Imagine getting the winning run off the final ball of a Test matchĂ˘??and that too thanks to a leg bye!
Imagine getting the winning run off the final ball of a Test match-and that too thanks to a leg bye!
It has happened just once and that was at Kingsmead, Durban in the first Test of the England v South Africa series in December 1948.
The tourists were still smarting from the defeats inflicted on them by Don Bradman's 'Invincibles' earlier in the year when they sailed out for the first tour to South Africa for 10 years. Just a year earlier, England had comprehensively beaten the South Africans at home soil and were favourites to clinch the rubber again.
There were three debutants on either side in this Test including England's captain George Mann whose father Frank had also led the country in a Test series in South Africa 26 years earlier.
South Africa were captained by Dudley Nourse in the absence of regular skipper Alan Melville who was injured.
Nourse had no hesitation in batting first when he won the toss but the move backfired on the first day itself as the home side were skittled out for 161.
The captain and debutant Bruce Mitchell were putting up some resistance after the early fall of the two openers. They had added 51 for the third wicket when Nourse fell to an amazing catch by Allan Watkins at short leg off leg spinner Doug Wright for 37. That top score was equaled by debutant Denis Begbie but the rest of the batting was undone by the swing bowling of Alec Bedser and Clifford Gladwin. Three days later the same pair were to be involved in the dramatic finish.
A thunder shower on the second day meant only three hours play was possible. England did well to reach 144 for the loss of Cyril Washbrook (35) and debutant Reg Simpson (5). Opener Len Hutton had batter in a masterly manner to reach 81 by stumps while Denis Compton was keeping him company on 17. But the rains spelt trouble for the batsmen. The tarpaulin sheets covering the pitch were woefully inadequate and water had seeped in. A strong sun early the next morning looked likely to produce a track helpful to the bowlers and allow the Springboks to claw their way back.
Sure enough, the spinners began to strike telling blows on the third morning. Compton almost fell to the very first ball. That would have spelt doom for England. Reprieved, he went onto score a priceless 72 which in the context of the match was worth as much as any century.
Hutton fell to the off spin of Athol Rowan after adding just two to his overnight score and from then it was Compton all the way, battling valiantly against Rowan and the left arm spinner 'Tufty' Mann while the rest of the batsmen succumbed tamely. Curtailing his usual sparkling style, the master batsman held the fort for nearly four hours before he was caught off Mann for 72 which included only four boundaries.
Mann had six wickets and Rowan picked up the rest as England were all out for 253, a lead of 92 runs. That proved significant as by the end of the third day South Africa lost their top four batsmen with just 90 on the board-still two behind England. Now it looked like only the inclement weather would be able to stop England’s march.
Bedser picked up two wickets but it was England's spinners who struck repeatedly on the fourth and final day to swing the game decisively. South Africa's total of 219 was built round the fifth wicket stand of 85 between wicket-keeper Billy Wade whose 63 was his side's sole fifty of the Test and Begbie who once again impressed. While the pair were at the crease it looked like a draw was the most likely outcome. But after Bedser got rid of the debutant for 48, wickets began to fall in a heap.
Leg break bowler 'Roly' Jenkins, also in his maiden Test, made the vital breakthrough when he bowled Wade at 179 for 6 and from then it was a procession.
The equation was now clear-England had a possible 135 minutes' batting time and their target was 128. On paper it looked simple. But the wicket was ever more helpful to the bowlers and it would be no easy task.
In the dressing room though the England captain made it clear--they would go for the victory even if risks had to be taken.
Now the real drama began to unfold. The pitch was up to its old tricks and the light was treacherous even as heavy clouds hung overhead. There was no question about appealing against the light though. This was a match that would be fought to the finish.
Washbrook before scoring was dropped by Wynne on the boundary while hooking Lindsay Tuckett. The batsmen were certainly taking risks from the start! Tuckett came back to pick up the prize wicket of Hutton (5), the first to go at 25.
This was a game marked by notable Test debuts and now it was the turn of teenage fast bowler Cuan McCarthy. With darkness descending on the ground, the batsmen were virtually groping for the ball and McCarthy took full advantage of the conditions.
Once Mann had Washbrook lbw for 25, it was McCarthy all the way as he sliced through the powerful batting line-up. He picked up the next six wickets to fall and with Godfrey Evans bowled for 4 at 70 for 6, it appeared the tables had been well and truly turned on the visitors.
But there would be still more twists to the tale. Compton was battling away, the last recognized batsman to survive the blitz. With Jenkins for company, the pair raised the 100. Now 30 minutes were left and with four wickets remaining, 28 runs were required.
Bedser in his book 'Our Cricket Story' described the scene thus: "Never have I seen runs compiled so painfully and few of the team dared look at the playing area."
In the space of a few minutes both Compton and Jenkins lost their wickets and at 116 for 8 it was anyone's game. In fact, with five minutes to go, 12 runs needed and two wickets in hand, even a tie was a distinct possibility.
Now the South African fielders began to make one blunder after another in quick succession and with tail-enders Bedser and Cliff Gladwin at the crease, it all became a mad scramble.
Tuckett was to bowl the final over (eight balls). The target was eight runs away. The first delivery went for a leg bye, the second a lucky boundary for Gladwin. Another leg bye and a single followed and now the scores were level. Two deliveries to go and one needed for victory. The batsmen agreed to run for everything. But in his excitement, Gladwin sent Bedser back to his crease even as the ball sailed through to the 'keeper.
In Bedser's words again: "the last ball hit him [Gladwin] on the thigh and dropped just in front of him. I roared at the top of my voice and we both ran like men possessed. I got home easily and then saw Cliff dancing up and down with delight! I knew we had won."
The resulting bruise on Gladwin's thigh was widely photographed. "I hope it stays there for 50 years," he said with pride.
The next three Tests were drawn and England won the fifth and final match to make it 2-0. The abiding memory of the series though remained Gladwin's scampered leg-bye. "Cometh the hour, cometh the man," were the immortal words of England's gutsy number 10!