Hedley Verity (right) has his bags loaded into a taxi

Bags of wickets: Verity heads home from Lord's after the 1934 Test

© Getty Images

High Fives

When Australia were spun dry

Their troubles in Bangladesh and India are just the most recent in a long line of horrors

Daniel Brettig  |  

Lord's 1934
For most of the past century, England's only win over Australia at the home of cricket was built upon the mild and measured left-arm spin of Hedley Verity, and achieved by the yawning margin of an innings and 38 runs - derived at least partly from weather that conspired against Bill Woodfull's side. Comfortable batting conditions gave way to rain on the uncovered pitch after the rest day. Verity had already dismissed Don Bradman through a return catch, after a frenetic innings - 36 from 37 balls - that never suggested permanence, though Neville Cardus was moved to say he enjoyed its extravagances rather more than the 334 in Leeds in 1930.

On day three, after one interruption came a sequence that might have been familiar to those watching Australian batsmen fumbling around in Asian climes in recent years. "The majority of them had had no experience in England of such a pitch, and they showed no ability or skill in dealing with bowling like that of Verity under these conditions," Wisden said.

In all, Verity claimed 14 wickets in the day, at a cost of 80 runs, including Bradman a second time, when a skier was snaffled by Les Ames behind the stumps, drawing a fearsome, rebuking glare from Woodfull. Of Verity's skills, honed in Yorkshire after the fashion of his forebear Wilfred Rhodes, Robert Winder wrote in Half-Time: The Glorious Summer of 1934: "A mild body turn saw his left shoulder point at the batsman after releasing the ball, so he looked balanced - but hardly venomous. According to Hammond he was, even on this day, 'unsmiling' and 'unruffled'. Perhaps it was this remote, otherworldly quality that rattled Bradman, because he was flailing away at Verity like a cat pawing at a wasp."

Manchester 1956
"It is not often one can say of a Test that, whichever side had batted first, the result would have been the same. It was so in this case, and it is important." With these words Alan Ross summed up the gulf in spin-bowling resources available to England and Australia ahead of the pivotal fourth Test of the 1956 series, when Jim Laker and Tony Lock were pitted against a fledgling Richie Benaud and an ageing Ian Johnson.

Two-timed: Harvey got out to Laker twice in the match

Two-timed: Harvey got out to Laker twice in the match © PA Photos/Getty Images

The close-shaven and increasingly dusty Old Trafford pitch was quickly a source of scorn for Australians. In one of his despatches back home Bill O'Reilly thundered: "Let's have it straight. This pitch is a complete disgrace. What lies in store for Test cricket if the groundsmen are allowed to play the fool like this again?"

Of course the conditions played ideally for Laker, and his left-arm offsider Lock. In 1948, Laker had been diffused by Bradman and Arthur Morris on a fourth-innings surface at Headingley but he was now at his peak. Laker's 19 for the match overtook Verity and remain an unthreatened world record more than 60 years later, and a tribute to his command of the accurate and hard-spun offbreak with a waiting leg trap. He saved his very best for Neil Harvey, who in The Summer Game told Gideon Haigh that his first-innings dismissal was Warne to Gatting in reverse. In all, this was an ordinary Australian side humbugged by a great spin bowler, in conditions that could scarcely have suited him better.

Delhi 1969
There was a time when an Australian defeat by spin in India was the exception rather than the rule. At the height of their powers as a trio, Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan could prevail in only one of five Tests against Bill Lawry's tourists in 1969-70. On a grassless surface in the third Test, Bedi and Prasanna claimed 18 of the 20 Australian wickets, including a fourth-day rush to roll the visitors for a mere 107 and set up India's victory.

It was a waste of a thoroughly fine first innings of 138 by Ian Chappell, whose fleetness of foot allowed him to negotiate the ability of Prasanna to drop his offbreaks ever so tantalisingly short of where the batsman expected. It was a quality Chappell praised in his autobiography - something he was able to do only after having foiled it for hours.

