Richie Benaud routed England at Old Trafford against all expectations on August 1, 1961. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the spell that decided one of the greatest Ashes Tests of all time.
“I felt that, while we could not save the game, we might still win it.” — Richie Benaud.
One of the questions around this sport — the greatest of all sports known to mankind, or maybe even the greatest activity — that has haunted me for decades has been: What makes a great Test?
Is it about top-quality cricket? Is it about a tight finish? Is it about the number comebacks that make the Test a topsy-turvy roller-coaster? Is it about the significance of the match in terms of the series? Is it about the impact the outcome of the Test has on the nation?
The Old Trafford Test of 1961 had some excellent performances, but none of them could be ranked among the top ten, or even twenty, in the history of the sport. It had a tight finish, but almost the same Australian team had played out to a tighter finish six months back at The Gabba. The Test had also witnessed an outstanding comeback by Australia – but the sport has been more amazing comebacks in its illustrious history.
The match was significant — but only to an extent: there was still a Test to be played in the series at The Oval. True, there were celebrations all around and an entire country, cricketers or otherwise, basked in its glory — but we have witnessed more Tests that meet the criterion.
Other than meeting all the above criterion to some extent the Old Trafford 1961 was a players’ Test rather than a spectators’ Test. It was about the triumph of the relentless never-say-die attitude of the Australians that has set them apart in the world of sport for over a hundred. They decided not to submit; not to give up; and they managed to pull it off.
It was about a captain backing himself and his team to pull off an unlikely victory; it was about a vision a man had when all seemed over and the way he pulled it off to picture perfection; it was about the victory of strategy and guile and will-power of a man; it was about Richie Benaud.
The last boat trip
Benaud caught up with Neil Harvey minutes before they left Australia. It was the last time an Australian side would leave the shores onboard ship.
Benaud: Have a good look at it, because neither of us might ever see it again.
Harvey: You’re right, so we’d better make it a good one.
And they set sail.
Edgbaston: Lawry arrives, Dexter saves
It all began at Edgbaston. Australia had come to England with a 4-0 victory under their belts: they simply had to retain the Ashes. After Benaud and Ken Mackay bowled out England for 195 there were contributions from virtually every Australian batsmen as they managed a 321-run lead. Their debutant opener, a strokeful Victorian called Bill Lawry, made 57: his approach to batting would change dramatically over time.
England saved the Test as Raman Subba Row scored a hundred in his first Ashes Test: Ted Dexter scored 180, adding 109 with Subba Row and 161 more with Ken Barrington. The teams moved to Lord’s.
Lord’s: A Test of fast bowlers
Harvey led Australia as Benaud missed out at Lord’s with a damaged shoulder. Australia went in four fast bowlers. Alan Davidson routed England for 206 before Fred Trueman and Brian Statham hit back with some help from Dexter. That man Lawry, however, ensured that Australia could manage a 134-run lead.
It turned out be sufficient as a debutant Western Australian called Graham McKenzie bowled out England for 202. Set 69 to win Australia were in trouble against Trueman and Statham — who bowled unchanged — and were reduced to 19 for four before Peter Burge helped them to a five-wicket win.
Headingley: Trueman routs, series levelled
The Test is typically referred to as Trueman’s Test: it was he who made Australia collapse twice, squaring the series. He picked up five for 58 in Statham’s absence to bowl out Australia for 237; they were 187 for two at one stage. Colin Cowdrey then led the English response and helped them to a 62-run lead.
Australia polished off the deficit easily and were cruising along smoothly at 99 for two, 37 runs ahead. Enter Trueman. His spell read 7.4-4-5-6 (it included a phase of 4-4-0-5) and Australia were bowled out for 120. England won by eight wickets.
The Australians did not have fond memories of Old Trafford. It was here, after all, that Jim Laker had humiliated them with his nine for 37 and 10 for 53 and had single-handedly inflicted an innings victory on them. A payback of some sort was due.
England brought back a fit Statham to replace Les Jackson. They also decided to drop Tony Lock had got a 32-year old Worcestershire fast bowler called Jack Flavell to make his debut. Australia replaced the injured Colin McDonald with a debutant called Brian Booth, and pushed Bobby Simpson up the order to open with Lawry.
