Ashes memories: 'What happened then amazes me to this day' - Cricket - Sport - The Independent

Ashes memories: 'What happened then amazes me to this day'

As the Ashes moves on to Headingley, three Yorkshiremen reflect on their roles in Tests against the old enemy that helped write the legend and lore of their county ground

Chris Old: 1981

It's still called the greatest Test of all time and the "Miracle of Headingley" – the most unbelievable reversal in fortunes in the history of the Ashes.

At the time, I honestly don't believe that anyone who witnessed it could quite believe that we'd fought our way back from a succession of seemingly impossible positions to beat Australia. Most of the players on either team could scarcely believe it either. Not until hours later – as I was driving down the M1 in the early evening – did I fully appreciate what we'd done. I heard the reports on the car radio and actually said to myself: "No, we couldn't have won".

The game itself is so well known that I hardly have to go through the fine detail of it. How Australia piled up 401 before declaring; how we were bowled out miserably for 174 and were forced to follow on; and then how we found ourselves on the brink of being crushed, on 135 for seven in our second innings, before Ian Botham began his belligerent, brilliant hitting to change everything.

Headingley '81 will always belong to Botham. He had to give up the England captaincy after losing the first Test and then drawing in the second at Lord's, where he got a pair. I wouldn't have been in the team at all if Botham had still been skipper. I only got my chance at Headingley because Mike Brearley was brought back in.

My problems with Botham started on the winter tour of the West Indies. We disagreed over his handling of Graham Dilley, who was still a month away from his 21st birthday and on only his second overseas tour. Botham wasn't good at dealing with the psychological aspects of captaincy. When Dilley bowled a few bad balls, or things didn't go well for him in the first Test at Trinidad, Botham's idea of dealing with it was to take the mickey out of him. There were a string of leg-pulling remarks that Botham meant in a serious way. I could see that Dilley felt worse because of them. He took 0 for 73.

I told Botham that he ought to be encouraging Dilley instead of making smart remarks. He told me that Dilley shouldn't be mollycoddled.

When we moved on to Guyana – having lost by an innings in Trinidad – I had a long sit down with Botham to outline my concerns. After this, I wasn't selected to play for England during his time as captain.

Having been with Yorkshire for so long, I always had a set space in which to get changed at Headingley. When I arrived for the Test, Botham had taken the place alongside it.

"Welcome back," he said, stretching out his hand, "it's great to see you again." If he thought it was so great, why hadn't he tried to persuade me to rejoin the side earlier in the season?

Halfway through our second innings, Australia were already planning for a day off. I remember sitting on the balcony with Dilley just before he went into bat. "What should we do?" he asked. "Just have a go," I replied. He did. Dilley stood up and began bludgeoning boundaries. He hit the ball especially hard.

I'm convinced that Dilley's approach inspired Botham. At Somerset, he had a contest with Viv Richards to see which of them could strike the ball harder and furthest.

He began to have the same contest with Dilley, and it became a fantastic piece of theatre. When Dilley was out, for 56 off only 75 balls, I came in. I made 29 off 31.

Sometimes it can be difficult to chase small totals. I didn't expect it would be so difficult that the Aussies would fail. On the evening before the final day, as expectations about our chances began to rise, I went into my local for a pint of Tetley's. "I've put a fiver on England at 500-1," someone told me. "You can have 20 per cent if you pull it off."

I'd experienced so much pressure that I didn't want to think about the Test, let alone talk about it. The money didn't interest me.

Even though my figures didn't suggest so – I finished with 0-91 – I thought I'd bowled well in the first innings. The only wicket I claimed in the match was the most pivotal one I've taken. I have the most wonderful photograph: the camera shutter clicks just as the ball is taking Border's off-stump.

John Hampshire: 1975

By 1975 I knew the Australians and I knew Headingley. For three years, starting in 1967, I coached in Tasmania. I'm not sure some of the Tasmanians were grateful to be told what to do by a "whinging Pom". The Test at Headingley in 1975 is one of the most infamous in English cricket history.

It was heading towards a good finish on the last day. I made just 14 in our total of 288 and was caught for nought off Jeff Thomson in the second. The Aussies needed 200 or so to win with seven wickets left.

