“Drama of a sort that dawns on Test cricket once in a lifetime”.
“I don’t blame you. It was worth it.”
Those were the words with which a cricket-loving magistrate released a West Indian man in London … on that Tuesday evening. The latter had been pulled up for being drunk and disorderly.
The country still had certain priorities properly preserved.
Why? Because it had indeed been worth it.
As Wes Hall ran into bowl that evening, over after over his huge feet sped across the turf of Lord’s, the news on television was peremptorily cut short. Viewers were voicing protests of being left away from the cricket with just two overs to go.
Yes, the city was paralysed.
From tycoons to typists everyone exchanged bulletins of the great Test match in progress. Even old maids chatted about cricket. They would continue to do so, especially those that saw or heard, with their own eyes and ears or riding on the rapt voices of others, when two balls were left and all four results were possible.
Wes Hall had the ball, sweat glistening on his face, the shirt sticking to his torso like a second layer of skin. He had been at it, continuously, for three hours and twenty minutes, but for the 20 minutes of the tea break, bowling at his fastest all through. And coming down the steps of the pavilion, making his way to the wicket, was Colin Cowdrey, one arm wrapped in plaster, the broken bone in the left forearm making every onlooker wince in pain but perhaps the batsman himself.
Drama of a sort that dawns on Test cricket once in a lifetime.
Too bad that the spectacular climax was witnessed by a precious few in the stands. Bad weather during the first couple of hours of the day had driven away optimism, and thereby people. It often happens in Test cricket. Why, the Brisbane Tied Test was played to a finish in front of a paltry 4000.
But, I am getting ahead of the story.
This Test was constructed in the heaven for cricket-lovers. And every single day contained elements of magic.
Was it not a meteorological miracle that play started before noon? The sky, devoid of blue, incredibly resembling grey blotting paper, letting through abundant quantities of showers … it was hunting weather, not cricketing. It seemed that if Hall and Griffith started to bowl, batsmen would require arc-lights behind their bowling arms.
But the clouds parted, rays of sun sliced through. Lord’s filled up, with MCC members in yellow and red, West Indian immigrants in sharp Shaftesbury Avenue shirts, and Londoners in raincoats. Frank Worrell, one up in the series, won the toss of coin and batted. Fred Trueman and Derek Shackleton, the latter not universally popular as a 39-year-old replacement of Brian Statham, started proceedings.
There was magic even at the start. It did seem that Trumper and Macartney had risen from their graves. The first three balls of the Test went for boundaries, the spirit of those aforementioned greats perhaps mingling with the soul of an adventure of Conrad Hunte. Albeit two of them were rather streaky edges.
The rest of the day saw sedate batting in challenging conditions. Even men like Garry Sobers and Rohan Kanhai were subdued. With atmosphere loaded for swing, captain Ted Dexter kept Fred Titmus up his sleeve, and up his sleeves, he would remain all the first innings. David Allen was given just 10 overs, although he got Sobers to edge to Cowdrey. The attack was shouldered by the giant Yorkshire heart of Fred Trueman, whose 32 overs got him 5 for 64 through the course of the day. Shackleton toiled without reward. When they were given breaks, Dexter chose to bowl himself and Brian Close in his medium-paced avatar.
In response Kanhai eschewed his falling sweeps, preferring more grammatically correct strokes through his 73.
At 245 for 6, it was no one’s game as yet.
This was a day that saw one of the greatest innings essayed at Lord’s. If not the greatest, certainly the most audacious. I know Kapil Dev struck four consecutive sixes on this ground to save follow on 27 years down the line. But he did that to Eddie Hemmings. This particular knock was essayed against the most fearsome fast bowling duo in the world.
West Indians, coasting to 300 with 3 wickets still remaining, with Hall clubbing the ball with relish, were eyeing a formidable total. But then it happened. Shackleton, having sent down almost 50 overs without success, beat Joe Solomon with his movement, and had Charlie Griffith and Lance Gibbs snapped up within the course of four balls. Trueman, his own figures 6 for 100, gallantly let the Hampshire bowler lead the side off the field.
And then, before the lunch interval, England lost John Edrich and Mickey Stewart, the openers both falling to the furious pace of Griffith.
20 for 2 in response to 301. The Hall-Griffith duo were bound to come back like raging bulls. Hall had not yet worked up a sweat. Griffith still had his thick woollen sweater on. The West Indians round the boundary were downing a beer with palpable glee.
What followed is fit for odes, ballads, ditties.
