Fred Trueman had of 6 for 100 and 5 for 52 in the Test © Getty Images
Fred Trueman had of 6 for 100 and 5 for 52 in the Test © Getty Images

Lord’s witnessed one of the greatest days of cricket ever on June 25, 1963. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back a topsy-turvy match that culminated in one of the greatest heroic acts cricket has known.

The very fact that Test cricket still exists is considered a miracle by many. In a dynamic world driven by impulse and haste the taste for quality seems to be vanishing at an alarming rate. Every now and then the purest version of the sport seems to be under threat as per the notions of the pundits — and after short periods in the doldrums — it emerges like a phoenix, thanks to timeless performances and matches.

In 1963 England and West Indies were involved in one such encounter. It still remains one of the greatest Tests of all time — the balance of which shifted from one side to the other over the five-day period before culminating in one of the greatest climaxes cricket has witnessed.

West Indies were a strong outfit: England followed on and lost the first Test at Old Trafford by 10 wickets as Conrad Hunte scored 182 and Lance Gibbs took 11 wickets. They were clear favourites going into the second Test at Lord’s.

Day One: Exposition — Trueman shows the way

Frank Worrell won the toss and decided to bat. England surprised everyone by replacing Brian Statham with the 38-year old Derek Shackleton — the Hampshire medium-pacer who had last played a Test in 1951-52 and had picked up 3 wickets from 3 Tests at 83. Jim Parks also came in, as did Easton McMorris for West Indies.

The match started after a rain delay of 23 minutes, and Hunte took off with boundaries off each of the first 3 balls of the Test. Fred Trueman and Shackleton bowled beautifully after that, and Trueman broke through soon after lunch, trapping McMorris leg-before. Hunte joined him at the pavilion, and the score was 64 for 2.

Rohan Kanhai joined Garry Sobers at this stage, and some exhilarating batting yielded 63 runs in 65 minutes. After Kanhai and Basil Butcher followed in quick succession Kanhai added another 74 with Joe Solomon: however, Trueman picked up his fifth wicket as he went past Worrell’s defence before the West Indian captain could open his account and England were back in the Test, and West Indies were 245 for 6 at stumps with Solomon on 34 and Deryck Murray on 12.

Day Two: Rising action — Dexter sparkles

Trueman removed Solomon after a while, and then, with after fifty overs of relentless toil, Shackleton picked up 3 wickets in 4 balls. He eventually picked up 3 for 93 while Trueman, who had sent down 44 overs, picked up 6 for 100. West Indies had been bowled out for 301.

Charlie Griffith, bowling with fearsome pace, picked up John Edrich for a duck and then had Micky Stewart caught, reducing England to 20 for 2. After lunch, however, Ted Dexter counterattacked: the English captain brandished his bat like a sword, shredding a pace attack comprising of Wes Hall, Griffith, and Sobers to pieces.

Vic Marks said that Dexter was ‘at his most lordly’ in that innings: “His majestic onslaught on the West Indies fast bowlers on the second afternoon was a ‘were-you-there?’ moment.”

It was not that he could avoid being hit. “In the first innings I got a couple of Griffith specials on my left knee, which left it swollen and stiff”, Dexter himself admitted later. However, he marched on and eventually finished at a 75-ball 70 with 10 fours after a 62-minute partnership of 82.

At the other end Ken Barrington had set up tent in his characteristic style, refusing to budge in. Two quick wickets fell, but Barrington added 55 with Parks before both were claimed by Worrell. England were 244 for 7 at stumps — 57 runs behind — with Fred Titmus on 23 and Trueman on 5.

Day Three: Climax — Butcher butchers

The third morning belonged to Titmus. He batted brilliantly to take England to 297. He was left stranded as Griffith finished off the tail, returning figures of 5 for 91. West Indies led by a slender margin of 4 runs.

Trueman and Shackleton struck back then, removing both openers to reduce West Indies to 15 for 2. Kanhai fell shortly afterwards giving Colin Cowdrey his third successive catch. Neither Sobers nor Solomon lasted, and West Indies were soon reduced to 104 for 5.

Then Butcher took the case in his own hands. A low-key batsman among the superstars in the side, Butcher came to his elements with his side under pressure. He clobbered the ball mercilessly to all corners of the ground, doing perfect justice to his surname. It seemed too outrageous an innings to last, but it did. With Worrell keeping him company with his calm presence at the other end the match seemed to slip away from England at a rapid pace. Butcher raced to his hundred, and West Indies were eventually 214 for 5 at stumps with Butcher on 129 and Worrell on 33.

Dexter later called Butcher’s innings “a stupendous effort on a difficult wicket; especially when you consider that nobody else got a hundred in the match.”

