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A history of Headingley heroics

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Roar Guru
23rd September, 2019
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One of the interesting things about major cricket venues worldwide, especially the old ones, is that almost all of them are unique.some unique features about them.

For example, Lord’s has its famous slope. Again, there are people who feel that the actual effect is exaggerated and the problem is psychological rather than physical.

The Oval, the other ground in London, has seen many summer cricket climaxes. It’s my favourite ground in England. Whenever I hear the name ‘Oval’ and in my mind see cricket played under a bright sunny sky. In direct contrast and for some unknown reason I always associate Old Trafford with grey skies and murky light.

As for Headingley in Leeds, I mostly remember it for its Ashes dramas.

In August we saw the heroics of Ben Stokes turn a seemingly inevitable defeat for the hosts into a memorable victory over Australia. Yet this drama was just the latest in an already rich history of dramatic events in this ground’s Ashes history.

There was Don Bradman’s 334 in 1930 at a time pundits were still questioning his ability to handle the moving ball. It appeared that the ball didn’t move enough for the English bowlers on the opening day.

Almost two decades later Sir Don returned to lead the Aussies in a famous fourth-innings chase. He himself scored 173 not out – it was quite appropriate that his final Test hundred would come at Headingley.

Three decades later Geoffrey Boycott scored a less entertaining 191, his 100th first-class ton. And then there was Ian Botham’s Test in 1981, England’s dramatic win in 2005 and of course the recent Stokes masterclass.

Ben Stokes hits a six.

(Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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I have gone through the scorecards of most of the Ashes Tests at Headingley and almost all of them produced some interesting facts, so here I have decided to recall five Ashes Tests at this famous ground. But I have decided to ignore the most famous ones – the ones about which so much has been or will be written.

July 1938
Since Bradman was so dominant at Headingley, I felt obliged to include one of his Tests here. Interestingly, I have gone for the one where he failed – in relative terms of course – by scoring ‘only’ 103 and 16. His average of 59.50 in this match compares very unfavourably with his average of 334.00 in 1930, 304.00 four years later and 206.00 after the war. So those who say that he never failed at Headingley are obviously wrong.

The bowlers who completed mission impossible for England included fast bowlers Ken Farnes and Eric ‘Bill’ Bowes, plus spinners Doug Wright and Hedley Verity. And it was the local boy Bowes, who dismissed him in the first innings, while Wright had him caught in the second.

It should be mentioned that the Aussies only needed 107 runs to win the match. Coming to bat with the score reading 1-17, Sir Don knew that he had no chance of scoring a hundred and hence probably took things a bit easy. Despite his failure, the Aussies won the match by five wickets and Lindsay Hassett top scored with 33.

The match mainly belonged to the Aussie spinners. Bill O’Reilly took 5-66 and 5-56 to set up the victory. He was ably supported by Fleetwood Smith, the left-arm wrist spinner bowler.

Australia's best-ever Don Bradman

(PA Images via Getty Images)

August 1975
The penultimate Test of the four-match series was nicely poised going into the final day, with all three results looking possible. The tourists required 445 for victory and were doing well at 3-220 with young Rick McCosker leading the charge.

Yet there was no play on the final day. Yes, it was cloudy in the morning and it started to drizzle around mid-afternoon; but it wasn’t the weather that stopped play this time. The simple reason was that the pitch was vandalised, and the rugby ground end of the pitch was badly damaged – apparently the damage was done overnight, with the night watchman failing to do his job properly.

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While a suggestion was made to make the adjacent strip ready for use, that would have been unfair because there was no guarantee that the new strip would behave in the same way as the original one. So the match was abandoned with no play on the final day.

The inquiry revealed that vandalism was a part of the campaign to release from prison a robber named George Davis. Four people, including members of Davies family, were charged with vandalism. One of the four, rather inappropriately named Peter Chappell, was jailed for 18 months.

As for the cricket played in the first four days, England struggled badly against Gary Gilmour’s swing bowling at Headingley for the second time in the summer. Here the left-armer took 6-85. David Steele, England’s surprise pick of the summer, top-scored with 73. The Aussies batted poorly and were all out for 135. Debutant left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds took 5-28 from 20 overs. Steele’s 92 in the second innings took the England lead to 444.

But the Aussie batting showed greater resilience in the fourth afternoon. Skipper Ian Chappell scored a fine half-century, but it was opener Rick McCosker in his first season in international cricket who was the most impressive. He ended the day 95 not out with half of his runs coming from 12 well-struck boundaries. At the other end there was the veteran Doug Walters 25 not out.

However, the Englishmen still fancied their chances. Walters’s Test record in England was poor, and Ross Edwards, a specialist batsman, was unlikely to bat, so the Vandals denied the England team probably their best chance of a victory in that series.