Ball on a string: Prasanna in the nets in England in 1967

Ball on a string: Prasanna in the nets in England in 1967 © PA Photos

Ray Robinson captured Bedi in all his subtlety: "Compared with Prasanna, his movements are leisurely. the ball loops from his hand, at first sight invitingly. Yet would-be hitters find it hard to draw a bead on on Bedi. On its way the ball curls and drifts, and when it pitches nobody except perhaps the wicketkeeper knows whether it will turn or not... Bedi is so accurate he can land the ball on a tea leaf."

Karachi 1988
The 1988 Australians, bolstered by happy memories of the 1986 tied Test in Madras and then a World Cup win in Asia the following year, were reasonably optimistic about Pakistan. But mistrust and paranoia enveloped the team so quickly that before the Test was over, there was open talk of abandoning the trip altogether.

There was a perception that the sitting umpires were reluctant to give the home captain, Javed Miandad, lbw during his passage to 211 (surely the highest Test score ever made by a batsman sporting an "I Love NY" trucker cap). Three dropped catches did not help either. When they batted, the visitors found Iqbal Qasim, Abdul Qadir and Tauseef Ahmed had no such trouble winning verdicts, with the parched Karachi pitch showing an increasing tendency to crumble. In his autobiography, Steve Waugh wrote: "We expected to get ripped off in the first Test, on a dustbowl of a pitch and plagued by home-team umpiring, then be dealt two flat wickets to ensure draws and soothe relations caused by the opening Test debacle."

In the visitors' first innings only Peter Taylor showed much idea of how to handle the questions being asked, resulting in his impromptu promotion to open the batting in the second innings. As so often happens with spontaneous Australian decisions in foreign climes, it did not result in much of a reward, as Taylor was given out caught off his thigh pad. For Waugh, equally adamant he should not have been given lbw in the first innings, the wait to bat again after the Australians followed on was "as if I was about to be summoned to the electric chair".

The coach, Bob Simpson, and the team manager, Col Egar, protested to the travelling Australian press, resulting in some favourable coverage, but others took a more critical line. Quoth Mike Coward in Cricket Beyond The Bazaar: "From the moment Egar and Simpson surrendered the match and ignored the traditional fighting spirit and integrity of Australian cricket, the players and the Australian pressmen were expected to toe the party line. Anyone critical of their stance was ostracised and roundly accused of being a Pakistan sympathiser."

Greg Blewett c Stewart b Tufnell, day two

Greg Blewett c Stewart b Tufnell, day two Rebecca Naden / © PA Photos/Getty Images

The Oval 1997
Given how Devon Malcolm had sat numerous Australians on their backsides with his speed and venom on a swift Oval pitch in 1993, Mark Taylor's tourists could have been forgiven for expecting a similarly pace-driven assault in the corresponding fixture four years later. For much of the tour the hosts had been at pains to avoid granting Shane Warne his preferred dry and turning conditions, but with the destination of the Ashes decided, the home of Surrey offered up the very definition of a "Bunsen burner".

Phil Tufnell had often been a bowler forced to suffer by comparison to Warne, and within the confines of the England dressing room had at times complained loudly that the Australian wristspinner was ruining his career by doing the impossible on a regular basis. However, a combination of the pitch, a summer spent on the fringes of the squad but never playing, and the dead-rubber syndrome that so often afflicted an otherwise dominant Australia in the 1990s, set the scene for Tufnell's day - 7 for 66 and all that.

Sharp turn accounted for Matthew Elliott, bowling him out off the rough and through the gate, before Tufnell foiled Mark Waugh with perfectly pitched and spinning, bouncing deliveries, the first to silly point and the second to slip. Even so, England were only defending a target of 124 in the fourth innings, and it took a tactical contribution from the captain, Michael Atherton, that he still considers the best of his tenure to ensure the Australians finished 20 runs short. In the end, Tufnell finished with 11 wickets for the match, leaving the hosts to celebrate wildly and for Atherton to find himself retaining the captaincy mere days after he had decided, following a second Ashes defeat in charge, to resign. "In the dressing room afterwards, I enjoyed the moment like everyone else," Atherton wrote. "Well, almost everyone - Phil Tufnell had a towel over his head and was shaking. The pressure on him had been immense, almost too much."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig