TWENTY YEARS ago this month Headingley played host to the fourth Test of the 1997 Ashes series.
The game followed the familiar pattern of the time: Australia won by an innings en route to reclaiming the urn.
Australia’s heroes were three young men taking part in their first Ashes campaign.
Matthew Elliott, a 25-year-old left-handed opener who would later play for Yorkshire, top-scored with 199 in Australia’s 501-9 declared, to which a 22-year-old Ricky Ponting contributed 127, the pair rescuing their side from 50-4 with a stand of 268.
This was after England had begun the game by being bowled out for 172 inside 60 overs as another 22-year-old, Jason Gillespie, returned 7-37 from 13.4 overs.
Those would remain Gillespie’s best Test figures, and they are still the best by an Australian in a Headingley Test.
Gillespie, who later played for and coached Yorkshire, before leaving the county at the end of last season, added another two wickets in the second innings as England were dismissed for 268, Nasser Hussain top-scoring with 105.
Gillespie was Ian Botham’s choice as player-of-the-match, and Australia went on to win the six-match series 3-2.
Having cemented his love affair with Headingley in recent years, after coaching Yorkshire to back-to-back County Championships in 2014 and 2015, Gillespie’s performance at Leeds 20 years ago merits recollection.
This most modest of men and talented of players – 259 Test wickets at 26.13, no less – was one of the finest pace bowlers of his day, and he played a key role in forging Australia’s dominance around the turn of the century.
This most modest of men and talented of players – 259 Test wickets at 26.13, no less – was one of the finest pace bowlers of his day, and he played a key role in forging Australia’s dominance around the turn of the century.Chris Waters
Among his many attributes, Gillespie could move the ball prodigiously, he possessed unflinching spirit and commitment, and he formed a fearsome partnership with Glenn McGrath.
His display at Headingley in 1997 left an indelible mark on Ashes cricket and singled him out as a special talent.
Thanks to that most auspicious of internet platforms, YouTube, footage of Gillespie’s tour de force is happily preserved.
The hair in those days is short and jet-black; there are earrings protruding from both ears, and the approach to the crease is rhythmic and fluid as Gillespie goes about his deadly work.
After Paul Reiffel begins England’s first innings rout by having Mark Butcher caught at short-leg by another future Yorkshire player in the form of Greg Blewett, the ball somehow sticking in Blewett’s midriff off the full face of the bat, Gillespie grabs the first of his seven wickets.
The score is 58-1 when Alec Stewart turns a ball from just short of a length into the leg-side, Blewett this time taking a much simpler catch in the short-leg position. McGrath has Hussain smartly caught at first slip by Australia captain Mark Taylor, moving to his right, to leave England 103-3, the hosts reaching 106-3 at stumps on day one after rain restricted the action to just 36 overs.
“The apparent solidity of that start crumbled to dust the next day when Gillespie produced a spell of genuine speed and outstanding control,” wrote Wisden.
Gillespie began day two by taking his second wicket – Australia’s fourth – by removing nightwatchman Dean Headley with the total on 138.
The ball swings away outside off stump, luring Headley into going after it hard, and he flashes it straight into the hands of Steve Waugh at gully.
Gillespie then takes a comfortable catch when England captain Michael Atherton hooks McGrath to long-leg in front of what is now the North-East Stand, leaving the home team 154-5.
No runs have been added when Gillespie bowls Graham Thorpe off an inside-edge, the batsman dragging on a delivery from just outside off stump that he attempts to whip through the leg-side, but which is not quite short enough to make the stroke feasible.
England slip to 163-7 when Gillespie captures his fifth wicket, removing John Crawley with the aid of another extraordinary short leg-catch by Blewett. This time, the batsman plays the ball on to the fielder’s boot, and Blewett somehow grabs the rebound with razor-sharp reflexes.
The last three wickets fall with the score on 172.
First, Robert Croft flicks a short delivery off his hip that is caught above his head by a leaping Ponting stationed around the corner. “Oh, picked it out of thin air,” purrs Richie Benaud on commentary. “Ricky Ponting has caught a blinder.”
Next, Darren Gough gets an inside-edge to a delivery just outside off stump and also drags on, prompting a sympathetic “Oh dear” from Benaud as it “seemed to me to keep a bit low”.
Last man in is Mike Smith, Gloucestershire’s Yorkshire-born swing bowler, who was brought in for his debut in place of Andrew Caddick in what proved to be an unsuccessful move.
Smith went wicket-less on his only Test appearance, forever left to rue a dropped catch at slip by Thorpe when Elliott had only 29 of his 199.
Had that stuck, the match might have followed a different path, and, who knows, Smith’s Test career too.
As it was, Smith did not help his cause with a timid display against Gillespie, who promptly wraps it all up by knocking out his leg stump as Smith retreats.
In its summary of the match, Wisden observed: “Gillespie had bowled down the hill from the Kirkstall Lane end to excellent effect, something none of the England bowlers seemed able to do.
“In hindsight, the decision to omit Caddick in favour of Smith looked a disaster: uneven bounce was more relevant than swing, Caddick should have been able to exploit that far better.”
Reiffel took five wickets in England’s second innings in a match that was not without off-field shenanigans.
Wisden, in one of its more memorable passages, reported: “Once again, there was tension between the fierce Headingley stewards and the sometimes raucous spectators in the Western Terrace, especially those keen on the fashion for attending Tests in fancy dress.
“Two men dressed in a pantomime cow costume cavorted round the boundary and were crash-tackled by officials after play: the man playing the rear end, Branco Risek, needed treatment in hospital.
“Brian Cheesman, a university lecturer dressed as a carrot, was frogmarched from the ground for drunken and abusive behaviour. He vehemently denied the allegations.
“Mr Cheesman has been attending Headingley Tests in fancy dress since 1982.”