Rookie Cowans put the Aussies on rack be­fore Botham ended their fight­back

Richard Ed­wards looks back on a day when Eng­land earned some re­spect by win­ning in the most dra­matic of end­ings in Mel­bourne

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

Santa had fin­ished dish­ing out his presents by the time Eng­land and Aus­tralia took to the field for the 1982 MCG Ashes Test – but it turned out he had one last gift to give. Af­ter suc­ces­sive wins at the Gabba and the Ade­laide Oval, Aus­tralia were al­ready well in con­trol of the five-match se­ries. Greg Chap­pell’s side knew that a win or draw at the MCG for the fa­bled Box­ing Day Test would see them wres­tle back the Urn lost in dra­matic style, largely thanks to the con­tri­bu­tions of Ian Botham, in Eng­land the pre­vi­ous sum­mer.

Eng­land, mean­while, were des­per­ate to sal­vage some­thing from a tour that had promised so much ini­tially, par­tic­u­larly af­ter a hard-fought draw in the open­ing Test at the WACA but was now in dan­ger of im­plod­ing.

Eng­land had ar­rived at the MCG fresh from a tour match in Tas­ma­nia. John Wood­cock, The Times cricket correspondent, com­mented that he had “sel­dom watched cricket in a colder wind” – and the warmth felt for this Eng­land side af­ter the 1981 Ashes was also in dan­ger of cool­ing con­sid­er­ably.

There were, though, some pos­i­tive signs for the tourists, with two young open­ers – Graeme Fowler and Ge­off Cook – both scor­ing ac­com­plished fifties that would se­cure them of their place at the top of the or­der for one of world cricket’s iconic Test matches.

The bowl­ing, how­ever, was a con­cern. Nor­man Cowans had been se­lected for the tour af­ter mak­ing just 11 first-class ap­pear­ances for his county, Mid­dle­sex. At a time of se­lec­to­rial con­ser­vatism, pick­ing the 21-year-old had been a size­able shock. A sin­gle wicket in his first two Test matches ap­peared to sug­gest that it was hardly a gam­ble worth tak­ing. The jury was out on whether he should keep his place in Mel­bourne.

“Hav­ing seen Frank Tyson, now one of Aus­tralia’s larger cit­i­zens, har­ness his raw strength in 1954-55, I will at­tempt some com­par­isons with Cowans,” wrote Wood­cock. “Be­fore com­ing to Aus­tralia, Tyson had played in 35 first-class matches for Northamp­ton­shire, which in­cluded a full sea­son’s cricket. Cowans had made only 11 spas­modic ap­pear­ances for Mid­dle­sex be­fore the present tour. Tyson was 24, broad­shoul­dered and ag­gres­sively con­fi­dent: Cowans is 21, without such shoul­ders and in need of re­as­sur­ance.”

De­spite what had gone be­fore, Cowans was about to serve dra­matic no­tice of his tal­ents – in one of the most thrilling Ashes Tests ever played.

Aus­tralia won the toss in front of a typ­i­cally packed MCG post-Christ­mas crowd. Spir­its were un­der­stand­ably high among the Aussie con­tin­gent – and tinny sales soared when both Cook and Fowler were sent back by twin tear­aways Rod­ney Hogg and Jeff Thom­son. The newly laid cen­tre wicket at the cav­ernous ground was mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for the bats­men – a theme that would re­cur as a fas­ci­nat­ing Test un­folded.

Hardly the ideal start. If ever a man could qui­eten the hos­tile crowd, though, it was Chris Tavare, who saw off the new ball and be­gan a one-bats­man les­son in blunt­ing a bowl­ing at­tack. Si­lenc­ing a gang of rau­cous Aus­tralians is never an easy task but if ever a man was de­signed for the role it was the Kent right-han­der.

Thanks to Tavare’s 247-minute 89, and Al­lan Lamb’s more breezy 83 – scored from only 113 balls – Eng­land posted a first in­nings of 284. It was re­spectable rather than match-se­cur­ing but as Bob Willis’s side read­ied them­selves for an all-out as­sault on the Aussie top or­der, it soon be­came ap­par­ent that it was more than com­pet­i­tive.

The Aussies ul­ti­mately posted 287, putting them three ahead of the tourists and en­sur­ing that the Ashes, as well as the Test it­self, were well and truly alive.

