Centenary Test ends with the result exactly what it was in the first-ever Test match!

Derek Randall (right) doffs his cap to Dennis Lillie after ducking under an awkward ball in the Centenary Test against Australia in Melbourne © Getty Images

March 17, 1977. The Centenary Test ended in a thrilling finale and a result out of fairy tales. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the final day’s cricket of this spectacular sporting occasion.

“Lillee setting a field of immense hostility… seagulls on the top of the stands as vultures recruited for him. The crowd with sun and beer doing their work, appealing for quite significant non-events …”

John Arlott’s voice described proceedings as the Centenary Test at Melbourne progressed to its scintillating climax, ending in a finish from the pages of fairy tales.

The previous four days had seen plenty of ups and downs, had explored every nook and corner of the much discussed glorious uncertainties of cricket.

As old English and Australian players across generations, right from Percy Fender and Jack Ryder to the modern era, watched from the stands, a glorious game unfolded as celebration of the hundred years of Test match cricket. Here sat Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, there Frank Tyson and Brian Statham, still further the Bedser twins, Alec and Eric, and in one corner Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett. Denis Compton and Bill Edrich could be seen often, as could Bill Lawrie and Bobbie Simpson.

The level of cricket rose to the momentous occasion.

The first four days

The English pace attack had dismissed the Australian batsmen for 138, and Dennis Lillee had responded in kind, knocking out six Englishmen to skittle the visitors for 95.

The third day had witnessed David Hookes plunder five boundaries from a Tony Greig over. Doug Walters had lived by the sword and fortune for 63. But the hero had been Rod Marsh.

The great wicketkeeper had already caught John Lever off Lillee in the first innings to go past Wally Grout’s record of 187 Test dismissals. He had then proceeded to play the best innings of his life. Coming in at 187 for five in the second innings, the Test match hanging on razor’s edge, he had been unbeaten for 109 when the innings was closed to have enough time to bowl England out. The score by then was 419 for nine, and Marsh had notched up his third most memorableTest hundred. Rick McCosker came in at number ten with a fractured jaw and batted 85 minutes to score 25.

England began their second innings after lunch on the fourth day. The target was a steep 463, and things looked bleak when Bob Woolmer was dismissed early enough, caught plumb by Max Walker.

Derek Randall, playing his fifth Test match boasted a previous highest of 37.He now walked in at number three, and batted with surprising bravado and nonchalance. With Lillee looking as menacing as ever, Randall counterattacked, pulling him with marked disdain. Chirpy and bustling, he was a popular man on the field and now he batted England back into the game. Mike Brearley, slow and steady, stuck around for almost three hours. When Lillee brought one back to trap him leg before, Randall had found an able ally in Dennis Amiss. The two had taken the score to 191 for two. Randall was unbeaten on 87.

After the day, Bill Lawry said that Randall’s approach towards dominating fast bowlers was what England had been waiting for, ever since the retirement of Ted Dexter. The England captain, Tony Greig, who had been staring down the barrel on the previous evening, was upbeat. “It’s great to be back in the game,” he remarked.

Day Five

The last day began with England 272 to win, eight wickets in hand with five hours and 15 overs remaining in the match.

By the fifth morning, the star studded stands had been reinforced by Royalty. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had appeared in the ground, driving around the ground during the interval, cheered by one and all. And the presence of regalia lifted young Randall to acts of valour.

He started by sweeping Kerry O’Keefe to the leg boundary, and then cutting him for four. A slash off Lillee took him to 99 and then a hasty pushto the leg side and a scurried single brought up a fighting hundred. It had been full of fine drives and courageous pulls.

Soon after that Lillee unleashed a nasty bouncer that thudded into Randall’s head. The batsman tottered and went down. Hiscap fell off almost grazing the stumps. England feared the worst. But, the jaunty soul was up on his feet in no time, eager to carry on the battle. When Lillee bounced again, he tennis smashed it to mid-wicket, leading a lot of nostalgic eyes turn towards The Don, the master of that stroke. With the target less than 200 runs away, the game seemed to be shifting towards England.

It was Greg Chappell who got the breakthrough, bowling the resolute Amiss with a leg cutter.Keith Fletcher did not last long, falling to that famed Marsh-Lillee combination. With the score on 290 for four, the game was back in balance.