But then the Aussie fans could say that McCosker was denied his first Test ton. As things happened, he made his maiden ton in the next match at the Oval. Many felt that it could have been the day when the English crowd would finally see the best of Walters. There can never be any end to such arguments. I must add, though, that the drizzle in the mid-afternoon gradually got stronger and certainly there wouldn’t have been any play after tea.

An interesting fact regarding this match is that with Phil Edmonds making his debut here, England played two left-arm spinners, Derek Underwood being the other. Looking at scorecards of many Tests at Headingley at the time, I was a bit surprised to see quite a lot of success for the spinners, especially the English ones.

Just three years earlier, Derek Underwood had destroyed Australia with ten wickets at Headingley on a wicket Riche Benaud described as “a disgrace to the game of cricket”.

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August 1977
Making his comeback from a three-year-long self-imposed exile, Geoffrey Boycott made a triumphant return to Test cricket in July, scoring 107 and 80 not out at Trent Bridge. This set things up nicely for the next Test at Headingley, with Boycott on 99 hundreds. And he didn’t disappoint his home fans, scoring 191 in his usual manner.

His moment came late on the first day when he reached the milestone. Things had started badly for the home team here, with skipper Mike Brearley dismissed for a duck by Thomson. A number of other top-order batsmen got going but failed to convert starts into scores. But nothing could disturb Boycott’s focus. He didn’t lose concentration, even after reaching the hundred, and at the end he was the last England batsman to be out. And with Australia suffering an innings defeat, he was involved in the action throughout this match.

However, it would be wrong to say this Test was all about this Yorkshireman. Ian Botham took 5-21 in the Aussie first innings, and it was a great triumph for England skipper Brearley. Though he was struggling for runs, his captaincy was brilliant, and the victory ensured the Ashes for the hosts. It came just days after his famous 0-0 declaration against Surrey at Lord’s. It was the summer of his life for the England captain of the time.

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As for Australia, they looked disunited and badly beaten even before the start of the match. The Kerry Packer affair had already come to the press and there seemed a clear rift in the Aussie camp. At the end they lost the five-match series 3-0.

(Wiki Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

June 1989
England captain David Gower won the toss and decided to bowl first, expecting help for his fast bowlers in the pitch. But the English bowlers bowled too short on the opening day and New South Wales opener Mark Taylor took full advantage. His 136 run innings was dominated by strong sqaure of the wicket shots, especially on the off side.

Into the second day the English bowlers still hadn’t learnt their lessons. This time it was Steve Waugh (177 not out) who reaped the most benefit. Dean Jones made 79 and even big Merv Hughes joined in the party with 71. Australia declared early on the third day after reaching 600.

Waugh’s 177 not out was without a doubt the biggest highlight of the match. More than three and a half years after his debut Waugh was still looking for his first Test hundred. While no-one doubted his talents, there were people starting to doubt his temperament. It was time that he delivered, and he followed this innings at Headingley with 152 not out at Lord’s.

After four days of total batting dominance, the English batting collapsed badly on the final day against Terry Alderman. He took 5-44 to complete a ten-wicket haul-and lead his side to a comprehensive victory.

Overall Alderman took 41 wickets in the series as the Aussies won the six-match series 4-0. Both the drawn Tests were rain-affected.

This series and this Test started a remarkable run of Aussie domination of the Ashes that lasted for the best part of two decades.

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July 1997
Eight years after Waugh’s first Test ton Ricky Ponting scored his maiden Test century at the same venue. His classy 127 played a big part in a thumping victory for his team. I still remember an Aussie commentator at the time predicting that this would be the first of his many memorable Test innings for his national team. He eventually finished his career with 41 Test and 30 ODI tons.

After Jason Gillespie (7-37) restricted the hosts to 172 all out the Aussie top order collapsed. As Ponting joined opener Matthew Elliott at the wicket the scoreboard read 4-50 and the match was perfectly balanced. It was the 268-run fifth-wicket stand that gave the Aussies the complete control of the match.

Elliott, the left-hander from Victoria, was often compared with Bill Lawry, but the initial part of his international career resembled that of Mark Taylor even more. Like Taylor, he made his Test debut in a tough home series against the Windies and then found his true form in an Ashes tour.

This series was the highlight of his short but eventful Test career. After scoring his maiden Test ton at Lord’s he produced a career-best 199 here, joining a small band of cricketers to fall one short of a Test double hundred, but a lack of consistent Test scores combined with great competition for places within the Aussie camp at the time meant that he only played 21 Tests for Australia. That’s a small number considering his talents, but it’s still 20 more than that of Stuart Law.

After his heroics at Headingley he managed only one more Test hundred for Australia.

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