Bob Borsley signals the beginning of this Ashes summer by recalling the Centenary Test.
The Centenary Test in 1977, which brought together many stars from the past, including 87-year-old Jack Ryder and 84-year-old Percy Fender, had a most unlikely English hero. Not Geoff Boycott, who wasn't playing, or Tony Greig, the captain, but the eccentric Nottinghamshire batsman Derek Randall. His Test career, which ended in 1984, was rather disappointing, with an average of just 33.37 and seven centuries, but his performance in the Centenary Test was superb.
In the spring of 1977 I was coming to the end of a long period as a student. In those days it was almost compulsory for students to occupy university buildings at regular intervals, and at the time of the Centenary Test some offices at Edinburgh University were under occupation (in connection, I believe, with overseas students fees). As a serious member of the Edinburgh University rentamob I was there. I volunteered to 'guard' the entrance to the offices from 6.00 to 8.00 in the morning. This coincided with radio coverage of the Test. So I was able to fight the good fight and follow the even better fight in Melbourne at the same time.
The Test began well for England with Australia dismissed for 138 in their first innings. In reply, however, England were all out for 95 with Lillee taking 6 for 26. Australia then made 419, with Rodney Marsh scoring 110, leaving England to score 463 to win. Randall led the way and at the end of the fourth day England were 191 for 2, with Randall 87 not out. Particularly notable was his confrontation with Denis Lillee. Here he is hit by a bouncer from Lillee. And here he is doffing his cap to Lillee after avoiding another. When Randall was out on the fifth day, England needed just 116 to win, with five wickets in hand, but Lillee was too good for their remaining batting and they lost by 45 runs, the same margin of defeat as in the first Test between the teams 100 years earlier.
Some accounts from the time:
Well as Amiss, Greig, Knott and Brearley batted... the innings to remember was played by Randall, a jaunty, restless, bubbling character, whose 174 took England to the doorstep of victory. The Australian spectators enjoyed his approach as much as Indian crowds had done on the tour just finished.
Once, when Lillee tested him with a bouncer, he tennis-batted it to the mid-wicket fence with a speed and power that made many a rheumy eye turn to the master of the stroke, the watching Sir Donald Bradman. Words cannot recapture the joy of that moment.
Another time, when Lillee bowled short, Randall ducked, rose, drew himself to his full five feet eight, doffed his cap and bowed politely. Then, felled by another bouncer, he gaily performed a reverse roll. This helped to maintain a friendly atmosphere in what, at all times, was a serious and fully competitive match. – Wisden 1978
Immediately afterwards, Randall played at Chappell, the ball took a faint edge and a tumbling Marsh appeared to hold the chance in his right glove. Umpire Tom Brooks thought so too as he raised his finger after due consideration. But Marsh, jumping to his feet, signalled that he had not taken the ball before it hit ground. Both he and Chappell called on Randall to return to the crease, and Brooks sensibly left matters in the hands of the players. - Frank Tyson, The Centenary Test
[The Queen] had just invested the ailing Sir Rober Menzies with the insignia of the Order of Australia and settled into her seat when, ten minutes before tea, Randall played forward to O’Keeffe, snicked the ball via his pad onto the legside and saw Cosier flop forward to hold the ball brilliantly in his outstretched left hand. Randall had batted for seven and a half hours. He had hit 21 fours and had really made the match. He walked back to deafening applause and, typically, got lost as he reached the shadow of the pavilion, walking towards the place where the Queen was sitting and then having to turn when he realised he wasn’t heading for the dressing-room. - Christopher Martin-Jenkins, The Jubilee Tests
The next morning, and much of the afternoon, belonged to the young Nottinghamshire batsman, Derek Randall who, accepting some buffets, including a blow on the head from one of Lillee’s bouncers, clowned and played his way to a splendid 174... Randall, to great popular delight, was declared Man of the Match; and, when he returned home to Retford he was given a civic reception. John Arlott, in Frindall's Score Book: The Centenary Test at Melbourne and England versus Australia 1977
[For links to the other posts in this series, see here.]