On the way to Lord's on 25 June, 1934 Hedley Verity ran down and killed a black cat. It was not a portent of things to come that day.
Verity stopped and insisted on finding the owner to proffer his regret before continuing his journey. He arrived at the ground and proceeded to take 14 of Australia's wickets, six in the final hour, and England won the match by an innings and 38 runs.
They had not won at Lord's against Australia since 1896 and they have not won since in the ensuing 75 years. That is the measure of the task which faces England tomorrow and it is a history which is impossible to cast aside.
Australia, whose cricketers are always better versed in cricket past than their English counterparts, will come to Lord's knowing precisely the record with which they have been entrusted.
It will spur them on perhaps more than any other single aspect. None of them wishes to be part of the first Australia side to shed that record. There have been 18 matches since, of which Australia have won nine without much fuss while all but one of the draws were fairly comfortable.
England, it could be said, got lucky in 1934. The match had begun in fine conditions and England made 440, making fairly sedate progress at under three runs an over. Having been 182 for five their fortunes were revived by Maurice Leyland and Les Ames, who became the first wicketkeeper to make a hundred in an Ashes Test (and the last until Alan Knott more than 40 years later – expectations of wicketkeepers were different then).
When Australia went in on Saturday afternoon they set about the English bowling. The big wicket as always was that of Don Bradman and he struck Verity for three fours in an over. But Yorkshire's left-arm spinner, the son of a coal merchant, was at the top of his game then. He had variations of flight and pace and twice in an over he deceived Bradman into offering a return catch, the second of which was taken.
Australia finished the day on 192 for two, well-placed and with their opener Bill Brown unbeaten on 103. The next day, Sunday, was a rest day. It rained. By the time England woke up on Monday morning it had rained some more and Verity turned to his colleagues at breakfast and said: "I shouldn't wonder if we have some fun today. It looks as though it might turn a little."
So he did and so it did. For most of the day Verity was unplayable. He had become a fixture in the England side after, until the last Test in Sydney, playing a minor role in the Bodyline tour two winters before when fast bowling held sway. Verity was accurate and a master of drift who had been mentored at Yorkshire by Wilfred Rhodes, the leading wicket-taker of all time.
Only Bertie Oldfield and Arthur Chipperfield held up his progress as Australia resumed their first innings. They were almost in sight of avoiding the follow-on when lunch came. If Verity was worried he did not show it and said during the interval: "Well, I really must have another helping of strawberries and cream."
Verity cleaned up after lunch and Australia failed to make the necessary target by seven runs, being asked to follow on by England for the first time in 29 years. Verity had taken 7 for 61.
The watching Douglas Jardine, who had become a great admirer of the imperturbable Verity, said of the performance which now followed: "The crowd and the pavilion were treated to an exhibition of bowling which, whether judged by standards of accuracy or of general ability, may possibly have been equalled, but has certainly never been surpassed. For clear thinking and execution it may stand alone for all time."
At the heart of Verity's return of 8 for 43 was the wicket, for the second time in the match, of the great Bradman. Baradman had seemed uncommonly agitated when he came out to bat with his side at 43 for two.
What followed was a masterclass in bowling to a master batsman. Verity left the leg-side field open. Fifteen minutes had passed and Bradman had reached 13 when suddenly he launched into a drive against the spin. The ball came off a leading edge and went high into the air.
Time seemed to stand still. Fielders looked at each other but it came down to one man to take the catch, Ames the wicketkeeper. He stepped forward as the ball came down around about silly point and the ball thudded into his gloves. All knew then that the match was won.
Verity was an immediate hero, cheered to the echo when he arrived at Northampton the following day for a county match. He remained a sporting hero and he died one, fatally wounded in action in Sicily in 1943. His exhibition at Lord's three-quarters of a century ago is imperishable.
Good Lord's! England's record
England have not won an Ashes Test at Lord's since 1934, but their record at the remaining venues of this series makes for better reading...
England's record against Australia at Lord's:
1948 Lost by 409 runs
1956 Lost by 185 runs
1961 Lost by five wickets
1972 Lost by eight wickets
1985 Lost by four wickets
1989 Lost by six wickets
1993 Lost by an innings and 62 runs
2001 Lost by eight wickets
2005 Lost by 239 runs
Edgbaston (since 1934)
P 10 Eng 4/Aus 3/Drawn 3
Headingley (since 1934)
P 17 Eng 7/Aus 6/Drawn 4
The Oval (since 1934)
P 18 Eng 6/Aus 4/Drawn 8Reuse content