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……
The weather changed from a pleasant summer breeze to chilly, near autumn drought. The skies were overcast, gloomy. Australia had supposedly crawled on the previous day to 273 for 5.
But neither the weather nor the tardiness in the Aussie approach kept the spectators from the ground. The gates of Lord’s had to be closed with 30,000 people inside after there had been queues for half a mile.
On the first day there, General Montgomery had been guest of honour in the MCC president’s box. Today there was the new British Prime Minister Clement Atlee.
For the first time in the series, Keith Miller fell to a bowler other than Jack Pollard. Fittingly it was George Pope, who was bowling a brilliant line. It kept low and broke from leg to off. Miller walked back for 118.
Cec Pepper at the other end was playing the role of the entertainer as he had done all through the series. Already he had hit one so hard that Miller had had to jump out of the way, knocking two of the stumps down in the process. Now, as the extremely cautious debutant John Pettiford joined him at the wicket, he monopolised the scoring. When the new man got his first run, some half an hour later, the Australians in the crowd gave vent to their frustrations with an ironic burst of cheer. However, Pepper had carried the scoreboard along.
It was only when William Roberts bowled a no-ball that Pettiford rocked back and pulled him for four. That finally got him going.
Pepper also benefitted from a no-ball, having been caught off it at 48. Once he passed 50, he smacked Pollard for six into the Tavern stand. He tried to repeat the stroke off the slow bowling of Roberts and skied one. The bowler waited quite a while till it came down into his hands.
Bob Christofani, alongside Pepper and Pettiford yet another leg-spinning all-rounder in the side, struck three boundaries in an over and then skied Pollard to deep square leg where Bill Edrich took a fine catch. Graham Williams did not last long, and when last man Reggie Ellis came out, Pettiford decided to hit out. He smashed one from Pollard but it got as far as Doug Wright in the covers.
The debutant walked back at the end of the innings for a well compiled 32. The Australian Services had almost played themselves to safety, scoring 388.
Later, in his memoirs, Edrich wrote that with the Australians having taken their time over their runs, “… we got together in the pavilion and promised each other that we would take no risks until that total was passed.”
It was not the sort of cricket that promised to bring a result in a 3-day game. More so because the start of the England innings was delayed because of rain interruptions.
But Len Hutton and Laurie Fishlock went about their innings with a sedate approach. Miller, bowling off a shorter run because of a doubtful back, bounced way over the batsmen’s head and then proceeded to hit both the batsmen on the body. So much for the contrast with Messerschmitt and playing cricket for fun.
It made things difficult for James Workman, who had to don the gloves because Stan Sismey had been hit on the hand. Byes were leaked. In fact, with Miller bowling the first overs, 9 of the first 15 runs were byes.
Hutton departed when Williams trapped him leg-before for 35. Jack Robertson and Fishlock played some enterprising cricket, adding 63 in quick time before the former snicked Pettiford to Miller in the second slip. 136 for 2.
After the break, with skipper Wally Hammond joining him, Fishlock took 10 off a Pettiford over. But then he tried to force one to the leg and it spun past his bat to hit the middle stump.
173 for 3.
Hammond was joined by Cyril Washbrook, and these two experienced batsmen knew that by now the Australian bowlers were too fatigued to take advantage of the second new ball at 200. The two pushed the score along, against some ordinary offerings.
But there was one moment of drama. Miller bowled a short one to Hammond, with Lindsay Hassett having placed his fielders well back. Hammond blocked it and it rolled about two or three yards from the bat. With the fielders on their heels, Hammond called Washbrook for a run. As the batsmen ran, Miller sprinted after Washbrook, reached the ball and kicked it onto the stumps. Washbrook just about made his ground.
A year later, Miller’s great friend Denis Compton would run out Vijay Merchant in a Test match by using his more refined football skills.
At 249, Washbrook appealed for light and the players went off, leaving few in doubt that draw was on everyone’s mind.
There was still time left in the day for both teams to engage in some positive cricket and try to force a result. But, the two days of the fourth ‘Test’ had so far been a let down after three spectacular ‘Test’ matches. And the weather had not helped either.