Game of the Century: When England met Australia for a one-off Test to mark the centenary of the first-ever Test in 1977
A great game of the century. Tailenders “I was there” Derek Randall and Kerry O’Keeffe at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A hundred years of history, a good pitch, great performances. It all added up.
When England met Australia for a one-off Test to mark the centenary of the first-ever Test, it produced a corker. A juicy pitch kept the first-inning scores down before Rodney Marsh’s century took Australia to a formidable lead. Though it was a daunting task, needing nearly 500 to win, England took a brave shot, carried along by Derek Randall’s idiosyncratic, brilliant 174, only to be felled at the post by the indefatigable Dennis Lillee.
The pitch that mellowed
Kerry O’Keeffe: There were lots of nerves as there was so much hype around the game. Both sides got small first-inning totals since the pitch had a little bit of moisture in it initially, but it settled down quickly and turned into a batting track.
Derek Randall: They had left quite a bit of green grass on the wicket to hold it together since it was March, and Melbourne had already witnessed a long cricket season. The seam bowlers were of such quality on both sides that if the conditions had continued to be like that, the game wouldn’t have lasted the entire period.
Marsh makes a stand
KO: We were in danger at 53 for 3 in the second inning, but Dougie Walters did well to hold Fort along with Lan Davis initially. That was carried forward when Rod Marsh took center stage and scored a great century. We knew the pitch was going to last till the end and that we needed to establish a big lead. Our job was going to be difficult as we were a specialist hand short after Rick McCosker had broken his jaw facing a short one from Bob Willis. We wanted somebody to step up and play a tremendous hand, and Rod Marsh did just that.
Rod Marsh was a terrific fighter for a cause and a strong hitter. He had a great sense of occasion and loved wearing the cap in big games. I sensed that the England bowlers were a little tired after the energy-sapping long tour of India. Melbourne was hot throughout the match, and it was tough on the Englishmen. Their strike bowler, Bob Willis, didn’t bowl very quickly, and we just outlasted them in the second inning. Derek Underwood bowled well. But Rod was a strong hitter of left-arm orthodox bowling and smashed a bagful of boundaries.
Hookes handed out the punishment
KO: It was a really quick hand. David Hookes was a fellow who, once he got up on a bowler, maximized his advantage. And that day, he got on top of Tony Greig, hitting him for five fours in an over. He had great self-confidence; he was abrasive at the crease and believed that when he walked out, he just belonged there.
DR: What I remember more about Hooke’s innings was the crowd noise, which was unbelievable. We had never seen him before, and to hit those five boundaries in that one Tony Greig over, on the biggest cricket ground, showed the talent he had. His batting and Marsh’s batting brought the game alive.
You know, Greigy always loved a contest, and he appreciated the way David Hookes took to him. He was clapping some of those shots while doing his utmost to get David Hookes out: a little bit more flight, a little bit flatter, a bowl on the leg side… he was trying everything, but Hookes was unstoppable. Two of those five fours went past me at extra-cover, one on the left and one on the right, like rockets. David Hookes had placed them so well and so strongly that I didn’t even chase the ball, even though the boundaries were the biggest in the world.
Four sixty-three to win
KO: I knew they were going for it—that was the spirit in which the game was played. Batting was very easy, with no spin in it and a little bit of inconsistent bounce. Apart from Dennis Lillee, our strike bowlers were ineffective, with Gary Gilmour injured and Max Walker tired. So it was just me and Dennis.
DR: We didn’t talk about the target in numbers. There were a lot of runs to get, and we just batted. But you never know what’s going to happen with a bowler like Lillee. We tried to blunt him a little bit to start with and sort of just batted in periods; gradually we accumulated a few runs, and the game was on. Dennis, with his never-say-die attitude and the biggest heart any bowler could ever have, stayed out there for nearly two days to bowl Australia back into the game. Towards the end, we got close, but then Alan Knott, a player who could turn any game around, got out, and that was it.
Mad Derek’s moment
KO: Well, Derek Randall played a magnificent inning. We didn’t have any plans for him, as nobody from our side had seen much of him or knew much about him. He showed a lot of guts and terrific strokeplay; he was great off his pads and good through the off side. He was a great character.
Once, Dennis hit him on the head, and the ball rebounded into the covers. Derek Randall fell over but got up straightaway and doffed his cap to Dennis. The boys didn’t know how to take this, as we were worried that he was hurt, but he bounced straight up. Everybody thought that he was either quite mad or too confident. We needed to get Randall, and we got him. But there was still Alan Knott, whose unconventional batting style could have taken the game away from us. He started hitting boundaries, but once I got John Lever, we realized that we could win.
