Cricket: A long century of Lord's misfortune lasting a century

Adam Szreter tries to discover why Australia have such an incredible record in Test matches at the home of cricket
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The freakish fact that England have won only one Ashes Test at Lord's this century prompts at least two questions. The first is why. The second is why England are not quadrennially in fear of failure at Lord's any more than any other venue.

At the most famous ground in the world Australia usually win, and almost never lose, and it is probably because it is Lord's, the home of cricket, that their record is so good. Ask any Australian, if they had to choose just one place to make a century or take a hatful of wickets on this tour, it would be Lord's.

For the England players, perhaps, the experience is not so special. Most play there once or twice every season, the Middlesex players all season long. Also it would be understandable if Graham Thorpe, for example, took more pleasure from making a hundred at The Oval, his home ground, or Darren Gough from taking 10 wickets at Headingley. No one is suggesting England players do not try hard at Lord's - but it seems the Australians try harder.

Since 1896, when Australia lost by six wickets after being bowled out for 53 on the first morning (Surrey's speed merchant Tom Richardson taking 6 for 39, all bowled), England have only one victory at Lord's to savour, and even then the weather played its part.

In 1934, a year after the infamous "Bodyline" tour, the Australians, Bradman and all, lost 18 wickets in a day after heavy overnight rain had produced the proverbial sticky wicket. Yorkshire's Headley Verity made the most of it with his slow left-arm to finish with 15 wickets in what became known thereafter as Verity's Match, a win for England by an innings and 38 runs.

Neville Cardus, in his report for the Manchester Guardian, wrote: "Verity's flight and length were exactly right, visible temptation. And his break and rise from the ground were exactly right, too, visible betrayal. He bowled not more than three loose balls while the Australians first innings died the death; his run to the wicket, so loose and effortless, was feline in its suggestion of silkiness hiding the claws." Phil Tufnell, it seems, may not have been the first England slow left-arm bowler to be called "The Cat".

That was it as far as England were concerned. Australians, of course, have enjoyed many a famous hour there at England's expense, none more so than Bob Massie in 1972, who took 16 wickets on his Test debut. When England won the Ashes under David Gower in 1985 by three Tests to one, the one they lost was at Lord's where Allan Border made 196. Most recently, in 1993, David Boon, Mark Taylor and Michael Slater all made centuries and Mark Waugh 99 as Australia rattled up 632 for 4 declared to win by an innings. But even that does not beat the effort of 1930.

Replying to England's 425, of which Duleepsinhji made an attractive 173, Australia amassed 729 for 6 declared, their highest total in England and the highest ever made at Lord's. Bradman made 254, reportedly a faultless innings which he has since described as his best.

England, with Hobbs, Woolley and Hammond in the side, responded with 375 in their second innings but it was not enough and they lost by seven wickets - all within the space of four days.

Bradman returned to Lord's to make an unbeaten century in 1938, when Hammond made 240, and 10 years later, two months short of his 40th birthday, Bradman made 89 in his last Test appearance there.

For England the heroics of Bailey and Watson in 1953 stand out, but alas their stubborn partnership was a match-saving effort rather than a winning one.

Starting today, England have one last chance to make amends before the century draws to a close. Could 1997 become Gough's Match, or Croft's, or will the Australian batsmen rise to the occasion once again? As to why England do not go into the game bedevilled by fears of a Lord's jinx, no satisfactory answer can be found; but if Australia win again, perhaps we'll all be twitching when 2001 comes around.