For a dramatic ending to a Test series, they don't come much more tense than this one: Bob Borsley remembers 1968. Not in Paris, but at The Oval.
The 1960s were a frustrating period for an England cricket fan. On the face of it, England and Australia were quite well matched. Both had strong batting lineups. England had Cowdrey and Barrington for most of the decade, Dexter a regular member of the team until 1965, and Graveney belatedly established as a regular member from 1966 (and Boycott, and Barber, and Edrich and D'Oliveira). Australia had Lawry throughout the decade, Simpson for most of it, Harvey, O'Neill and Burge in the early years, and Walters and Ian Chappell later on. On the other hand, both had quite limited bowling resources once Trueman and Statham and Davidson and Benaud had passed from the scene. Although they were not obviously superior, Australia retained the Ashes throughout the decade, with wins by a single Test in England in 1961 and 1964 and drawn series in Australia in 1962-3 and 1965-6.
The 1968 series was also drawn, but there were signs that things were moving in England's direction. Australia won the first Test but were saved by rain in the second and third Tests. England were on top throughout the fifth Test after a first innings of 494 with 164 from Edrich and 158 from D'Oliveira (an innings which led eventually to the D'Oliveira affair), but on the final day it looked as if the rain would again save Australia. They were 85 for 5 at lunch, but then a storm left the ground under water. However, the ground staff with a bit of help from members of the crowd were able to get the ground dry enough for a restart at 4.45 p.m., leaving England with 75 minutes to take the last five wickets. Forty minutes passed before the first of them fell, but then Underwood took four wickets in 27 deliveries for six runs (ending up with 7 for 50). Inverarity was the last man out, lbw not offering a stroke. For an England fan it was a good end to the series and a hint of better things to come.
What others wrote at the time:
The Kent left-arm bowler found the drying pitch ideal for his purpose. He received just enough help to be well nigh unplayable. The ball almost stopped on pitching and lifted to the consternation of the helpless Australians. Underwood had Mallett and McKenzie held by Brown in the leg trap in the first over of his new spell; Gleeson stayed twelve minutes until his off stump was disturbed and to everyone's surprise Inverarity, having defied England for four hours with rare skill, offered no stroke at a straight ball and was leg-before. - Wisden 1969
Now the struggle was really on, as England were down to the only batsman without any pretence at all to be able to bat, Alan Connolly. Connolly survived the remainder of the over and what he was required to face of the next. Then from the 84th over of the innings and with 6 minutes only to stumps, Inverarity after 248 minutes at the crease tried to push Underwood, he got stuck in the mud a little and instead of going right forward was anchored just on the crease and did not offer a stroke to Underwood's arm ball, was struck on the pad and out lbw to give England a dramatic and most unexpected victory... This was one of the most exciting half-hour's cricket that I have ever watched and the drama of the situation had been almost unbearable at times. - Bobby Simpson, The Australians in England 1968
I was just twenty-three and playing in only my eighth Test match. The occasion was almost too much for me... At the time of writing it is my outstanding memory of my cricket career. - Derek Underwood, Beating the Bat
[For links to the other posts in this series, see here.]