the Adelaide Test of 1958-59. They held onto them until this match, played in my third week at High School.