Thirty two years ago, the much anticipated Centenary Test at Lord’s petered out into a dull draw. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the match which had beckoned stars of the yesteryear from far and wide, and was also the last Test described by the voice of John Arlott from the commentary box.
It was supposed to recapture the magic of the 1977 thriller played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The Australians had won that one by 45 runs – in a marvel of serendipity the same margin as the very Test match 100 years ago that they had been commemorating.
The two sides met at Lord’s, towards the fag end of the summer of 1980, to mark the 100th anniversary of their first encounter in England. Reminiscences beckoned and the glow of the past attracted names from farthest corners of the world and from hazily remembered chapters of Ashes history.
Percy Fender, 88 years of age, made it to the stands as did Stork Hendry, three years his junior, a survivor of the famous 1921 team of Warwick Armstrong. The Q Stand - now the Allen Stand - was reserved throughout for the legends of yesteryear, and as one walked by, eyes rolled and jaws hung open at the sight of the pantheon of over 200 former greats who discussed the intricacies of the game in little groups.
Alas, the match itself, dampened by weather, did not come remotely close to rising up to the occasion. Ten hours were lost to incessant rain, with only 75 minutes of cricket was possible on the second day. Neither was the home team too keen on playing exciting cricket.
Kim Hughes, though, brought back memories of the kind of cricket played by the great amateurs, who blazed across cricket fields following their romantic flights of fancy. Attacking with a spirit of unbridled adventure, he battled the bowling and interruptions with a flashing blade to score 117 with 14 fours and three sixes.
Plagued by the rain, Greg Chappell declared the Australian innings 385 for five towards the end of the third day.
Interruptions, a knock on the head and a pulled tie
Unfortunately, the third day will be remembered more for the fracas involving mismanagement and angry MCC members than for the dazzling display by Hughes.
A dry night had raised hopes of an on-time start. However, a two-hour downpour in the morning washed away much of the optimism.
What infuriated the crowd were the constant inspections carried out by the umpires, Dickie Bird and David Constant, and the captains, Chappell and Ian Botham. Under clear skies and bright sunshine, a full house sat waiting, watching the group march to the pitch, shake their heads and gesticulate in obvious disagreement, and trot back again and again. Some of the spectators even offered their coats and jackets to help mop up the outfield.
In the Test Match Special box, John Arlott, commentating in his last Test match, observed, “I do wish that everybody could be entertained by the great dramatic presentation of Dickie Bird worrying about whether to have play or not.”
Geoffrey Moorhouse discloses in his book Lord’s that the ground staff thought play could start after lunch. Bird says in his autobiography that with the crowd growing restless and the jeering becoming more audible, he had said to the captains: “Come on, lads, we can't keep going like this. Let's give it a go in 15 minutes.”Chappell was more than eager, but Botham had no inclination to resume.
As 3.30 pm, while heading out for their fifth inspection, Botham was struck on the head from behind. And as umpire Constant walked back, he faced angry questions from a section of the crowd sitting in the MCC Members’ enclosure. The language used, according to Greg Chappell, was shocking – which sure kindles the imagination given that the Australian captain had spent his formative years playing alongside the likes of Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and brother Ian. With the infuriated spectators blocking the way, Constant pushed one of them to try to get into the pavilion. The man responded by grabbing Constant's tie and almost pulling him to the ground. A skirmish followed with Chappell and Botham leaping to Constant's aid.
Moorhouse writes: While it lasted only a minute or so, it was quite a to-do. David Firth in the Wisden Cricket Monthly termed such behaviour ‘deplorable’. Denis Compton in Sunday Express was somewhat sympathetic: Such behaviour is of course deplorable, but I can understand the members' sense of frustration.
A six a day and Arlott’s last hour
Coming back after the rest day, Dennis Lillee removed the first four batsmen and Len Pascoe took five for 15 in a spell of 35 balls to end the English innings for 205. Only Geoff Boycott with 62 and David Gower with 45 put up some resistance before some old fashioned tail-end hitting by Chris Old earned him 24. No other batsman managed to reach double figures.
In spite of the lost hours, Australia pressed for a win. On the final morning, Chappell cruised to 59, but it was Hughes who again provided entertainment for the long-suffering spectators. Scoring a glittering 84 from 99 balls, he even danced down the wicket to launch the lively Old into the top deck of the pavilion. In the process he became only the third man after ML Jaisimha and Boycott to bat on all five days of a Test match. He also became the first to hit a six on each of the five days.
Australia added 83 in under an hour on the last morning, before Chappell declared at 189 for four, leaving England 370 to win at just over a run a minute.
The sense of the occasion led many to believe the home side would accept the challenge. But, once Graham Gooch was trapped leg before by Lillee and debutant Bill Athey was caught bat-pad off Pascoe, Boycott and Gower put the shutters down.
This phase also witnessed the last piece of commentary in a Test match by the legendary Arlott. It was crisp and business-like. “Boycott pushes this away between silly-point and slip … picked up by Mallett at short third man … the end of the over … Nine runs off the over - 28 Boycott, 15 Gower, 69 for 2 - and after Trevor Bailey it will be Christopher Martin-Jenkins.” As he ended, entire box broke into applause.
After the next over, following a public address announcement, the crowd gave the commentator a rousing ovation. The entire Australian team in the field and the two English batsmen joined in, with Boycott even removing his gloves to applaud.
At three o’clock, with four hours to go and the score on 112 for two, many expected Botham to come in and have a go. But, when Gower departed 12 runs later, it was Gatting who emerged from the dressing room.
Boycott scored a hundred and took his aggregate past Len Hutton and Don Bradman to post 7000 Test runs, but the game trickled to an uninspired draw.
The attendance, the welcoming parties, the dinners in the evenings were all hugely successful. Cornhill Insurance even rented a London theatre for a night of ceremony. Sadly, the game did not manage to match the festivities.
(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)