Roderick Easdale trawls through the Test match record books as England prepare for their milestone Test at Edgbaston
The first Test against India at Edgbaston starting on August 1 will be England’s 1,000th. Of their 999 matches thus far, 357 have been won by England and 297 lost. England’s most frequent opponent has been Australia with 346 matches (108 won, but 144 lost) followed by West Indies, with 154 (48 won; 55 lost). These opponents are the only two England have a losing record against. It will have taken England 141 years to play these 1,000 Tests, but only 44 years for the last 500. Forty-three per cent of all Tests have involved England. Here are our best ten of these matches.
This one-off Test was the first time England had been beaten on home soil. A satirical obituary for English cricket appeared in the magazine Cricket, and, two days later another was published in The Sporting Times which said: “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”
When Ivo Bligh took a team Down Under a few weeks later he stated that the aim was “to bring back those ashes”. Subsequently the term fell out of use until it was resurrected for the 1903 tour – and this time the term stuck.
The first Test to last six days was also the first to be won after following on, something not repeated for another 87 years. After England had made 325 in reply to Australia’s 586, staunch batting throughout the order – the last four wickets added 141 runs – set Australia 177.
Victor Trumper became the first to hit a Test century before lunch on the first day. But what could, perhaps should, have been Trumper’s Test became known as Tate’s Test.
Fred Tate, a 35-year-old debutant, had been a controversial selection. A specialist slip, was sent to field in the deep where he dropped a skier. But it did not seem it would matter when England were cruising towards victory. But fearful that rain was coming, the later batting hit out and collapsed, leaving Tate last man in with eight runs needed.
He hit a four but was then bowled and some of the crowd booed him from the field. Tate never played Test cricket again, and when he died in 1943 The Times devoted a leader to the subject of dropped catches.
This went to the last ball with all four results still possible. Following a run out which cost England their ninth wicket, the home side needed six to win with two balls left with Colin Cowdrey coming in to bat again at the non-striker’s end with his left arm in a plaster cast having had his arm broken by a Wes Hall delivery earlier in the innings. No.10 David Allen defended the final two balls from Hall, who had bowled unchanged for three hours 20 minutes throughout the rain-shortened final day.
Mike Brearley, looking older than his years in that way cricketers can (see David Steele and Jack Leach) returned from international retirement and oversaw a series-changing, reputation-sealing victory through acute tactical acumen and sage man-management. Sort of.
What was happening was that England, following on after Australia had declared, were being thrashed in a way they never were under Ian Botham’s captaincy. Then Botham had a merry slog, Graham Dilley joined in, and from 92 behind with three wickets left, England set Australia 130. Bob Willis, who Brearley had not given the new ball and had bowling uphill, switched ends and took 8-43.
A one stage England were 500-1 to win and Australian players Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee got their bus driver to place a bet for them. England’s Bob Taylor went to do so himself but was mobbed by autograph hunters and so never got round to the bookies to place his £2 bet.
This Test, which started nine days after the previous one at Headingley ended, followed a similar script. In the third innings England were only 46 ahead when Botham’s wicket fell, leaving England six down. But the tail wagged to set 151 for victory. At 105-4 Australia were on target, but then John Emburey snared Allan Border and Botham blasted away the tail with a spell of 5-1.
England’s 284 (including to an unusually bold Chris Tavare innings of 89 off 165 balls) was replied to with 287 after Greg Chappell had gone first ball hooking Norman Cowans. A 61-run eighth-wicket partnership between Derek Pringle and Taylor left the hosts chasing 292.
No.11 Jeff Thomson came out to join Border with 76 still required. Willis spread the field for Border – who was in protracted spell of lousy form – so as to bowl at Jeff Thomson. Both batsmen grew in confidence and the fifth day started with Australia needing a further 37 and 18,000 spectators in the ground.
With four needed, Thomson, facing the start of a Botham over, decided to push a single; instead he steered a long hop to second slip Tavare, who fumbled it. The ball popped up behind him and first-slip Geoff Miller ran round to take the catch. “I was so angry,“ recalls Thomson. “I had decided what to do with that ball before seeing it. It was one of the all-time low moments in my life.”
The second day featured all four innings. West Indies were all out for 267 to the first ball. Then England were bundled out by Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh for 134, before Andy Caddick (5-16) skittled the Windies for 54. England closed on 0-0. On the third afternoon, amid mounting tension, Darren Gough and Dominic Cork garnered 31 in three-quarters of an hour for the ninth wicket.
What had been set for a humdinger of a series, seemed to be heading for a damp squib of same-old same-old when Australia won the first Test comfortably. But in the second match Ricky Ponting put England in and saw them romp to 407. Australia entered the final day needing a further 107 of 282 runs for victory, with two wickets left.
Shane Warne and Brett Lee put on 45 for the ninth wicket, and the last pair had added 59 in 12.2 overs when a Steve Harmison bouncer hit Michael Kasprowicz on his left hand which was off the bat at the time and the batsman was wrongly given out caught.
On the final day 20,000 were locked out of the ground, and an estimated further 10,000 told to abandon their journeys. Australia, set 423, had closed the fourth day at 23-0. When Ponting fell for 156 – “one of the best knocks I’ve ever seen,” said team-mate Jason Gillespie, it left Australia 354-9 with four overs left. But Lee and Glenn McGrath hung on. “One ball went through to Geraint Jones and McGrath was dozing out of his crease and didn’t move. Geraint didn’t realise that he could have run him out and just threw it to a fielder,” recalled Gillespie.
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