AS ALLEGATIONS of English ball tampering swirled around the Melbourne Test, dismissed as much ado about nothing by all pertinent parties, it was easy to overlook another ‘non-event’ on a fourth day badly hit by the weather.
When James Anderson fended the day’s first delivery into the hands of short-leg, thereby ending the England first innings at 491 before Australia reached 103-2 in their second innings, 61 runs adrift, it meant that Alastair Cook was unable to add to his overnight score of 244.
In spite of not facing another ball himself, with a memorable display thus ending in anti-climax, Cook broke the world record for the highest Test score by a batsman carrying his bat through a completed innings, previously Glenn Turner’s 223 for New Zealand against the West Indies at Kingston in 1972.
He also, by definition, beat the previous best by an Englishman carrying his bat in Test cricket, the 202 made by Yorkshire’s Len Hutton against the West Indies at The Oval in 1950.
And, to add another Yorkshire connection to the mix, it was the first time that an Englishman had carried his bat against Australia since Geoffrey Boycott’s 99 at Perth in 1979, Boycott the only opener to be left stranded in this manner – one short of a hundred – in the 140 years of Test cricket.
Cook was the eighth Englishman to carry his bat in Tests after, in chronological order, Bobby Abel, Plum Warner, the aforementioned Hutton (twice) and Boycott, Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton, with Atherton’s 94 against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1997 having been the most recent instance.
In a career already boasting more records than at which you could shake a stick, this was another for Cook to celebrate, with England’s leading Test run-scorer proving – in the week of his 33rd birthday – that there remains life in the old dog yet.
Len Hutton’s English record that Cook broke was set during the fourth and final Test of the 1950 summer against a powerful and emerging West Indies side.
The tourists, blessed with the famed batting talents of the Three Ws (Walcott, Weekes and Worrell) and the spin bowling skills of “those two little pals of mine”, Ramadhin and Valentine, won the series 3-1 to establish the West Indies as a major power in the world game.
“There was no question that the representatives of the Caribbean reached maturity on their seventh visit to the cradle of cricket,” commented Wisden, somewhat lordly. “Those of us who saw them overwhelm GO Allen’s MCC. team on their own fields in the early months of 1948 were prepared for surprises, but I do not think any of us expected they would go from one triumph to another and outplay England in three of the four Tests.”
At The Oval, where Hutton’s 202 did not contain a single chance during seven hours, 50 minutes at the crease, the Yorkshireman narrowly failed to help his country avoid the follow-on after the West Indies had opened the match with a total of 503.
England were dismissed for 344 on a drying pitch and Hutton, despite having been at the wicket for 179 overs, was immediately sent back out to open again.
As he recalled in his autobiography, it was “the one occasion when I would have appreciated a change in the order for the second innings” as “I went in for a second time a very tired man indeed”.
In a career already boasting more records than at which you could shake a stick, this was another for Cook to celebrate, with England’s leading Test run-scorer proving – in the week of his 33rd birthday – that there remains life in the old dog yet.Chris Waters
Hutton added: “In the ten minutes between the innings I had hoped skipper Freddie Brown might ask me if I wanted a break, but he did not do so and I did not think it was my place to make the suggestion. When I went out again I soon had a ball from Goddard which turned and lifted and I was caught at short leg by Christiani for 2.
“Had I not had such a brute of a ball so quickly I might well have settled in again, and England avoided the indignity of being bowled out by Valentine for 103 (to lose by an innings and 56 runs).”
Boycott’s unbeaten 99 in the Perth Test of 1979 also came in a losing cause, Australia winning by 138 runs.
It was the second successive winter that England had toured Down Under in a trip arranged following an agreement that ended a division in world cricket between the Kerry Packer organisation and the official Test authorities.
Only three Tests were played and the Ashes, as a result, were not at stake, Australia winning the mini rubber 3-0.
Boycott’s runs arrived in the second innings as England attempted to save a game made infamous by Dennis Lillee’s brief use of an aluminium bat, Boycott the only man to show the necessary application and technique during a stay of almost six hours at the crease.
Boycott deserved a hundred and had 97 to his name when he was joined by last man Bob Willis.
From the first ball of a Lillee over, Boycott pushed out into the leg-side for an easy three, but Willis refused the third run on the grounds that Boycott should keep the strike in an effort to prolong England’s resistance.
Boycott was unable to score off the next five balls and Willis was promptly dismissed by left-armer Geoff Dymock, Willis later quipping that a disappointed Boycott “took about 15 minutes to get off the pitch”.
Whether Boycott himself was quipping when he later remarked that “I could have strangled Bob Willis” only the man himself will know, but it was a cruel end to a masterful display.
As for Cook, his innings at the MCG was yet another example of Boycottian resolve so unusual in the modern game.
To carry one’s bat in any form of cricket is a splendid achievement; to do so through more than ten and a half hours of an Ashes Test is a bravura performance worthy of the highest respect.