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Great Test Matches V: Australia v England at the Oval, 1902 - Gulu Ezekiel Column
by Gulu Ezekiel
Oct 03, 2008
Some individual performances stand out so vividly in the context of a Test match that they get named after the player concerned. Cricket lovers will recall 'Laker's Match' (1956), 'Mankad's Match' (1952) and 'Massie's Match' (1972). But long before these great games there was 'Jessop's Match' at the Oval in 1902.

Gilbert Jessop, known forever as 'The Croucher' because of his unusual stance, was a batsman of immense power who dominated first-class cricket in the early part of the 20th century with his explosive hitting. Jessop scored 26,698 runs in his career at the astonishing rate of 80 runs per hour. Wisden called him 'the most remarkable hitter cricket has ever produced.'

In Test cricket though his record was more modest - only one century in 18 Tests. But what a century that was! Australia had already wrapped up the series. They won the third Test at Sheffield by 143. The next at Old Trafford was a thriller all the way, Australia getting home by just three runs. England were thus only playing for pride as they sought to gain some compensation in a series that had begun so promisingly for the home side. Australia were routed for 36 in the first Test at Edgbaston in reply to England's 376 for 9 declared and only rain saved them from certain defeat. But after that it was downhill all the way for England.

Joe Darling won the toss for Australia but it was only Hugh Trumble's top score of 64 not out batting at number nine that enabled them to post a reasonable 324 all out. Yorkshire stalwart George Hirst claimed five wickets with his left arm medium pace. But it was with the bat that he would play a dramatic role on the final day. Hirst was also top scorer with 43 in the first innings as England crumbled to 183 all out, Opening the bowling with his deadly off spin, 'The Terror' Trumble grabbed eight wickets to demonstrate his all-round prowess.

Australia had gained a pretty handy lead of 141 runs. They squandered some of that advantage by collapsing to 114 for 8 by stumps on the second and penultimate day. It was one of the wettest summers on record and as with all the previous Test matches in this series, rain once again fell, this time on the second night. Australia were all out for 121 and England now had the very difficult task—made tougher by the damp pitch—of needing to score 263 for an improbable victory. This time it was left-arm spinner Jack Saunders who inflicted the early damage on England. He wiped off the top order, grabbing the wickets of captain Archie MacLaren (2), Palairet (6), Tyldesley (2) and Hayward (7). With Trumble picking up Braund for 2, England's improbable task had just turned virtually impossible.

The score read a hopeless 48 for 5 when Jessop was joined by Stanley Jackson. There was still a mountain of 215 runs to climb. Now began the recovery and in great style too. The Aussies had scant respect for Jessop, though he had scored 55 in the third Test at Sheffield. They considered him a crude slogger who would struggle against good, consistent bowling. This time at least they were way off the mark in their assessment. There was 20 minutes to go for the lunch break when Jessop arrived at the crease. Despite England having their backs to the wall, he decided to take the attack to the enemy camp in the only way he knew—all out attack.

In those 20 minutes, 39 runs were added with Jackson, 29 of them by Jessop alone. He even smashed Trumble onto the pavilion roof. But that only counted for four. In those days the ball had to be hit out of the ground for it to be considered a six. There was no stopping Jessop after the interval. He carried on in the same vein and reached his half-century in only 43 minutes out of a total of 70. But both he and Jackson enjoyed reprieves. Jessop was undaunted. In one over from Saunders he hammered 17 runs, including four boundaries. The occasional leg breaks of Warwick Armstrong managed to slow things down, but just for one over.

The century partnership was reached in a mere 57 minutes. Jessop's contribution was a mighty 75. The stand worth 109 was broken when Jackson’s steady 49 ended, caught and bowled by Trumble at 157 for 6. Jessop, with his century in sight was joined by Hirst who survived a confident leg before appeal off Trumble. But he now suffered at the hands of Jessop who took 12 runs off one over to reach 96. The next ball from Armstrong was late cut for 4 and Jessop had reached his century in 75 minutes. It remains the fastest century in an Ashes Test in terms of time. The crowd was by now in a frenzy. It was 'The Croucher' vs. 'The Terror' and England's hero looked like carrying the day. Jessop swept Armstrong for his 17th boundary the next ball but in trying to repeat the shot he gave an easy catch to square leg. It was the innings of a lifetime. But with the total reading 187 for 7 at his departure, would it be enough? There was still 76 runs to go.

Hirst now took control. He added 27 nervy runs for the eighth wicket with Bill Lockwood whose contribution was only two. Wicket-keeper Dick Lilley added a further precious 34 but Trumble picked up both their wickets and was once again threatening to run through the England batting. When he had Lilley (16) caught by a diving Darling at mid-off, the score-board read 248 for 9. Hirst was joined by last man and fellow-Yorkshireman Wilfred Rhodes with a further 15 runs needed. Tension was reaching fever pitch right round the ground.

Rhodes' batting talents would come to the fore within a year. But now both he and Hirst lived dangerously as the runs came in a trickle. Hirst had reached his 50 but the Aussies were scrapping every inch of the way. When Hirst finally scampered a single to level the scores, the ground erupted as much in relief as in joy. One priest in his excitement ran howling onto the ground! It was Rhodes who got the winning single and for the first time a Test had ended in a one-wicket victory. As the crowd surged on to the ground, they lifted Hirst on to their shoulders and carried him off in triumph. He had played a vital hand in the match with six wickets, 43 and now a nerve-shredding 58 not out. Thirteen of his last 14 scoring strokes were singles.

But in the end it was 'Jessop’s Match'.
 
More Views by Gulu Ezekiel
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