Jim Laker records the best bowling figures in Test history

It was different era altogether. The bowlers didn’t scream at the top of their voice begging for a wicket, just a polite appeal and irrespective of the umpire’s decision, the game went on in its right spirit. The celebrations were limited to claps and occasional shake of hands. Compare this to present era; the word that comes to mind is ‘hooliganism’.

One look at the video and you wouldn’t wonder why the sport is called Gentleman’s Game.

This wasn’t a friendly tie; in fact a crucial Test from the 1956 Ashes and what happened here was history. England off-spinner Jim Laker recorded the best ever bowling figures in a Test, a record that stands till-date. He also became the first bowler in the history to claim all ten wickets in an innings, a feat that was repeated by Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble, 43 years later.

The series was tied 1-1, when both teams headed to Old Trafford. Electing to bat, England put on 459 on the board. Australia began well till they got on to 48, when Laker dismissed Australian opener Colin McDonald, having him caught by fellow spinner Tony Lock. Then began the demolition, Australia could only add 36 more before they were bowled out 84. Laker’s figures read 16.4-4-37-9, a record then. There were enough murmurs of discontentment in the Australian camp and earlier England all-rounder Trevor Bailey had called the wicket ‘a beach’.

Following on, Australia showed better resistance but Laker went on to better his first innings efforts. Australia were six down for 130, and Laker had already picked 15 wickets in the match. Both Laker and left arm spinner Lock seemed unplayable, but opener McDonald continued to fight on. One of Laker’s ball got a huge turn, took the inside edge of his bat and Alan Oakman caught it at backward square-leg. McDonald batted over five and half hours for his 89.

When Laker cleaned-up Richie Benaud, he eclipsed legendary Sydney Barnes’ 42 year old record of 17 for 159. At the other end, Lock kept on bowling impressively but remained wicket-less, though upset, it didn’t prevent him from taking Ray Lindwall’s catch. Laker had nine in the innings now.

Then came the moment, when wicketkeeper Len Maddocks was caught plumb and the legendary John Arlott in the commentary box announced it before the umpire had made the decision. In his trademark style Arlott exclaimed, “Laker’s taken all 10!”

Laker’s figures read 51.2-23-53-10 and his match figures read 19 for 90. England had won by an innings and 170 runs, and with the next Test at the Oval ending in a draw, England had won the Ashes.