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Reliving the day the crowd helped England win an Ashes Test match

539   //    29 Dec 2017, 00:27 IST

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The iconic picture that captured the final moments of the final Test of the 1968 Ashes

When renowned cricket photographer Patrick Eagar was asked to choose the most iconic image from each decade of the 20th century, he picked two for the 1960s. One was the Ron Lovitt photo which captured the dying moments of the 1960 tied Test at Brisbane, the other was a photo by Dennis Oulds of Central Press.

It showed all eleven Englishmen surrounding the last Australian batsman during the final moments of the 5th Ashes Test in 1968. But Oulds would never have got the opportunity of clicking this photo if The Oval crowd that day, had not intervened to reduce the rain delay.

It had been a pretty frustrating summer for England. They had lost the first Test at Manchester. Then poor weather denied them a victory at Lord's. It was a similar story at Edgbaston and, after another draw at Leeds, there was no way England could regain the Ashes.

At The Oval, with the series still to be saved, England set Australia 352 for victory. The visitors found themselves at 86 for 5 with more than two sessions remaining on the final day of the match. Kent's 'Deadly' Derek Underwood found the pitch helpful to his style of bowling and had already picked up three wickets for next to nothing.

Then, when victory for England looked like a matter of time, the rain returned. It was torrential and, with covers only allowed to take care of the two bowling ends, soon flooded the whole ground. Most of the players cursed their luck and thought that was it.

They started packing their bags. Only skipper Colin Cowdrey was still optimistic. The Oval was a good drying ground and Cowdrey still believed that they could win the match.

Then, much to the dismay of the cricketers and the officials, a few young spectators joined the groundstaff in clearing up the mess. Then some adults joined them. Slowly, the crowd got involved in the act and cleared up the ground with extraordinary swiftness. The water everywhere was replaced by sawdust.

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The crowd at The Oval getting into the act

At 4:45 pm, with 75 minutes of play still remaining, the players took the field. Forty minutes later, Australia were still only five wickets down. Colin Cowdrey still believed that they could win. He tossed the ball to Basil D'Oliveira's hands and 'Dolly' got one to cut back sharply and take Barry Jarman's off-bail.

Once the partnership was broken, Cowdrey brought back Underwood from D'Oliveira's end. There was drama in his first over of that spell as both Ashley Mallett and Graham McKenzie were caught at short-leg by David Brown.

Johnny Gleeson was the next man in. Underwood tried to get him to poke at the ball from over-the-wicket but realised that it was actually working in Gleeson's favour. He switched back to round-the-wicket and with his first ball, at 5:48 pm, got Gleeson offering no shot to a straight ball which cannoned into his off-stick.

Meanwhile, John Inverarity, having opened the innings, was still there fighting it out as number eleven Alan Connolly joined him in the middle.

Connolly defended a few balls and as the clock struck 5:55, Inverarity began facing another over from Underwood. The third ball drifted in with the arm and then straightened, rapping Inverarity's pads. The bowler turned round to the umpire in a flash and appealed. Umpire Charlie Elliott 's finger went up.

There was ecstasy. There was euphoria.

England had levelled the series with only a few minutes to go. Derek Underwood had figures of 7 for 50 from 31.3 overs. Dennis Oulds had taken that picture.

It's been almost fifty years but this Test still remains as one of the most talked about Tests in the history of the Ashes.

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