Hypnotic Away Swing

We left a happy Bob Massie lying back in the comforting warmth of one of Lord’s old roll-top baths after taking 8’fer in the 1972 Ashes Test.  He is no doubt not too worried to languish there passing the time puffing on a cigar and sipping a few tinnies with his bowling partner Dennis Lillee spilling over in an adjacent bath.

They have left the field of play in triumph, the applause of members in the Long Room clinging to them even as their sprigs clatter up the staircase to the away dressing room and the archway to the balcony where the debutant sits in bewilderment, as the ‘it hasn’t sunk in yet’ photograph above  clearly shows.

“Who said this Test cricket was hard yakka?”

Down below it is now the turn for the England bowlers and although without the lethal swing of their injured Arnold, two wickets fall for only 7 runs.  This serves simply to bring the young Menelaus to the wicket to join his brother Agamemnon – viz. Greg and Ian Chappell.  The later and elder is, in the noblest fashion, intent on counterattack, hooking Snow and Price with thrilling unconcern. 

One sixer narrowly evades the patrician MJK Smith fielding unusually for this master of the short leg position out in the deep [Diogenes ;-)].  But Captain Illingworth’s tactics are soon rewarded when bespectacled Smith takes a wonderful catch running in to reach the ball and rolling ignominiously head over heals to bring Agamemnon crashing down for 56 out of 84.

Greg who had remained doggedly defensive with a technique honed during time served at Somerset – not scoring a boundary in the first three hours of his remarkable innings –  rises to the challenge like a true brother and single handed with bat, will-power and a divine off-drive pulls the game back towards Australia.

Time travel shatters Third Man’s long held recollection that Chappell’s had been a Saturday hundred, for actually the Gods remain with the Australian when in poor light he seizes the chance to reach his century off the second to last ball of the day.  An evocative commentary of this and other snippets from the match can be found here.

At the start of play on Saturday a packed Lord’s watches haplessly as Chappell, seeming to defy mortality, moves his score on a further 31 runs, each one making England’s hopes of a first innings lead look less likely. Then d’Oliviera smashes through the batsman’s defences and in a heady mixture that flies from aggression, to relief and then admiration 31,000 roar their response.

Thanks to some blistering hits in a 50 by Marsh Australia take a lead, but the afternoon brings more than the England openers.  The atmosphere turns heavy and unreal under thick clouds through which the enclosed heat cannot escape, like the batsmen whose fate is fixed in the caldron of this arena.

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make look silly.  Boycott padding up to Lillee is bowled when the ball runs up his body over his shoulder and lands on the off bail.  A wretched Luckhurst is humiliated, then, dispatched to Hades by Lillee’s pace and England are 16 for 2.

Third Man has taken one of the old and far from comfortable white slatted garden seats in the front row of the pavilion looking over second slip’s shoulder.  The seat has as many coats of paint as it has seen seasons of cricket but this seat and the scores like it that line in terraces before the Pavilion have never before witnessed what now follows as Massie moves in from the Nursery End.   

In the turgid atmosphere the ball swings late and hypnotically.  There is no other way to describe it.  Like a child following the movement of a watch on a chain, England’s finest batsmen are entranced and mesmerised, and reach out to it.

They know they must leave alone this tantalising object hurtling towards them as if on a golden thread.  But they can’t.  They have it covered.  They are playing as late as they dare.  It cannot move from here.  They are wrong.  It must be played.  They are wrong.  It swings sharply away.  Again it comes, again it moves, again they reach for it and again it finds the edge to be caught first by Marsh, then Edwards, then Chappell G, then Chappell I, then Chappell G again, then Stackpole, then Marsh once more. 

31,000 of us, dazed and confused, stumble to our buses, tubes and cabs, hardly able to believe what we have seen.  England 86 for 9, seven of them to Massie. 

The next morning the Western Australian duly takes his eighth wicket when Price is caught by Chappell G. 

To compound the sense of unreality that must always accompany stories of this Test, Massie with at that time the best match figures for a Test debutante, 16 for 137, hardly takes another Test wicket and within a couple of years cannot even win a place in his state side.

Lillee later says that in this Test Massie’s wrist and seam position were immaculate.  He also thought that the young man from Subiaco had managed to put a great deal of back spin on the ball which increased the swing. 

The story is of a few fleeting days of technical perfection finding ideal atmospheric conditions, that justifiably but disproportionally took the lime light from one of the finest Test batting performances.   Funny game, cricket.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Hypnotic Away Swing

  1. Thanks for the link to the BBC TMS archive, TM. Great to hear Alan McGilvray’s voice again.

  2. diogenes

    I remember this series as a titanic struggle that ended in a draw. yet if you think about it, england were very lucky. Australia had Lillee at his fastest, Massie in the zone for the only time in his career, Rod Marsh coming of age as a Test cricketer, Greg Chappell proving that he was one of the greats of the age, Ian Chappell fighting his demons, captaining aggressively and coming good with an immense innings in the 5th Test, Ross Edwards chipping in…maybe only the fact they kept selecting Doug Walters rather than Paul Sheahan allowed England to get parity.

    To face them, England had the class of Snow and Underwood…why was Arnold not in the side at Lords, he would have just as elsusive as Massie, I’m sure. Knott was at his best with bat and gloves. Boycott got mhis arm broken by McKenzie (not good enough anymore to play for Australia!) and only played 2 tests I think – including his extraordinary dismissal at Lords – I think I can still recall the tone of disbelief on the commentator’s voice. Luckhurst was visibly out of his depth against Lillee’s pace and hostility. Edrich was badly out of form. And the selectors did some odd things – why pick MJK Smith, making a come-back for Warwickshire after 4-5 years out of the game, and not in very good form and also not holding his catches in close, which was why Illy sent him to long leg? Why pick Parfitt 10 years after his last test? Why pick John Price? Why wait so long before picking the in-form Barry Wood? Maybe the difference was the very canny captaincy of Illingworth and the way he kept chipping in with vital runs and wickets. Especially at Headingley….it was so slow that even Underwood had to work. At one point, Australia looked to be building a partnership and clawing back into the game…but Illy threw the ball to Snow who blasted them out despite having bowled an opening spell devoid of menace and threat on that dreadfully slow track. The previous day, at a similar juncture, Chappell kept going with his spinners. I think Jim Laker pointed out that stroke of genius. I wonder how solid my memories are of that series…..lol…I love your time machine.

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