The biggest setback when Cowdrey pulled out of the Test with a throat infection and Brian Close had to be drafted in. “The man who had the most influence on the result was not within 200 miles of Old Trafford. That was Colin Cowdrey, who had dropped out with a throat infection. Irrespective of the number of runs he might have made, he would never have dropped the catches we put down at slip in that match.” Peter May later lamented.
The Australian press, to put it politely, was not very happy with Benaud. Harvey had won the only Test he had led in, and Australia had lost promptly after Benaud was back in charge. The idea of replacing Benaud by Harvey as captain mid-series had quite a few supporters by the time the Australians had reached Old Trafford.
Benaud, however, put it to good use. As Gideon Haigh wrote in The Summer Game, “On the team notice board at Manchester he [Benaud] pinned one of the more damning Australian newspaper reports of Trueman’s triumph, one alleging that [Richie] Benaud’s team was in disarray. It was a favourite Benaud ploy and never failed to elicit a response.”
As Benaud himself recalled, “the reaction was good, though some of the language wasn’t.” His job was done, though: the players were charged up sufficiently.
The wicket seemed to have a tinge of grass that was expected to help the seamers. The conditions were also overcast. Benaud, however, decided to bat first; he had probably backed himself to bowl his side to an advantage in the fourth innings — in the company of the occasional leg-breaks of Simpson.
Day One: Lawry dazzles amidst gloom
As expected, the seamers prevailed early: Statham found Simpson’s edge in his first over. Harvey and Lawry hung around for over half an hour before Statham changed ends and immediately accounted for the former. Australia were 51 for two.
Norman O’Neill walked out. Despite the fact that he had not been able to live up to the burden of being “The next Don Bradman” he had had a good career so far, averaging on the ‘better side’ of the coveted 50-mark. He looked in some sort of physical discomfort from the very beginning, and even vomited once when he was at the non-striker’s end.
Flavell, on his debut, bowled with enthusiasm and struck the frail-looking O’Neill on the thigh and elsewhere multiple times. Trueman bounced O’Neill after he had an hour’s agony at the wicket: the ball hit his left wrist, tore a blood vessel of his forearm, and O’Neill fell onto the stumps.
Flavell was rewarded with some excellent bowling when he ran through Burge’s defence after lunch to claim his maiden Test wicket; at 106 for four Australia were in trouble of some sort as the debutant Booth walked out to join the omnipresent Lawry.
Lawry stood like a rock: the local hero Statham had bowled beautifully, moving the ball both in the air and off the surface; he was supported by Trueman, who looked quite happy to take a backseat, and Flavell, who had seemed quite energetic on debut. Though the other Australians had seemed uncomfortable against the trio Lawry seemed unperturbed; he played every ball on its merit, he left the ball with an outstanding perception of exactly where his off-stump was, and never let a loose ball go unpunished.
Shortly after Burge’s dismissal rain started, and the players came on and off the field. Three-and-a-half hours of play were lost, and Australia finished the day at 124 for four with Lawry on a dominant 64 and Booth on six. There was still a lot to be done.
Day Two: May makes hay after Statham burst
Australia saw off Statham’s early bursts and seemed to be on track when Statham hit the big blow: Lawry was trapped leg-before for a 178-ball 74 with 11 boundaries. It was as good an innings as one could see under trying circumstances; Australia were now 150 for five.
May still held back David Allen; he brought on Dexter to give his fast bowlers some rest. Statham removed Mackay and Booth as well, and May’s move proved to be a masterstroke as Dexter picked up the last three wickets. From 174 for five (and 185 for six) Australia slumped to 190. They had batted only an hour-and-a-half the second morning.
Statham led his team out amidst tumultuous cheer from the crowd. It was a magic moment for them: not only had the local star had routed the opposition with five for 53, distant dreams of regaining the Ashes had now seemed to appear on the horizon.
