England captain Tony Greig (left) and Australian captain Ian Chappell survey the damage done by vandals that brought the 1975 Ashes Test at Leeds to an abrupt end.
August 19, 1975. Australia needed 225 to win on the final day with seven wickets remaining. And the spectators were robbed of a promising thriller when a group of vandals dug holes on the wicket and poured oil on the pitch. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the incident in Headingley which cost £8,000 in gate receipts and scorecard sales.
It had all the makings of a fifth day thriller. And instead of an epic climax unfolding on the pitch, what ensued was a curious tale of knives, holes and oil.
England, with obvious advantage till the fourth afternoon, dearly wanted to draw level in the series. The Australians, having come back into the game in an audacious display of pluck, looked at securing the Ashes. The target of 445 was steep, but the Australians remembered that Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ had scored 404 in less than a day to win the fourth Test in 1948. And some rearrangement of the batting order on the previous afternoon had worked wonders for them. But then, the two captains received the fateful calls on the final morning.
A seesaw battle
England’s 288 had been rather less than what they had bargained for after ending the first day at 251 for five, with skipper Tony Greig going strong. The first day witnessed some unimaginative leadership from Ian Chappell who stuck to four quick bowlers bowling outside the off stump, and did toss the ball to Ashley Mallett at all. But, Gary Gilmour struck four times on the second morning, and ran Greig out to skittle the last five wickets for 37. The final total was less than impressive.
However, when debutant left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds began with six maidens and then finished with five for 17 from the first 12 overs of his career, the Australian bowling tactics were made to look positively curious and the 288 gained threatening proportions. Edmonds came on to bowl from the pavilion end at 77 for three, with Derek Underwood already operating at the Kirkstall Lane end. By the end of the day, Australia slipped to 107 for eight.
Edmonds had Greg Chappell sweeping straight into the hands of a perfectly placed Derek Underwood at deep square leg. He got an injured Ross Edwards leg before off the first ball and never looked back. Greig closed in on the batsmen with a ring of catching fielders. Ian Chappell was soon bowled after missing an attempted pull. The Australian batsmen kept toppling one after another. The next morning John Snow ran in and knocked over the two remaining wickets, ensuring a 153-run lead for the hosts.
The England innings was a tale of grim struggle, with the batsmen determined to consolidate their position and the bowlers not granting them any liberties. Mallett was finally given a bowl and produced an impressive spell on a slow pitch. England ended the third day on 184 for three. After spending the rest day secure in the knowledge of a strong position, England stepped on the accelerator on the fourth morning. David Steele drove Mallett for six, Greig attacked the bowling and Chris Old was promoted to push things along. The innings closed at 291, leaving Australia with a target of 445 with plenty of time to get them.
The bookies offered nine to one against Australia, but the odds had halved by the time stumps were drawn.
As in the first innings, Rod Marsh was used as the makeshift opener for the injured Edwards, and stayed put for 69 minutes. It was Underwood who bowled the Australian wicketkeeper to get his 200th Test wicket. Rick McCosker batted beautifully, moving to 95 by the time the day’s play was over. Ian Chappell walked out with the unwavering focus on a near impossible win, hitting eleven fours and lofting Greig for a huge six over mid-wicket.
At 161, however, he was struck on the pads by Old and was given out leg before wicket. Chappell, obviously displeased by the decision, stormed off, passing brother Greg on the way out without a word. He slammed the dressing-room door, and barged into the shower, throwing soap at the wall and swearing with the fullest flair of his Aussie vocabulary. It was while taking the long shower that his anger dissipated and ideas started forming.
According to Chappell, “I had a premonition that Walters was going to get a century. Rick McCosker was batting well and just before I got given out I was just starting to think that if Rick and I are here at stumps we’ll win the match. And then I got the decision and when I got in the dressing room … I suddenly thought, ‘Shit, hang on Ian, there’s a Test match going on and it’s a Test match we can win.’ Suddenly, I thought that if Doug [Walters] gets in before the new ball is due and has ten or twelve overs , he can make a hundred on this pitch easy.”
Chappell walked out on to the balcony draped in a towel and asked Walters to pad up. Edwards was scheduled to go in next and Walters, visibly surprised, reminded his skipper that he was not due to bat yet. He was instructed in no uncertain terms, “Doug, go and put the f***** pads on. I’m going to bat you next. You go in next and get a hit against the old ball. You get a good start — I’ve seen you get hundreds on much worse pitches than this one. It’s a f**** good pitch.”
