“Rain prevented a ball being bowled on the last day and ruined the faint chance England possessed of sharing the rubber, but once more the cricket only rarely rose above the moderate.”
So it is that the 102nd edition of Wisden introduces its account of the drawn Fifth and final Test of the Ashes series played at the Oval, between the 13th and 18th of August 1964.
Third Man still has the wagon wheel that he drew of Boycott’s 113 in England’s second innings made out of a score of 200. Paired with Barber for the first time and only a couple of months into his Test career, Boycott was bespectacled, capless, unproven and already an outsider who divided opinions.
His maiden Test century was full of clinically executed punched shots off the back foot that were neither square cuts nor back foot drives but were, existing somewhere between the two, the trade mark shots of this Yorkshireman. The hundred was completed during a partnership of 80 runs with Cowdrey who went on to make 93 not out. Corduroy and Chiffon. (Chalk and Cheese do not seem quite appropriate.)
Wisden in gloomy tones goes on to suggest that the only other highlights were the bowling of Hawke (another Nelsonian pro) – 6 for 47 in England’s paltry first innings total of 182 – and the slip fielding of Simpson.
But for a young Third Man keeping the score in the front row of the old Ladies Stand there was, as recollected elsewhere, the excitement shared with Dexter of seeing his bat ‘break in halves over its full length when attempting a drive’. ‘Half the bat flew over cover, farther than the ball had reached,’ observes the curmudgeonly Wisden.
This would not be the only time in this Test when the ground was filled with that special murmur which is made from the voicing of 15,000 individual explanations, exclamations and expectations.
Trueman, who along with Cowdrey had been recalled for England in this Test, started the Australian innings with 297 Test victims to his name. Wicketless all through Friday and for most of Saturday morning, Trueman suddenly imposed himself like the waking Krakan, bowling Redpath middle stump.
The very next ball, Trueman had McKenzie caught at slip by Cowdrey who, without a moments hesitation or celebration, pocketed the ball and walked off in the direction of the pavilion for lunch.
During that interval the queues at the public telephone booths inside the Hobbs Gate snaked into the distance as businessmen frantically dreamt up excuses for not making appointments that afternoon.
“Afraid I can’t make the meeting with Mr Smith this afternoon. Delayed at Clapham Station, dead cow up the line.”
“That’s alright Mr Jones. Mr Smith has just phoned in. He’s stuck too. Power failure in the underground at Vauxhall.”
It was just at that moment that Third Man glimpsed the figure of Sir Learie Constantine walking towards the pavilion. Third Man had a copy of The Young Cricketer’s Companion under his arm, as a cricket obsessed thirteen year old might. TM had but a second or two to reach the great man before he would disappear beyond all following into the members only entrance.
We must wait until tomorrow before opening this copy for the first time in over forty years to find out whether Third Man’s sprint through the telephone queues was successful.