Davidson struck first: he found Subba Row’s edge and the ball flew to Simpson at first slip. Dexter hung around, adding 40 with Geoff Pullar before he was claimed by McKenzie, caught by Davidson. May walked out.
In a phase of serene batting Pullar and May added 111 in 164 minutes. Mackay, the third Australian seamer, did not have an impact, and after Davidson and McKenzie were seen off England played with comfort and piled on the runs. Davidson eventually came back to clean bowl Pullar, who had scored a 218-minute 63 with seven fours.
England finished the day on 187 for three with May on 90 and Close on 14. They trailed by only three runs, and some sound batting on the next day would definitely bat Australia out of the Test. Benaud himself had proved ineffective with the ball: was his decision to put England in backfired?
Day Three: All-round Simpson creates a chance
May seemed to get into a shell of sorts on the third morning. The pair added 25 when Davidson found his edge and the ball flew to Simpson at first slip. May’s 95 had taken him 228 minutes and had included 14 boundaries. Close followed suit, trapped in front by McKenzie the very next ball. England were suddenly 222 for five, giving Australia a sliver of hope.
Ken Barrington and John Murray then thwarted Australian hopes by adding 60 in 101 minutes before Mackay had the wicket-keeper caught behind. Allen walked out, and along with Barrington, decided to grind the Australian attack with more attrition and bat Australia out of the Test. At 358 for six England seemed to be in complete control.
At tea, however, something odd happens. Dexter recalled: “Mr RWV Robins, a MCC member, having found that we had scored runs at a slow rate, castigated Ken Barrington for grinding on and asked him to get on with it. Barrington was picking his way slowly, waiting for the moment when the Australians were really down and out, when he could pile on the pressure. In fact, there was not even a case for piling on the pressure. If we just went on amassing the runs we would have plenty of time to bowl the Australians out.”
They decided to listen to Robins. Barrington hit one high in the air off Simpson, only to be caught by O’Neill: he had scored 78 in 218 minutes with 10 fours. Allen followed next, holing out to Booth off Simpson. Confident by the double strike Simpson also picked up Trueman and Statham in quick succession to finish with four for 23.
Despite the collapse England had managed to pile up 367. They led by 177, and there was plenty of time for them to win the Test. It was, after all, only the third day.
Benaud approached Lawry and Simpson as they padded up. Instead of a gloomy look the captain had a grin on his face. Benaud told them “We are 177 behind England. We must have a big stand to start our second innings and stay in the game. I know you two can do it.”
Looking back at the words Lawry later wrote in Run Digger: “I cannot speak for [Bobby] Simpson but I know that instant I felt we could do it, and we did.” They were not dragged to the war: they strode into it with their heads held high.
The confident pair returned at stumps with 63 on the board. Lawry was on 33 and Simpson on 29. The ghosts of Trueman and Statham were no longer looming in the Australian dressing-room. Despite the 114-run deficit the enthusiasm was back in the side.
Day Four: That man Lawry, again
Lawry had already had a reprieve the previous evening when Subba Row had dropped him at third slip off Trueman when the Victorian on 25. He had decided to make the most use of this. He batted on, scoring most of his runs through the square-leg area: he hooked and pulled when they bowled short and flicked when they pitched up. He also drove hard, but defended or left alone almost everything else, especially if they were outside the off-stump.
Simpson, too, batted with confidence for his 141-minute 51 with seven fours before Flavell had him caught-behind. The pair had added 113. Harvey walked out, and was dropped by Close at slips with his score on two. He got another reprieve when Barrington dropped him off Flavell on 26.
Harvey’s and luck ran out when Dexter had him caught-behind; Australia were still two runs behind when O’Neill walked out despite the injury from the first innings. Shortly afterwards, Lawry reached his hundred — his second of the series after a match-winning one at Lord’s. He was then caught brilliantly by Trueman at short-leg off Allen’s off-breaks.
Lawry had scored an invaluable 102 in 268 minutes with 13 fours. Davidson later wrote of the innings: “It was [Bill] Lawry who gave us the chance. For his innings at Lord’s I’d have given him the VC [Victoria Cross], but his 102 at Manchester was worth at least the Military Cross.”
