England strive to give Underwood perfect recall

The volume of the cheer from the codgers in the Long Room startled the England players as they took the field at the start of play yesterday. England had given them something to cheer because very few of the MCC members present were born when Hedley Verity (inset), the great Yorkshire left-arm spin bowler took 15 for 104 in 1934 and England beat Australia by an innings and 38 runs.

In the 18 Ashes Tests at Lord's since then Australia have won nine, including five of the last six played, and nine have been drawn. For England this has been one of the longest losing streaks in sporting history, but by the end of play with the lead stretching beyond 500, England established a strong position from which to end it, and not before time.

This year MCC have made an occasion out of ringing the bell that announces the start of the each session by having the deed done by a celebrated figure in the life of cricket. On Friday morning it was rung by Richie Benaud, who played in one easy Australian victory in 1956.

Yesterday the bell was rung by Derek Underwood the mesmerising Kent and England spinner, who is this year's president of MCC now the club prefer their head to be a former player rather than a retired general or a landed aristocrat. Underwood has the somewhat dubious distinction of having played in the two Lord's Tests since 1934 that England had a chance, however faint, of winning

Taking a brief time-out from making sure his guests in the President's Box were fuelled with champagne or Pimm's, Underwood recalled a first sniff of victory in 1968. That year England bowled Australia out for 78, when David Brown of Warwickshire carved through the Australian batting with 5 for 42, but that was on the fourth day after Colin Cowdrey had declared at the conclusion of three days of rain breaks on 351 for 7.

Underwood recalls the thrill of watching Colin Milburn, the Billy Bunter-like figure who batted at No 3, before losing the sight of an eye in a car crash, score 67 runs in only 83 minutes on the second morning. On day five the conditions suited Underwood's bowling and the Australians played him with so much respect that his figures were 18-15-8-2 Those were two of four wickets to fall as the rains came again and Australia ended the match on 127 for 4 – still 150 behind. A sniff had been snuffed by England's weather.

The weather was no help in 1977 either, the second time that England could conceive of an Ashes win at Lord's. Underwood was still in the team which was captained for the first time by Mike Brearley following Tony Greig's decision to play for Kerry Packer. Australia had a dour outfit that year ("not colourless but a light shade of grey" said Wisden), but England scored 216 and 305, with Bob Woolmer contributing 120. Australia led on the first innings with 296, Bob Willis taking 7 for 78. This left Australia 226 to win. Underwood, who had had an anonymous first innings, took 2 for 16 in 10 overs in the second, which ended with Australia on 114 for 6 still 112 runs behind.

Underwood did not remember the game at all. When reminded of the scores he noted that he had not made a huge contribution: "It was just another Test." Old cricketers forget.

Judging by the scorecard, England appear to have established a winning position, but Brearley speaking in the press box yesterday, thought too much time had been lost to rain (four hours on day two) to give England victory.

Underwood was delighted by England's bowling on Friday and is contemplating a win at Lord's at last. If England do so, none of them is likely to forget. Nor is Underwood.

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