Cricket: Action Replay - Laker eats Australia whole

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The Independent Online
England bowler Jim Laker had the sort of season cricketers dream about in the summer of 1956. On May 16, playing for Surrey against the touring Australians at The Oval, Laker took all 10 wickets in an innings for 88 runs, a feat performed only once before in freakish circumstances. This is how the Daily Mirror's Brian Chapman reported it...

ANXIOUS FATHER takes all ten Australian wickets! First time since freak bowler did it seventy-eight years ago! Read all about it!

No; I'm not bail-happy or just plumb crazy. That is sober, stark, historical fact. In the greatest stretch of sustained bowling I have ever been privileged to watch, Jim Laker - Big Jim - the Surrey and England off-spinner, made the whole Australian side his personal prize at the Oval yesterday.

He was in there sweating and scheming and spinning for four hours and a half unchanged. His final figures were ten for 88. As the Australian captain, Ian Johnson, handsomely said:

"It was really magnificent. We are proud to have taken part in such an achievement, even if we were at the wrong end of the stick."

They presented Jim with the ball right there and then in front of the pavilion. It will go nicely on Mrs Laker's mantelpiece in the best parlour with the ball that took eight for two in a Test trial at Bradford in 1950.

The whole crowd - ten or twelve thousand - rose and cheered as he led the players off at 5.30 of a sunny spring evening. Then - a gesture that I admired as much as those ten wickets - at the white gate, Laker suddenly remembered that Keith Miller, with a life-savings innings of 57 not out, was just behind him. He beckoned him forwards and and their studded boots clattered up the steps together.

Laker told me that all this happened after a day and night of anxiety about his daughter Fiona who is three and a half. They called a specialist in on Tuesday "just to reassure ourselves." Last evening she seemed happily on the mend.

That's one story behind the Laker drama. The other is this:

HE DARNED NEAR MISSED HIS RECORD.

With nine wickets safely pouched, Miller sent a dolly catch to Dennis Cox at mid-off from Lock's bowling. Cox dropped it, and never, surely, has a muffed chance so relieved an Oval crowd keyed up to fever pitch. Can you blame Cox? He didn't want to get lynched!

I asked Laker: "Did you shout DROP IT?"

He grinned: "I was so tired. I just wanted the innings to end. If it had been my catch I would certainly have held it."

This was a day that had everything. The Oval presses rushed off a historic scorecard. IT GOT ITS FACTS WRONG! Two runs Miller waved aside, because his partner, Crawford, obstructed Lock, went down in his total, in Australia's total and in Lock's analysis.

Mark this. The wicket was by no means a bowler's paradise. Laker told me that only the odd ball turned viciously. He had to WORK for those ten victims.

Laker's feat started some headaches all round.

HEADACHE ONE - Gubby Allen's. Laker obviously moves right to the top of Test possibles, and I hope the old unfair fetish, "Save Laker for the Oval," will be hit on the head. But who of half a dozen good 'uns to leave out?

HEADACHE TWO - Ian Johnson's. If this is the best his men can do ON A FIRM WICKET, his Ashes chances look slim.

Like an avalanche, Laker's devastating descent on Australia started slowly. Only Burke, looking a shade unhappy about his leg-before, had surrendered in the morning spell.

Three more gave themselves up before tea. Mackay, after forty-five minutes as stodgy as suet, was caught close in. Harvey hesitated about an on-drive and popped it upwards. His ominous thirteen brought his total in four outings to a gruel-thin 26.

MacDonald, only eleven short of an impressive century, gave a juggled catch to 'keeper Roy Swetman. Australia were 173 for four at tea and Laker was definitely on top.

Listen now for the grisly death-rattle of the stumps.

Len Maddocks, cocky and alert, got an off-break that made his middle and leg sticks look like a doodled diagram (173 for five). Lindwall's off-stump leaned backwards first ball (173 for 6). Johnson waved to one in passing - result: caught Swetman (175 for 7).

Davidson hit a piratical six. But Surrey were now fielding and catching like demons, and a snick to slip was brilliantly held (199 for 8). Crawford - two sixes - died fighting (219 for 9).

Jack Wilson - "Good old Fatty," cried the delighted crowd - stayed while Miller, at last abandoning defence, smote 38 runs in 24 minutes.

Spare a tear - and a cheer - for Toiling Tony. None for one hundred looks even more horrid to Lock than it does to you.

But he had the harder end, enjoyed no luck, and then had to TRY NOT TO TAKE A WICKET. With Miller having a bash too! I ask you!

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