Australia were marginally ahead, but a smile had spread over Benaud’s lips as he watched the ball turn. It was, after all, paying off. Burge dug in with O’Neill, and the lead began to pile up slowly. England, however, kept on bowling a nagging line and length and often had the tourists in trouble. O’Neill was struck on the thigh, and Dexter had Burge caught-behind after a 64-run partnership.
O’Neill followed shortly afterwards as he edged one off Statham, and Dexter had Booth leg-before almost immediately afterwards. Australia seemed to be headed for a considerable lead till a while back: the triple-strike had brought England right back into the match.
There was no more casualty as Mackay and Davidson — both on 18 — walked back at stumps. Australia were 154 runs ahead, but they needed a hundred or so more to give themselves a fair chance. With the pitch taking turn and Allen looking dangerous, it seemed to be an uphill task.
Night four: The conversation
Benaud was not happy with the proceedings that night. He was not in the best of forms himself, and he knew that he needed to do something special to tilt the Test in their favour. He sought out Ray Lindwall when the great man had paid a visit to the Lancashire Committee Room.
Benaud had discovered some footmarks outside the left-hander’s off-stump at the Railway End; Benaud wanted to verify what Lindwall had thought of bowling round the wicket to both right-handers and left-handers. Lindwall responded: “Well, you can do it, but you’d better get it right or they’ll kill you!”
Day Five, Part One: Allen strikes, Davidson blasts
May asked Allen to bowl from the Stretford End the next morning. The spectators had barely begun to settle down when the Gloucestershire off-spinner had removed Mackay, Benaud, and Wally Grout with the addition of only three runs by the third over of the day. McKenzie walked out with a First-Class batting average of barely over 10.
Ed Jaggard wrote in Garth: The Story of Graham McKenzie: “The game was firmly in England’s grasp. At the wicket, [Alan] Davidson was looking like ‘an old, old man’. [Graham] McKenzie, who had been receiving treatment from masseur Arthur James for his sore leg, was taken by surprise when the three wickets fell. He had the rush to get his pads on, but he knew the prospects of Australian victory had almost disappeared.”
If he was tense his attitude certainly did not reflect so. Davidson recalled: “I am the seasoned Test international and he [McKenzie] is in the embryo of his Test career. The amazing part about him was he was so relaxed. He was sort of half-whistling as he came out, he was so calm. I told him ‘Righto, mate. It’s upto us, just play straight. And we’ll see what happens.’”
It was then that Davidson played one of those innings that has made him stand out as one of the leading all-rounders Australia has ever produced. He played out maiden after maiden off Allen, and tried to guard McKenzie against the seamers as well, seeing through the dangerous Statham with care. Valuable minutes were spent and valuable runs were added as Davidson kept on pecking at the bowling.
“[Alan] Davidson made sure he took my end every over I bowled that morning. Also, the fact that our fast bowlers were trying to attack [Graham] McKenzie at the other end never allowed me to bowl against him,” a distraught Allen complained later. Close, replacing Statham at the other end with his off-breaks, bowled a fraction fuller, allowing McKenzie to settle down.
Allen’s first nine overs cost him a mere two runs. It was then that a distraught May asked Allen to toss it up to Davidson and lure him to throw his wicket away. Davidson took him for 20 runs in that over with two fours and two sixes. Allen fell apart, and was replaced the next over.
Then the onslaught began: the partnership eventually amounted to 98 in 102 minutes before Flavell bowled McKenzie. Davidson remained unbeaten on a 174-ball 77 with ten fours and two sixes, while McKenzie had played out of his skin to score 32 with three fours.
England required 256 to win in 230 minutes. Davidson and McKenzie had executed their roles to perfection. As Benaud recalled in A Tale of Two Tests, “[Alan] Davidson, breathless but triumphant as he tossed his bat into a corner proclaimed, ‘we’ll do these jokers,’ Rich.”
Day Five, Part Two: The ‘Lord’ prevails
Pullar and Subba Row began cautiously against Davidson and McKenzie before the former opened up in an array of strokes. They caught up with the clock soon before Davidson drew first blood as Pullar was caught by O’Neill. England were 40 for one when May played a masterstroke. He held himself back and promoted Dexter.
