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Great Test Matches Part IV: Australia v England, Old Trafford, 1902 - Gulu Ezekiel Column
by Gulu Ezekiel
Sep 21, 2008

Australia v England, Old Trafford, 1902

By Gulu Ezekiel

The legend of Victor Trumper, whom many Australian cricket lovers swear was the greatest batsman of all time, was born on the opening day of the fourth Test at Old Trafford in July 1902. The first two Test matches were drawn and Australia had won the third at Sheffield earlier in the month by 143 runs. Trumper had managed just one half-century in the previous three Tests. Opening the innings with Reggie Duff after Joe Darling won the toss for Australia, Trumper blazed to 104 in 115 minutes. The stand was worth 135 and when Trumper fell, caught behind by Dick Lilley off left-arm spinner Wilfred Rhodes, the total had advanced to 175 for 2. It was the first time a batsman had scored a century before lunch in a Test match, that too on the opening day.

With Duff, Clem Hill and Darling all contributing half-centuries, Australia reached 299. Fast bowler Bill Lockwood captured six wickets. Indeed it would be a Test match full of dazzling individual contributions, culminating in a fantastic finish. It was now the turn of the Australian opening bowlers Hugh Trumble and Jack Saunders—both spin bowlers--to slice through the England batting as half the wickets tumbled for a measly 44. By stumps on the first day they had reached a shaky 76 for 5 with the Australians holding all the aces.

England were saved the next day by Stanley Jackson's 128 and Len Braund(65). But despite their century partnership for the six wicket, the Australians gained a first innings lead of 37 runs. It was a small one but in the end proved vital as wickets tumbled dramatically in the second innings. This time Trumper fell for 4 and the innings folded up for a miserable 85, only two batsman (Darling and Syd Gregory) reaching double figures. Debutant Fred Tate had dropped Darling early on. If the catch had been taken, Australia would have struggled to reach 50. Once again Lockwood was the destroyer and finished with match analysis of 11 for 66. But the valiant effort would go in vain. England's target on the third and final day was just 124. It had rained the previous night and that made the task that much more difficult for the batsmen.

Still, Palairet and captain Archie MacLaren made a steady start with a stand of 44. By the time the third wicket had fallen at 72—MacLaren for what would be the top score of 35—England had the winning total well in their sights. The captain was in his elements on his home ground and looked like he would single handedly take his side home. But he fell to a magnificent running catch in the deep by Duff off the bowling off Trumble. Now Trumble began to strike over and over again. Not for nothing was he known as 'The Terror'. The first bowler to take two Test hat-tricks, his off spinners were at times virtually unplayable when he got assistance from the pitch.

Conditions were ideal for his bowling. A light rain was falling even as England began their second innings run chase. Trumble picked up the wickets of Ranjitsinhji (4) and Abel (21) in quick succession and England suddenly found they had lost their top five wickets for 97 runs. Old timers in the stands began to get the jitters with memories of the Oval Test of 20 years earlier coming back to haunt them. Then, England set a target of 85 had fallen short by 7. Surely history would not repeat itself? In 1882, the defeat led to the birth of the Ashes. Now they were at stake. England had to win to keep their hopes in the series alive.

The heroes of the first innings, Jackson and Braund were next. They had it in them to shake off the jitters and wrap up victory. It was the Australian's catching that gave them the vital edge. Jackson attempted to place a full toss from Saunders between mid-off and covers, only to see Syd Gregory leap high into the air to take a blinding catch. When Braund was stumped off Trumble two runs later at 109 for 7, it was time to press the panic button. He also bowled Lockwood without the addition of a run. It was now all down to 15 runs and two wickets. Rhodes and Lilley pushed singles to get the total creeping up to 116 when the wicket-keeper decided to take his life in his hands and go for broke.

With the ball flying towards the square leg boundary, Hill began the chase with the intention of only cutting off the runs. After a sprint of 25 yards he dived full length and plucked the ball out of thin air. It was that kind of a day for the ecstatic Aussies. "Oh Clem, what a fluke", Lilley called out as he departed. The fielder was as surprised as anyone that the ball had stuck. It was Trumble's sixth wicket of the innings. Tate still had the dropped catch at the back of his mind. Now as the last man he joined Rhodes with eight needed to win and tie the series. But rain began to fall heavily and there was a break of 30 minutes. The tension was palpable in the stands and the two dressing rooms.

Trumble failed to pick up the last wicket after the break and it was left to left arm spinner Saunders. His first ball grazed Tate's stumps and the second was snicked down to fine leg for a streaky four. One more boundary and it would be all over. Instead, Saunder's fourth delivery knocked the last man's off stump out of the ground and Australia were home by 3 runs. It would be the smallest winning margin in an Ashes match for more than a century, till the Edgbaston Test of the ongoing series. Tate was made the scapegoat. It would be his first and last Test. Rushing from the ground, son Maurice by his side and with tears in his eyes, Fred swore: "Never mind, my kid will make it up for me."

Just seven at the time, Maurice would play 39 Tests for England and more than made up for the fate of his unfortunate father. England won another cliff-hanger in the fifth and final Test at the Oval. But by then the Ashes were in already in Australia’s hands.
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