The Cricketer
Sam Morshead Sam Morshead


The Cricketer looks back on famous moments in Ashes history

The Cricketer looks back on famous moments in Ashes history during England’s trip Down Under.

Today’s tale is about a Brisbane flood, Len Hutton batting at eight and a declaration at 32 for seven...

The great EW Swanton looked into the future and saw what was about to happen.

“Sometimes Australian wickets are so difficult they reduce everyone to a common level of impotence,” the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent wrote after a vicious storm flushed through Brisbane at the end of the first day’s play in the first Ashes Test of 1950-51.

Such was the flooding at the Gabba, no play was possible on day two and, by the time the players returned for day three on December 4, the pitch had developed a clay-like crust.

Trying to bat on it was like playing hopscotch in No Man’s Land.

Australia, who had chosen to bat after winning the toss, were defending a first-innings total of 228 - a relatively modest score made utterly gargantuan by the influence of Mother Nature.

Reg Simpson and Cyril Washbrook opened up with a stoic partnership of 28 but once the latter was snaffled by Aussie captain Lindsay Hassett by Bill Johnston, the wickets did not so much tumble as triple Salchow.

Godfrey Evans, Denis Compton and John Dewes all swiftly followed - each caught close to the bat - and Len Hutton, in at six, survived for eight not out before visiting skipper Freddie Brown decided he had seen enough.

Len Hutton was involved in a peculiar Ashes Test in 1950

With his team some 160 runs behind Brown, following Swanton’s prophecy that “if the wicket plays false, it might easily pay (Brown) to declare with his score behind… to get Australia in when it was bad”, called time on the innings.

England were 68 for seven at the time the decision reached the middle. It was 3.22pm.

Brown put his arm around Hassett before the resumption and said: “It's up to you now, skipper. The ball's at your feet."

Somehow, 13 wickets would fall before stumps on that manic Monday, three of them with no score on the board in Australia’s second innings - the first time that had happened in Test history.

When Hassett came to the crease, Brown brought all his fielders in short to form a peculiar huddle around his Aussie equivalent.

Hassett, the Western Australian reported, looked like a small boy lost in a forest.

He made three before being trapped lbw by Trevor Bailey with the score on 12. It was 19 for five when Ian Johnson suffered the same fate and, though Keith Miller two of his first three balls to the boundary, it wasn’t long before he and top scorer Neil Harvey (12) were both back in the pavilion.

At that moment, Hassett made the audacious decision to call his batsmen back after just 13.5 eight-ball overs, with Bailer and Alec Bedser having bowled the lot.

It was the second declaration of an extraordinary afternoon and England had 70 minutes to survive - after all, the pitch was bound to improve at least a little overnight.

Brown was somewhat confused on the boundary edge.

“What’s happening old boy?” he asked of Hassett.

Incredibly, 20 wickets fell in a single day

“I’m declaring… it’s your move, my dear Brown,” came the reply.

In an attempt to shield his top batsmen from danger, Brown opted to drop Hutton and Denis Compton right down the order. Simpson and Washbrook were given instructions to survive to the close and, in the event that one or both of them were dismissed, bowlers would be sent out to take their place.

England only needed 193 for victory but by the end of the day their hopes had been totally extinguished.

Ray Lindwall’s furious yorker knocked over Simpson with the first ball of the innings and the Aussie opener got rid of Washbrook with a rip-snorter that came close to taking part of the batsman’s thumb with it to short leg.

Dewes was castled by Miller, Bedser chipped Jack Iverson to mid-off and, to rub salt in the proverbial, Arthur McIntyre was run out attempting a fourth. England finished the day on 30 for six, still 163 from the win. Twenty wickets had fallen for 102 runs since Simpson and Washbrook opened up with that partnership of 28.

Hutton, coming in at eight, made a masterful 62 in not-quite-so-tricky-but-still-hardly-ideal conditions the following day but it couldn’t steer the tourists home and they were bowled out for 122 to lose by 70 runs.

“Virtually the game was won and lost at the toss of the coin,” Wisden later reflected.

Maybe, but with his cunning declaration, Hassett had made his own luck.

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