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Great Test Matches IX: England v Australia, Leeds, 1948 - Gulu Ezekiel Column
by Gulu Ezekiel
Nov 11, 2008
The legend of Don Bradman's 'Invincibles'-arguably the greatest team of all time-was born on the triumphant 1948 tour of England.

Australia convincingly won four of the five Test matches and remain the only team to stay unbeaten in all first-class matches on a tour of England.

Packed with legendary performers led by the immortal Bradman himself, the team included batting greats Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey, wicket-keeper Don Tallon and fast bowlers Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. Together they formed an unbeatable combination that made short work of all opposition.

Bradman had announced the 1948 series would be his last. He was to bow out of Test cricket at the age of 40 and was determined to make his fourth visit to England one to remember.

The first task was to keep the Ashes, already in Australia's possession. This was achieved after the visitors won the first and second Test matches convincingly and then escaped with a draw in the third. Bradman already had one century under his belt when the teams met at Headingley, Leeds for the fourth Test.

This had had been Bradman's favourite ground in England, the venue of his two triple centuries. His record here was formidable and the Yorkshire crowd adored him. Though Australia with their 2-0 lead could not lose the five-Test series, there was no way the ruthless Bradman was going to loosen his grip on the Englishmen.

Norman Yardley won the toss and the English batsmen took full advantage of first strike. With centuries by Cyril Washbrook and Bill Edrich and useful contributions from Len Hutton and Alec Bedser, their total of 496 appeared formidable.

Australia in reply were struggling at 68 for 3 with Bradman falling for 33. But Neil Harvey came to their rescue.

The left-hander was the 'baby' of the team at 20 and was playing his first Test against England. He led the recovery with a sparkling 112, receiving plenty of support from Miller (58), Sam Loxton (93) and Lindwall (77). As a result, England’s lead was cut to just 38.

With the top four batsmen contributing half-centuries, England were able to declare early on the fifth day at 365 for 8. The only surprise was that Yardley did not close the innings on the fourth day total of 362. It was speculated at the time that he perhaps wanted to break up the wicket a bit on the final day with the use of the heavy roller, something he would not have been entitled to had he declared at the overnight score.

Whatever may have been the reason, the target set was 404 runs in 345 minutes. Such a score had never been achieved before. It was, wrote Bradman in his diary at the end of the fourth day, “a colossal task… I fear we may be defeated.”

Bradman admitted to being in two minds. Should they go for the target or play for a draw? “We wanted to win. But we also did not want to lose. What should we do?”

Ironically, it was the England captain who helped make up the opponents' minds as to what would be the best course of action.

The theory was that the final day wicket would crumble and assist spin bowling. But England had only one specialist spinner in their ranks. Off spinner Jim Laker's glory days though would be some years away and his bowling in this innings proved a disappointment-he went 32 overs without a wicket.

In desperation, Yardley turned to two part-timers, Denis Compton with his left-armers and Hutton, who bowled occasional leg spin for his county side Yorkshire. This convinced the Aussies that they could go for the improbable target.

It would also turn out to be a nightmare in the field for England with wicket-keeper Godfrey Evans missing numerous chances.

Openers Morris and Lindsay Hassett had added 57 before Compton had the latter caught and bowled.

That heralded the arrival of Bradman, playing his final innings on the ground and he received a tumultuous reception from the crowd as he walked to the wicket.

He was immediately off the mark. At the other end, Hutton was being repeatedly hammered to the boundary by Morris. But it was Compton who almost had the master's wicket before lunch.

One ball was edged to the boundary and then he was spilled by Jack Crapp at slip, the most expensive miss of the match.

Lunch was taken at 121 for 1, Bradman on 35 and Morris on 63. Four Hutton overs had been plundered for 30 and now Morris began to think the target was achievable, though there was still a long way to go.

But the bowling fell to pieces after the break as the batsmen took full toll. Compton was struck for seven boundaries by Morris in two overs and the left-handed opener reached his century just 20 minutes after the interval. In that time he smashed 37 runs while Bradman's contribution was just three. The chase was now well and truly on.

Shortly after passing 50 Bradman was missed again, this time by Yardley off Ken Cranston. The English team was falling to pieces in the field.

By now Bradman's muscles began to periodically go into spasm. He had to nurse himself carefully and he asked his partner to farm the bowling.

Morris obliged and the partnership had raced to 301 at 83 runs an hour, Bradman bringing up his 29th (and final) Test century. With England still going for a win, the field was an attacking one and there were plenty of gaps where boundaries were being struck.

Bradman was missed again on 108, a difficult stumping off Laker. Finally it was the England captain who made the breakthrough, having Morris caught by Pollard for 182, including 33 fours.

It was too little too late for England. Less than 50 runs were now required and Miller tried to finish it off in style. His departure for 12 brought in first innings hero Harvey.

Bradman allowed the youngster to hit the winning runs. Victory had come for the loss of only three wickets with 15 minutes to spare. Bradman was undefeated on 173.

It was a famous victory. Only on two other occasions since has a team crossed 400 to win a Test match.

It was also a perfect way for the Australian captain of saying farewell to the adoring Leeds crowd. The fifth Test at the Oval three weeks later would be his final one. He marked it with perhaps the most famous 'duck' in cricket history. Australia won that too by an innings and 149 runs to complete the rout. But it was the brilliant run chase at Leeds that was the 'Invincibles' greatest moment.
 
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