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Harsh Thakor

40TH ANNIVERSARY OF GREATEST TEST MATCH EVER?

Was 1981 Ashes test at Leeds greatest ever game in tets cricket ?  

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  1. 1. Was 1981 Ashes test at Leeds greatest ever game in history of test cricket ?



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Today we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the greatest test match ever in the history of Cricket, which had one of the greatest turnabouts in the history of sport. The 3rd test at Leeds from July 17-22 in 1981, between England and Australia was the equivalent of a Hollywood classic or epic novel. There could be rarely instances in the history of sport where such a miraculous turn of events took place or one felt the sensation of the intervention of the divine. This game set the tone of one of the most dramatic series ever in the history of the Ashes or Cricket itself.

Before the start of the 3rd test at Headingley ,Australia were already 1-0 up, winning the 1st test at Trent Bridge. In the afternoon on the 4th day Australia were in total command After enforcing the follow on 227 runs ahead., England were tottering at 135-7.An Australian victory was a mere formality and it looked as though only the last rites of the game had to be completed. At that juncture Ian Botham launched one of sports greatest ever rear guard counter attacking assaults. In a mere 87 balls he reached a century, executing some of the most dazzling strokes ever seen on a cricket field. It was reminiscent of a hurricane intervening on the hottest of summer days, with Botham ressurecting England from the grave. The sheer audacity of his strokes on a wicket not suited for test cricket, with two paced bounce, was breathtaking. His strokes were no doubt not so technically correct or graceful and at times even reckless. However if you consider the nature of the pitch, it was an exhibition of inventiveness in batting of the highest degree. There could have been few innings more scintillating, resembling the impact of bombe raiding an airbase. The likes of pace bowlers like Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Geoff Lawson were ruthlessly smashed all over the ground, in the manner of machine mowing down grass and the power of a motorboat. At the end of the day when the score reached 351-9 with Botham unbeaten on 149, the Australian bowlers looked like cattle walking to a slaughter house. I hardly have an adjective to the effect of Botham's innings in pumping the adrelanin of the spectators, as though a new life was infused into them. It lifted the spirit of the entire nation whose morale was close to an all-time low due to the economic depression in the Margaret Thatcher era. No batting exhibition was more reminiscent of a classic resurrection of an army battalion from the depths of despair. The impact of Botham’s innings was reflected in the complete transformation of the body language in the English dressing room. which was rock bottom a couple of hours earlier in the day. It was also fitting that Botham had made a spectacular resurrection in the 1st innings itself when capturing 6 wickets for 95 runs and scoring 50 put of a total of 174.


The following day England were dismissed for 357 and left Australia a target of a mere 130 runs to win. At 56-1 it looked a mere formality with Australia coasting home. However just on the brink of lunch Mike Brearley switched Bob Willis into the Kirkstall Lane end, which proved to be a master tactical move.In a few moment s the complexion of the game changed completely, like a new character giving a complete twist to a novel. Willis removed Trevor Chappell unable to fend of an unplayable lifting short ball, Kim Hughes caught in the slips to a risng ball and Graham Yallop brilliantly caught to a snorter at short leg. Rarely in cricket have I seen spirit of determination or single-mindedness scale such a height as in the spell of Bob Willis. The manner he thundered in simply told the story, as though he carried the entire fortunes of England on his shoulders. I must mention the great supporting roles of Graham Dilley who made dazzling 56 and a quickfire 25 by Chris Old. Without the support of Dilley and Old Botham would never have scaled such a monumental peak. Rarely has any cricketer been in such a cocoon of concentration as Bob Willis that day or taken grit to such realms. When steaming in he looked as though the spirits posessed him, as though in a trance. Few pace bowlers ever banged the ball harder to extract bounce or exploit conditions so surgically on an untrue pitch, with uneven bounce.

After Lunch Willis continued from where he left off, dismissing Rodney Marsh,John Dyson and Geoff Lawson,in quick succession. However the unforgettable moment was the dismissal of Chris Old of Border, who had him playing onto his stumps. Perhaps that was the major turning point of the game. At 75-8 Australia tenaciously fought back scoring 35 runs in 4 overs and it looked as the game again had a twist to the tale. It was then that Mike Gatting took a spectacular catch at mid on off Willis to dismiss Dennis Lillee.Finally Willis sealed a victory crashing through the gate of Ray Bright. Australia were dismissed for a score of 111, giving England an 18 run win. Never in history of cricket had a tem resurrected from the grave to reach such a pinnacle of glory.

Willis ended with figures of 8-43, with his spell ranking as arguably the best ever in defending a total. Rarely has any cricketer been in such a cocoon of concentration as Bob Willis that day or taken grit to such realms. When steaming in he looked as though the spirits possessed him, as though in a trance. Few pace bowlers ever better extracted bounce or exploited conditions on an untrue pitch.A miracle had been pulled off and instead of celebrating Bob Willis ran to the pavilion, with spirit of fury and vengeance rarely seen in sport. Willis was furious with the media for belittling or writing him off and his charge was manifestation of his will to put the press in it's place. No man looked more as though he had fulfilled his thirst for vengeance.

The adulation in the crowds was so great as though they were witnessing a new epoch in history .Difficult to ever visualize such an elevation in the spirit of the entire nation as though a magical power had penetrated through it. The level of ecstasy and jubilation in the crowds traversed unprecedented magnitudes in sport.

It is ironic that at the start of the test Ian Botham had been relinquished from captaincy and on the verge of being dropped. Bob Willis had also been slandered by the press. Mike Brearley was appointed as captain, who formally led England to a series of sweeping successes.Brearley's ability to ressurect the spit of Ian Botham which has sunk in the Morass played a crucial factor in the English resurgence. He brilliantly initiated a tactical move of change the end at which Willis bowled.

I salute the Australians for taking defeat so sportingly, with skipper Kim Hughes stating that above all it was a great game for test cricket as a whole and happy that it gave such a thrill to spectators.

Edited by Harsh Thakor
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