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Alan Davidson skittles England out after offering a prayer at Sydney in 1963

Alan Davidson took four wickets in the first innings and five wickets in the second as Australia beat England by eight wickets at the SCG © Getty Images
Alan Davidson took four wickets in the first innings and five wickets in the second as Australia beat England by eight wickets at the SCG © Getty Images

Divine intervention had apparently worked for Alan Davidson in the Ashes Test at SCG on January 12, 1963. Abhishek Mukherjee looks when a preacher and a prayer got a reverend out.

Australia had to draw the home series of 1962-63 to retain the Ashes, but after the draw at The Gabba they lost the second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) thanks to hundreds from Colin Cowdrey and Reverend David Sheppard and some excellent bowling from Fred Trueman. The teams then moved on to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), where Ted Dexter won the toss and elected to bat on a slow pitch.

England lost Sheppard early, but Geoff Pullar held fort at the other end, scoring 53. Cowdrey batted brilliantly, scoring a 155-ball 85, but both Ken Barrington and Dexter got out after getting their eyes in. With no Tom Graveney the tourists struggled against Alan Davidson.

Surprisingly enough, Bob Simpson turned out to be the bowling hero for Australia: he had 14 wickets from 18 Tests before the ongoing match, but he kept on providing breakthroughs here, removing both Pullar and Cowdrey and following with the wicket of Peter Parfitt. He also cleaned up the tail and finished with five for 57: these would remain his career-best figures. Davidson, at the other end, swung the ball beautifully and often beat the bat, eventually finishing with four for 54.

England eventually scored 279, and Australia started strongly on the second afternoon despite Bill Lawry’s early dismissal. Simpson (91) and Neil Harvey (64) added 160 for the second wicket before Fred Titmus triggered a min-collapse before stumps on Day Two. Australia finished on 212 for five with the Test still in balance.

When play resumed after the rest day Titmus came to the party, taking out the Australians one by one as only the debutant Barry Shepherd held firm. He eventually remained unbeaten on 71 as Australia secured a slender 40-run lead: Simpson, Harvey, and Shepherd were the only ones to go past 20. Titmus returned figures of seven for 79.

The prayer

Davidson clean bowled Pullar in the second ball of the England innings and had Dexter caught at slips soon afterwards, but Cowdrey hung around grimly and Sheppard kept on playing, missing and edging more than missing. Davidson swung the ball awkwardly, beating The Reverend in three consecutive deliveries.

On his way back to his mark an exasperated Davidson went past Brian Booth, who was a preacher himself (though not a Reverend). Davidson confronted Booth and put the blame on him, while Booth tried to be, well, somewhat objective. He had, after all, given up trying to make his teammates pray on a regular basis.

Davidson: Didn’t you say a prayer for me last night?

Booth: You’ve got to do a bit yourself, you know.

Davidson took Booth’s words somewhat seriously — probably more than Booth himself had expected. He later recalled in Fifteen Paces that at this point he put up his hands and “offered a silent prayer”. Booth was a bit sceptic, but still did not say a thing as the great bowler walked back to his mark.

Davidson ran in and unleashed yet another swinging beauty the next ball that took the edge of Sheppard — the Reverend — and went to Simpson in the slips. An exalted Booth caught up with Davidson. Laughing, he said: “See, it pays off if you do it yourself. I hope that convinces all you other blokes, too.”

What followed?

-  Davidson’s spell had broken England’s spine. The tourists never recovered and were skittled out for 104 with Davidson picking up five for 25 and Graham McKenzie three for 26. Australia knocked off the required 65 runs in 98 balls and levelled the series with an eight-wicket victory.

-  With draws in the next two Tests at Adelaide and the SCG, Australia retained the Ashes.

Brief scores:

England 279 (Geoff Pullar 53, Colin Cowdrey 85; Bobby Simpson 5 for 57, Alan Davidson 4 for 54) and 104 (Alan Davidson 5 for 25, Graham McKenzie 3 for 26) lost to Australia 319 (Bobby Simpson 91, Neil Harvey 64, Barry Shepherd 71*; Fred Titmus 7 for 79) and 67 for 2 by 8 wickets.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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