Cricket: Larwood's finest hour

The Anniversary: 70 years ago England won the first Test played at Brisbane by a record margin
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THERE ARE milestones wherever you look. It was the first Test match to be played at Brisbane. The margin of England's victory remains the highest by runs alone. Harold Larwood's 6 for 32 in Australia's first innings, four years before Bodyline was invented, was his best innings analysis.

Patsy Hendren, the third highest run scorer of all time, made his highest score in an Ashes Test. The fearsome cavalier fast bowler Jack Gregory broke down and never played again. At the age of 46 Bert Ironmonger made his first appearance in a Test match. Bertie Oldfield, the Australian wicketkeeper, conceded precisely no byes while England scored 863 runs. Oh, and a chap called Donald Bradman also made his debut.

Some of these facts, not least the last, have achieved significance in the 70 years since the match was played. On 5 December 1928, what mattered above all was that England had gone 1-0 up in the series and at a stroke gone a long way to undermining Australia's resolve.

After a long gap (though not as long as the one which now exists), England had regained the Ashes by winning the final Test of 1926 under the refreshing captaincy, for the first time, of the tall, curly, angelic Percy Chapman. This was his opportunity to retain them.

The England selectors burnt the midnight oil in selecting the side and when they announced the outcome on the morning of the match it was generally considered that the fuel had been wasted. Worried about making enough runs, they picked seven batsmen and only four bowlers, a strategy which, seven decades on, still seems to be flawed. Of course, Wally Hammond was both top-order batsman and honed fast bowler. George Duckworth, the wicketkeeper, was one of life's No 11 batsmen.

In the event, the strategy worked to something like perfection, though it was undoubtedly helped by having a tail which wagged animatedly rather than going limp at the first sniff of cordite around its nostrils. England fell to 161 for 4 after winning the toss, which was not exactly what was required on a perfect strip. Hendren, batting at six, and Chapman, at seven, then put on 74 but that was still hardly enough.

It was not until Hendren and Larwood came together at 319 for 7 that England moved to a position of distinct advantage. The stocky Cockney, on his third Australian tour, and the collieryman from Nottinghamshire, on his first, shared a partnership of 124 which remains the highest for the eighth wicket for England in an Ashes Test. Hendren, hooking and cutting wonderfully, was last out for 169 and England finished on 521.

Larwood then bowled out Australia in conditions still splendid for batting. He demolished the top order with the new ball. Bradman eluded him. The 20-year-old wonder boy, who had already scored heavily for New South Wales, made 18 before he was given lbw to Maurice Tate. Sixty years later, recalling the verdict in a radio interview, The Don still claimed it was dubious.

Australia were dismissed for 122 and Chapman decided not to enforce the follow-on, a percipient decision. All of England's eight second-innings batsmen reached double figures, Philip Mead and Douglas Jardine contributing half- centuries. Australia were asked to make 742 runs to win.

If this was quite bad enough, it rained heavily through the night before the fifth day's play. The sun then shone. Bradman had never seen a sticky wicket before. Australia were bowled out for 66, the future genius mustered one. This was insignificant at the time. There were other matters of import from the match.

Chapman's status as national hero was merely enhanced and in the matches which followed his stock rose more. Percy of the cavalier batting and old school charm could do no wrong then. England's win at the Exhibition Ground (its only Test, for the Gabba replaced it soon after) disconcerted Australia and with Hammond reaching his apotheosis later in the series they could never recover. England, rampant, won 4-1.

Sadly, it was a match too far for Jack Gregory. He had been the scourge of England throughout the decade, a man who obtained his wickets by huge physical presence and raw speed. With Ted McDonald he had instilled fear in English hearts. But now his knees had buckled and he knew it was up for him. With tears in his eyes, Gregory walked into the dressing-room and said: "I'm done for. Boys, I'm through. I've played my last game."

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