It’s an Ashes series, and one side appears to be spectacularly out of form. Their first innings has been a very bad performance where the opposition’s “seamers had shown what could be done by bowling straighter and to a fuller length than their counterparts” and their batsmen “were occasionally undone by deliveries performing contortions at speed”. At the forefront of the falling wickets, one of their bowlers had “moved further up the list of bowling immortals”.
Batting was much easier for the other side, and they racked up a score around 400, declaring with nine wickets down, creating the sort of first innings lead that sides just don’t come back to win from.
The second innings for the troubled side didn’t offer them much prospect of success. There were some chinks of light compared to the bad first innings, but with seven wickets down and still 90 runs behind, “the distant objective of avoiding an innings defeat surely their only available prize”.
Yes, that’s the position for Australia at the start of today’s play at Trent Bridge, but the description above and the quotes are all from the 1981 Headingley Test. England, following on after a poor first innnings in response to Australia’s 401-9, had collapsed to 135-7. Ian Botham was still in and Graham Dilley had just walked out to the centre to join him – and if you don’t know what happened next, here’s the Wisden report those quotes came from. Sure, Adam Voges isn’t Ian Botham, but neither was Botham himself back then – Headingley and the two Tests after it were what turned from being a great all-rounder into a legend.
Incidentally, it’s interesting that there aren’t any dramatic interpretations of that series, despite all its potential for storytelling. There’s the traditional comeback story of Botham hitting his lowest point and bouncing back, coupled with the story of Mike Brearley who was the surely the last player to be selected for a Test side purely for his skills as a captain. All that with a background of a Royal Wedding and riots across Britain and I’m wondering why there’s been no Damned United-esque exploration of that series.