The MCC members perhaps tarried a while after long lunches, loathe to leave their plush armchairs. City gentlemen working in various parts of London perhaps tried to hasten to Lord’s only to reach too late. Yes, quite a few missed the innings, because it lasted just about an hour and a bit after lunch. But the ones coming in after an hour’s play were in for a surprise. The score read 102 for 3. No. 3 dismissed for 70.
It was Griffith who charged in first. And it was Griffith whom Dexter set about to destroy.
Surfeit of no balls. Yes, that is how he intimidated batsmen, by deliberately stepping closer to them than warranted by legalities of the game. Pushing the boundaries of law. But the faster he bowled, the harder Dexter hit him. Twice half volleys were crashing into the palings even before the Barbados fast bowler had completed his follow through. The reports were like a gunshot.
In the next over it happened again. And so, sulking, Griffith bowled from the edge of the crease and pitched short. Dexter hooked, and it rattled the glasses of the Tavern bar. The bowler scratched his head and pitched up. Dexter drove twice, either side of cover, for the same result. Another bouncer followed, and Dexter slammed it to mid-wicket.
Hall was driven square, then cut fine and once flicked through the leg side. Fifty was up and cheered most vociferously by even the West Indians in attendance. The applause echoed around St John’s Wood and Dexter raised his bat, as if quieting it. Griffith, to use the immortal words of Alan Ross, was ‘like a somnambulist, enveloped in fogs of disbelief.’
At the other end, Ken Barrington was demonstrating the dead bat. Sometimes he cut with finesse, glided with purpose. But he was eager to play the second fiddle.
And then came the anti-climactic end. A canny Worrell introduced Sobers. The mix of inswingers and leg-cutters tampered with Dexter’s flow. He grew edgy. One cover drive rattled against the pickets. But another delivery came in and Dexter, playing across, was leg before.
It was over. The bowling had been treated with an irreverence that it did not deserve. Hall taken for 22 in the 17 balls bowled to the England captain. Griffith punished for 39 off the 35 sent down. Now, Dexter was lbw Sobers for 70 from 75 balls. 102 for 3. He returned to standing ovation.
The rest of the day was a battle of attrition. Barrington, solid as ever, proceeded to 80 before falling to Worrell. Parks played fluently for 35. None of the others got going. England ended at 244 for 7. The odds decidedly even
It as Titmus, deprived of bowling, who took England within a stroke of the England total. His half-century got the hosts to 297, before Griffith, his whole being striving to put the insults of Dexter’s batsmanship behind him, ran in to dismiss the tail.
The lead was worth just four runs. But when McMorris swung Shackleton to the long leg boundary twice in succession, and Hunte hooked Trueman for six to have the Yorkshireman applauding, it seemed that the visitors were intent on making it count.
But then, even before lunch, things started to happen.
Shackleton moved one off the seam, Hunte got the edge, and Cowdrey, for all his girth, flung himself to his right at second slip to come up with a superb catch. And Trueman got an outswinger to lift and McMorris edged a much simpler offering to the same fielder.
15 for 2 at lunch. England were winning.
Kanhai, flourishes of genius sometimes peeping through his unusually circumspect approach, was kept quiet through three Titmus overs. He countered with a steer off Shackleton and Cowdrey got his third catch of the innings.
Sobers, dropped at slip by Close, was well caught by Parks off Trueman for 8.
And Solomon pushed out at Allen and the inside edge was held by Stewart round the corner, at full stretch and left-handed.
104 for 5. England on top.
Basil Butcher now counter-attacked, while from the other end 38-year-old captain Worrell painstakingly tried to persuade him to keep his cool.
Butcher fluctuated between the studious and impulsive. Towards the end of the day, he played stroke after stroke of dreamy softness. In between, he pulled Shackleton to the Tavern with a stroke of pure relish. And between singles and twos and a fine glance for four, he lofted Allen twice for straight sixes.
At the other end Worrell, way past his best days, batted almost from memory. But it was enough to keep the England bowling at bay. The day ended with Butcher on 129, looking good for many more. Worrell was on 33, and it was just important that he was there. West Indies had recovered to 214 for 5, 218 ahead and still half the wickets in hand, and firm favourites to win the game.
But within 25 minutes, Trueman and Shackleton mopped up the remaining wickets. Stewart held on to Worrell’s jab at a short Trueman delivery, four yards from the bat and inches from the ground. Murray touched an outswinger to Parks. And Hall did the same, only his way of handling the bat more at home in the Turkish kitchens with sheesh-kebab on the menu.
Butcher, alarmed by the quick wickets, tried to force Shackleton away to the leg and was caught plumb. Griffith stood, waiting for the ball with bat raised, as if poised for a golf swing, but it was still only halfway through its downswing when the stumps clattered.
