Bob Massie (right) is cheered off the field by the Australian team  after taking eight for 84 in the England first innings. He took another eight-wicket haul in the second innings to finish with 16-137 in his debut Test. The Australians trooping back to the pavilion are (from left): Doug Walters, David Colley, Ross Edwards, Rodney Marsh, Keith Stackpole, Dennis Lillee, Bruce Francis, John Gleeson and Greg Chappell. The two umpires are Arthur Fagg and David Constant © Getty Images
Bob Massie (right) is cheered off the field by the Australian team after taking eight for 84 in the England first innings. He took another eight-wicket haul in the second innings to finish with 16 for 137 in his debut Test. The Australians trooping back to the pavilion are (from left): Doug Walters, David Colley, Ross Edwards, Rodney Marsh, Keith Stackpole, Dennis Lillee, Bruce Francis, John Gleeson and Greg Chappell. The two umpires are Arthur Fagg and David Constant © Getty Images

June 26, 1972. Bob Massie swung the ball prodigiously on debut to pick up eight wickets in the first innings. He followed it up with eight in the second. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the spectacular entry into Test cricket of a man who played at the top level for just seven months.

He was perhaps the greatest mystery bowler of all time.

No, his stupendous feat at Lord’s in 1972 had no enigma about it. True, none of the English batsmen had a clue, but it had everything to do with prodigious swing, either way and late.

Bob Massie remains a mystery because he played only five more Test matches, failing to double the number of wickets he captured in his first Test. After the series, he played just two more. By the end of 18 months he had been dropped — not only by Australia, but also from his state side. His career was shorter than his seventies style sideburns, though no less striking.

It was curious as well that Massie had taken five in an innings only once in his career before he embarked on the English tour. It had been another huge bushel of seven wickets, captured against a phenomenally strong Rest of the World side at Sydney in January, 1972. The tipping point, so to say, had arrived when his perfectly pitched off-cutter had moved away from the great Garfield Sobers and had him edging into the gloves of Rod Marsh. In spite of the 16 wickets at Lord’s, Massie recalled the performance at the placid strip of Sydney as his best. His victims had included Sunil Gavaskar, Zaheer Abbas, Graeme Pollock, Sobers and Hylton Ackerman

On arriving in England for the Ashes that summer, he had met with instant success. Experienced from his three season stint in Scotland where he played for Kilmanrock, Massie ran through the Worcestershire side in the opening game, capturing six for 31. This set of scalps included, among others, Ronald George Alphonso Headley, the son of the great West Indian George Headley.
The first eight

England won the first Test at Old Trafford, with John Snow, Geoff Arnold and Tony Greig among the wickets. The Australian ploy of using Greg Chappell as the third seamer with Dennis Lillee and David Colly opening the attack had not really worked. Hence, on June 22, 1972, a 25-year-old Massie walked out under the Baggy Green cap for the first time as the match started after a 25-minute delay due to drizzle.

He could not have asked for a better man at the other end. Lillee charged in like a thoroughbred out of the stable gate, hurling balls on the hard wicket with fury, pushing the batsmen on the backfoot. Massie later had no hesitation in attributing much of his success to Lillee’s venom and hostility. Along with that, the atmosphere was heavy with moisture, almost tailor-made for his craft.

Neither could he have asked for a better wicket to register for the first time in the record books. Geoff Boycott’s impregnable bat found his late inswing too difficult to deal with, and the celebrated Yorkshireman’s defence was breached.The stumps rattled behind him and Massie exulted in glee.

It was Lillee who put the batting line-up in disarray, getting rid of Brian Luckhurst and John Edrich, reducing England to 28 for three. He would bowl the rest of the innings with relentless menace, but without another wicket.

Mike Smith and Basil D’Oliveira steadied the ship somewhat before Massie’s late in-swing caught the latter plumb in front. Smith went for an uncharacteristic across the line heave to the leg and had the woodwork disturbed.