Day Four: Falling action — wickets galore

The fourth morning saw yet another reversal of fortunes as Trueman and Shackleton skittled out West Indies in 25 minutes of cricket. The last 5 wickets fell for 15 runs in 6 overs. Butcher eventually scored 133 in 261 balls out of a team total of 213 during his stay at the wicket: West Indies were bowled out for 229.

Trueman picked up 5 for 52, which gave him match figures of 11 for 152. Shackleton’s comeback Test fetched him 7 for 165 as he proved to be the perfect foil to Trueman’s aggression. England required 234 for a victory.

They ran into immediate trouble against Hall and Griffith: Edrich was caught behind off Hall, who also picked up Stewart. Dexter and Barrington hung around grimly, but Dexter seemed to be in serious pain after the blows from Griffith in the first innings: “I found batting virtually impossible during our chase, which made me a bit of a passenger.”

He perished soon, clean bowled by Gibbs and England were 31 for 3. This brought Cowdrey to the crease, and he and Barrington gritted it out against the two fast bowlers despite the bouncer barrage.

And then it happened. In Cowdrey’s own words, “It was a good length ball from Hall which flew, unaccountably and broke my arm just above the wrist. It made the most awful noise.” Cowdrey had to retire hurt for 19 with England on 72.

Stumps were called at 4.45 due to bad light. England finished the day on 116 for 3 (effectively for 4) with Barrington on 55 and Brian Close on 7. They needed to score 118 from Day Five.

Day Five: Revelation — the climax unfolds

Seldom has the world seen a day’s cricket so intense. There was a reason plays were written in five acts. There is a reason for Test cricket being the greatest drama of all.

It was always a contest between the runs left and the wickets to be taken. The time was never a question. Now, after an entire morning of rain and poor light, play could resume only at 2.20 on the last day — which meant that time suddenly became a third parameter in the equation. They now needed 118 in exactly 200 minutes.

Hall and Griffith charged in and did not hesitate to hit Barrington and Close on their body.  Close, however, had found his own way of upsetting the rhythm of the bowlers. Barrington did not seem comfortable at all: he took 45 minutes to score his first run and had a rather torrid time against the fast bowlers.

RA Roberts, writing for The Glasgow Herald, observed: “Though he [Barrington] was in nothing like the form of the previous day, he did give the impression he was trying to score. He swung the bat and missed a couple of times, and on other occasions found the field with unerring precision.”

Barrington was eventually caught behind off Griffith while attempting a square-cut. He had added only 5 to his overnight score, and Parks walked out with the score on 130 for 4, and fell leg-before to Griffith after a quickfire 17. England went to tea with 171 for 5, still requiring 63 for a victory.

As Hall and Griffith continued with the bouncer barrage Close changed his tactic to stop England from falling behind the clock. Dexter wrote: “Close had to endure plenty of pain too. He played a brave innings — and one that attracted some controversy, in that after defending for long he started to move down the pitch to upset the bowlers’ length. To me that was a legitimate tactic as the ball was lifting off a length and he was trying to negate the bowlers’ advantage by going for his shots. In fact he just about brought us to the door of victory playing the way he did.”

Close stepped out of the crease, not hesitating to take the blow on his body if the bowlers decided to bowl short at him. But he hung around, scoring runs with bravado and managing to upset the length of Hall and Griffith. John Clarke later wrote in his book Cricket with a Swing that Close “pulled up so abruptly that you half expected puffs of smoke to come up from under the soles of his boots as in cartoon films when brakes are put on.”

On several occasions Close walked down the pitch even during the bowlers’ run-ups, causing them to abstain from bowling the delivery, thereby ruining their rhythm. Indeed, though Worrell paid a tribute to Close for his courage, he said that Close’s tactics were ‘wrong’.

Close himself defended his tactics: “It wasn’t unthinking bravado. Far from it. I made Hall lose his cool. His line and length suffered.” Several decades later batsmen like Matthew Hayden and a few others would go on to intimidate bowlers around the world using the same tactics.

With England requiring only 31 for a victory Hall struck: the ball shot from a good-length, and Titmus could only fend it to McMorris at short-leg. Trueman was caught-behind the next ball, and the match swung back in favour of West Indies once again.

A few tense minutes passed. England reached 219 — before Close tried an ugly pull off Griffith: the ball found his edge and Murray did the rest. England required 15 to win off from 19 minutes as Shackleton walked out to join Gloucestershire off-spinner David Allen.

Cowdrey had padded up meanwhile: he was prepared to go out if a wicket fell. He practiced batting left-handed in the dressing-room to keep out his broken left hand out of the firing line. It was evident that England were going for it: there were risky strokes, insane running, and dropped bats — and in between all that, somehow, 7 more runs were added.