5 for 52 for Trueman, 11 for the match to this great bowler. Shackleton had 4 for 72.
England needed 234 for win. Never before scored in a Test at Lord’s. The last time they had scored this much to win in England was when Jessop had got going at The Oval in 1902.
But, it seemed doable … till one looked at the ominous sight of Hall and Griffith with the ball.
And there was the small thing of negotiating Lance Gibbs as he wrapped his long fingers on the ball on a fourth and fifth day pitch.
Stewart started with a flourishing cover drive, looking at ease and promising. But at the other end, Edrich perished to a lifter from Hall.
In walked Dexter. The hero of the first innings. And the astute Worrell brought Gibbs on. The England skipper liked the ball coming on to his bat. And the West Indian captain would give him none of it. He was poking around, looking like an ugly twin of the man who had enthralled in the first innings.
At the other end Stewart, stroking fluently, suddenly lost sight of a Hall bouncer. He ducked, the bat held in a periscopic manner, and the ball lobbed off the handle to Solomon at third slip.
And Dexter now drove all over a dipping off-break from Gibbs and was bowled.
31 for 3.
The crowd, but for the noisy West Indian section, sat in stunned silence.
And as Cowdrey poked around with three short legs crouching next to him, Barrington lashed out, hitting Gibbs for three fours within a space of five minutes. Lunch was taken at 47 for 3.
After the break, these two eminent batsmen, sedate and solid, edged the score along. Hall, pitching the ball on the infamous Lord’s slope, made it bounce, and the angle was too steep and unpredictable to hook. Two men squatted in the off side, for the fended defensive prod. Men were there for the swing to the leg as well. Note that it was not Douglas Jardine but Frank Worrell marshalling his men.
The batsmen let the ball hit the body rather than going for the hook or prod. And then at 72, the sickening sound was heard. Cowdrey, in negotiating one that kicked up to his face, thrust his left hand forward in self-defence. There was a crack, and the bat was dropped in pain. He walked off, his left arm nursed close to his chest.
As Close joined him, Barrington shed the cloak of sobriety that hung around his batting. Twice he unfurled pulverising pulls off Gibbs. One landed in the crowd at square leg. The other in the top tier of the Grand Stand.
The skies grew dark. 93 for 3, virtually 4, and the players came off. A quarter of an hour later they were back on. Sobers bowled with Gibbs, spinners to Close and cutters to Barrington. The latter reached his fifty, in just 90 minutes, a degree of aggression not really associated with the Surrey professional.
When Hall bowled, Close stoically took him in the ribs.
At half past three light worsened and early tea was taken. The Queen and Prince Phillip met the teams, but there was little chance of any more cricket. England retired for the day at 116 for 3. The news from the hospital was that Cowdrey had broken a bone in the left forearm.
118 to win, six valid wickets left. Weather uncertain. Everyone on tenterhooks.
The depressing skies, coupled with start-stop drizzle, and there were plenty of disheartened men leaving the queues and making their way to non-cricketing pursuits.
Play began late. Those that stayed were the blessed ones.
Gibbs bowled one over. And then it was mostly all Hall and Griffith.
Hall thundered in from the pavilion end, with the wind behind him. Griffith ran into the breeze from the Nursery end.
Ball after ball leapt up at Close, raising to his chest and thudding into a damp end. He took 11 of the 14 overs Hall sent down till Tea. The dull, deathly sound of impact could be heard again and again.
Barrington, so refreshingly sprightly the previous day, seemed to have left his strokes at home. His first run was off his glove. A flick to the square leg boundary was an exception rather than a rule of uneasy stabs with an uncertain bat. And before the applause for the stroke had died down, he was caught at the wicket off Griffith.
130 for 4.
Parks was all but leg before the first ball. And then, coming forward, he forced Griffith to mid-wicket, and cover drove twice for boundaries. The only drives that would be seen all day.
He was soon out, leg before to Griffith, a dismissal always on the cards.
Titmus came in and pushed Close to run brisk singles. The players broke for tea, with England 171 for 5.
63 runs remained to be scored. More or less at 3 an over. One and a half hour’s play remained, and with Hall and Griffith at one or two ends, the West Indians would not allow more than 14 overs an hour.
West Indians under Worrell. Yes.
Close was a transformed man after the break. Whenever Hall pitched short he swung. He missed often, and connected twice. One got him four. Another was picked up by Butcher at full tilt.
Gibbs bowled at the other end, and Titmus swept him to long leg. Hall, in the midst of a marathon spell, hared around the boundary to cut it off, sending the throw in with a degree of exertion that made the crucifix dangle.
In retrospect, these two fielding efforts saved West Indies the game.
