On February 10, 1975, Mike Denness essayed his best knock in Test cricket in an Ashes Test at Melbourne. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at the knock that helped England win the match by a huge margin.
Ashes cricket is a crucible that can consume the toughest with its enormous pressure. It is a contest the teams want to win and failure to do so can entail grievous repercussions. Thus, when Australia and England played the sixth Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1975, the pressure was on the visiting skipper Mike Denness as his side had already lost four games. If anything, they could only eye a face-saving win and then head to New Zealand for the other leg of the tour.
Denness’s own form was poor through the tour. In his four previous Tests, he had scored only one fifty and had had crossed 20 only thrice in eight innings. Therefore, he not only had the pressure of leading a beleaguered side but also had to work on his personal form. On February 8 (Day One), Ian Chappell won the toss and chose to bat.
Peter Lever and Chris Old then fashioned a remarkable collapse as Australia were bundled out for only 152. Lever finished with remarkable figures of six for 38 (his best figures in Test cricket) and Old accounted for three for 50. Chappell (65) was the only one who fought with the bat as the rest folded. The pitch was a bit damp and Chappell’s decision was certainly a brave one, which he alone justified.
Having restricted Australia to only 152, the momentum was with England. However, it began on a disastrous note again as Dennis Amiss was out for a duck. Dennis Lillee trapped him leg-before with the score on four. Colin Cowdrey, who had made a heroic return for his side, could only muster seven as Max Walker had him caught behind. At 18 for two (On Day Two), Denness strode out to accompany John Edrich.
There was a body blow for Australia when Lillee was injured and had to go off. They already missed Jeff Thomson and now England were certainly the happier side as they didn’t have to combat the pace duo. Instead, they had to deal with Max Walker and Geoff Dymock. Denness and Edrich then made merry and built a solid partnership for the third wicket.
It was their turn to force the issue and take England past Australia’s score. With the strike bowler out, Denness and Edrich stitched together a partnership of 149 runs, taking England to a lead. But then, Walked struck as he dismissed Edrich for 70. Chappell had taken the catch to dismiss the gritty batsman.
However, that did not reduce the agony for the Australians as Keith Fletcher walked out to join his captain in the centre. While he was more sedate, Denness was fluent and played a few strokes. In the process Denness reached his third Test ton. There was a scare for him though as he was almost caught down the leg-side for 98. However, he ended the day on 133 not out with Fletcher on 56. England were 273 for three, comfortably ahead and in a position to take the initiative.
On Day Three (February 10), both batsmen continued to maintain their approach. As Wisden noted, “on the third morning neither he nor Fletcher made a relevant mistake as England extended their advantage.”
Denness went past the 150 mark and was marching along to his double hundred. However, on 188, he spooned a catch back to Walker. The score was 359 and in his presence, England had scored 341 runs. It was redemption of sorts for him. He could have been the third Englishman to score a double ton in Australia. The other men who had done it till then were Wally Hammond and Tip Foster.
- Fletcher got his ton and went on to make 146. Tony Grieg hit 89 off only 94 balls as England piled 529.
- Walker recorded his best figures in Test cricket as he finished with eight for 143.
- Geoff Arnold, Lever and Grieg combined to bowl Australia out for 373 and win the Test by an innings and four runs. Greg Chappell scored a ton in vain.
- England toured New Zealand after the Ashes and in the first Test at Auckland; Denness smashed 181 to help his side win by an innings and 83 runs.
- However, he played only two more Tests and was axed after a defeat to Australia at Edgbaston later in the year.
Australia 152 (Ian Chappell 65; Peter Lever 6 for 38, Chris Old 3 for 50) and 373 (Ian Redpath 83, Rick McCosker 76, Ian Chappell 50, Greg Chappell 102; Geoff Arnold 3 for 83, Peter Lever 3 for 65, Tony Greig 4 for 88) lost to England 529 (Mike Denness 188, Keith Fletcher 146, Tony Greig 89; Max Walker 8 for 143) by an innings and 4 runs.
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