Terry Jenner is struck on the head by a ball from John Snow, during the final Ashes Test at Sydney © Getty Images
Terry Jenner is struck on the head by a ball from John Snow, during the final Ashes Test at Sydney © Getty Images

On February 13, 1971, England bowler John Snow’s nasty bouncer hit Australia’s Terry Jenner on the head. The events that followed almost brought the England-Australia rivalry on the verge of a crisis. Arunabha Sengupta goes through the events of an otherwise excellent Test match that almost got ruined because of a couple of controversies.

The Australian summer is no place for Snow

All through the summer the pace of John Snow caused much heart burn in the country, and left several cracked skulls in its wake.

At Sydney in the fourth Test, Snow ran in on a sluggish wicket and made the ball kick viciously from the deck. Garth McKenzie was struck on the face by one that reared up from good length. “Bad” was the simple description Ray Illingworth jotted down in the captain’s logbook that he maintained during the tour.

Dick Whittington, the cricketer turned journalist, had to resort to the country’s enormously popular Lee Falk comics to describe Snow’s intimidation. “When he loped in off a sinisterly deceptive approach to bowl, he wore malevolence like Mandrake wore a cloak.”

In that Test, the fast bowling poet fired out the last 5 wickets for 20 runs in 8 overs and finished with a career-best 7 for 40. England went one-up in the series.

The fifth and sixth Tests were drawn and the series moved back to Sydney for the record seventh and final match. Illingworth stood on the verge of creating history by becoming the first England captain since Douglas Jardine to reclaim the Ashes in Australia.

Unfortunately, on the second afternoon, the Test brought back memories of the infamous Jardine days of 1932-33. Not only did Snow fell a man with the nastiest of balls — a lower-order batsman at that — just before the delivery Illingworth had shifted men to close positions in the leg side. Terry Jenner clutched his head, staggered and fell. Umpire Lou Rowan barked at Snow about fair-play. The fast bowler snatched his hat, sulked his way into the outfield and got embroiled in some heated altercation with the crowd on Paddington Hill.

Illingworth too was not amused by Rowan’s views. Almost no one was. And after a shower of bottles and beer cans, he led his players off the ground. A splendid Test match was almost ruined by unsavoury scenes. But ultimately, it went down as one of the best Ashes Tests ever.

We enjoy the prospect of not bowling at Lawry

The match was doomed for bitterness from the very start. In one of the cruellest ends to a great Test career, Bill Lawry came to know that he had been sacked as captain and player while listening to the mid-day news broadcast. It was later rumoured that the selectors had supposedly tried to contact him. But, he had not even been asked whether he would like to play under his successor Ian Chappell. And that too after Lawry had stood alone against Snow’s venomous burst and had carried his bat scoring an impeccable unbeaten 60 as Australia were shot out for 116 at Sydney.

Illingworth had reasons to be delighted. That night his diary read, “Funny world. Australia have not only taken the captaincy from Bill Lawry and given it to Ian Chappell, they’ve dropped him from the side. I ask how many Australians have played a comparable number of innings with a superior average. The answer is three — Arthur Morris, Bobby Simpson and, of course, Bradman… We enjoy the prospect of not bowling at Lawry.”

It was perhaps the way that Lawry was removed that made Ian Chappell the anti-establishmentarian that he was through the 1970s.

According to Ray Robinson, “Australian morale sunk below seagull level.”

Yes, the writers Down Under went overboard with their similes and metaphors during the Test.

Robinson described Snow at Sydney as a “swordfish among salmon, piranha among perch.” And Dick Whittington, the veteran of the Victory ‘Tests’ of exemplary spirit, did not bandy his words when he thought of him as ‘one of the most faithful and effective servants Nemesis ever employed.’

Good toss to win

According to Illingworth’s diary, “A good toss to win, Ian Chappell won it.” And the brave man leading his country for the first time asked England to take first strike on a green grassed wicket.

Dennis Lillee, who had made his debut during the previous Test at Adelaide, ran in with ungainly steps, wasting the new ball in quest for speed. Robinson kept up his wonderful series of similes, likening the fast bowler to “a thirst-crazed buffalo scenting a waterhole.”

Geoff Boycott was sitting out after having his forearm broken by McKenzie in a tour match. Brian Luckhurst and John Edrich were least bothered to chase the wild ones, with a draw good enough to make the Ashes theirs. At the other end, debutant Tony Dell started with six consecutive maiden overs.

