July 31, 1956 – When Jim Laker ran through Australia’s batting line-up all alone
The Old Trafford in Manchester hosted the 4th Ashes Test during the 1956 series.
Australia toured England in 1956 for a 5-match Test series which was played as part of the Ashes. England was slowly regaining dominance having won the previous two Ashes series. England wanted to retain the trophy once again after suffering two decades without an Ashes series victory. However, the series didn’t begin as England expected with them losing the Lord’s Test by 185 runs after the Nottingham Test ended in a draw.
But England bounced back strongly with an innings and 40-run win at Headingley to level the series. They began the 4th Test in Manchester on a great note as the top three of Peter Richardson (104), Colin Cowredy (80) and David Sheppard (113) scored big runs. They were eventually bowled out for 459 runs but the English team lacked some early wickets. Jim Laker brought in to the attack by 8th over itself, turned wicketless in his first eight overs before he was changed to bowl from Stretford End.
The Laker show!
Laker, in second over of his new spell, broke the 48-run opening stand by getting Colin McDonald’s wicket and followed it by cleaning up Neil Harvey in the same over. The 3rd wicket fell a few overs later at the shot of Tea break when Tony Lock put an end to Jim Burke’s 22-run knock that came in 102 minutes. Post Tea, it was all about Laker who blew away the rest of the Australian batting in 22 balls giving away only eight runs. Laker ended with analyses of 16.4-4-37-9 as Australia were bowled out for just 84 runs.
With a 375-run lead in hand, it was a no-brainer for England to enforce the follow-on and have the best chance of retaining the Ashes. Once again, the Australian openers made a decent start adding 28 runs before McDonald was retired hurt due to a jarred knee. Neil Harvey replaced McDonald at the crease but fell to Jim Laker on the very first ball he faced to bag a pair. The other opener Bruke made 33 runs before the stumps on the second day with Australia placed at 53/1.
Only 13 overs were possible on the rain-marred 3rd day but Laker sneaked in a wicket by dismissing Burke. However, his opening partner Colin McDonald resumed his innings after his dismissal. The rain returned on 4th day where 19.2 overs of play was possible. England conceded 25 runs only but couldn’t pick up a wicket. At 84/2, Australia seemed to escape from a defeat if the rain holds play on the final day as well even though they were 291 runs behind in the follow-on innings.
The second strike!
The partnership between McDonald and Ian Craig began to frustrate Australians as the duo saw through 36.4 overs in the morning session without being dismissed. It seemed as if the match was heading towards a draw until Laker’s show began after Lunch. Craig was trapped in front by the leg-spinner for 38 runs which came in an innings where he batted 270 balls. The 3rd wicket partnership between McDonald and Craig worth only 59 runs but the duo survived 382 balls in space of 190 minutes.
The next three batters – Ken Mackay, Keith Miller and Ron Archer; bagged ducks against Laker as Australia collapsed to 130/6. Just when a victory looked in England’s sight, McDonald played out the remainder of the session alongside Riche Benaud. The duo put 51 runs in 176 balls before Jim Laker put an end to McDonald’s resistance who made 89 off 315 balls during his 337-minute stay.
This wicket came at the shot of Tea break which began yet another insane spell by Laker. The England spinner picked up the last four wickets in space of 49 balls he bowled and in this process, became the first player to register perfect 10 in Test cricket. Laker conceded 53 runs in 51.2 overs for his ten wickets as Australia were bundled out for 205 only to lose the Test by an innings and 170 runs. The final Test at The Oval ended in a draw as England claimed the series win by 2-1 margin in addition to retaining the Ashes.
Almost an unbreakable record!
In 143-year Test cricket history, Jim Laker is only one of the two players to take perfect ten. Anil Kumble replicated it in 1999 against Pakistan. However, his record of 19 wickets in the match remains unbroken as no player till date even picked more than 17 wickets in a Test match. Sydney Barnes’ 17/159 against South Africa back in 1913 are still the second-best match figures in Test cricket. Laker is also the only player to end up with as many as 19 wickets in a first-class match.