With the Ashes around the corner, let us go down the years to 1953, the year of probably England’s most significant Ashes victory. England were going through an Ashes drought of nearly 20 years, having last won the urn in the Bodyline series of 1932-33.
Moreover, in the three post-war Ashes series of 1946-47, 1948 and 1950-51, they were soundly beaten by margins of 3-0, 4-0 and 4-1 respectively. In 1953, England were led by Leonard Hutton, its first modern professional captain.
1953 was the year of the coronation of Elizabeth II and the public sentiment was optimistic. Coming into this fifth and final Test, the series was deadlocked at 0-0, with both the teams having had opportunities to take a lead.
Alec Bedser’s 14 wickets in the first Test at Trent Bridge went in vain only because of the weather while in the following Test at Lord’s, Australia were denied by the obdurate pair of Trevor Bailey and Willie Watson.
Even though the first four Tests were drawn, there were a few sensational passages of play, such as Australia’s second innings in the third Test at Old Trafford – another rain affected game – when the visitors slumped to an astonishing 35/8 after a first-innings lead of 42.
Leonard Hutton, who was England’s first modern professional captain, led England to their first Ashes win in nearly 20 years (source – gettyimages)
In the fourth Test, Australia again missed out on victory, falling 30 runs short in a game during which England’s negative tactics of employing defensive leg-side fields were criticised. Thus, it all boiled down to the Oval for the decider, played between 15th and 19th August, 1953.
Australia won the toss and elected to bat. Captain Lindsay Hassett led from the front, scoring a solid 53 while opening the innings. He added 66 for the fourth wicket with Neil Harvey after his side were reduced to 41/2.
However, the skipper’s dismissal, caught behind by Godfrey Evans off Alec Bedser, gave England the upper hand as the Australians went from a comfortable 107/2 to 118/5, and further to 160/7.The fiery Fred Trueman, brought in for this Test, was the wrecker of the middle order as he accounted for Harvey, Greame Hole and Jim de Courcy in a spell of sustained fast bowling.
A late rescue act was performed by Ray Lindwall, who made 62 from number nine and ensured his side reached a fighting total of 275. Lindwall was involved in stands of 47, 38 and 30 for the last three wickets and was last out to Trueman, who returned 4/86.
England began their reply sensibly on the second day, with Hutton and Peter May putting on 100 for the second wicket after the early loss of Bill Edrich. But just like the Australian innings, their captain’s loss gave the middle order the jitters. The score was 154/2 when Hutton was bowled by Bill Johnston for 82.
Lindwall (4/70) continued his good game, snapping up the vital wickets of Dennis Compton and Tom Graveney in quick succession to make the score 170/5. ‘Barnacle’ Bailey stood up to the challenge again, as he remained unbeaten on 33 till the end of Day 2, the score reading 235/7.
Tony Lock, in tandem with Jim Laker, turned the contest on its head with a second-innings haul of 5/45 (source – guardian.co.uk)
Bailey continued to hold fort on day three, before being the last man out for 64. His last-wicket stand of 44 with Bedser enabled England to get the lead and onto a total of 306. The game was evenly balanced at this stage.
In the second dig, Australia were seemingly starting to take control at 59/1 in spite of losing Hassett cheaply to Jim Laker. But the Surrey spin twins – Laker and Tony Lock – had other ideas. The pitch was beginning to turn from the third day, as has traditionally been the case at the Oval, and the Aussies suddenly froze collectively against their guile.
Off-spinner Laker dismissed Hole (LBW) and Keith Miller (caught by Trueman at short square leg for a duck), while Lock accounted for Harvey and Arthur Morris. In a stunning turnaround, 59/1 became 61/5 and suddenly England were on course to make history. Ron Archer (who top-scored with 49) attempted a recovery, putting on 50 for the seventh wicket with Alan Davidson, but it would not last long.
The innings terminated at 162 with Lock taking 5/45 and Laker 4/75. The two bowled 37.5 overs between them compared to the pace bowlers’ 13. The entire innings lasted two hours and forty-five minutes. England required just 132 and ended the eventful third day at 38/1, losing Hutton to a run-out.
A capacity crowd thronged the Oval on day four and they went home with fond memories of an Ashes-winning victory. Bill Edrich played like a rock, making sure that there were no unwanted hiccups. He put on 50 for the third wicket with Peter May, and remained unbeaten on 55.
May’s dismissal at 88 brought Edrich’s Middlesex teammate Compton to the crease, and the latter was destined to hit the winning runs which gave England the Ashes after almost 20 years.
Bill Edrich and Dennis Compton make their way back through a jubilant crowd after guiding England to Ashes glory (source – guardian.co.uk)
Compton (22*) swept part-timer Morris for a boundary to take the final score to 132/2, at seven minutes to three on the fourth day. The jubilant crowd swarmed onto the Oval even before the batsmen could head for the pavilion.
This Ashes victory was England’s first at home since 1926. The player who made the most impact in the series was Bedser, who took a then-record 39 wickets in the five Tests. The celebration of victory was widespread, as the drama of this memorable series was played out on the newly introduced black-and-white television as well.
On Test Match Special, Brian Johnston galvanised an entire nation by exclaiming, ‘The Ashes! It’s the Ashes!’ as Compton hit the winning runs. Interestingly, the winning captain Hutton lost all five tosses.
In a heart-warming climax, both captains addressed the crowd and stressed the excellent spirit in which all the matches had been contested both on and off the field.
Watch a visual recap of the Test