Sam Wheeler delves into a new book celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jim Laker's stunning 19-wicket Ashes haul.
SHANE WARNE is widely accepted outside Sri Lanka as the finest spinner in cricketing history, but even he has never come close to emulating Jim Laker's achievement at Old Trafford in 1956.
Exactly half-a-century ago on Monday, Bradford-born Laker took all 10 wickets in Australia's second innings, adding to the nine he had claimed in the first innings, as England completed an innings victory.
His match figures were 19-90. No other bowler has ever managed more than 17 in a Test; Warne's best haul is 12.
"I venture to predict that Laker's record will stand for all time," said Don Bradman at the time.
Famously, Laker celebrated by driving back to London, his journey punctuated by a stop at a pub near Litchfield for a pint of beer and two stale cheese sandwiches. People in the pub were watching highlights of the Test on television but no-one recognised him.
There had been plenty in Laker's favour at Old Trafford: an uncovered pitch that turned into what used to be known as a 'sticky dog'. The Australians complained, probably with good reason, that it had been doctored to suit the England spinners. Opener Colin McDonald called the pitch 'a disgrace', comparing it to Bondi Beach.
Laker, who took 8-2 in a Test trial at Bradford Park Avenue in 1950, also had plenty of runs to play with, courtesy of England's first-innings total of 459; he was up against one of the least imposing batting line-ups Australia have had.
However, the conditions also worked in the favour of England's other spinner. The most remarkable aspect of Laker's figures is that Tony Lock took just one wicket. The left-arm spinner was Laker's partner at Surrey, where they won seven successive Championships from 1952.
Lock was not Robin to Laker's Batman; he was generally an equal partner. Take away Manchester 1956 and the two players' figures are remarkably similar: Laker (whose overall tally was 193 wickets at 21.24) took 174 'other' wickets at 23.05 and Lock (overall tally 174 at 25.58) took 173 at 25.12.
"Don't forget a good word about Locky," Laker told reporters on July 31, 1956. "He bowled well at the other end without any luck."
Only a couple of months earlier, playing for Surrey, Laker had taken all 10 Australian wickets in the first innings. This time, though, Lock claimed seven scalps to Laker's two in the second innings.
The son of a single mother, Laker was born on February 9, 1922 and grew up in Frizinghall, where he began his cricket career as a fast bowler with Saltaire before switching to spin.
After the war, the army billeted him in Catford, South London, and following a check that Yorkshire were 'not interested', Surrey signed him up.
Within 18 months, he was making his Test debut in the West Indies, but suffered at the hands of Bradman's Invincibles in 1948. Despite enjoying various moments of success in England, he was in and out of the side and was not selected for a tour until 1953-54. Not until 1956 did he play all of a five-match series.
Laker was not a great respecter of authority and in 1960, a year after resigning from Surrey, Laker caused a furore with his book, Over to Me, in which he criticised officials and former team-mates. The book cost him his honorary membership of the MCC and of Surrey.
Relations were later repaired and by the time of his death in 1986, he was chairman of Surrey's cricket committee.
'19-90 – Jim Laker,' by Brian Scovell (Tempus, 18.99).
Fourth Ashes Test scoreboard from 1956
England v Australia
Old Trafford: England won by an innings and 170 runs. Toss: England.
England 1st innings
PE Richardson c Maddocks b Benaud 104
MC Cowdrey c Maddocks b Lindwall 80
Rev DS Sheppard b Archer 113
PBH May c Archer b Benaud 43
TE Bailey b Johnson 20
C Washbrook lbw b Johnson 6
ASM Oakman c Archer b Johnson 10
TG Evans st Maddocks b Johnson 47
JC Laker run out 3
GAR Lock not out 25
JB Statham c Maddocks b Lindwall 0
Extras (b 2, lb 5, w 1) 8
Total (158.3 overs) 459
Fall: 1-174 2-195 3-288 4-321 5-327 6-339 7-401 8-417 9-458.
Bowling: Lindwall 21.3 6 63 2; Miller 21 6 41 0; Archer 22 6 73 1; Johnson 47 10 151 4; Benaud 47 17 123 2.
Australia 1st innings
CC McDonald c Lock b Laker 32
JW Burke c Cowdrey b Lock 22
RN Harvey b Laker 0
ID Craig lbw b Laker 8
KR Miller c Oakman b Laker 6
KD Mackay c Oakman b Laker 0
RG Archer st Evans b Laker 6
R Benaud c Statham b Laker 0
RR Lindwall not out 6
LV Maddocks b Laker 4
IWG Johnson b Laker 0
Total (40.4 overs) 84
Fall: 1-48 2-48 3-62 4-62 5-62 6-73 7-73 8-78 9-84.
Bowling: Statham 6 3 6 0; Bailey 4 3 4 0; Laker 16.4 4 37 9; Lock 14 3 37 1
Australia 2nd innings
CC McDonald c Oakman b Laker 89
JW Burke c Lock b Laker 33
RN Harvey c Cowdrey b Laker 0
ID Craig lbw b Laker 38
KD Mackay c Oakman b Laker 0
KR Miller b Laker 0
RG Archer c Oakman b Laker 0
R Benaud b Laker 18
RR Lindwall c Lock b Laker 8
IWG Johnson not out 1
LV Maddocks lbw b Laker 2
Extras (b 12, lb 4) 16
Total (150.2 overs) 205
Fall: 1-28 2-55 3-114 4-124 5-130 6-130 7-181 8-198 9-203.
Bowling: Statham 16 10 15 0; Bailey 20 8 31 0; Laker 51.2 23 53 10; Lock 55 30 69 0; Oakman 8 3 21 0.
Umpires: DE Davies and FS Lee.