Ge­off Miller’s cru­cial 3-44, cou­pled with Willis’s miserly 3-38 en­sured that Eng­land had given them­selves a shot at Ashes redemp­tion and when rook­ies Cook and Fowler took the visi­tors to 40-0, it looked as though Eng­land were fi­nally go­ing to get away from the Aussies.

But when Cook, Tavare and Gower fell be­fore Eng­land had reached 50, the

Bowl­ing, how­ever, was a con­cern. Cowans had been se­lected for the tour af­ter mak­ing just 11 first-class ap­pear­ances

pen­du­lum had again swung Aus­tralia’s way. Fowler’s gutsy 65 and sim­i­larly cru­cial con­tri­bu­tions from Botham and Derek Pringle, even­tu­ally sent Eng­land on their way to a sec­ond in­nings to­tal of 294 and a lead of 291.

On a wear­ing fourth in­nings pitch that would, most rea­soned, be too much for the Aussies, de­spite their pre­vi­ous se­ries dom­i­nance. De­spite the pre­dic­tions, this pul­sat­ing Test match had far more in store for sup­port­ers of both teams.

And af­ter his early strug­gles, an un­likely hero was about to emerge from the Eng­land camp in the form of Cowans.

The Mid­dle­sex pace ace took two of the first three wick­ets to fall, in­clud­ing the prized-scalp of Chap­pell, caught by the sub­sti­tute fielder, Ian Gould, for just two.

Kim Hughes, David Hookes and Al­lan Border then dug deep in an at­tempt to fi­nally seal the Ashes. By the time the fifth wicket had fallen, the Urn was just 118 runs away.

In a see-saw Test, though, it came as no sur­prise when Cowans – who fin­ished with fig­ures of 6-77 – ripped through Aus­tralia’s mid­dle and lower or­der to re­duce the home side to 202-8. When the ninth wicket fell just 16 runs later, the match was Eng­land’s to lose.

A thrilling fourth day ended with Border and Thom­son still at the crease – and just 37 runs away from vic­tory. As the fi­nal day dawned, the gates of the MCG were thrown open, with the Aussie and English pub­lic able to en­ter the ground for free. That would have been a snip at the best of time but, in the finest tra­di­tion of Eng­land and Aus­tralia clashes, what lay in wait had most of them watch­ing the ac­tion from be­hind their fin­gers.

As many as 18,000 poured into the ground, the Aussies scent­ing Ashes re­venge for what had hap­pened in Eng­land in 1981 and the English hop­ing for some­thing approaching sal­va­tion and a fi­nal shot at draw­ing level in Syd­ney the fol­low­ing week.

As Thom­son, show­ing com­mend­able re­straint, and the pug­na­cious Border honed in on their tar­get, the for­mer looked the more likely re­sult. Only three runs came in the first 25 min­utes but af­ter frus­trat­ing the Eng­land at­tack, Willis’s op­tions were be­com­ing more lim­ited by the minute.

Af­ter 85 min­utes of play, Willis threw the ball to Eng­land’s tal­is­man, Botham. At the other end stood Thom­son, with 21 runs against his name. As Botham reached the crease the crowd sat silent, know­ing that the Aus­tralians were now just a boundary from vic­tory.

In the slips, a ner­vous cor­don read­ied it­self for any chance that might come its way. Botham’s first ball was short out­side off stump and Thom­son fol­lowed it. It caught the edge and flew to Tavare at sec­ond slip. In ag­o­nis­ing fash­ion, he could only parry the ball. For­tu­nately for Eng­land it re­bounded straight into the hands of Miller at first slip. The game was won, with just three runs separat­ing the sides.

The at­mos­phere in the MCG sud­denly popped like a bal­loon. The Aussies’ Ashes party was over. Or, in re­al­ity, merely post­poned for a fur­ther week. The match it­self, though, had as­sured it­self a place in Ashes folk­lore.

In the finest tra­di­tions of Eng­land and Aus­tralia clashes what lay in wait had most watch­ing from be­hind their fin­gers

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Catch me if you can: Ge­off Miller, bot­tom right, sprints off af­ter tak­ing the win­ning catch

Em­brac­ing vic­tory: Chris Tavare cen­tre and Ge­off Miler, right, look on as Ian Botham gets a lift from the fi­nal dis­missal

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