Benaud's master-stroke

Richie Benaud, the AUSTRALIAN SKIPPER, worked out a strategy and bowled his team to victory, writes GULU EZEKIEL.

Australia held the Ashes when they toured England in 1961 under the captaincy of Richie Benaud. The team was short on experience but had a few promising players who were at the start of wonderful careers. Opener Bill Lawry and fast bowler Graham McKenzie made their debuts in the series.

The series was played just a few months after the memorable contest Down Under where Australia had beaten West Indies 2-1 with the first-ever tied Test that was still the talk of the cricket world. For Benaud, it was a chance to avenge the humiliations of the previous tour of 1956 when Jim Laker had run through the side at Old Trafford.

But the tour began on a painful note for Benaud who suffered a severe shoulder injury in the opening game. After playing in the drawn first Test at Edgbaston, he was forced to miss the next two — at Lord's where Australia won by five wickets and then at Headingley where England levelled the series.

Neil Harvey led the side in his absence but when the teams arrived at Old Trafford for the fourth Test, Benaud was fit. And it was his presence that proved to be the decisive factor. Benaud won the toss but his batsmen with the exception of Bill Lawry (74) and Brian Booth (46) let their captain down. With Brian Statham capturing five for 53 and Ted Dexter polishing off the last three wickets with his medium pacers, a total of just 190 left the Aussies vulnerable.

In response England ran up a healthy lead of 177 runs. Captain Peter May led the way with 95 and almost all the other batsmen chipped in with useful runs. Benaud went wicketless. Bobby Simpson, with his leg spin, grabbed four wickets from 11.4 overs, including the wicket of Ken Barrington (78).

Australia's fight-back began with a century opening stand — the first of many more to follow — between Simpson and Lawry. Lawry, the young left-hander, had scored his maiden Test century at Lord's. Now he followed it up with another as the Aussie batsmen fought grimly to overcome their first innings failures.

Simpson scored 51, while O'Neill contributed 67. They finished the fourth day at 331 for six, leading by only 154 runs. The next morning off spinner David Allen quickly snapped up Ken Mackay, Benaud and Wally Grout and the score was 334 for nine. England were now well on top.

When the last man McKenzie scrambled out to join Davidson, the veteran had one piece of advice for the rookie, "Just play straight and we'll see what we can do."

What they did was to add 98 electrifying runs for the last wicket to swing the game round once again. Davidson went after Allen and clouted him for 20 runs in one over. May then decided to remove Allen from the attack. In desperation he turned to the occasional left-arm spinners of Brian Close. McKenzie struck him for three boundaries as his confidence began to grow.

Debutant medium pacer Jack Flavell finally ended the agony for England as he bowled McKenzie for 32. Davidson remained unbeaten on a fine 77. The target of 256 was certainly manageable, given England's powerful batting line-up. They had to score at 67 runs an hour.

At close of play, on the fourth day, England were strongly placed. Benaud spoke to Ray Lindwall in the bar and a strategy was worked out. The discussion centred around the deep footmarks, which Benaud hoped to exploit, by bowling round the wicket to the right-handers when England batted last. The legendary fast bowler thought it might work but warned Benaud he would have to be deadly accurate "otherwise they'll kill you."

England's batsmen certainly started the chase in a killing mood with Ted Dexter leading the slaughter. Once opener Geoff Pullar was out for 26, Dexter took charge and brought England to the brink of victory with what Benaud would describe as the finest short Test innings he had ever witnessed. With the majestic batsman clobbering both Davidson and McKenzie out of the attack, England needed just 130 more runs in two hours with nine wickets in hand. At this stage Benaud considered his options, which were limited at best. He knew if he were to go for victory then an all out attack was the only way. The leg spin of Simpson was introduced with Dexter promptly carting him for 21 off one over. But Benaud continued with his attacking field. The Aussie captain wanted to exploit the rough created by the England pace bowlers. There were five left-handers in the England batting line-up but the right-handers, Dexter and May, would be tough ones to dislodge.

Benaud worked out a strategy to tie down Dexter. After failing to score off the first five balls, Dexter tried to cut the sixth one only to be caught behind. Grout leaped in glee. They had made the first breach — Dexter c Grout b Benaud 76 (14 fours and one six in 84 minutes). The score was 150 for two. May defended the first ball he faced from Benaud's next over but was bowled round his legs from the rough off the second. He attempted a sweep and was out for a duck and Benaud was at his menacing best.

Brian Close was another batsman whom Benaud feared could take the match away. The left-hander decided the best way out would be to go for an all-out attack and carted Benaud over long on for a six. A quick 20 could turn the match England's way. But Close got carried away and top-edged to be caught at square leg for eight. Now the score was 158 for four. At the other end, opener Raman Subba Row was grimly hanging on. But at one short of his 50, before tea, he too fell to Benaud who had now taken four wickets in 19 balls.

At the interval England needed 93 runs in 85 minutes, but with only five wickets in hand. The Aussies had now taken the upper hand.

England's hopes rested with Ken Barrington and wicket-keeper John Murray. Ken Mackay, bowling in pain with a leg injury, trapped Barrington leg-before shortly after the break and then Benaud snapped up Murray. England's tail was not allowed to wag and when Davidson knocked out Statham's off stump with just 20 minutes of play left, England had collapsed to 201, the last nine wickets going down for 51.

Benaud finished with six for 70 and with Australia leading 2-1 and just one Test to go (it was drawn), the Ashes would stay with Australia. It was just reward for the captain's courageous tactics on the final day when he never once wavered from his plan.

THE SCORES

Australia 190 (W. M. Lawry 74, B. C. Booth 46, J. B. Statham five for 53, E. R. Dexter three for 16) and 432 (Lawry 102, R. B. Simpson 51, R. N. Harvey 35, N. C. O'Neill 67, A. K. Davidson 77 not out, D. A. Allen four for 58, Dexter three for 61) beat England 367 (G. Pullar 63, P. B. H. May 95, D. B. Close 33, K. F. Barrington 78, Allen 42, Davidson three for 70, Simspon four for 23) and 201 (Pullar 26, R. Subba Row 49, Dexter 76, R. Benaud six for 70).