Greig and Alan Knott engaged in a typical English lower middle order resistance, but they were dismissed in quick succession. Knott steered an out-swinger to gully. By now Massie was running in round the wicket, a technique perfected at Old Trafford, while bowling to Ross Edwards in the nets. Greig slashed at him and Marsh threw the ball up, and the batsman walked back not looking too happy.

Illingworth and Snow added 60, taking the innings into the next day, fighting doggedly. However, Massie ran in again, rested and fresh in the morning. He swung one back to trap the captain and moved another prodigiously to bowl the fast bowler. Norman Gifford did not have the skill to survive too long. England were bowled out for 272. Massie left the field, his reactions restrained but the face betraying his delight. He had every reason to be pleased as punch with a haul of eight for 84 on debut.
Eight again

The Australian reply hinged on Greg Chappell’s superb 131, every run scored with splendid elegance, the strokes flowing with delectable grace from his upright stance. He added 75 with brother and captain Ian Chappell after the openers had been lost for seven. Later Marsh struck two sixes in a hard-hitting 50. In his first venture with the bat, Massie got a duck, but in spite of Snow’s five wickets Australia led by 36.

Yet, within moments, the slender advantage had turned gigantic. Once again Lillee charged in and picked up two early wickets, getting rid of Boycott and Luckhurst. And again he continued to bowl brilliantly without any more success. Massie ran through the rest of the innings.

Edrich was forced to play at one that swung away at the last moment and would have taken the off-stump had he not touched it. Marsh did the rest. One by one D’Oliveira, Greig, Knott and Illingworth were caught in the many slips that waited in eager anticipation.  Five wickets were lost before the lead was eclipsed. Snow provided some diversion by nicking to the wicketkeeper after the spate of slip catches. Mike Smith, bespectacled and correct, got studiously behind the ball, but finally was ninth out for 81. England’s miserable Saturday ended only 50 ahead with one wicket in hand.

On Monday morning Gifford and John Price put on the best stand of the innings, adding 35 in all, taking the side beyond 100. But, Massie’s fina loutswinger took the edge and ended in Greg Chappell’s alert hands. England were all out for 116. Massie finished with eight for 53 in the second innings, earning him match figures of 16 for 137.

It was staggering. Only two men had done better in the entire history of Test cricket — Jim Laker with 19 for 90 in Manchester 1956, and Sydney Barnes with 17 for 159 against South Africa just before the First World War. Massie’s performance was by far the best ever by a debutant. And it remained that way for 15 years before an 18-year-old Narendra Hirwani bettered it by a solitary run, picking up 16 for 136 against West Indies at Madras in 1987-88.

What followed

Only Keith Stackpole reached double figures in Australia’s second innings. Others did not really need to. A sparkling unbeaten 57 from the opener ended the match, Australia triumphing by eight wickets.

Massie continued his dream run for a short while, picking up 10 against Leicestershire, and four in the first innings at Nottingham. However, soon the wickets dried out. He played just two more Tests, at home and against Pakistan.

Touring West Indies in 1973, Massie fell ill and missed the Tests. The slow wickets did not suit him. Although he taught his successor Max Walker how to bowl the away swinger, he himself lost the knack of bowling his stock delivery. “I used to be able to bowl the ‘outie’ at will. Now I’m lucky if I produce a couple each afternoon,” he told The Cricketer in 1980. By then he was long out of the national team and Western Australia had dropped him as well.

Massie played just six Tests, capturing 31 wickets at 20.87 apiece — a one-match-wonder if there ever was one. His Lord’s feat still stands as the fourth best Test match bowling analysis in the 136-year history of Test cricket.

Brief scores

England 272 (Tony Greig 54, Alan Knott 43; Bob Massie 8 for 84) and 116 (Bob Massie 8 for 53) lost to Australia 308 (Ian Chappell 56, Greg Chappell 131, Rodney Marsh 50; John Snow 5 for 57) and 81 for 2 (Keith Stackpole 57*) by 8 wickets.

(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://twitter.com/senantix)