A historic moment to relish
Some matches are destined to be special, living up the hype that surrounds them. Who can forget the 1977 Centenary Test at the MCG? Only the insanely hopeful, the ridiculously prescient, or a gambler rolling his last desperate dice of redemption, could have predicted that two matches, separated by a hundred years, would have ended with the scoreboard displaying exactly the same result – a 45-run victory for Australia.
Thus, when Lord’s prepared itself to host its 100th Test match in the summer of 2000, the MCC was acutely aware of the history at the ground and all that it had to live up to.
116 years ago, Lord’s hosted the first ever Test match where England faced Australia and its ‘Demon Bowler’ Fredric Spofforth. But it was not Spofforth who would determine the course of the match, but an English fast bowler, George Ulyett, with his round-arm action, who would scythe through the Australian batting in the second innings, taking 7 for 36 in a magnificent 39 over bowling performance, leaving England victorious by an innings and 5 runs. Would England prevail again, 99 Tests later at the ‘Mecca of Cricket’?
There was every reason to expect this to be a cliff-hanger if you were a student of cricket’s history, for this was England playing West Indies at Lord’s.
If you were a West Indian, you would remember that this was the 50th Anniversary of West Indies’ first ever victory against England in England at this very venue. On a glorious June day in 1950, the remarkable spin duo of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine had spun West Indies to a huge 326-run victory. Some of the members of that side were on hand to celebrate the occasion and perhaps witness a repeat.
If you were English you would remember 1963 when Colin Cowdrey descended the Lord’s steps with his broken arm (victim of a Wes Hall delivery in the first innings) bandaged to face up to Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith in fading daylight and saved the Test with tail-ender David Allen. 6 balls to play and the last pair at the crease certainly didn’t leave you wanting for excitement.
37 years later, the fearsome attack of Hall and Griffith had been replaced by a pair of fast bowlers whose impact on Test cricket had, if anything, been even greater. Bowling together in 95 Tests, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh picked up a staggering 762 wickets, of which Ambrose took 389 and Walsh accounted for 373. And in these 95 Tests when the pair bowled together, West Indies won 42 and drew 28, remaining undefeated 74% of the time in the process. A record that gave little comfort to Alec Stewart’s men that July morning of the new millennium, and was partly the reason Stewart chose to field first when he won the toss.
The contest begins with a solid for West Indies
West Indies got off to a good start, with the right-left opening combination of Sherwyn Campbell and Adrian Griffith putting on 80 and none of the English bowlers on display, Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick, debutant Matthew Hoggart or Dominic Cork, were able to make any impact on an overcast morning. Even when Griffith was run out, Wavell Hinds and Campbell continued untroubled to get West Indies up to 162 before Cork trapped Campbell into hooking a ball down Hoggart’s throat at long leg, both openers now departing, having pressed the self-destruct button after making batting look easy. After tea, however, the whole complexion of the match changed. Batting became seemingly the most difficult task in the world against Gough and Cork.
Lara drove stylishly at a full-length ball way outside the off stump, and Stewart snapped up the edge, with Hinds following in identical fashion to Cork. Jimmy Adams survived a close first ball lbw appeal from Cork, took a single, and promptly got trapped in front of the stumps, this time to Gough. Chanderpaul held on at the other end, but with Gough and Cork pumped up and confident, the tail could only wag so long. When Reon King and Courtney Walsh were offered time by the umpires, at the end of the first day, West Indies were 267 for 9.
As the players walked back through the famous ‘Long Room’ at Lord’s that evening, they could not have imagined the extraordinary events the next day would gift to glorify Lord’s.
An eye-popping day of Test cricket: The show of Ambrose, Walsh, Gough, Caddick and Cork
The West Indians did not trouble the scorers as Walsh was trapped in front by a swinging yorker from Caddick on the first ball of the day, before the first beer had been poured at Lord’s. Walsh did not seem particularly heartbroken and was back on the field in a few minutes in the company of bowling partner Ambrose, red cherry in hand, raring to have a go at the Englishmen.
With the final ball of his first over, Ambrose drew Mark Ramprakash forward, only to snick a low catch to Lara at first slip. England 1 for 1. Atherton then attempted an ill-conceived cut off Walsh’s last ball the next over to hand Lara his second catch. England 2 for 2. When Vaughan played on to an Ambrose delivery a few overs later, England was tottering at 9 for 3.
