Alec Bedser had match figures of 55.5-23-99-14 © Getty Images
On June 13, 1953 Alec Bedser routed Australia with figures of seven for 44 to go with his first-innings figures of seven for 55 at Trent Bridge. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the best bowling performance for a side that eventually did not win the Test.
With his muscular frame, accurate medium-fast bowling generated off a short run-up, Alec Bedser was the spearhead of the English attack from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, and would certainly have had a longer career than the 51 Tests he had played in, but for World War II.
Bedser generated deceptive pace off a nagging length, bowled a vicious leg-cutter than moved almost as much as a leg-break, and often unleashed his in-swinger from his repertoire for variety. He was an outstanding bowler on most days – but on his day he was virtually unplayable. Australia were unfortunate enough to find themselves on two ‘Bedser Days’ on successive days.
Day One: Morris and Hassett resist Bedser
It was the first Test of the series, and after Lindsay Hassett won the toss and opted to bat, Bedser uprooted Graeme Hole’s middle-stump with the first ball of his second over. Hole had not scored, and Australia had only two runs on the board when Hassett joined Arthur Morris.
Bedser received excellent support from the miserly Trevor Bailey. Runs came at a slow pace, and only 34 were added in the first hour. There was a break due to rain, and Australia meandered to lunch at 54 for one despite the bowlers having difficulties to grip the wet ball.
Len Hutton introduced Johnny Wardle and Roy Tattersall: though the runs had dried up, Morris and Hassett had dug themselves in firmly — and a wicket did not seem possible until Hutton took the new ball.
Bedser immediately trapped Morris leg-before for a 179-minute 67 after the duo had put on 122. He had hit 11 boundaries. Four runs later, Neil Harvey was tricked by Bedser, and Denis Compton took a comfortable catch in the leg-side. Play was called off early due to bad light, resulting in only four hours of play possible in the day.
Australia ended the day on 157 for three with Hassett on 67 and Keith Miller on 19. Bedser finished the day with figures of 25-12-26-3.
Day Two: Bedser routs, Australia strike back
Play got underway amidst incessant drizzles on Day Two, with the bowlers and fielders having to use towels and sawdust to dry the ball at very frequent intervals. The wet ball did not have a chance to move off the air, so Hutton had no option but to wait for the new ball: he kept Bedser away till lunch as Hassett and Miller played some attritional cricket, mainly due to Bailey bowling an excellent line and length.
Hassett smashed two short-pitched balls from Wardle to bring up his ninth hundred, but Miller, perhaps a bit frustrated by his own uncharacteristic slow batting, tried to loft Wardle over Bailey at mid-wicket, and the latter took a fine catch running backwards. Miller had scored a painstaking 55 in 173 minutes with only three boundaries — numbers that sound almost impossible for him. The two had added 109 runs, and lunch was taken at 243 for four — just after Richie Benaud’s arrival.
With a dry outfield, no drizzle, and a new ball, Bedser and Bailey ran through the Australian line-up after lunch. It took them 45 minutes, and from 244 for four Australia collapsed to 249. Benaud leg-glanced Bailey’s first delivery with the third new ball, and Godfrey Evans took an excellent diving catch, stumbling several feet in the process. It wasn’t an edge — but still Evans managed to reach there in time.
It was Bedser’s turn next, and it took one of his special leg-cutters to end Hassett’s vigil: the ball pitched on the leg-stump and hit off. Hassett had scored 115 in 397 minutes with nine fours, and with two new batsmen out in the middle, Australia suddenly looked in trouble.
Bedser hit Don Tallon’s timber next; at the other end Bailey had Ray Lindwall caught behind; and finally, Bedser finished things off with clean bowling the two debutants — Jack Hill and Alan Davidson — in quick succession. Australia slumped to 249, losing their last six wickets for five (equalling the existing Ashes record set by England at MCG in 1936-37; the record has subsequently been broken by England at MCG in 1990-91, when they were bowled out for 150 from 147 for four) and their last seven wickets for 12. Bedser finished with 38.3-16-55-7.
Lindwall fought back. He removed Don Kenyon (caught at short-leg by Hill), Reg Simpson for a second-ball duck (trapped leg-before by an in-swinging delivery), and Compton (caught brilliantly by Morris at gully when the batsman had cut hard) in eight balls, and England were 17 for three in no time.
Hutton added 59 with Tom Graveney, but with the light fading, Hill had his maiden Test wicket when he had Graveney caught brilliantly by Benaud at short-leg; soon afterwards, Hutton, after a 120-minute 43, cut Davidson to Benaud at gully, to give the bowler his maiden wicket.
Peter May and Bailey made frequent appeals for light, but they were turned down. May was eventually caught behind off a Hill leg-break; as soon as Evans walked out to bat the umpires called decided to call it stumps. England were 92 for six with Bailey on two and Evans yet to score, and they still needed eight runs to avoid the follow-on.
Day Three: A Bedser encore
Once again, there was a morning drizzle, and bowling was difficult in the first session. Bill Johnston came out of the shadows of the other three, and bowled a tight line to put a rein on England’s scoring. Evans was caught behind off Davidson, but Bailey hung around grimly in characteristic fashion, batting for a hundred minutes before Hill hit his pads.
Wardle hit a few blows and remained unbeaten on 29 as Lindwall came back to remove the last two wickets and finish with five for 57. England were bowled out for 144, and were 105 behind.
Australia began solidly after lunch, with Morris scoring runs steadily. Bedser, however, ran through Hole’s defence yet again: it was his 190th Test wicket, which made him the highest wicket-taker for England — one ahead of Syd Barnes’ tally of 189. Barnes was one of the first to congratulate Bedser.
Bedser then produced a snorter that took off from good length, hit Hassett on the glove, and lobbed to Hutton at short-leg. He kept on taking the wickets: Harvey and Miller were caught, and Benaud was bowled.
He seemed so unplayable that for a while it looked like he could become the first bowler to take ten wickets in a Test innings. However, Tattersall broke his run as he bowled Morris round the legs with a vicious off-break. Morris had scored 60 in 108 minutes with seven fours out of 81 scored during his stay at the crease.
Tattersall accounted for Davidson and Tallon as well, and then took two catches off Bedser to dismiss Lindwall and Hill. Bedser finished with 17.2-7-44-7, and returned match figures of 55.5-23-99-14. His accuracy and movement —both in air and off the track — made him virtually unplayable. Australia were bowled out for 123, and England needed 229 for a victory.
Hutton and Kenyon saw through the new ball. Lindwall and Johnston bowled accurately, but they could not break through. Kenyon eventually holed out to Hassett at mid-on off a Hill full-toss. Simpson was dropped at second slip two balls later, but England batted serenely, finishing the day at 42 for one, still requiring 187 for a win.
Day Five: A damp squib
No play was possible on Day Four due to incessant rain, and it did not resume till 4.30 PM on Day Five. England did not go for the target in the remaining two hours, and finished with 120 for one. Hutton remained unbeaten on 60 and Simpson on 28.
The match ended in a draw, and Bedser’s 14 for 99 was the new record for the best match figures for a side that did not win the Test, going past Barnes’ 14 for 144 against South Africa at Durban in 1913-14.
Australia 249 (Lindsay Hassett 115, Arthur Morris 67, Keith Miller 55; Alec Bedser 7 for 55) and 123 (Arthur Morris 60; Alec Bedser 7 for 44) drew with England 144 (Len Hutton 43; Ray Lindwall 5 for 57) and 120 for 1 (Len Hutton 60 not out).
(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 Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)