The idea was to counterattack and put pressure on the Australians: “Let us use him [Dexter] for what he is good at rather than sending him at number six before we were down and under pressure.” Dexter was given full license to hit out — and hit out he did.
The innings that followed can only be classified as regal: he drove, he cut, he pulled, he hooked, and he took Davidson and Benaud to the cleaners. When Mackay bowled out short Dexter simply rocked back and thwacked the ball over the bowler’s head: the ball hit the sight-screen and came back some way.
Subba Row, on the other hand, kept his calm, not trying to emulate Dexter’s majestic approach at all: he simply played out the Australians with care, ensuring that no wicket fell at the other end. Benaud, still circumspect of using Lindwall’s advice, walked up to his deputy.
“Go for it, I’m with you,” said Harvey. Benaud called for drinks — to let the entire team know of his plan. He emphasised that they could still pull off the Test if the entire side fielded out of their skins. The tactic didn’t seem to work in the beginning.
Grout wasn’t happy about the situation at all: he had, after all, placed money on the outcome of the Test. “I sent a look of disgust down the wicket to Richie [Benaud] and reminded him at the end of the over that I had money on this match, and if he kept bowling that stuff I was going to do my dough,” recollected the wicket-keeper in My Country’s Keeper.
Benaud, however, was supremely confident about his approach: “Stick with me, Wal, we’re going to win the game.” He later went on to confess that he was not so confident inside: “I might well have been dead cricket-wise if the game had gone the other way.”
Grout recalled that Benaud bowled a long-hop: “Even [Ted] Dexter must have felt some compassion for [Richie] Benaud as he slammed it to the fence. The next ball looked like a ‘dead ringer’ for the other two and Ted again played the cut. But the ball carried top-spin and skidded from the bat into my gloves.”
Grout added: “I will never forget that moment. The way I clung to the ball it could have been gold bullion, and [Richie] Benaud’s broad grin from halfway down the wicket said as plainly as if he had yelled out, ‘I told you!’ I have never doubted the man since.”
Dexter walked back after an 84-ball 76 with 14 runs and that six off Mackay. With 106 to be scored in 105 minutes May walked out to join the obdurate Subba Row. With the likes of Close, Barrington, Murray, and Allen still to come it was easily England’s game from there.
Day Five, Part Three: Not the Ball of the Century
Benaud waited at the top of his bowling-mark as May marked out his guard. The Australian captain knew that he had to get rid of his counterpart as soon as possible; if May stuck for long he would take the Test away from Australia.
The first ball was not on the spot: it landed on the leg-stump, and did not turn as expected: May patted it back to Benaud. “Get it out further, you idiot,” Benaud told himself as he walked back to his mark. What followed next will remain etched in the history of Ashes as long as the contest will exist. The following quotes should suffice to describe the ball.
“The ball pitched so wide of the leg stump that [Peter] May, quite rightly, went to sweep it. Unfortunately for him, while the ball was in flight he had moved just an inch or two towards his leg and middle stumps and the ball came behind his legs and bowled him,” wrote Bill Bowes in Aussies and Ashes.
Roy Lester wrote in his The Fight for the Ashes in 1961: “The England captain could hardly believe it, and the crowd, so recently alive with the expectation of victory, was stunned into silence.” “An ill-advised and half-hearted sweep shot saw him [May] bowled round his legs by [Richie] Benaud and England had gone from 150 for one to 150 for three,” were Laker’s comments in The Australian Tour of 1961.
“[Peter] May contributed much to his own downfall. He seldom plays the sweep shot, and when he tried it this time he failed to get his body between the pitch of the ball and the stumps, with the result that when he missed the ball his wicket was uncovered,” was Lindwall’s verdict in The Challenging Tests.
Ronald Roberts mentioned in The Fight for the Ashes 1961: “[Richie] Benaud bowled one wide of the leg stump, and, with the field invitingly open on that side, [Peter] May went for the sweep. He missed contact, did not have his legs in the right position as the second line of defence, and the ball spun sharply to take the leg stump.”