It was change bowler Doug Walters who had Luckhurst dropped by captain Chappell off his third ball and then caught by Ian Redpath at short-leg for a 37-minute duck. Soon, spin was introduced in the form of Terry Jenner and Kerry O’Keefe. And it turned out to be a day of long, slow struggle.

Edrich and Keith Fletcher added 55 in more than two hours. Illingworth and Alan Knott put on 47 for the sixth wicket. Those were the only two partnerships. England folded for 184, Jenner and O’Keefe taking three wickets each. Ian Chappell’s captaincy had got off to a creditable start.

However, their start was not much better. Ken Eastwood, the 35-year-old debutant from Victoria, walking under his crew-cut in the huge shoes of Lawry, lasted just 17 minutes. Knott picked up an attempted leg-glance off Peter Lever.

And soon, Knott was in the thick of things again, diving beautifully to catch Keith Stackpole down the leg-side. Only afterwards did he discover that on the way the ball had taken the off bail. Two balls from Snow had cut-away and then an off-cutter had hastened back, coming off the inside edge to clip the bail. Snow was much more than just intimidation. Australia ended the day at 13 for 2.

Rowan and Snow

Things had never been quite smooth between umpire Rowan and Snow. The official had cautioned Snow for hostile bowling at Perth during the second Test. The bowler had responded by sending the next ball screaming past Ian Redpath’s head. He came back to inform Rowan, “That’s a real bouncer.” When Illingworth argued that Snow’s shorter balls were not bouncers, Rowan quipped, “Someone’s bowling them from this end and it’s not me.”

Snow thought that the local batsmen were simply not good enough to face chest high balls, and Rowan was confusing their technical shortcomings with intimidatory bowling. Of course, Snow always felt that ‘some umpires cannot seem to distinguish between a cricket ball bouncer and a dance hall variety.’

Rowan himself had strong views on Snow, as is evident from his book An Umpire’s Story. About Snow’s bowling and the subsequent events that took place that day, he wrote: “For a few minutes … the whole future of cricket between England and Australia were in jeopardy.”

But, some of the reasons provided by this Queensland Detective are somewhat questionable. Rowan’s earlier dealings with MCC officials like Gubby Allen and Billy Griffith had left him with some clear opinions. He felt comfortable with the many titled gentlemen so closely connected with cricket in England, along with great players and personalities like amateur captain Colin Cowdrey and Mike Smith. It was his view that the England captaincy ‘would best be in the hands of amateurs rather than professional players.’ Another rather strong conviction was that ‘men like Mike Smith possessed the ability to handle the most difficult professionals.’ Both Snow and Illingworth belonged, in his book, to this category of most difficult professionals.

Rowan did not even spare Snow’s poetic works. ‘Verse-writing’ was employed as a sneer term in his An Umpire’s Story. Although, arguably, Snow’s poetry did enjoy a rather mixed reception in the Australian cricket community. Whittington suspected that Alfred Hitchcock might have liked to have used Snow’s poems as plots for his horror films. Robinson thought “some of his poetry takes a little longer to sink in than his bouncer … he has a healthy touch of brimstone in his bloodstream.”

In any case, Snow bowled four bouncers to Ian Chappell in his second over and four more in his third. One of these was a no-ball and it took the Australian captain’s gloves on the way to Knott. It made Snow question Rowan’s no-ball call.

Night-watchman Rod Marsh played a genuine leg-glance and Bob Willis at backward square-leg dived full stretch to bring off a superb catch. Willis beat Ian Chappell twice before bowling him to make it four for 66.

Doug Walters, drawing back to square-cut over the gully much like Bradman’s harpoon stroke against Harold Larwood, stuck around for a while — missed twice at slip and third-man. And soon Rowan was again stepping heavily on the English nerves. Walters snicked Derek Underwood on to his pads and the ball rolled to the off-side. Knott flicked it between his pads on to the stumps. The batsman seemed well out of his crease with the bat held aloft, but Rowan ruled in his favour.

However, Walters soon fell to the famed Kent combination, stumped decisively by Knott off Underwood for 42. Redpath was the first to score a fifty in the match, and not long after that he hit one back to the left-arm spinner. And at the other end Illingworth got O’Keefe caught at the wicket. At 172 for seven, Greg Chappell was joined by Terry Jenner.

And as soon as Jenner was in, Illingworth brought Snow back into the attack. Jenner’s problems against pace had been apparent in the first Test. Now, with the ball back in the hands of his prime fast bowler, Illingworth himself moved to short mid-wicket.