I'd been to hospital for an X-ray on a finger, which I'd damaged in the field. When I arrived at Headingley and walked into the dressing room, I was amazed to find that no-one else was changed – or was making an attempt to get changed. I sat down and started to put on my whites. "What are you doing?" I was asked. "I'm going for a net," I replied.

Only at that point did I find out the truth. The match had been abandoned. Four vandals had broken into the ground the previous night, moved the covers and dug up part of the pitch on a length at the rugby end. They also poured oil on it. It was a protest against the conviction of a man called George Davis, a minicab driver who had been jailed for his part in an armed robbery. I never played for England again.

Geoffrey Boycott: 1977

The greatest and most memorable day of my cricketing life began bizarrely. It was 4am in a stifling hot hotel room, and I was talking to the night porter about the air conditioning. It was a faintly ridiculous situation. I knew I might be less than seven hours away from opening the batting in an Ashes Test in my own backyard. I was on 99 first-class centuries. Everyone was willing me to get my 100th hundred against Australia at Headingley, and I was uptight and tense about it. And yet, when I ought to have been fast asleep, I was embroiled in a conversation with the night porter.

I took some pills – a rare thing for me – and overslept. By the time I got to Headingley, I was feeling out of sorts: weary and heavy-limbed as well as a bit flustered. The 22,000-strong Yorkshire crowd, however, were the polar opposite.

I always liked to have a practice knock before an innings. This time, I barely had time to get into the nets. If the truth is told, I had my fingers crossed we'd field first. I didn't feel awake enough to score runs. Mike Brearley won the toss, and took the obvious decision – to bat.

Even more responsibility rested on my shoulders when Mike was out in the opening over. But I think his dismissal actually pushed me on. Within 20 minutes, I was a different man. I suddenly felt more relaxed and fluent. Soon I was middling the ball, and the tiredness began to drain away. It was replaced with a solid conviction about two things: this innings had to be treated like any other – and it had to be constructed around the basic principles I'd always employed. Play one delivery at a time; play at the tempo I felt was right for me; and play with a single-minded determination.

Naturally the Australians tried to unnerve me. I got a jaffa from Len Pascoe, which just flicked my left wrist band and went through to Rodney Marsh. You could have heard the appeal in Sheffield. Next, I went to turn an arm ball from Ray Bright off my hip. It clipped my thigh pad and there was another shout – long and intense. Bright was positively fuming when the umpire, Bill Alley, shook his head. The captain Greg Chappell had to calm him down, and Alley moved swiftly to rebuke him too. I know that the ball didn't get close to my bat.

I had only one moment of real trepidation. Somewhere in the 70s, I steered a short-delivery from Pascoe towards fine leg. My touch, however, was too firm. The ball went into the air and, for one awful second, I imagined Max Walker, who was patrolling the area, pouching it. If I was out, there'd be dreadful sigh followed by a funeral silence. I heard cheers instead.

What happened with the shadows lengthening at 5.49pm still amazes me. I still see it in super-slow motion. Chappell was bowling. I kept telling myself: "Just look for the gap around extra cover or through the on side." My 232nd ball brought my 15th boundary – and my century. I played it as though I was standing outside myself, actually watching myself get into position for the on-drive. I got it in the middle of the bat and I watched the ball zip past the non-striker, Graham Roope.

I remember almost instantly raising my bat. I remember the applause, the noise rolling down from the stands. And I remember realising how much it meant to me and what I'd achieved. I was the 18th man to score one hundred hundreds: the first to do so in a Test. The crowd came on to the pitch, wanting to offer their congratulations. I can't recall what any of them said. I was aware, however, that I was sharing this magical hour with them – my people, my Yorkshire.

That night I rang two friends in particular: Michael Parkinson and Brian Clough. Brian's wife's Barbara said he'd been due in a board meeting at Nottingham Forest. He phoned to tell them: "Start without me. I'm watching my mate make history on TV."

I went on to score 191 in our total of 436 before five wickets from Ian Botham and four from Mike Hendrick bowled out the Aussies for 103. We won by an innings and 85 runs – and Derek Randall took the catch from a Rodney Marsh skier at 4.39pm on the fourth day to regain the Ashes.

Extracted from Fire and Ashes: How Yorkshire's Finest Took on the Australians, a new book featuring Ashes memories of 18 of the county's finest players and published by Great Northern Books. To purchase a copy for the special price of £13.49, call Independent Books Direct on 0843060 0030

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