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The very first Test match in England was played at The Oval, followed by the match that kicked off the lore of the Ashes. Since then, there have been a lot of historical Tests witnessed at the great cricket ground. Arunabha Sengupta lists some of the greatest ones.
The first ever Test match in England, the birth of the Ashes, Gilbert Jessop’s swashbuckling 102, the sublime partnership of Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe on a sticky, 903 for seven declared, Don Bradman’s farewell duck, Michael Holding’s monster spell, Viv Richards belting 291, Sunil Gavaskar compiling 221, Kevin Pietersen clinching the 2005 Ashes with his 158. The Oval has several other glittering factoids littered across its history –cricketing and otherwise.
Here are a few of the greatest Tests played at the ground.
1. 1880: England vs Australia – The first ever Test match played in England. WG Grace scored 152 on debut before Fred Morley ran through the Australians. However, the hosts made heavy weather of their target of 57 before winning by 5 wickets
2. 1882: England vs Australia – The match that started the lore of the Ashes. Fred ‘Demon’ Spofforth spit fire as England slumped from 51 for two to 77 all out to lose by seven runs. “I left seven men to get 31 …” lamented Grace who fell for 32 with the score 54 for four.
3. 1890: England vs Australia – 98, 100, 102, 95 for eight. Charlie Turner and JJ Ferris took 14 wickets between them, but Fred Martin and George Lohmann did better with 18. England won by two wickets. A 51-run association between James Cranston and Maurice Read clinched it for the hosts.
4. 1902: England vs Australia – Jessop’s Test. England were floundering at 48 for five chasing 263 to win when Gilbert Jessop walked in and hammered 102 from 77 balls. Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst got the last 15 runs, although not ‘in singles’ as the legend goes. England won by one wicket.
5. 1926: England vs Australia – With the series locked 0-0, Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe put on a miraculous partnership on a sticky dog in the second innings. After two impeccable centuries, the 48-year-old Wilfred Rhodes and 22-year-old Harold Larwood bowled the Australians out.
6. 1934: England vs Australia – Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford hammered double hundreds and put on a world record 451 for the second wicket. Australia piled up over 700. And then it was left to Clarrie Grimmett to bowl the Englishmen out.
7. 1938: England vs Australia – And the revenge for England. Len Hutton batted on and on and on, and did not stop until there was 364 against his name. Wally Hammond declared at 903 for seven onlz when the medical report ensured that Bradman would not be able to bat. The final result was a win by an innings and 579 runs.
8. 1948: England vs Australia – Hutton scored 30 of the runs as England were bowled out for 52 by Ray Lindwall, the Yorkshireman falling to a flying Don Tallon catch off a genuine leg glance. Syd Barnes and Arthur Morris put on 117 before Bradman walked in for his final Test innings and fell to the second delivery he faced. Eric Hollies wondered why the batsman was getting all the ovation while he had bowled the best ball of his life. Morris got 196, but not many people remember – while all recall the famed duck. Australia won by an innings.
9. 1951: England vs South Africa – No one expected South Africa to give the hosts such a fight, but it was a fantastic scrap. In the end experience triumphed, but by just four wickets, clinching the series 3-1, which could quite easily have been 2-2. The heroics of Eric and Athol Rowan were undone by the guile of Jim Laker and a patient 73 from Denis Compton.
10. 1953: England vs Australia “Is that the Ashes?” Denis Compton’s sweep for a boundary gave England back the Ashes after nearly two decades. The scenes that followed were unprecedented as jubilant suppirters ran into the ground. Hutton addressed them from the pavilion balcony. This was the first time that the Surrey spin twins Jim Laker and Tony Lock did the star turn for England.
11. 1954: England vs Pakistan: Brian Statham, Frank Tyson and Peter Loader bowled Pakistan out for 133 in the first innings, but Fazal Mahmood returned the compliments with interest. England required 168 to win in the final innings and folded for 143, collapsing from 109 for two, as Fazal picked up his second six-for of the match.
12. 1968: England vs Australia – On the final morning, the Australians were packing their kits as the ground was under water. But captain Colin Cowdrey, hitching up his trousers, asked the crowd to lend them a hand, and they did more - lending handkerchiefs, rags and scarfs, all of them trying coming out to bail the action out of the submerged stalemate. Play resumed and Derek Underwood bowled England to a miraculous win, getting John Inverarity leg before with minutes to go on the clock.
13. 1971: England vs India – Bhagwath Chandrasekhar took six wickets on the final morning, bowling John Edrich with a faster ball as the bat was still in the air. An elephant was paraded around the ground during lunch, to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in the most curious manner. And then Eknath Solkar took a blinder off Srinivas Venkataraghavan to dismiss Allan Knott. India suffered a few anxious moments before getting home by four wickets.
14. 1976: England vs West Indies – The pitch was the flattest possible, Viv Richards hammered 291, Dennis Amiss replied with 203. But Michael Holding argued that if the balls were full, fast and straight, the surface could be taken out of the equation. He captured 14, 12 of them bowled or leg before. It was Tony Greig who grovelled in the end.
15. 1994: England vs South Africa – Devon Malcolm’s hour of glory. The underrated paceman tore through the second Protean innings with nine for 57, Darryll Cullinan fighting alone with 94. Graeme Hick stroked the ball merrily as England squared the series with a eight wicket victory.
16. 1997: England vs Australia – A low scoring humdinger of a match with four superb bowling feats. It predictably started with Glenn McGrath picking up seven, dismissing England for 180. However, Phil Tufnell responded with an unexpected seven wicket haul of his own, limiting the lead to 40. The third innings saw another seven wicket haul, this time by Michael Kasprowicz. England made just 163, and all that Australia had to score to win the series 4-1 was a meagre 124. But, Andy Caddick picked five and Tufnell four more and the visitors were stopped at 104.
17. 2005: England vs Australia – Early in his innings Kevin Pietersen snicked. His dear friend Shane Warne stood at slip, his hands almost ideally poised to hold the catch. In went the ball and out again. Pietersen went on to score a blistering 158 and England held on for a draw. The great Ashes series ended with the mighty Australians defeated 1-2.
18. 2006: England vs Pakistan – Not a famous Test as much as an infamous one. The first Test match in the history of cricket to be forfeited. It was the unfortunate combination of impulsive thinking by the Pakistan management in the aftermath of ball tampering allegations, followed by the obstinacy and grand illusion of self-importance of umpire Darrel Hair. It was a forgettable incident, but will be remembered forever.
(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)
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