Stan McCabe’s stupendous innings against Bodyline : Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’

Stan McCabe

Woodfull and Ponsford walked out to open, hardly aware of what was in store for them. Leg-theory had been planned to contain Bradman, but the techniques of the two Australian openers and Jack Fingleton, who batted at no. 3 in this Test, convinced Jardine that his tactics were correct. Bowes reflected later that his captain had noticed the three batsmen moving too far across their wickets, which showed up in their being bowled leg-stump often. These players would be vulnerable to leg-theory.

In a sign of things to come, Woodfull was caught behind by Leslie Ames off Voce for 7. Larwood removed Ponsford, Fingleton and Kippax with just 87 on the board. Then came the tremendous counter-attack from McCabe. He stood up to the short-pitched stuff, stepped inside the line and hooked and pulled boldly. As McCabe continued to attack, Jardine removed one of the close-in catchers and posted a second long-leg in anticipation of a mishit. But McCabe was in complete control and all that the fielders could do was to fetch the ball from beyond the ropes. It was an aggressive, courageous show, one of the best displays of hooking of express fast bowling ever seen in history. Victor Richardson, maternal grandfather of the three Chappell brothers who represented Australia for two decades from the mid-sixties onwards, provided invaluable support to the rampaging McCabe. They put on 129 for the fifth wicket before Voce returned to dismiss Richardson for 49.

Oldfield fell early but Grimmett battled hard as McCabe went on the offensive. They raised 68 before the leg-spinner fell for 19. Last man Tim Wall showed immense character in standing up to Larwood and Voce, as McCabe shifted into overdrive. The stand was worth 55 when Hammond finally dismissed Wall for 4. McCabe remained unbeaten with 187 off just 233 deliveries in a little over four hours, having smashed 25 boundaries in one of the most dazzling innings ever against genuine pace.

Larwood took five for 96, and Voce four for 110. Allen went wicketless. He had refused to bowl leg-theory as a matter of principle, though in some quarters there were snide suggestions – doubtlessly by Jardine backers – that his decision was based more on the realistic assessment of his lack of real speed than a noble desire to uphold the spirit of the game.

England opened with two dour batsmen, Herbert Sutcliffe, ungainly plodder, and vice captain Bob Wyatt, the technician. The pair put up a rather brisk century stand by their standards. Grimmett trapped Wyatt leg-before for 38 off 91 balls with the scoreboard reading 112. And then Hammond joined Sutcliffe. They compounded Australia’s misery, piling on the runs, carrying the total to 300 when Hammond departed for 112 in just over an hour-and-a-half. The Nawab of Pataudi senior, Iftikhar Ali Khan, came in and there was a third century stand with Sutcliffe. At 423 Sutcliffe finally fell, trapped in front of his stumps by Wall for 194 off 496 balls with 13 boundaries.

Pataudi went on to complete his hundred in the company of the tailenders. He became the second Indian prince after K.S. Ranjitsinhji to score a century on debut for England, and the third along with the great Ranji’s nephew K.S. Duleepsinhji, to do so on first appearance against Australia. Pataudi’s effort, though, was a painstaking one, consuming 380 balls for his 102 with 6 fours.

It seemed the fight had gone out of the Aussies. Voce and Larwood took turns to rattle the stumps of the Ponsford-Woodfull firm, for two and zero respectively. McCabe was again robust, hitting 3 fours and a rare six in his half-century stand with the diligent Fingleton. But once Hammond trapped McCabe leg-before for 32, it was all downhill for the hosts. The teams took the field on the fifth day for just four deliveries. It took Voce three of these to knock over the timber behind O’Reilly without a run added as Australia packed up for 164, their two innings equalling England’s first. Larwood picked up his second five-wicket haul in the match, snaring five for 28 this time, to finish with a bag of ten wickets for 124 runs. Then Sutcliffe scored the solitary run required for victory off McCabe’s first ball. England drew first blood in this intense fight for prestige.

….. the story of the Bodyline series of 1932-33 from ‘Don’s Century’ continues next week.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

Don's Century cover‘Don’s Century’, published by Sporting Links, ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0. is distributed in India by Variety Book Depot, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Phones + 91 11 23417175 and 23412567.

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