We always think of the Kia Oval staging the final Test of each series in late August. But the busy international calendar has often pushed it into September and this year’s visit by India, which starts on September 2, is the fourth of a five-match series.
In this two-part series, Richard Spiller looks back at the ground’s September Tests.
Today’s first piece covers the very rare occasions before the turn of the millennia.
1880: England v Australia, Sept 6-8 – England won by 5 wickets
This is where it all started for Test cricket in England, three years after the inaugural match at Melbourne. Australia had been rebuffed by others – including MCC and, initially, Surrey – but Charles Alcock, the club’s secretary, toured the country to persuade the leading English cricketers to play.
The success of Alcock’s endeavours came from bumper crowds, those attending on the first day seeing WG Grace spearhead England’s progress to 420 by making 152, chiefly supported by Bunny Lucas (55) and skipper Lord Harris (52). Fred Morley’s 5-56 then despatched Australia for 149 but when they followed on captain Billy Murdoch’s unbeaten 153 guided them to 327.
That left England needing 57 to win on the third and final afternoon and they were soon in trouble, sliding to 31-5, both of Grace’s brothers – Fred and Edward – falling for ducks before WG arrived to accompany Frank Penn ((27no) to victory.
1975: England v Australia, Aug 28-Sept 3 – match drawn
It took another 95 years for Test cricket to be played in September at The Oval again and even if it started in August, the match lasted so long it felt well into autumn by the time it finished. Adding a sixth day was not unknown. It had happened when the Australians had visited three years earlier, the tourists making best use of it to level the series 2-2 even though England had retained the Ashes.
This time Ian Chappell’s men already had the urn in their possession, having won it back the previous winter when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson spearheaded a 4-1 victory. They were straight back in action the following summer, following the World Cup, for a four-match series and arrived at The Oval 1-0 up.
In this case, an extra day was added when the third Test at Headingley, well balanced after four days, had to be abandoned when the pitch was vandalised overnight. A group protesting that “George Davis is innocent”, having already crashed a car into Buckingham Palace and draped banners from St Paul’s Cathedral, gauged holes in the pitch and poured a gallon of oil onto it.
Rain would almost certainly have prevented much play anyway but it certainly drew attention to the case of Davis. He had been convicted for armed robbery earlier that year, and following an enquiry, was released several months later. Not that his liberty lasted for long, being caught red=handed robbing a bank subsequently.
A second-wicket partnership of 277 between opener Rick McCosker – whose 127 was his maiden Test century – and captain Ian Chappell (192) put Australia firmly in command. Despite the last eight wickets falling for 252 on day two, Doug Walters (65) extended the advantage so that Chappell could declare at 532-9 on a pitch which started sluggish and never sped up.
England were forced to bat on the third day in bowler-friendly conditions, cloudy skies and stoppages for bad light and drizzle aiding the bowlers as Thomson (4-50) and Max Walker (4-63) bowled out the hosts for 191.
Following on 341 runs behind early on day four, Barry Wood (22) and John Edrich made a solid start of 77, the Surrey left-hander going within four runs of his eighth century against Australia before being bowled by Lillee after batting for more than six hours.
David Steele, England’s man of the series after being plucked from county cricket, made 66 and Graham Roope – Edrich’s county colleague – celebrated his recall by making 77 but it was Bob Woolmer who became the focal point. Playing only his second Test, the Kent all-rounder’s 149 took up eight hours and 19 minutes which ensured his side were safe when he was last out at tea on the sixth day, one of four victims for Doug Walters.
The Australians, having been in the field since Friday evening – barring Sunday’s rest day – were relieved to finally get off the field, theoretically needing 188 for victory in 85 minutes but happy just to bat out time at 40-2.
1979: England v India, Aug 30-Sept 4 – match drawn
A slow burning match which turned into a classic, borrowing a couple of days of August. There was a sombre air to the Test, coming just days after the assassination of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA in Ireland. England, finalists in the World Cup, had gone ahead in the opener at Edgbaston, only a classic rearguard at Lord’s and wet draw at Headingley preventing them sewing up the series.
Graham Gooch’s 79 led England to 305, followed by India being bowled out for 202 by Ian Botham (4-65) and three wickets apiece for Bob Willis and Mike Hendrick, making the hosts favourites for another victory. Geoff Boycott’s laboured 125 over 418 minutes was augmented by wicketkeeper David Bairstow making 59 on his debut, skipper Mike Brearley being criticised for his caution by going on to 334-8, leaving his opponents 500 minutes to make 438.
They were 79-0 overnight and India – who had only won a single first-class game on tour, having lost all their matches at the World Cup – looked huge outsiders. That was no longer the case halfway through the final day when openers Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan had moved steadily to 213-0. By tea it was 304-1, Chauhan having gone for 80 but his partner seemingly impregnable. On a pitch which refused to wear, England had also lost Hendrick to a shoulder injury, restricting him to eight overs. After Phil Edmonds removed Dilip Vengsarkar for 52 at 366-1, India skipper Srinivas Venkataraghavan made a mistake by changing the batting order and Gavaskar’s final departure for 221 – surely one of the greatest innings played at The Oval – was part of a Botham-induced slide which saw them slip to 429-8 at the end, both sides within touching distance of victory but finding it elusive.