Snow now took hold of the new ball and ran in. The first ball of the eight-ball over rose up to Jenner’s rib cage and was fended towards the on-side for a single. Greg Chappell played the next two balls quietly before taking a single off the fourth. The fifth ball rose to a level that Snow claimed to be arm-pit, but Jenner just about got his head out of the way. The sixth was down the leg side, and Jenner ducked without looking. And it went harmlessly to Knott.

Illingworth now rearranged the field. Willis was moved from mid-off to mid-on. Underwood was moved to long-leg. John Hampshire stood at backward short-leg and the captain himself took his position at forward short-leg.

The field almost resembled the notorious leg-trap and in the commentary box Jim Swanton was scandalised. Did a batsman of Jenner’s quality merit such a posse of leg-side fielders?

As a matter of fact, Jenner was not too bad with the bat. He ended his career averaging 23 in Tests and 22 in First-Class cricket. In 1973-74, he scored 59 and 47 while taking 11 for 170 for South Australia against Western Australia, the first time a double of 100 runs and 10 wickets had been achieved in Sheffield Shield since before the First World War. So, he was far from a rabbit.

And now the seventh ball reared up. Snow claimed it was rib-height and it hit Jenner on the left side of his head. He fell with a thud, clutching his temple. The crowd erupted in violent disapproval. The English fielders helped him to his feet and Peter Lever supported him along with the Australian masseur as he walked off. As Lillee joined Greg Chappell, Rowan approached Snow.

Twice the umpire spoke about fair and unfair cricket. Twice he told Snow to ease up on the short deliveries. And finally he signalled one finger to Tom Brooks officiating at square-leg, indicating that the first official warning had been given. Brooks, however, wanted nothing to do with it. Rowan later indicated that Brooks, standing in his first series, differed from the senior umpire in his reading of the matches. If only Col Egar had been at the other end, Rowan would perhaps have everything under control.

I won’t let the crowd influence my field positions

Snow objected. Illingworth joined the fray. Fingers were wagged, nostrils were flared. The over was completed in growing tension. An appeal for a catch behind the wicket was turned down off the last ball. Snow snatched his cap away and returned to his fielding position on the fine-leg boundary beneath the Paddington Hill. Some members of the press suggested that Snow deliberately taunted the crowd by moving closer and closer to the fence till it was possible to lay hands on him. Snow denied this charge.

But, with Snow near striking range, hundreds of beer cans were thrown inside the field of play. Illingworth asked the fast man to go down to the third-man while the gutters were cleared. But, Snow made for fine leg again. There a drunk man briefly grabbed him by his shirt.

Terry Jenner is struck on the head by a ball from John Snow, during the final Ashes Test at Sydney © Getty Images
John Snow is grabbed by a member of the crowd (later revealed to be Trevor Guy) after Terry Jenner was hit on the head © Getty Images

And when a further shower of cans followed, Illingworth turned and led his team off the field without a word to the batsmen or umpires. England stayed off the ground for seven minutes. Rowan explained to Illingworth that if he did not return, he would have to forfeit the match. And Illingworth said he would return as soon as the ground was made fit for play. He asked Alan Barnes, secretary of Australian Board of Control, to announce this over the public address system, asking him to add that he would lead his team off again if such disturbance recurred.

Ex-cricketers were scathing in their censure. Bill O’Reilly in Sydney Morning Herald, Jack Fingleton in Sunday Times and even Denis Compton in Sunday Express, criticised Illingworth rather harshly for losing control of the situation and acting in hasty, unnecessary manner. Compton even called it the worst mistake of Illingworth’s career. However, the England captain maintained that the physical safety of his players had been his primary concern, and he would not allow the crowd to determine his field placings.

Australian captain Ian Chappell remarked that Illingworth’s reaction had been ‘rather hasty and unjustified’, although he admitted that had he been the captain in a similar overseas situation, he might have done the same. Richie Benaud came out in support of the visiting captain, saying he would have done exactly as Illingworth had done.

Nine people were arrested, charged with unseemly conduct and language, or offensive behaviour, and a total of $700 was exacted as fines on 13 men — consisting of labourers, a welder, a fireman, a clerk, a student, and a glazier who had remained true to his profession and had thrown two stubbies on to the field. There were inebriated fights on the Hill as well, leading an ex-Test cricketer to call it the worst display of hooliganism at an Australian cricket match.

