On August 18, 1926, the Percy Chapman-led England side won the fifth and the final Test match at The Oval by a thumping margin of 289 runs. Sarang Bhalerao revisits the triumphant moment in English cricket in the mid-1920s.
The previous four Test matches had ended in a stalemate. The final Test match at The Oval was timeless since there was an agreement for such a provision if the teams were level in terms of results. Australia were the holders of the prestigious urn since Warwick Armstrong’s team whitewashed England in 1921, and then in 1924 England lost 4-1 in Australia.
For the final Test, England made four changes to the team that had locked horns with Australia three weeks ago at Manchester. A 25-five-year-old Percy Chapman replaced Arthur Carr as the captain. George Geary, Harold Larwood and Wilfred Rhodes replaced Ernest Tyldeley, Roy Kilner and Fred Root. Bert Strudwick was almost replaced by Hampshire wicketkeeper George Brown but the latter hurt his thumb. Hence, Strudwick held onto his spot. Roping in 48-year-old Rhodes especially was a shrewd move.
Chapman won the toss and elected to bat. The wicket had variable bounce at times but overall it played well. England started well with openers Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe putting 53 in less than an hour. Soon Hobbs fell to the full length delivery of leg-break bowler Arthur Mailey for 37. Frank Woolley was bewildered by Mailey’s googly while Pasty Hendren pulled Jack Gregory’s short ball onto his stumps. At lunch England had scored 108 for the loss of three wickets — a session that was even-stevens.
Upon resumption, England captain Chapman took the attack to Mailey. The leg-spinner was taken off his length. In an hour and a quarter, Chapman added 87 with Sutcliffe. The England skipper was out stumped by Bert Oldfield off Mailey for 49. Sutcliffe batted for three and a half hours with guts but he too fell. According to Wisden, “Sutcliffe batted admirably for three hours and a half, his clean off driving and the certainty of his strokes on the leg side being the chief features of his play. His innings had an unfortunate termination, a ball rising off his pad and striking him on the tip of the nose, and the next, a leg break which he did not appear to see, taking his wicket.”
Mailey and Clarrie Grimmett then took over and England’s innings ended at 280 in four and a quarter hours. Mailey came in for some harsh treatment, but still ended up as the wrecker-in-chief with six for 138.
England began considerably well, removing the opener Warren Bardsley for just two. Charles Macartney scored a brisk 25 in half-an-hour but was dismissed by Greville Stevens. Bill Ponsford ran himself out and Tommy Andrews was sent back by Larwood for three. At 60 for four at the end of the opening day — the day certainly belonged to the home team. Australia were 220 runs behind with six wickets in hand.
On Monday, opener Bill Woodfull and captain Herbie Collins played stubbornly. They took the score to 90 before the wily Rhodes had Woodfull off his second delivery. Arthur Richardson was dismissed by Rhodes leaving the visitors stranded at 122 for six. But Collins found an able ally in Gregory. The duo added 107 for the seventh wicket — a partnership which was dominated by Gregory, who scored 73 of those. Collins was batting with extreme caution. Gregory and Collins fell in the space of two runs to bring the home side back in the game. However a 67-run partnership for the ninth-wicket between Oldfield and Grimmett ensured the visitors got a slender lead of 22 runs.
Exactly an hour’s cricket was left on the second day. Openers Hobbs and Sutcliffe negotiated the tricky hour and scored 49. At the start of Day Three, Collins held back Gregory and gave the ball to off-spinner Richardson to bowl on a wet surface. In hindsight that proved to be calamitous. Gregory on a spiteful wicket might have been a handful. The pitch dried out, enabling the openers to make merry. The duo added 172 for the opening wicket in 220 minutes before Hobbs was out bowled to Gregory to a ball that came back in and hit the off-stump. Sutcliffe stood there as a rock and added 48 with Woolley, 57 with Hendren, 39 with Chapman and 57 with Stevens. Finally his seven-hour epic was nipped in the bud by Mailey, who bowled the England opener for 171.
It rained a lot on Day Four. After the incessant showers and sunshine, the playing conditions had changed somewhat. England added 61 runs to their overnight score and finished with 436 runs. Australia needed 415 runs to retain the Ashes. There was no time constraint.
Australia began poorly losing four wickets for 35 runs. Rhodes opened the bowling and he got a lot of turn. He dismissed Ponsford, caught at second slip, and captain Collins. Larwood, at the other end, was making the ball fly. Australia had no answers to such a bowling performance on a vicious track. Bardsley and Andrews added 28 but soon the latter was out to Larwood. Wickets kept tumbling: Bardsley, Gregory and Richardson were out in the space of four runs. At 87 for eight Australia were staring down the barrel. Oldfield and Grimmett added 27 but that was not enough. Australia were bowled out for 125. Rhodes took four for 44 and Larwood finished with three for 34.
After England’s win, the crowds rushed to the ground towards the England pavilion. After the humiliations of the early 1920s and frustrations of the rain-affected series, England had finally achieved a series win over their rivals.
England 280 (Herbert Sutcliffe 76, Percy Chapman 49; Arthur Mailey 6 for 138) and 436 (Jack Hobbs 100, Herbert Sutcliffe 161; Clarrie Grimmett 3 for 108) beat Australia 302 (Herbie Collins 61, Jack Gregory 73; Maurice Tate 3 for 40) and 125 (Wilfred Rhodes 4 for 44) by 289 runs.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)