The final Test at The Oval, as always, was a timeless one since the series had not been conclusively decided. It was to be a painful match for Australia in more ways than one. After Edrich returned to the pavilion 45 minutes into the match, Len Hutton dropped anchor. Maurice Leyland, appearing for the last time in a Test, was just as unyielding. They kept grinding on and on. Nothing that the Australians threw at them had any impression on that flat surface. Both of them brought up their centuries and by the close Leyland, with 156, had almost caught up with Hutton, who was on 160. England were on 347 for one.
When Leyland was run out for 187, the Yorkshire pair had put on 382 for the second wicket. It was England’s highest Test partnership, overhauling the 323 raised by Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes for the first wicket at Melbourne in 1911-12. For the second wicket, only the 451-run Ponsford-Bradman alliance at the same ground four years earlier, was higher at the time. Hutton reached his double hundred, and his 135-run stand with Hammond seemed relatively minute. Three wickets fell in quick succession and it appeared that England might be restricted to a total of reasonable proportions.
Hutton, though, was in a different zone. He found an equally determined conspirator in Hardstaff. Just before close of play on the second day, Hutton touched 300. Hardstaff, at that point, was 40 and England were 634 for five. On the third morning Hutton passed Bradman’s record of 334 in Ashes Tests, and Hammond best of 336 not out in all Test matches. Bradman was the first to extend a gracious hand of congratulations to the young star. Hutton went on to score 364, his epic lasting 13 hours and 17 minutes and spanning 847 balls. He hit 35 fours. His sixth-wicket partnership with Hardstaff realised 215 runs.
Hardstaff was aided by another willing partner in the new wicketkeeper Arthur Wood. They ground the Australian bowling into the dust with another century stand. By now the Aussies had bowled themselves to a standstill. Just to relieve them, Bradman came on himself. That was the last straw, for he cracked his ankle in the rough created by the main bowlers. That reduced Australia to nine batsmen, for Fingleton was also on the injured list; neither could bat in either innings. And faced with such a mammoth score, the result was a foregone conclusion.
England topped 900 runs for the first time in Test history. Even so, Hammond declared only when he was certain that Bradman would not be able to bat. Their 903 for seven remained a record until Sri Lanka amassed 952 for six declared against India at the R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo in 1997-98. Fleetwood-Smith bowled 87 overs for figures of one for 298, the most runs conceded in a Test innings, O’Reilly wheeled 85 overs claiming three wickets for 178. The paceman Mervyn Waite sent down 72 overs for a return of one for 150. In all, England played 335.2 overs. Australia totalled 201 and 123, even less than Hutton’s score, and faced fewer deliveries in the two innings put together than Fleetwood-Smith alone bowled in that one innings. England had squared the series, the victory margin of an innings and 579 being the largest in history.
The series may not have ended the way Bradman would have wished, and even if he had batted in that last Test, Australia may well have still lost, faced with such a gigantic score and no time limit. But he had come away with a drawn series at the helm of one of the weakest Australian teams to visit England’s shores. Never again was he to lose a Test. He had himself scored centuries in all the three Tests that he batted, even though the usual double hundred eluded him. Once again he topped his team’s averages with 108.50, and logged up an aggregate of 434 runs in six innings. This was Australia’s last series before the war, and his record stood at 37 Tests, 5093 runs at an average of 97.94, and 21 hundreds, of which there were 2 triple centuries, 8 double centuries and 11 single centuries.
There were other sterling performances with the bat, by Brown and McCabe for Australia, and Hammond, Hutton, Paynter and Leyland for England. With the ball, the Australian spin act of O’Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith were the obvious successes with 22 wickets and 14 wickets respectively. Sadly, the great O’Reilly was to be seen in the Test arena just once again, in 1945 against New Zealand, and Fleetwood-Smith never. Even more tragically, England’s leading bowlers, the paceman Ken Farnes (17 wickets), and one of the best left-arm spinners ever Hedley Verity (14 wickets), lost their lives during the Second World War.
Bradman once again topped the averages for the English season of 1938 at 115.66 per innings, aggregating 2429 runs in 20 matches.
He began the Australian first-class season of 1938-39 by scoring six successive hundreds, which equalled the record set by the multi-faceted Englishman C.B. Fry in 1901. That season The Don scored 919 runs in only 7 innings at an average of 153.16, with a best of 225.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email email@example.com).
Don’s Century’, published by Sporting Links, ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0.
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