The match continues

However, Lillee batted quite unperturbed through all this disturbance and Australia ended the day comfortably at 235 for 7. Snow and England manager David Clark visited Jenner before leaving the ground. And Illingworth received plenty of mail about the walk-out during the next few days.

The next day, as the wind direction changed, Snow was brought in from the other end. Rowan thought this was a well-thought out ploy to bowl the fast man from umpire Brooks’s end.

Knott caught Lillee off Willis to scalp his 22nd victim of the series. Jenner returned at the fall of Greg Chappell’s wicket and scored 22 more accompanied by loud cheers. In the end Australia led by 80.

Spin does the trick

Edrich and Luckhurst wiped off the deficit, scoring freely before O’Keefe had the latter caught around the corner while sweeping. Chappell brought Eastwood into the attack just before tea and the move resulted in the dismissal of Fletcher.

Apart from fifties by the openers, and 47 by Basil D’Oliveira, none of the other batsmen really got too many. When Dell ran through the lower order after the rest day, the total had just gone beyond 300. Australia required 223 to win.

They started badly enough, with Eastwood yorked by Snow in the very first over without a run on the board. But, soon it was counter-balanced by a mishap. Lever bounced and Stackpole hooked. The top edge went high in the air, and hit the top of the picket stand before falling into the boundary gutter. And in attempting the catch at fine leg, Snow injured his bowling hand running into the pickets. He left the field in considerable agony.

With the main strike bowler out of action, the Australians hopes soared, but almost immediately Ian Chappell snicked one from Lever.

Stackpole kept attacking fiercely, hitting Underwood over the long-on for six, but by now Illingworth had found the wicket suited for his craft. At 71, Redpath was done in by the drift and turn and was caught in the leg trap.

Walters slashed Willis almost immediately on arrival to be caught at deep third-man. And Illingworth bowled a tight, restricting line to Stackpole before bowling him off his pads for 67 — the highest score of the match. None of the others had amounted to much. The score stood at 96 for 5.

Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh saw off the remaining part of the fourth day to end at 123 for 5. Exactly hundred were needed, and Ian Chappell sounded optimistic about a reasonable fifth day track to get the runs.

The last day saw just 8,000 spectators in the ground as Illingworth used an all spin attack, with the cutters of D’Oliveira to add to the mix. Marsh was bowled by Underwood, attempting a stroke across the line to a delivery that came low. Greg Chappell played inside the line of a straight one from Illingworth and was stumped. The England captain later claimed that it was an out-floater and Swanton said it had been an arm-ball. The net result was that the seventh wicket was down for 142.

O’Keefe, after a determined battle, clipped a half volley from D’Oliveira to square leg. Lillee nicked the first ball he faced to second slip. Dell averted an unlikely hat-trick, but it was all over 12 minutes later when Jenner lobbed Underwood to silly mid-off.

Illingworth, finishing a memorable match with figures of 20-7-39-3, could not manage a souvenir. John Hampshire and John Edrich chaired him off the ground. But, back in the dressing room, he was presented with the ball by Fletcher — who had pocketed it after holding the final catch.

And as the presentation ceremonies got underway, the two heroes of series appeared, Geoff Boycott left arm in sling and John Snow his right. The last Test had been won without Boycott, the tense last day without Snow. It was the first time since the Second World War that Australia had not won a single match in a rubber.

Wisden was effusive by its standards, “Illingworth did a magnificent job. Under tremendous provocation he remained cool off the field and courteously approachable by friend and foe alike.”

The Ashes had been won, but Snow and Rowan were about to launch into a battle of the pens that would go on for years and keep the Test alive forever.

Many, many years later

In 1998, an 80-year-old man named Trevor Guy responded to an ABC radio appeal and admitted to being the one who had reached across over the boundary fence and grabbed Snow by the shirt. Guy confessed to the Sydney Morning Herald  that he was angry with Snow for felling Jenner with a bouncer and had grabbed him by the shirt to make sure he heard what he had to say.

Snow, however, revealed that he had no hard feelings: “Sure I’d shake his hand if I met up with him. That was a long time ago.”

Brief scores:

England 184 (Ray Illingworth 42) and 302 (John Edrich 57, Brian Luckhurst 59) beat Australia 264 (Ian Redpath 59, Doug Walters 42, Greg Chappell 65) and 160 (Keith Stackpole 67) by 62 runs.

(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