So near, yet so far

New Zealand skipper, Bevan Congdon, had a great time with the bat.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The lack of good opening stand cost the Kiwis dear. Yet, the visitors came close to the formidable task of scoring 479 runs for victory at Trent Bridge. The final day witnessed some of the most thrilling moments in Test history as the tourists fell short by just 38 runs. By Gulu Ezekiel.

Following India’s victory at The Oval in 1971, New Zealand was the only country not to have won a Test match in English soil. In fact, by the time it toured England in 1973, it had not recorded a win against England even at home. Under the captaincy of Bevan Congdon, however, New Zealand came tantalisingly close to victory on not one, but two occasions in consecutive Tests — first at Trent Bridge and then at Lord’s.

Long considered the poor cousin of Test playing nations, New Zealand sprang a surprise when it drew all five Tests in the West Indies the year before. Congdon made 500-plus runs on that tour, second only to opener Glenn Turner who had an outstanding series.

Prior to the opening Test at Trent Bridge, the focus was on Turner in the warm-up matches, as he became the first batsman in 35 years in England to reach 1,000 runs before the end of May.

This effort probably drained him and it was only in the final Test innings of the series that he managed a 81.

Though England won the series 2-0, it was pushed to the limits in the first two Test matches.

The lack of good opening stand cost the Kiwis dear. Yet, the visitors came close to the formidable task of scoring 479 runs for victory at Trent Bridge. The final day witnessed some of the most thrilling moments in Test history as the tourists fell short by just 38 runs.

Bundled out for 97 in the first innings, and having conceded a lead of 153 runs, New Zealand’s last innings heroics seemed all the more creditable. Only once in the 96 years of Test cricket had a side scored over 400 to win a Test match.

The pace bowlers dominated for the first two-and-half days of the match. England was dismissed for 250 in the first innings and batting second with a handy lead, the home side had lost four wickets for 24 runs. But a double century stand between Dennis Amiss (138) and Tony Greig (139) put the team on a firm footing. Skipper Ray Illingworth declared at 325 for eight on the third day, setting New Zealand a mammoth 479 to chase in the fourth innings.

Considering its first innings collapse, few gave the visitors any chance of surviving beyond the fourth day. In fact New Zealand lost its openers Turner and John Parker to end the third day at 56 for two.

But in a dramatic reversal, the Kiwis launched a rearguard display and by close of the penultimate day it made 317 for five and had given itself a fighting chance of a victory, thanks to a monumental innings of 176 from captain Congdon.

At 130 for four on the fourth day morning, it seemed only a formality before England wrapped things up. All that changed as Congdon and Vic Pollard added 177 for the fifth wicket. Congdon fell to Geoff Arnold after batting for nearly seven hours but Pollard carried on and was unbeaten on 74 going into the last day.

He reached his maiden Test century on the final morning and received able support from Ken Wadsworth (46). They put on 95 runs together and New Zealand passed the 400-run mark. Then Arnold struck. The England’s best bowler had the wicket-keeper Wadsworth caught brilliantly at second slip by Graham Roope.

The tail offered some resistance, but the task proved too tough. The total of 440 was at that time the second highest fourth innings score of all time and it was the Kiwis who received all the plaudits for their back-to-the-wall display.

Two weeks later England was lucky to escape with a draw. Another poor batting display saw the host dismissed for 253 in the first innings. New Zealand replied with 551 for nine declared, its highest score in Test matches then and once again it was Congdon who led the way, this time with a marathon knock of 175.

Pollard also got his second consecutive century and Mark Burgess weighed in with 105. Congdon added 190 for the third wicket with Brian Hastings (86) after the openers had failed again. The innings was finally declared closed on the fourth morning with England facing a huge deficit of 298 runs.

Geoff Boycott (92) and Dennis Amiss (53) began the salvage operation with an opening partnership of 112 runs and with Roope chipping in with 51, England was confident of saving the match at 250 for three.

The Kiwi spinners Hedley Howarth and Pollard then started picking up wickets, with only Keith Fletcher holding them at bay.

When the eighth wicket fell, England led by just 70 runs and there was still over two hours of play left on the final day. It was only a matter of mopping up the tail.

Wadsworth then floored a chance from Arnold off Pollard just after the number 10 batsman had come in. It proved costly in the end. Arnold hung around to support Fletcher (178), who scored his first century in England, as the pair added 92 for the ninth wicket to salvage a draw.

It was another heartbreak for the New Zealanders. They were one down in the series going into the final Test at Leeds having come so close to going 2-0 up. By now the team was exhausted and England romped home in the final Test by an innings and one run. New Zealand would have to wait for some more time before recording its first win in England.

THE SCORES

Third Test, Headingley, Leeds, July 5 to 10, 1973.

New Zealand 276 (M. G. Burgess 87, V. Pollard 62, D. R. Hadlee 34, Arnold three for 62, Chris Old four for 71) and 142 (G. M. Turner 81, Snow three for 34, Arnold five for 27) lost to England 419 (G. Boycott 115, K. Fletcher 81, R. Illingworth 65, Chris Old 34, G. Arnold 26, R. Collinge five for 74).

Second Test, Lord’s, June 21 to 26, 1973.

England 253 (G. Boycott 61, G. Roope 56, K. Fletcher 25, A. W. Greig 63, Collinge three for 69, R. Hadlee three for 70, Howarth three for 42) and 463 for nine (D. Amiss 53, G. Roope 51, K. Fletcher 178, Howarth four for 144) drew with New Zealand 551 for nine decl. (B. Congdon 175, B. Hastings 86, M. Burgess 105, V. Pollard 105, K. Wadsworth 27, Snow three for 109, Chris Old five for 113).

First Test, Trent Bridge, Nottingham, June 7 to 12, 1973.

England 250 (G. Amiss 51, D. Amiss 42, G. Roope 28, A, Knott 49, N. Gifford 25, Taylor four for 53, Hadlee four for 42) and 325 for eight decl. (D. Amiss 138 not out, A. W. Greig 139) beat New Zealand 97 (Snow three for 21, Greig four for 33) and 440 (B. Congdon 176, M. Burgess 26, M. Burgess 26, V. Pollard 116, K. Wadsworth 46, Arnold five for 131, Greig three for 101).