Australia 373 and 202-6 dec
THE ghost of Headingley 1981 popped its head round the visitors' dressing-room door yesterday afternoon, before vanishing abruptly back into the ether after tea. A draw may not quite qualify England for an open-top bus ride and a ticker tape reception, but for a side that does not so much keep the champagne on ice before a Test match nowadays as the smelling salts, even a sniff of victory can go down as a major triumph.
On the fourth morning of this third Test match, England were looking down the barrel of a record-equalling sequence of eight consecutive Test defeats, and yet by teatime on the fifth day, with Australia 115 for 6, people were preparing to be proud to be an Englishman (or, in the context of this particular side, a Scotsman, a New Zealander, an Australian, or a South African). In the end, though, the original prognosis of 'if England win this one, I'm a Dutchman' duly came to pass.
It is, however, a starting point, and there is enough evidence from this game - particularly with Craig McDermott back home in Queensland, and Merv Hughes about to embark upon a week of treatment on an injured groin in a London health centre - to suggest that this series may yet resemble something other than the playground bully cuffing small boys around the ear. It made a pleasant change too, to watch the umpires walking sedately off with the stumps, rather than Australians charging from the field with their customary armful of souvenirs.
England's laudable effort in batting through Monday for the loss of only two wickets, left Graham Gooch with nothing harder to do yesterday morning than calculate the moment to declare and unleash his pie-throwers. After what Gooch has been used to, this must have seemed a little like offering a pavement vagrant a suite at The Dorchester.
His task was made considerably easier by the way in which Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain added another 60 runs in only 40 minutes, leaving the equation of 371 to win in 77 overs, and leaving Thorpe with the honour of becoming the first Englishman since Ranjitsinhji (proving that England were not exclusively home- grown even in 1896) to make a century on his home debut against Australia. The only pukka Englishman other than Thorpe to achieve this feat, in fact, played in the days before the Test and County Cricket Board gave the thumbs-down on facial hair, a chap by the name of W G Grace.
Thorpe, sporting the suspicious beginnings of designer stubble, had only one anxious moment, over the stroke that took him to three figures. It was a miscued hook shot off Brendon Julian, which turned into an unreadable googly when it spun off the turf just in front of the fielder at long leg, and went over the rope for four.
Thorpe, as he was entitled, punched the air with both arms, and by the time he and Hussain left the field, their unbeaten partnership of 113 had created an England seventh- wicket record against Australia on this ground.
If the Australian manager, Bobby Simpson, had appeared blissfully unconcerned on Monday night about his team's ability to bat quietly out for a draw, this did not seem to be shared by his opening batsmen, and Mark Taylor and Michael Slater both collected bruises from Australia's honorary Englishman in a bristling, aggressive new-ball spell from Martin McCague.
Australia, with good reason, pride themselves on their early identification of talent, but in this case McCague appears to have slipped through their net, and what England have now is someone with the pace of Devon Malcolm, but with the accuracy to make opposing batsmen more worried about a blow to the helmet than the England fielder with the short straw at short leg.
However, it was Peter Such who gave England their first glimmer of hope when Slater, whose talent is occasionally offset by the impetuosity of youth, charged down to the first ball he received from the off-spinner, hoicked across the line, and was bowled. Even so, with Australia lunching in the comparative comfort of 47 for 1, there was no real hint of the drama to unfold between the game's final two meal breaks.
Taylor, who had been busy trying to get himself out lbw by padding up to dangerously straight balls, finally edged Such to Michael Atherton in the short gully position, and when Andrew Caddick replaced McCague at the Radcliffe Road end, it had the equivalent effect of removing the bottom can from a neatly stacked supermarket pile.
Caddick's sixth delivery was relatively innocuous, wide enough of off stump for Mark Waugh to have nothing to do with it had he wanted, but Waugh shoved his bat vaguely in the general direction, and thick-edged into his stumps. Allan Border then did roughly the opposite, playing no stroke but leaving his bat in the way of the ball, and edging Caddick involuntarily to Thorpe at first slip.
However, the wicket that really raised England's hopes of pulling off something remarkable was that of David Boon, chunky as a home-made marmalade, and every bit as impenetrable. Yesterday, though, the nerves even got to him, as Caddick made one climb off not far short of a length, and Boon's attempted cut resulted in a thin top-edge to the wicketkeeper.
Finally, in the last over before tea, Ian Healy played all around an inswinger from Mark Ilott, and Roy Palmer's finger went up for an lbw that was as palpable as Healy's silent dissent at the umpire's verdict. This, however, was as far as it went for England.
Steve Waugh, despite his discomfort against the short stuff, dug in with commendable resolve (62 minutes without scoring at one stage) and he found an equally resilient ally in Julian, whose contrasting aggression brought him a maiden Test 50, reached with a six over long-on off Such. Julian was billed as an all- rounder when Australia arrived, and all we require now is some evidence that he can bowl.
And so to Headingley, where England have won their last two Test matches, and will, one suspects, have to make it three in a row to retain any remote prospect of the urn changing hands. At least they go there believing they have half a chance, and so, more importantly, might the opposition at long last.
Clyde Walcott profile
NatWest preview, page 30
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