On November 29, 1994, Shane Warne bagged his best Test figures (8 for 71) as England were wiped out by 184 runs, this after Michael Slater’s carnage had set the course for the rest of the Ashes. Karthik Parimal revisits that eventful Test at Brisbane.
Even in this age of Twenty20, where reverse-sweeps, paddle-sweeps, switch-hits et al. are considered mainstream artillery, the game of most regular Test players is based around defence. If a batsman’s bar chart was made for the first session of the first day’s play, the rectangular bar depicting the number of deliveries blocked or left alone would tower over the ones taken for runs. Nonetheless, almost two decades ago, even before bowlers getting pummelled in the first 15 overs of an innings in a One-Day International (ODI) had become a regular sight, one batsman completely changed the notion of normality, at least for Australia. Michael Slater initiated carnage — this in the first ten overs of the first day of an Ashes Test — that became a talking point during every battle for the urn thereafter.
The first delivery
Owing to the English selectors’ befuddlement, a blend [by no means perfect] of youth and experience, inclusive of a 41-year-old Graham Gooch and a 37-year-old Mike Gatting, hopped on the flight to Australia to regain the Ashes. An inexperienced Michael Atherton was placed at the helm and the bowling attack was led by Phil DeFreitas. Australia’s captain Mark Taylor won the toss in the first tussle at Brisbane and chose to bat first as an insipid-looking English unit took field. The only way they could have bolstered their morale was by catching the Australian batsmen unaware. But what followed was ominous, and it set the course for the rest of the Ashes.
Whenever Slater walked out to bat, the Australian contingent would gather in the confines of the pavilion to watch this wizard tear apart the opposition with his Gray-Nicolls. They were seldom disappointed. Even Steve Waugh, who wasn’t on Slater’s Christmas card list, admired his brilliance, saying, “I never missed the start of a Test with Slats in action, because the energy he generated meant there would invariably be fireworks,” in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.
And surely enough, the first ball of the Test, bowled by DeFreitas was square-cut to the boundary by Slater’s flashing blade. At the end of that year’s Ashes, many reckoned the outcome of this first delivery best provided a glimpse of things that transpired. Matters compounded for England when a leg-stump half-volley that sped towards the fence was fumbled by Phil Tufnell and, in four overs, the Australians galloped to 26 for no loss.
Slater, the Demolition Man
Australian-born Martin McCague was England’s second bowler and, perhaps owing to pressure from the barrage of abuses directed by the Brisbane crowd, dished out a plethora of long-hops and half-volleys that were duly, firmly and stylishly driven on both sides of the turf by Slater. At the other end, Taylor, too, looked impregnable, until a misunderstanding resulting in a run out abruptly put an end to his innings. Taking responsibility for Taylor’s demise, Slater, if that were possible, turned more aggressive and smacked the English bowlers to all corners of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Slater raced to his hundred and, in Mark Waugh, found able company, as the two put on 182 for the second wicket — Slater amassing 112 of them. He eventually fell for 176 (25 fours), just 36 minutes before the close of play on the first day, whereas Mark rallied on to make 140 (14 fours, one six). The Australians were shut out for 426 the next morning, a total daunting enough to send England into a tailspin. Out walked their batsmen with a shattered spirit and, as expected, the Australian bowlers were quick to pounce on the wavering confidence of their openers.
Craig McDermott ran through the top-order like a raging bulldozer, snaring Michael Atherton, Alec Stewart and Graeme Hick through nicks that were safely pouched by wicketkeeper Ian Healy. He returned for a second spell and accounted for the scalps of Gatting, McCague and Steve Rhodes, before another wizard, this one with the ball, by the name of Shane Warne polished off the lower-order with three wickets. England were bowled out for 167, way behind Australia’s first innings total. But Taylor, sensing that the turf had been flattening out [and also the prospect of letting Warne have a go at the English batsmen on the final day’s wicket must have been tempting], refrained from forcing the follow-on.
