1982: The Boxing Day thriller at Melbourne
Bob Willis' England were 2-0 down and needed to win the last two Test matches to retain the Ashes they so famously won in 1981. It was to be the 75th Test match played on the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Greg Chappell won the toss and elected to field first on what he thought was a damp surface.
Chris Tavare, by his standards, scored a brisk 89 and, being ably supported by Allan Lamb, took the England total to a respectable 284. In reply, as many as five Australian batsmen scored more than 20 but none could convert it to a big score. Chappell's team had squandered the advantage they had after winning the toss as they could manage a lead of only 3 runs.
England scored 294 in their second innings as the three Australian quick bowlers- Geoff Lawson, Rodney Hogg and Jeff Thomson- shared the wickets among them.
The target of 292 looked gettable when Kepler Wessels and John Dyson walked out to bat on the fourth morning. Both openers and the skipper were dismissed cheaply but the hosts looked in complete control when Kim Hughes and David Hookes brought up the 100th run of their partnership. Australia required another 121 for victory with seven wickets still in the bank. Out of nowhere, Kim Hughes' attempt at a lap sweep off Geoff Miller created the opportunity and Bob Taylor was too good a wicketkeeper to miss chances like those. An out-of-form Allan Border took Hughes' place.
Borer took 41 minutes to get off the mark. By the time he struggled to 16, the team score reached 218 for 9. Six of those wickets were taken by Jamaica-born fast bowler Norman Cowans. Prior to this innings, Cowans had bowled five times for England and managed to take only 3 wickets. It all changed that day in Melbourne. There was a bit of uneven bounce and Cowans used that to his advantage.
Australia needed a further 74 runs as number eleven Jeff Thomson joined Border in the middle. Bob Willis was very keen on making Thomson face as many balls as possible. This strategy started off well with well-spread fields against the struggling Border. But, re-confirming the age-old adage of 'Form is temporary, class is permanent', slowly Border regained his touch- the ball started hitting the middle of the bat more often.
The target was brought down to 37 by the end of the fourth day's play. It could just have been a matter of one ball but when Border entered the nets before the start of play on Day 5, he could see that many of the seats were occupied. The new ball was taken and Thomson tried to make room for himself and hit everything through the off-side. It was streaky but he somehow survived. Then there was a sharp run-out opportunity which England missed. The partnership reached the milestone of 50 runs.
In the history of Test cricket, no last pair had scored more than 48 to win a match. When drinks were taken after an hour, only 14 were required. The crowd, meanwhile, had poured in. There were close to 20,000 people on the ground. Some more quick runs reduced the 'required runs' to 4.
December 30th, 1982. M.C.G. 12:24 pm. Ian Botham to Jeff Thomson. Geoff Miller at first slip. Chris Tavare at second slip.
The ball was wide of off-stump. Thomson's eyes lit up. But, having batted quite well thus far, he had started to think like a batsman. He didn't slash at it, he just pushed at it in a gentle manner. The edge went straight to second slip. Tavare spilled it. The ball was on its way down to the ground when Geoff Miller, using his reflexes, grabbed it. It was a so-near-yet-so-far moment for the Australians- they had lost by 3 runs. A distraught Border was left stranded on 62. The last pair had declined to run 29 easy singles.
Geoff Cook had taken the ball with him. Two days later, he went to Geoff Miller's room with the ball in his pocket. "I think it's more your's than mine.", he said.
Geoff Miller. Norman Cowans. A Test match to remember for both of them.
It was the first time all four innings totals were within ten runs of each other.
A Test match to remember for everyone present that day at the M.C.G.