Once again Worrell threw the ball to Hall — for yet another last over that would be etched in the history of the sport forever.

England needed to score 8 off the last over. No run was scored off the first ball.

8 from 5. Shackleton dropped the next ball at his feet for a sharp single. Hall ran the entire length of the pitch but failed to run Allen out.

7 from 4. Hall attempted a yorker, but Allen was equal to it — he flicked the ball off his toes to Sobers at square-leg for a single.

6 from 3. Could Shackleton pull off something special? Hall took a deep breath. He was clearly not happy at England’s getting away with this. The huge frame steamed in once again, the ubiquitous crucifix dangling from his neck: Shackleton swung and missed, and by the time he could realise anything he saw Allen beside him.

Shackleton ran desperately, but Murray had already thrown the ball to Worrell at short mid-on: the captain judged the distances the batsman and he had to cover, and did not risk a throw: he won the race between the two 38-year olds and knocked the stumps down at the bowler’s end.

The most enduring image of the Test: Colin Cowdrey walking out to bat with a plastered arm. Photo courtesy: YouTube screengrab.
The most enduring image of the Test: Colin Cowdrey walking out to bat with a plastered arm. YouTube screengrab.

“Cowdrey, with hand, is going to come in”, uttered an excited Brian Johnston on air as the great man walked out with the clock ticking over 6.

Clarke later wrote: “With two balls left, Cowdrey, his left arm in plaster, walked slowly out. In the dressing-room he had been practicing batting one-hand – left-handed, so as not to have to offer his broken arm to Hall.”

Alan Ross wrote in The West Indies at Lord’s: “Cowdrey, left arm in plaster, a photographer backing away from him as he walked slowly in, was cheered to the wicket. There was something of Wodehouse about it, something of Sapper [HC McNeile]. Allen had the strike, there were two balls to go. The batsmen conferred, but the obligation was indisputable.”

Allen apparently had a plan: he greeted the smiling Cowdrey with the words “I have not yet given up hope of winning. If I have the luck to get a four off the first ball, we’ll scamper the last run.”

6 from 2. All four results were possible at this stage. Could Hall get a wicket? Could Allen be a hero? Would Cowdrey need to bat? The possibilities were endless.

Hall pitched up the next delivery on the off-stump: to quote Marks, “David Allen, the phlegmatic Gloucestershire off-spinner, calmly defended” the delivery.

6 from 1. England still had a chance to win it, but surely Allen would not attempt a big one off Hall and ruin it all? Surely he would opt to keep it out safely and guide England to a draw?

Lord’s waited with a bated breath as Hall went back to his run-up, only to be halted before he took off. Dexter recalled: “Just as Wes was just about to start his run-up, Worrell stopped play, went up to Wes and said something. We wondered what. I believe it was: ‘Make sure you don’t bowl a no-ball.’”

Hall took his time, filled his lungs with air, and then steamed in for one final time. He had bowled unchanged throughout the day’s play in an incredible display of stamina, and he had to deliver once more. The ball, delivered very fast, landed just short of good-length but did not take off as expected: Allen kept it out.

Ian Woolridge later wrote in Cricket, Lovely Cricket: “Allen stood there, a slender Pinocchio-like figure with quiff and up-turned nose as calmly as if he were waiting for a bus. Hall tossed the ball from hand to hand, looked imploringly up at the sky and started to run. It was probably as fast a ball as he has ever bowled. It seared straight for Allen’s middle stump. But Allen leant forward like a master and met it with broad and quavering British bat.”

“It’s a draw!” boomed Johnston’s voice on Test Match Special as the Grand Stand stood up in applause and hundreds of spectators —most of them West Indians — filled the ground to celebrate. Hands were shaken, the honours were shared, and the exhausted bodies returned to the pavilion, proud to have been a part of one of the greatest Tests of all time.

And as if to provide a grand ending to it all, it rained five minutes after Allen had blocked that final ball of the Test.

Original pen-and-ink cartoon drawn for Daily Express published on June 26, 1963 © Getty Images
Original pen-and-ink cartoon drawn for Daily Express published on June 26, 1963 © Getty Images

Brief scores:

West Indies 301 (Rohan Kanhai 73, Joe Solomon 56, Conrad Hunte 44, Garry Sobers 42; Fred Trueman 6 for 100) and 229 (Basil Butcher 133; Fred Trueman 5 for 52, Derek Shackleton 4 for 72) drew with England 297 (Ken Barrington 80, Ted Dexter 70, Fred Titmus 52*; Charlie Griffith 5 for 91) and 228 for 9 (Brian Close 70, Ken Barrington 60; Wes Hall 4 for 93).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)