In this series, Arunabha Sengupta relates the tale of the Victory Tests played between England and the Australian Services as a celebration of the end of World War II……
330 to win on the final day of the second Victory ‘Test’. On the difficult surface of Bramall Lane, under constant cloud cover.
A much more likely proposition would be to last all day. That too, as Bruce Harris mentioned in the London Evening Standard, was ‘forlorn hope’.
Things were not helped when Dick Whitington, the Australian opening batsman, was plagued by hay fever.
But, this was the Victory ‘Test’ series. And the captain of the Australian Services was Lindsay Hassett. Hence, there was more on offer than expected. Much more.
Whitington, with sniffy nose and scratchy eyes, collaborated with James Workman to see off George Pope and Dick Pollard under the menacing clouds. The seasoned new ball operators from the north of England could not break through. And hence captain Wally Hammond was forced to make changes.
Doug Wright came on. And then Bill Edrich to send down some fast overs.
Whitington snicked Edrich for four through the slips. A bumper went over Workman’s head for four. The score ticked along. Hardly a run was being scored in front of the wicket.
And then Edrich pulled up while bounding in for another delivery. Bending, he felt the back of his thigh. It was ominous. And indeed, after a minute he was limping off with a torn hamstring.
Hammond brought on William Roberts, who had not bowled in the first short Australian innings. The first ball was a rank long hop, and Whitington pulled it for four.
Roberts settled down after a while. Long, lean and wiry, bowling his left-arm spinners from a gentle run-up, his bowling arm starting its swing from the small of his back. But runs were being added without trouble.
Wright remained unimpressive. And hence Hammond threw the ball to Len Hutton, asking him to try his leg-breaks from the football end.
Whitington late cut him for four, and then pulled a short one to the long leg boundary. Hutton’s first over cost 10. “Keep him on Wally, we like it,” shouted an Australian fan.
An hour and three-quarters of play, and the score was over 100. Whitington, the more aggressive one, was already on 61, out of 108.
Wright sent down yet another short one. In the mood for an attack, Whitington rocked back and swung towards mid-wicket. He missed. The ball thudded into his back foot. The finger went up.
108 for 1.
The crowd was pleasantly surprised to see Keith Miller walking out at No 3. Obviously, Hassett sniffed the possibility of a spectacular win.
Pollard was back on. He kept swinging them in. It hit Miller on the thigh. And then again in the same spot. Miller, who had hit Washbrook and Hutton, was in some pain.
At 121, Pollard swung one In prodigiously. Miller was late on the stroke. The stumps took a stroll.
Hassett was in now. Pollard beat him with another swinging delivery. And then there were two no-balls, both hooked for four.
Pope was taken for 14 in an over, including two boundaries and a four through leg-byes.
Australians had lost just two wickets. But the total was already 171, more than half of what they needed to win. Hassett had struck five fours, around the ground, and had raced to 32. 50 had been added for the partnership at more than a run a minute.
And then Pope produced a beauty which took Hassett off stump. A bemused look was written on the skipper’s face as he walked back.
On the top tier of the stand behind the bowler’s arm sat the aged CB Fry. By then idiosyncratic to the point of near lunacy, he was decked up in his full naval uniform. The players were surprised to see his head, complete with the naval cap and monocle, poke into the dressing room. “Thought you might like to know what that one did, Lindsay. It swung from the leg.”
Before Hassett could respond, even with a smile, Fry was gone.
Keith Carmody’s approach made it clear that the departure of the skipper had done nothing to stem the spirit of the chase. He cracked a breezy 14 out of 18 and was run out-chancing Hutton’s arm from cover point.
189 for 4. Workman was steady at one end while the others were gunning for the unlikely win. According to George Thompson’s report, “The outlook for England was beginning to look a bit doubtful.”
Cec Pepper was a grand hitter. But here he was playing some sensible cricket. He had been the hero of the chase in the first ‘Test’. It was quite apparent he wanted to finish this one as well, get close and then give the charge.
The score climbed. 200 was achieved. 10 more. And then 10 more. It stood at 221, Workman was 63.
And now Pollard produced a rising delivery. It climbed on Workman, got the shoulder of his bat. Wicketkeeper Billy Griffith leapt to his right but it just about eluded him. But the magical hands of Wally Hammond closed around the ball at short slip. The pillar of the innings was gone. 221 for 5.
That had been the last ball of the over. Pepper responded by driving the first delivery from Pope’s following over for four. Cheetham turned Pollard to the leg for three. Then a run was taken and Australia needed 100. The game was in the balance as tea approached.
And in the final over before the break, the balance shifted in favour of England. Pope made one jump and Pepper pushed at it. Pollard held at silly mid-on. The all-rounder walked back for 27. Tea was taken at 231 for 6.
After the break, Hammond kept his opening bowlers on. The Australian tail fought hard, but it was not enough. It was over when Pope bowled Fred Price with the score on 288. England had won by 41 runs. The series was square.
Pope and Pollard, the bowlers recruited into the side for this ‘Test’, had captured 14 wickets between them. Pollard, with figures of 33-6-76-5, was given the honour of leading the team off the field.
It had been another superb game of cricket and the Yorkshiremen who had flocked to watch it, contributing to a total of over £7,000 in gates, went back satisfied.
The Times correspondent described it as “a splendidly contested game in which the keen cricket resembled the remarkable Leeds Test match of 1938”.
Not so exciting for some of the august men who witnessed the game, though.
Bob Crisp, for example, was always hard to please. He felt that the most exciting moment of the final day was actually when a Mustang fighter plane almost scraped the top of the pavilion. Admittedly the plane flew low, and Crisp reckoned that the pilot had come down to see the scoreboard.
Wilfred Rhodes, the great Yorkshire all-rounder, said that he had been impressed only by the fast bowling of Keith Miller. Given that Miller picked up just 2 wickets from his 26 overs in the match, it was really perceptive of Rhodes to detect what would become a phenomenon down the years.
Another supreme Yorkshireman, Herbert Sutcliffe, had been to Australia on business and declared that there were many better Australian players in the country. Another bit of astute analysis which foretold how the game would unfold in the next few seasons.