The opposite was true of Headingley. Bradman revelled on it. But the initial momentum in the Test here was with England. Miller once again shared the new ball with Lindwall, but Hutton, smarting after being left out of the previous Test, settled down to a long partnership of 168 with Washbrook. After an association of more than three hours, Hutton fell for 81. That only ushered in Edrich, who joined in another century stand with Washbrook. The opener brought up his hundred, and just before stumps, he was dismissed for 143. England had reached 268 for two.
Even the nightwatchman Bedser would not relent the next day. And so ensued a third successive century stand. Edrich raised his own hundred, while Bedser batted resolutely for nearly three hours. Bedser finally hit back a catch to Johnson after scoring 79, the alliance worth 155 runs. Edrich was out soon after for 111. England went on to total 496. It was a hard grind for the Australian bowlers, having been kept on the field for more than 192 overs.
At this stage one may point out that a new ball was available after 55 overs in this series. Some writers felt that it was this factor that led to Australia’s dominance of this series, that after the initial breakthroughs by Lindwall, Miller and Johnston, Toshack with his accurate medium-pace and Johnson with his off-spin, tied up the English batsmen till the second new ball was available, and then the fast bowlers would return and blast the rest of the batting. Hutton derided this regulation in Fifty Years in Cricket: “In 1948 I was unfortunate to bat against Australia when the new ball was available after only fifty-five overs. What went into the thinking of such a patently absurd experiment is difficult to imagine. There was no discernible point in its favour and it made spin bowling unfashionable. Bradman, of course, was delighted to have a new ball after fifty-five overs and he could afford periods of defensive containment between assaults of Lindwall and Miller.”
This was not exactly the case. Lindwall and Miller were obviously one of the greatest-ever pairs of fast bowlers, and Johnston with his left-arm swing, bringing the ball into the right-handers, and also moving it away, provided wonderful variety. Yet, as we have seen, Miller did not bowl in three of England’s innings, and in another did not take the new ball. In all these four innings Johnston opened the bowling with Lindwall, and these two were the highest wicket-takers for Australia in the series.
England, on their part, had a strong batting line-up of their own, comprising the likes of Hutton, Washbrook, Edrich and Compton, which often stood up to the Australian pacemen bravely. Even the later batsmen – Evans, Laker and Bedser – offered stout resistance. In the first innings at Old Trafford, the second new ball was taken with England on 87 for two after Compton had been hit on the head by Lindwall. But Compton returned for a stirring counter-attack in the company of the lower order. The real difference was that Australia also had a top-class array of batsmen with Morris, Barnes, Hassett and Miller taking the burden off Bradman, and Neil Harvey too scoring a hundred even though he played just three innings. On the other hand, English bowling was heavily dependant on Bedser and Laker. Australia were also a brilliant fielding side with Tallon superb behind the stumps. In sum, Australia were a vastly superior allround side, and it was not just their fast bowling, and the 55-over new ball rule, that were the main reasons for their triumph.
The series, however, had not been wrapped up yet. Bedser removed Morris early, and while makeshift opener Hassett shut shop early, Bradman did attempt to push the score along. At close Australia were 63 for one, with Hassett on 13 and Bradman 31. Both fell soon after resumption, Hassett without adding to his overnight score, and Bradman having scored two more. At 68 for three, England were on top. This is where the depth of the Australian side came to the fore. Miller and Harvey got together, raising 121 for the fourth wicket.
Miller was out for 58, but it only provided an occasion to Sam Loxton to make his presence felt. Another century partnership ensued. So far Harvey and Loxton had little role in the series. They now seized the opportunity, and in cavalier fashion. Harvey brought up his hundred, and with the stand having reached 105, was bowled by Laker for 112. Loxton fell for 93, but Lindwall struck a splendid 77. Australia eventually finished on 458, just 38 behind, early on the fourth day. England then took off in their bid to set a target. The onus was on them, for they had to win both the Tests just to level the series. Once again Hutton and Washbrook put up a century stand. Both notched up fifties and fell at the same total, 129. Edrich and Compton then got into the act, and they put on 103, also posting half-centuries each. Later Evans scored an unbeaten 47, but Yardley would still not declare at close on the fourth day, even with a lead of exactly 400.
Another three runs were scored on the final day before the closure came. Australia were set 404 runs in 344 minutes. Though it had been a high-scoring match, the odds would have been in favour of either an English win or a draw. An Aussie victory was improbable. Never had so many runs been scored to win a Test match. To do it inside a day was well nigh impossible. Hassett took 74 minutes over his 17, before returning to the pavilion with the score at 57. A win had become even more unlikely as Bradman strode in. But this was more like the Bradman of old. He was striking the ball splendidly, with Morris matching him stroke for stroke. Progressively, a fascinating battle began turning hopelessly one-sided.
The century stand was posted, then Morris got to his hundred. Soon Bradman brought up his 29th and last Test century. The double hundred of their partnership came up, and the English seemed resigned to their fate. Yardley employed seven bowlers, to no avail. Only after the triple century of their association had been notched up, did Morris yield his wicket. They had put on 301, and Morris had 182 to his name. Miller stayed for a while, but Bradman brought up an incredible victory with 15 minutes to spare. The Don was unbeaten, in more sense than one, with 173. He had taken just four hours and a quarter over it, and faced 292 balls, hitting 29 boundaries. It was an incredible innings, the hallmark of a champion. One final time Bradman had established that he was – and will always be – the greatest of them all.
Some said it was a wearing track, a few went even further to aver that the wicket was taking spin, full of six-inch divots, terrible for batting. Others were of the view that Laker, who was expected to knock over the visitors, bowled badly and had little back up, that Evans missed a stumping and a catch, and the fielding was poor. But we let Ted Corbett have the last word, “The audacity, the strokeplay and the sheer idea of scoring 400 on the last day on a turning pitch leave modern cricketers astonished and it is not surprising.” Elsewhere he wrote, also in The Sportstar, and this was reflective of how the English felt: “It was as if the 1882 Test at the Oval – when the Ashes tradition was born – had been repeated.” The simple fact was that The Don had been provided the opportunity to leave his unique imprint one last time, and he showed to the new generation glimpses of the dazzling, bewildering Bradman of the early 1930s. In the process he won the series too, in a sensational manner. It was only in 1976 against the West Indies that the Indian team achieved a higher score in the fourth innings to win a Test match, surpassed just twice, by the West Indies in 2003 and South Africa in 2008.
(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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