DR: After the new ball had gone so flat, Dennis had to try something. He kept running in, trying all sorts of things to break my concentration. But it was my wonderful, wonderful day, which I will never forget. I enjoyed our contests, and I didn’t find him intimidating at all. I had some pretty big scores in county cricket and knew how to build an innings and continue batting. I’ve always been an unorthodox kind of cricketer—a show-off, playing to the crowds. Dennis didn’t actually know what to say, as he had never seen a batsman as complicated as me.
Playing hard, playing fair
KO: Rod Marsh caught Randall on the half-volley when the batsman was on 161. Randall walked without waiting for the decision, thinking the keeper had caught it, but Rod said, “No, I didn’t catch it.” Even when he was 174 and he got the bat-pad off me, Randall walked again without waiting for the umpire’s decision. It was a lovely gesture because he had hit it, but he was 174 not out, and victory was achievable; he could have stood there and waited for the decision.
DR: We always played it that way. I had started to walk on 161 when I thought Rod had caught it, and he called me back. That’s the way the Australians play: they play very hard, play very fairly, and you’ve got to give them respect. About me walking after being caught bat-and-pad, I thought that given the spirit in which the game had been played till then, if I had stood there and won the game, I would have to live with that for the rest of my life.
Lillee, the magnificent
KO: I remember Dennis coming over to me and saying, “If you don’t get wickets, we’ll lose.”. It was the statement of a guy who had given everything. I made a very good mistake, which accounted for bat-pad catches from Randall and Greig. Those two or three wickets I took gave Dennis a second wind, and he came back and finished the job. He was carrying an injury, but he played himself through the match.
By the time the final wicket fell, he didn’t have an over left in him. The mainstays of the win were Rod and Dennis, both Western Australian champions. And they both stood up: Rod took catches and got a century. Dennis knew it was his last game for a while because he had signed up for World Series Cricket. He wasn’t going to go on the tour of England, as he wanted to have treatment on his back to stay fit. So he just kept bowling himself to a standstill; he would never give in.
Oh, look, 45 runs again!
KO: We ran off the field into the dressing room to celebrate the win with a drink. And then somebody came and said the victory margin was the same as it was 100 years ago, which was eerie. Nobody knew what the margin was 100 years ago.
DR: The margin of difference between the team totals—45 runs—being the same after 100 years since the first Test was played at the same ground makes you think, ‘It’s too much of a coincidence.’ I still think divine intervention took over.
And so, with a laugh and a wink…
KO: The King and Queen of England paid a visit at tea time on the last day. Dennis produced an autograph book and asked the Queen for her autograph, which she politely declined. We just laughed about the fact that he produced an autograph book instead of the handshake—he was a good prankster.
DR: Hence, Dennis Lillee met me after the match on the final evening in the bar and said, “I hate bowling at you.” I asked him why, and he said, “Because you never stay long enough in the same place for me to get you out.”
Two famous incidents from the Centenary Test.
Rodney Marsh calls back Derek Randall after Tom Brooks had given him out caught at the wicket. But after consideration, Marsh said he had not completed the catch when diving for the ball. It was a surprising gesture from Marsh, who was not the most Corinthian of opponents, and his honesty was rewarded when Randall was finally out shortly afterwards, having added another thirteen runs.
Rick McCosker’s jaw was broken by one of the nasty bouncers. My initial reaction was one of euphoria because I had dismissed a fine player—the ball came off his face and broke the wicket. I had no idea he was so badly hurt, but he showed his guts by coming out to bat in the second inning with his jaw strapped up, and he helped Marsh add vital runs. That incident showed the difference in our attitudes.
If Rick McCosker had been an Englishman, I do not doubt that he would have received several bouncers from Lillee & Co. when he came back in, but we kept the ball up to the bat so as not to aggravate his injury. Rick said, “Thank you very much’, and made twenty-five precious runs.
We did not approach this game as a Test match, while the Australians played it like any side captained by one of the Chappells. Rick McCosker was never the same player after this injury, even though he made runs again at Test level. A pleasant, unassuming man, he was one of the more likable Australians I played against in the seventies.
Brief Scorecard: Australia 138 (G Chappell 40, Underwood 3-16, Old 3-39) and 419-9 d (Marsh 110*, Davis 68, Walters 66), England 95 (Greig 18, Lillee 6-26, Walker 4-54) and 417 (Randall 174, Amiss 64, Lillee 5-139, O’Keeffe 3-108). Australia beat England by 45 runs.