Drama aplenty

England had felt throughout the series (1970-71) that they had been on the receiving end of several contentious umpiring decisions and things flared up on the second day of the seventh Test when No. 9 Terry Jenner was hit on the face by a delivery from fast bowler John Snow, writes Gulu Ezekiel.

The Sydney Ashes Test (February 1971) was an action-packed match with plenty of drama on and off the field, culminating in England winning back the Ashes after 15 years. Ray Illingworth thus became the first English captain to reclaim the Ashes on Australian soil since Douglas Jardine in 1932-33.

But on the second day, he almost became the first captain to forfeit a Test match, something that would happen in England later.

The drama began even before the start of the Test, which was counted as the 7th Test match since the third one, at Melbourne, was abandoned without a ball being bowled and an extra Test was included in the itinerary. England lost the service of Geoff Boycott, when he broke his left arm during the one-day game against Western Australia. Graham McKenzie did the damage. Boycott was the leading scorer in the series till then.

The Australians were shocked when their captain Bill Lawry was sacked and Ian Chappell took over the reins. It was also McKenzie's final series. Australia was trailing 1-0 after losing the fourth Test at Sydney by 299 runs and had to win this final Test in order to retain the Ashes.

It was the debut series for Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell (for Australia) and Bob Willis (for England). All of them would serve their nations with distinction through the 70s and beyond.

Ian Chappell won the toss and in a bold move that would exemplify his captaincy for the next five years, he asked England to bat.

The ploy worked as England was shot out for 184 on the first day. But by close Australia had lost both its openers, debutant Ken Eastwood and Keith Stackpole, the team's leading scorer in the series.

The overnight batsmen, Marsh and Ian Chappell, did not last long the next morning and at 66 for four, it looked like England would be in a position to gain the lead.

But Ian Redpath (59), Doug Walters (42) and Greg Chappell (65) held firm, enabling the home side to gain a lead of 80 runs.

The tourists had felt throughout the series that they had been on the receiving end of several contentious umpiring decisions and things flared up on the second day when number nine Terry Jenner was hit on the face by a delivery from fast bowler John Snow, who had been England's match-winner, devastating the Aussie batting in the earlier Test at the same ground with second innings figures of seven for 40.

The Aussie batsmen had been tormented throughout the series by Snow's pace and hostility.

Both Walters and Redpath were continuously peppered with bouncers from Snow and Peter Lever and tension was rising all around.

After Jenner retired hurt (he was to come back and score a useful 30), umpire Lou Rowan issued a warning to Snow for bowling persistently short and this enraged both the bowler and his captain. They contended that the warning was premature at that stage as Snow had bowled just one short-pitched delivery in that particular over. They were embroiled in a heated argument with the umpire who however stuck to his guns.

All this had the crowd in some agitation and they booed Snow. Cans were thrown onto the field as Snow was moved to deep fine leg. Seeing this, Illingworth called his players to the centre and they sat down and waited till the field had been cleared of the cans.

Once play resumed, Snow moved back to his usual position, within touching distance of the furious spectators.

Sure enough, one of them — obviously under the influence of alcohol — reached out and grabbed the fast bowler by his sleeve and verbally abused him.

The captain and other players rushed towards Snow but even as they were running to get Snow out of the spectator's grip, cans started flying into the ground from the stands. At this stage Illingworth led his side off the field.

The umpires (Rowan and Tom Brooks) and the two batsmen (Lillee and Greg Chappell) were left waiting in the middle. At this stage the umpires were within their rights to award the match to Australia as Illingworth had led the side off the ground without consulting the umpires. But they decided to give England an opportunity to resume. In the dressing room the umpires told Illingworth that they would give two minutes to the English team to get back to the ground or the Test would be awarded to Australia.

Fortunately, there were no further untoward incidents. Snow once again, rather provocatively, headed towards the fine leg fence but Willis ran after him and persuaded him to switch places.

England batted much better in the second innings with all the top batsmen getting good starts. The opening stand between John Edrich (57) and Brian Luckhurst (59) was worth 94 — that would prove to be the best in the Test.

Australia ended the fourth day 100 runs short with five wickets in hand with Greg Chappell and Marsh at the crease.

Unfortunately for England, early in the Australian second innings, it lost the service of its strike bowler. Snow, while running to take a catch, hit the picket fence and broke his finger. This was a massive blow and Illingworth took the decision that he, along with Derek Underwood would do the bulk of the bowling on a track traditionally conducive to spin bowling.

It worked on the final day as the last five wickets were out for a meagre score. England had won the Test by 62 runs, the series 2-0 and finally had the Ashes back in their grasp.

The Scores

England 184 (J. H. Edrich 30, K. W. R. Fletcher 33, R. Illingworth 42, A. P. E. Knott 27, Jenner three for 42, O' Keefe three for 48) and 302 (J. H. Edrich 57, B. W. Luckhurst 59, B. L. D'Oliveira 47, R. Illingworth 29, Dell three for 65, O'Keeffe three for 96) beat Australia 264 (I. M. Chappell 25, I. R. Redpath 59, K. D. Walters 42, G. S. Chappell 65, T. J. Jenner 30, Lever three for 43, Willis three for 58) and 160 (K. R. Stackpole 67, G. S. Chappell 30, Illingworth three for 39).