Greg Chappell soon fell to Edmonds and Walters walked out to bat. The last 49 minutes saw McCosker and Walters put on 46 without being troubled. Australia ended the final day on 220 for three.
The game was poised for the most exciting climax.
Vandals stop play
Chappell was woken up next day by a call from team manager Fred Bennett. During the night, vandals had dug holes in the pitch near the popping crease, and poured a gallon or more of oil in the region where a good length ball would have landed. There was no time for Ian Chappell to take a shower.
Greig, however, had some more time to dress. He received his call from Yorkshire secretary Joe Lister summoning him to the ground.
Hence there is a photograph of the pitch inspection with Tony Greig in a suit and tie and Chappell in a hastily put on jumper and slip-ons.
The last day had dawned cloudy. George Cawthray, groundsman at Headingley, had pushed back the covers to discover a pitch full of gouges and holes and soaked with oil. He had summoned the police.
Umpires Arthur Fagg and David Constant informed the captains that the pitch had definitely changed in nature and according to the laws of cricket, the game could be called off. However, if the captains agreed, they could take a punt on playing.
Chappell’s first thoughts were about Underwood, what he could do if he pitched his deadly deliveries on oil. However, before he could say anything, Greig stepped forward and told the umpires, “Well, I agree with you, the pitch is not fit for play and I think we’ll have to call the game off.”
Chappell would later get embroiled in plenty of conflicts with Greig, but on that day he shook him warmly by the hand and said, “Thanks very much for that mate, I appreciate that.”
A brief look around for an alternative strip around the playing area did not really yield positive results. Play was abandoned, much to the disappointment of the gathered spectators and a huge television audience, all of them expecting a thriller of a final day.
The Headingley pitch had been sabotaged by four people, one of whom was coincidentally named Peter Chappell. Their campaign was for freeing a London East Ender named George Davis. A 34-year-old minicab driver, Davis had been sentenced to a 20-year term for armed robbery. On that day, there were crudely daubed graffiti on Headingley’s perimeter walls proclaiming: “George Davis is innocent.”
The graffiti on Headingley’s perimeter proclaiming the vandals justification.
On television, a grim looking Peter West informed the viewers that the match had been abandoned. According to Martin Williamson, “The details given were sketchy and brief. And whereas today endless replays would be shown, and petro-chemical experts dragged in to explain exactly what kind of oil had been used, in those more genteel times of 1975, the BBC reverted to transmitting a picture of a cricket ball with a two-line explanation as a caption.”
However, by lunchtime a persistent drizzle started to fall and it stayed constant throughout the day. Even if there had been no vandalism, the match would have been abandoned before tea-time.
There were rumours that an additional Test would be slotted after the fourth match at The Oval. However, the idea was dismissed after initial discussions between the two boards. The Australian cricketers, all of them with fulltime jobs, had to return home immediately after the scheduled days of the tour.
On the evening of the incident, Colin Dean, the brother-in-law of Davis, was interviewed. He told the BBC, “We can get the Ashes back anytime. What have we done? Dug a little bit of ground up. Is it sacred?” Later, Dean and three others, two men and a woman, were taken to court and charged with vandalism. Three received suspended sentences and one, the very man named Peter Chappell, was jailed for 18 months. Presumably his family name did not have to do anything with the punishment.
The story of George Davis himself contains as many twists and turns as the most fascinating Test match. In 1976 he was freed after home secretary Merlyn Rees decided that his conviction was unsound. But two years later he was found guilty of attempting to rob a bank and convicted for 15 years. Released in 1984, he was again convicted in 1987 for trying to steal mailbags.
That summer there were further incidents of tampering with pitches as well. In Staffordshire the police had to intervene when a man kept driving his car across the square at Silverdale Cricket Club. He had supposedly been protesting against balls being hit into his garden.
England 288 (John Edrich 62, David Steele 73, Tony Greig 51; George Gilmour 6 for 85) and 291 (David Steele 92, Tony Greig 49) drew with Australia 135 (Phil Edmonds 5 for 28) and 220 for 3 (Rick McCosker 95*, Ian Chappell 62).
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)