25, 28 and 27 from Graeme Hick, Alec Stewart and Craig White respectively spared England the blushes, and somewhat miraculously, despite some very poor batting, the English scorecard showed a total of 134 when Darren Gough was finally dismissed after a rear guard recovery attempt with Matthew Hoggard. West Indies led by 133 valuable runs, and the members of the victorious 1950 squad could not be blamed for joining their glasses in the long room, in anticipation of a repeat of a famous win.
The unfolding drama would however intensify as the day progressed, to take an already extraordinary day into the realms of the unbelievable, and leave the spectators stunned to have witnessed such a day of cricket.
The last two hours of play, which should rightfully have seen the West Indies consolidate their lead, saw instead a mind-boggling reversal of fortunes. If the English batsmen earlier in the day had provided a poor account of themselves, the West Indies second innings took batting to its nadir of deplorability. It would be fair to say that the West Indian batsmen did not press the self-destruct button so much as they collectively sat on it, until it broke.
Darren Gough, to his credit, bowled testingly on the off stump, as you would expect a man of his experience to do. But the first wicket he was involved in was actually as a fielder, running around from third man to catch Campbell slashing at Caddick. Two balls later, Hinds could not keep a rising ball from touching his raised bat and popping up to Ramprakash. Griffith and Lara then departed in rapid succession, and suddenly, West Indies was 24 for 4.
Caddick and Gough now had their tails up and it showed in their bowling. Chanderpaul followed Hinds into the hands of Ramprakash from a rising ball and Jacobs slashed at Caddick to leave West Indies reeling at 39 for 6. Jimmy Adams having a terrible Test as captain and Ambrose attempting an almighty heave at Caddick were both dismissed without a run being added to the team score. West Indies was now 39 for 8.
King and Walsh, for the second time in 5 hours found themselves fighting a lone battle with two unfamiliar pieces of willow. When King was finally dismissed, West Indies had been bowled out for 54 in just 26 overs, their lowest total against England, leaving the home side 188 to win a famous victory. 21 wickets had fallen in a remarkable day’s cricket that would not easily be forgotten, a day which had witnessed four innings of the match being played, in part or in full.
As the Saturday dawned at Lord’s, it was clear that the match would in all likelihood be finished in three days, just as the match played at this ground 116-years earlier had been. The ground was packed, the crowd had queued from before seven with their picnic baskets, the Blazers, the cushions, the scorecards and the brollies. With 188 runs to win, which team would be claiming the stumps as souvenirs at the end of the day?
A modern day thriller
Mark Ramprakash once again fell cheaply, looking intent on throwing away his second chance at redemption in Test cricket. Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, both playing their last Test at Lord’s bowled like they had not aged, putting every bit of experience and effort into each delivery. Ambrose looked like taking a wicket on every ball he bowled, but instead, it was Walsh at the other end who kept the scorers busy with his penetrative bowling, while Ambrose exerted enough pressure to burst a few blood vessels.
Ambrose would end up bowling a remarkable hostile spell of 22-overs that yielded him only one wicket, but giving away a mere 22-runs in the process. The pressure was relentless, intense, and debilitating. Walsh bowled 23.5 overs to pick up 6 wickets, his 74 runs a witness to the effect of Ambrose’s iron grip at the other end. In the end, however, the two aging warhorses had to rest, and the West Indies felt the impact of not having quality bowlers to back them up. As Tony Cozier was to eloquently remark in his match report the next day about Ambrose, “He passed probing bats, rapped pads and found edges that skidded past stumps or wide of fielders with such regularity that even the most diligent observers lost count. After one cruelly fruitless over to the defiant Atherton, he plucked his white towel from his pocket and waved it, in frustration if not surrender. But he and Walsh cannot continue saving lost causes by themselves. They need the backing of those who can relieve them when they need to rest.”
Despite the magnificent bowling from the fast bowlers on both rosters, in the end, it was England that won a victory that would go to the team that batted less ineptly. The scorecard would show that 50-years after Ramadhin and Valentine bamboozled England, the hosts would have their revenge by two wickets, and while less dominating than the result from the first Test at the ground, the 100th Test would have far more drama and excitement than the crowd that walked into Lord’s for the toss on an opening day could reasonably have expected to witness.
As big players rise to the occasion, so do iconic grounds. Lord’s was not to be denied in its 100th Test, as midsummer sunshine bathed the outfield, reflecting off the Wisden Trophy being held aloft by an English captain for the first time in 27 years.