John Arlott chipped in as well in Australian Challenge: “[Richie] Benaud bowled to [Peter] May, still going round the wicket and bowling from the extreme edge of the crease. His second ball pitched well outside the leg-stump and May, not yet off the mark, and seeing — surely to his surprise — a wide ball proffered to him on the all but unguarded leg-side, played a stroke not normally in his game — the sweep. In his surprise he neglected to put his leg in line, his stroke was crooked and the leg-break bowled him round his legs… May stayed a moment as if incredulous and then walked away…”
The final word, however, should be Benaud’s. He wrote in A Tale of Two Tests: “The next ball did land in the rough and as [Peter] May tried to sweep it, the ball dug into the turf and whipped back towards the leg stump. I saw all this from where I had run to the on-side of the wicket… there was that terrible fraction of a second as I waited for the ball to hit the leg stump and then an unrestrained yell of joy. May was out.”
It is a shame that the ball did not go down in history as the Ball of the Century. May was so taken aback that Grout had to break it to him: “You’re out, skipper, ’cause he’s bowled you!” “Skipper” later confessed: “I was bowled round my legs ignominiously, for just about the only time that I can remember, and we went rushing to defeat.”
Day Five, Part Four: Benaud runs through
It was still far from over, though. Close walked out to join Subba Row and immediately clobbered Benaud for a six when Benaud had shifted momentarily to bowling over the wicket to the left-hander. He switched back. Subba Row had been keeping the ball out at the other end, but as he played out the maidens the asking rate climbed.
Then Close decided to hit Benaud out of the attack. Benaud tossed it up; the ball pitched a fraction outside Close’s off-stump, and the Yorkshireman swept with all the power he could muster. The ball took his top edge and looped up to O’Neill’s hands at backward square-leg.
“Close swept again and again without success, and when he did make contact he swept the ball directly to [Norman] O’Neill who made an extremely difficult catch look easy, taking it baseball style above his head,” Benaud later wrote.
Then came the big wicket, and with it came the big celebration. Subba Row misread the flight of the ball and managed to york himself: the ball passed under his bat and hit into leg-and-middle: Benaud clapped in ecstasy, and ran towards Grout in an uncharacteristic display of jubilation.
Murray walked out to join Barrington. The pressure was back on England now. Benaud pitched one just outside the leg-stump; it slowed down a bit after it landed, turned a bit, took Murray’s edge, and Simpson completed the rest at first slip. At the other end Mackay hit a vital blow by trapping Barrington leg-before with a length delivery.
Allen was the only one who stood between Australia and victory. Benaud switched to over the wicket and found the edge almost immediately. What followed was an outstanding slip catch: the ball came to Simpson’s left — his wrong hand — at a rapid pace; as Allen recalled, Simpson “caught it with his left hand, his unnatural one, after the ball had passed him [Simpson].”
Benaud, too, was taken by surprise: “He tried to drive, got a fine edge and the ball flew like a bullet just wide of [Wally] Grout. [Bobby] Simpson hurled himself to the left, grasped the ball in one hand and finished up behind [Wally] Grout… a grand match-winning catch.”
Benaud paid back the favour when he caught Trueman off Simpson as the Yorkshireman tried to play an expansive drive and edged one. England brought up their 200, but Davidson ran through Statham’s defence when the Lancastrian tried to defend one without any foot movement with 20 minutes to go for the close.
Australia won by 55 runs and the Ashes was retained. The winning side celebrated at the amazing turnaround. “I don’t think I have ever seen such emotions. We were laughing but tears were running down our faces. It was an incredible thing. It was a bit like the tied Test,” remarked Davidson.
Once back in the dressing room O’Neill had the bath filled and asked Benaud to step in: “Go on, Rich, dive in. With your luck, you won’t even get wet.”
“The lucky captain”, however, mentioned in an interview to The Canberra Times that he wasn’t sure of the victory till Davidson snared Statham: “If we had walked off the field at six o’clock with [Brian] Statham and [Jack] Flavell still there I would not have been surprised. It has happened before and it will happen again.”