It remained to be seen whether England would put down the shutters and play for a draw. However, with the enormity of the occasion and hallowed eyeballs on the game, the moment was for valour rather than discretion. Tony Greig came in and hammered Lillee to the cover boundary. The chase was on.

At the other end, Randall was having a ball. Yet another bouncer by Lillee had him ducking, and he doffed his cap at the bowler. On another occasion, he rolled over his shoulder in a spontaneous bit of showmanship. And all this was punctuated by some determined counter-attack.

The friendly spirit was reciprocated in a startling gesture by the Australians. At 324 for four, another Greg Chappell leg cutter took the edge of Randall’s bat and Marsh tumbled to hold the catch. Umpire Tom Brooks upheld the appeal and Randall started walking back for 161. As the crowd rose to applaud the marathon effort, Marsh went up and informed the umpire that the catch was not clean. Randall was recalled. Considering the state of the match and the importance of Randall’s wicket, it was a gesture of sportsmanship seldom witnessed in history. Randall at once responded with sparkling cover drives off Chappell and Walker.

At 346, Randall misjudged the bounce of a ball from O’Keefe and Gary Cosier at short-leg dived full length to bring off a spectacular catch. And, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, Randall walked without waiting for the umpire. The stadium rose to cheer him all the way back to the pavilion as he returned for a valiant 174. Randall took off his cap, smiled and waved in the same jaunty manner which made him a darling of the crowds. England went in to tea at 353 for five. A hundred and ten remained to be scored off an hour and fifteen overs.

The finale

The tea break involved meeting the Queen, and both teams lined up in their blazers. This included McCosker, head severely bandaged, smiling through his fractured jaw, drawing some royal sympathy.
Alan Knott started the last session by lofting Lillee over mid-wicket from outside the off stump. Tony Greig cut O’Keefe to the fence. England were playing to win.

At 369, Greig lunged forward to O’Keefe and Cosier took him at short leg off bat and pad. The captain walked back for 41.

The tail was in. Chris Old, with a reputation for hitting the ball hard and long, swished outside the off stump to a Lillee delivery and Chappell held at slip. Lever played back to O’Keefe and was leg before. The 400 was raised with eight wickets down, Knott fighting hard at one end, losing wickets in a flurry at the other.

Derek Underwood put his head down to help the wicketkeeper add 25 for the ninth wicket, but then attempted an ambitious off side hoick off Lillee, playing on to his stumps. It was the great fast bowler’s tenth wicket of the match.

Bob Willis walked in with just the fifteen overs to go, 53 to get, and swung O’Keefe to the leg side boundary. England would fight till the last man.

But, the end came in the next over. Alan Knott shuffled across to turn Lillee to the leg and was hit on the pads in front of the middle stump,In one of the most esoteric moments of cricketing serendipity, the margin of victory was the same as the first ever Test match played a hundred years ago – 45 runs in favour of Australia. With eleven wickets in the match Dennis Lillee was chaired off the ground by his team mates.
Tom Kendall had received the award for the best Colonial bowler in 1877. One hundred years later, it was Dennis Lillee who was given a shining trophy for his efforts with the ball. “It has been a great Test match, and I am glad we won it,” was all he could manage to say.

In the inaugural Test match, Charles Bannerman had received a public subscription of £83 for his 165 in the first innings. This time it was an award of  $1500 (Aus) presented to Derek Randall as Man of the Match. The chirpy young man skipped on to the podium, graciously thanked everyone for being there, and followed it up saying, “Before I leave, I would like to thank Dennis for the bump on my head.”

At the end of the presentation, Don Bradman said that it was one of the greatest Tests ever played: “People will keep wondering why batsmen of both sides floundered in the first innings. But, having been out there in the centre I’ve never known a match where there was so much emotion in the air. I believe this had a tremendous effect on the batsmen of both the teams … It will go down in history as one of the greatest sporting events of all time.”

It was indeed – a Test match full of memories, reunion, nostalgia, history and some splendid cricket.

Brief Scores: Australia 138 (Greg Chappell 40) and 419 for 9 dec (Ian Davis 68, Doug Walters 66, David Hookes 56, Rod Marsh 110*; Chris Old 4 for 104) beat England 95 (Dennis Lillee 6 for 26, Max Walker 4 for 54) and 417 (Mike Brearley 43, Derek Randall 174, Dennis Amiss 64, Tony Greig 41, Allan Knott 42; Deniis Lillee 5 for 139) by 45 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://twitter.com/senantix)