Wizard from Oz
In their second outing, the Australian top-order chipped in with starts, only Taylor going past half-century. A late flourish from Healy propped the score to 248 for eight, before a declaration was made, thereby leaving England a gargantuan 508 to win in little over a day. They knew Warne would be tough to deal with on a crumbling wicket on the final day, but there was little they could do except hope he had an off day.
But in the previous Ashes at England, Warne bagged 34 wickets, which included the Ball of the Century to Gatting. For the English batsmen, the wounds of that series were yet to be appeased, whereas Warne grew in confidence thereafter and it reflected when he was tossed the ball in the final innings of this Brisbane Test.
Wicket No. 1: Alec Stewart
The ball was death in disguise. Warne set Stewart up by pitching it short, giving him the impression that he had ample time to rock on to the backfoot and cut it for four. Stewart fell for the trap, as he went back for what looked like a juicy delivery, but was in fact a flipper which skid on and shattered his timber before he could comprehend what was happening. In his autobiography, Warne says Stewart’s dismissal gave him “special pleasure”. England lost its first wicket for 50 runs.
Wicket No. 2: Michael Atherton
An impeccable delivery which pitches on middle-and-leg and hits Atherton on the pads, and the umpire has no qualms raising his finger following a huge appeal, convinced that it would clip the top of the off-stump. England slide to 59 for two.
Wicket No. 3: Graham Thorpe
The duo of Thorpe and Hick pulled England out of doldrums with a 160-run partnership when Warne was roped in for another spell. By then, the footmarks on either side of the wicket were prominent, and Warne relentlessly pitched the ball in the rough. He tossed one right on the crease as Thorpe stretched out to drive through the covers. A small gap between the southpaw’s pad and bat allowed the ball, almost a full toss, to sneak through and spin to hit the stumps. A defiant stand had been broken, although the English were still well perched at 219 for three.
Wicket No. 4: Graeme Hick
Just one run after Thorpe’s dismissal, Warne, bowling around the wicket, pitched the ball outside the leg-stump. Considering it safe to leave, Hick, batting on 80, thrust his pads at it, but the bounce was higher than anticipated and, absurdly, it took his glove on its way into Healy’s gloves. An ecstatic Warne assisted Hick off the ground with some choice advice, but England had more to worry about; they had slumped to 220 for four.
Wicket No. 5: Graham Gooch
McDermott snared Gatting and Rhodes in the middle-order while Gooch remained stranded at the other end. With wickets constantly falling, he began to attack. Realising this, Warne pitched one full, and Gooch looked to hoick it over the mid-wicket fence on one knee. Nonetheless, the revolutions imparted on the ball deceived the batsman, and he only managed an under-edge to Healy. He had made 56 in England’s total of 309 for seven.
Wicket No. 6: Phil DeFreitas
A leg-spinner’s dream, one that Warne went on to experience umpteen times in his career. A flummoxed DeFreitas was bowled around his legs and walked away shaking his head in disbelief. The end was near for England, who were now reeling on 310 for eight.
Wicket No. 7: Martin McCague
In the very next delivery, a well-disguised flipper trapped McCague plumb in front of the wickets and Warne was on a hat-trick. Phil Tufnell, the last batsman, walked out to bat, perhaps unwillingly, as the Australian fielders converged around him for the hat-trick delivery. Warne unfurled a googly that managed to pass between the bat and pad, but the ball just about squeezed passed the off-stump. “Clearly I had used up all my good fortune earlier in the day when Graham Thorpe missed a full toss,” a disappointed Warne recollects in his book.
Wicket No. 8: Darren Gough
Once hailed as the next Ian Botham, Gough quickly descended to a regular tail-ender and, characteristically, nicked Warne to Mark Waugh at first slip. England’s innings concluded on 323, thereby conceding defeat by 184 runs, as Warne finished with figures of eight for 71, his best in Tests.
Australia won the next fixture at Melbourne by 295 runs; and Warne ensured a hat-trick this time around. The Ashes were retained by the Australians 3-1.
Warne bagged 27 wickets at an average of 20.33 in that series.
Ian Healy’s nine victims for the match (Brisbane Test) equalled the then Australian record for most dismissals by a wicket-keeper.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)