Titmus touched and ran. Close was hitting at everything.
The last hour started. England needed 48. Close thumped a Hall bouncer to long leg to reach 50. The next over saw Gibbs pulled for another four in the same region.
Hall laboured back to his mark each time, the sweat, the puffs of breath, every bit testimony to the enormous effort he was putting in. Yet, as he ran in, his feet picked up the pace in the most miraculous manner.
Titmus, who had played him well, now turned one to leg. McMorris, the middle of the three short legs, held him chest high.
203 for 6. Trueman was the man walking in. On a good day, this Yorkshireman could settle the issue with a few meaty blows.
Hall ran in. The two fast bowlers had dismissed each other once apiece in the match.
Now Trueman followed the short ball outside off and was walking back. 203 for 7.
Allen and Shackleton. Two men apart from the one-handed Cowdrey who remained.
Close decided that the only way was to play on chance. Twice he swung, twice he got some part of his bat on the ball, twice the long leg ran in vain. Twice the ball struck the fence. Twice the crowd went wild. Twice chunks were taken off the required runs.
Allen was playing well. Surviving. Covering his stumps. Dropping the ball right in front of his bat.
Close now did not bother watching Hall through his 40-yard run. He stared down the wicket. Hall came into his focus only when he crossed the stumps.
And now suddenly, with Hall barely halfway to the crease, he walked out. Two steps down the wicket, and ready to take more. Hall, ball in hand, was bewildered. He kept clutching the ball, unable to bowl it, looking all ready to burst into tears. And then he walked away, resembling with his gait, for all his size and stature, a wounded stag.
Worrell, smiling and calm, strolled in from silly mid-off. Hall was clutching his back. Worrell’s words worked like balm on the pain. The big fast bowler was once again walking back, although disbelief was writ across his face.
Close kept walking out. Hall sent them down faster. The left-hander kept swinging at them. Sometimes he snicked. Mostly he missed. He did the same to Griffith, twice hitting him into the outfield.
20 minutes to go. 15 runs required. Close staked everything on a couple of big hits. And Griffith got him, off a snick from another massive heave attempted after walking down the wicket.
219 for 8. The pavilion stood as Close walked back, bat held high in acknowledgement.
Worrell refused the second new ball. As he had done at Brisbane. The new ball is prone to travel faster. And Hall, when sweating, gripped the old ball better.
Shackleton walked in. And the news was that Cowdrey had changed and was practising left-handed batting. His good arm would be his front one. He was too much of a purist to do otherwise.
Allen looked comfortable enough. Shackleton steered a single, prodded another. An edged boundary was never far away from the cards.
Six came off four overs. Less than enough. Hall was pitching just short, bowling at a furious pace even late in the day. Fielders were there near the bat, for any fend, any airy prod. The boundaries were patrolled as well. Griffith was now bowling much slower, concentrating on length. The light was fading.
Hall now started from the pavilion end, what was to be the last over. England needed eight.
The first ball pitched outside off, and Shackleton swung at it. It ended in the glove of Murray.
The second was tapped in front, and a single was scampered. Hall was there, sprinting across on his follow through, swinging his arms for the pick up and throw. But the run was taken.
The third was on the pads, and a glance to long leg got Allen a single. Six required off three.
The fourth was short and wide, Shackleton lunged and missed. Allen sprinted out, running to the keeper. Shackleton, not aware of such plans, looked up in puzzlement. But Allen was already within touching distance. Belatedly the 39-year-old started his futile effort to reach the far end. The throw came in from Murray, and was picked up by Worrell at silly mid-off. There ensued a veteran’s race. And the West Indian skipper, unencumbered by pads, won it as he flicked off the bails.
228 for 9. Two balls remained. Six were needed.
Allen had the strike. And there was Cowdrey, arm bandaged, making his way to the crease. A photographer preceded him on to the ground, capturing this incredible moment of history. The crowd cheered.
The result was immaterial. This was the greatest show of heroism many would witness.
Allen, though, had every noble intention. “If I can squeeze a boundary first ball, be prepared to run two off the last.” That was more or less what he told Cowdrey.
The genial English hero settled at the non-striker’s end. Worrell reminded Hall once again of the consequences of a no-ball.
Twice Hall thundered in. Twice his great feet shook the earth through his 40-yard run. Twice his deliveries were hurled down the wicket. Twice Allen, his whole body thundering from the impact, kept the ball out.
The Test had ended. It was a draw. Nay, it was a dream that had been played out, not a draw.
Yes, men celebrated. They got delirious. They also got drunk.
But as the good old magistrate put it, they were not to be blamed. It was worth it.