By Gulu Ezekiel
Bob Massie remains one of cricket’s greatest enigmas 35 years after his extraordinary bowling exploits on debut at Lord’s. The 1972 Ashes series was one of the most fiercely fought, ending tied at 2-2 but England keeping the Ashes.
It was Ian Chappell’s first official Test series as captain having replaced Bill Lawry in the seventh and final Test of the 1970-71 Ashes home series. Massie missed the first Test at Old Trafford, England wining by 89 runs. He had first made a name for himself in the unofficial series against the World XI when he took seven wickets in the first innings of the first ‘Test’ at Sydney in January. But for the English batsmen he was a complete unknown.
Not for long though. The overcast and humid weather conditions perfectly suited Massie’s swing bowling and England were dismissed for a disappointing 272 after Ray Illingworth had won the toss. A number of the Englishmen got good starts but only Tony Greig (54) crossed the 50-mark. Massie finished off the innings with the amazing figures of 32.5-7-84-8. He took the last seven wickets between bowling Geoff Boycott first up and Dennis Lillee then accounting for John Edrich and Brian Luckhurst.
It was only the third time till date that a bowler had taken eight wickets in an innings on debut. And there was even more drama and history to follow in the second innings. Massie’s feat largely overshadowed one of the finest batting displays witnessed at Lord’s. Greg Chappell, who had scored a century on debut against England two years earlier, was on his first overseas tour. He made it a Test to remember for Australia with a majestic innings of 131 that was full of flowing, elegant strokes that would be the hallmark of his batting over the next decade. In retrospect his batting was almost as vital as Massie’s bowling in conditions that made life difficult for the batsmen throughout the game. It was technically and stylistically of the highest quality.
No wonder the crowd rose to its feet in appreciation when he was seventh out at 250, bowled by D’Oliveira.
Openers Keith Stackpole and Bruce Francis were dismissed with only 7 on the board before Greg with elder brother Ian (56) added 75 for the third wicket. But at 84 for 4, the Aussies were struggling. Greg pulled them through after a century stand with Ross Edwards (28) and with wicket-keeper Rod Marsh contributing 50, Australia gained a lead of just 36 runs.
It turned out to be more than enough. England though sorely missed their own swing/seam expert, Geoff Arnold who failed a late fitness test.
‘Black Saturday’ the English media dubbed it and indeed it was a dark day for English cricket as they found themselves staring down the barrel of an improbable defeat at the end of the third day’s play. Once again Lillee struck early, sending back Boycott and Luckhurst to leave England at 16 for 2. From that point onwards it was Massie all the way. The Western Australian was unplayable and by stumps England had plummeted to 86 for 9, ahead by a measly 50 runs.
Only veteran Mike Smith, a former captain making a comeback at the age of 39, showed any sort of resistance with 30 scored in over two and a half hours. The cream of the English batting folded up in front of a shocked full house at Lord’s. Massie, bowling round the wicket posed questions to which the batsmen had no answer. It was a procession to the pavilion and the Test was over before tea on the fourth day.
In fact it was the last wicket pair of Norman Gifford and John Price who inched the total past the three-figure mark with the best stand of the innings of 35 runs. England skittled out for 116, Massie 8 for 53 from 27.2 overs!
Australia’s target was just 81. They lost the wickets of Francis and their captain before Keith Stackpole took control with 57 not out, the highest score in the Test after Greg’s century, who fittingly was at the crease when victory was achieved. It marked the end of one of the darkest periods in Australian cricket as they had not won a Test since beating India at Madras in December 1969. And it was their first win over England after a gap of 11 Tests.
The touring side was one of the most inexperienced to visit England in many years and had been dismissed beforehand as pushovers. But under Chappell’s inspiring leadership they more than held their own and the 2-2 series result was a great credit to their fighting spirit. Lillee finished with 31 wickets in five Tests while Massie had 23 in four.
What then explains the Massie mystery? He exploded on the international scene like few players before or since. But after capturing 16 for 137 on his Test debut, Massie played just five more Tests for the addition of 15 wickets! Just over six months after Lord’s he had played his final Test and a year later bowed out of first-class cricket altogether.
Then in 1988 a teenaged leg-spinner by the name of Narendra Hirwani bamboozled the West Indians at Madras with 16 wickets for 136 runs on debut. But as was the case with Massie, the Indian too could not sustain that form. He ended his career with 66 wickets in 17 Test matches, though they stretched over almost 10 years. Massie and Hirwani, both like comets with fiery starts, only to burn out fast and disappear over the horizon.