Hours after the Test got over Harvey sat sipping champagne with Benaud. As Harvey recalled in My World of Cricket, “It was a toast of sweet revenge — a toast through which silently slipped the memories of a Test match at the same ground five years before when England had ground Australia into the red dust to retain the Ashes. I well remember the scenes after that game as we looked down from the same balcony on a seething mass of people — waiting eagerly to pay homage to the victorious English team and one player, Jim Laker, in particular.”
The scenario was completely different this time, wrote Harvey: “In 1956 the crowd stayed on cheering and laughing in the happy celebration of an English triumph. But in 1961, a few hours after Australia had escaped from the frying pan and put England’s Ashes hopes in the fire, I could have fired a shotgun into the Members’ Enclosure at Old Trafford and not hit a soul.”
Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister, sent in his congratulatory telegram: CONGRATULATIONS ON THE MOST BRILLIANT FIGHT-BACK I CAN EVER REMEMBER. MY WARMEST GREETINGS TO YOU AND THE TEAM. The team also ended up winning £1,400 from a £10,000 fund that had been set up jointly by WD and HO Wills to encourage attractive play.
EW Swanton, covering the match for Daily Telegraph, asked Benaud at the Midland Hotel: “Would it be all right with you chaps if I had a photographer come in come and take your picture?” Benaud agreed, but as the photographer stepped in, he stopped: “Bottles off the table, gentlemen.”
As Haigh wrote, “Coffee cups were positioned, the picture taken, and retention of the Ashes savoured.” Even an Ashes win was not above the protocol.
A crestfallen Alan Ross was generous in his appreciation of the victorious tourists, of Lawry’s “craggy, rugged defiance”, of Davidson’s “sudden summoning of the old sweet masteries, a half-crocked, tired Neptunian figure, hair-flecked with foam but magically regenerated as if by some Faustian potion”, of McKenzie, “brash and unabashed when resistance seemed all but pointless”, of O’Neill, “living for the moment as immediately as any paid-off cane cutter”, of Benaud, “mercurial, buoyant, tigerishly lazy of movement”.
In an ode to Harvey, he added: “They are truly Australian, with something of the renegade’s camaraderie about them, the outlaws’ interdependence. [Neil] Harvey, light-footed, smiling, trim as the VJs that skim Sydney harbour, I cannot regard as particularly Australian. He stands outside origins.”
Close was axed for the final Test at The Oval for playing a rash stroke. May, however, expressed his resentment: “A lot was made of Brian Close’s swing across the line, but, to my mind, it was irrelevant. We should never have had to make as many as 256. We lost by not holding our catches.”
Strangely enough, Trueman was also dropped — even after his match-winning spell a Test back — for the reason that he had created the footholds on which Benaud had pitched the ball. “They held me responsible for causing the rough patches which [Richie] Benaud used to get some life out of the plumb wicket. I hadn’t even bowled from that end – it was Ted Dexter and Jack Flavell. But any excuse would do,” wrote a distraught Trueman much later in Balls of Fire.
After Davidson and Ron Gaunt bowled out England for 256 Harvey and O’Neill scored hundreds to provide England with a lead of 238 runs. Subba Row then saved the Test with a 172-run partnership with Barrington. Australia won the series 2-1.
Simpson and Lawry went on to become one of the most prolific opening partnerships of all time, putting up 3,596 runs at 60.94 from 62 opening stands.
Australia 190 (Bill Lawry 74, Brian Booth 46; Brian Statham 5 for 53, Ted Dexter 3 for 16) and 432 (Bill Lawry 102, Alan Davidson 77 not out, Norman O’Neill 67, Bobby Simpson 51; David Allen 4 for 58, Ted Dexter 3 for 61) beat England 367 (Peter May 95, Ken Barrington 78, Geoff Pullar 63, David Allen 42; Bobby Simpson 4 for 23, Alan Davidson 3 for 70) and 201 (Ted Dexter 76, Raman Subba Row 49; Richie Benaud 6 for 70) by 54 runs.
(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)