A Nail-Biting Finish: Lord’s 1963

If you think draws are a bore then you obviously never saw England v West Indies at Lord's in 1963. Unless you are a pensioner you could be forgiven; but it is odd that everybody knows about the tied test at Brisbane in 1961, but comparatively few refer to an equally enthralling match with a nail-biting finish that also, incidentally, at the start of the era of access to television, created a huge buzz around test cricket. It was not only an incredibly tight finish but was fought nip and tuck all the way through from the first to the last ball and contained several amazing individual performances and constant swings of fortune. My main memory of this test is the pulsating last day on which every ball marked out a path eventually leading to a last over where all four results were still possible. 
But let's go back to the beginning.
The West Indies had won the first test comfortably by 10 wickets after Conrad Hunte scored 182, enabling his team to reach 501-6 declared. England had no answer to the subtleties of Gibbs's off spin as England were two runs short of an innings defeat; Gibbs took 11 wickets and England also had their first taste of the terrifying pace of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith bowling together.
The Lord’s test opened under cloudy, cool and damp conditions, but was immediately sensational as Hunte took three fours off Trueman’s first three balls, all edged through gully, and then poked one back over his head for a single. After that dramatic start things settled into attrition, with only a further 34 scored in 90 minutes before lunch. Shackleton, now aged 38, inexplicably replacing Statham after a 12-year gap since his last test, and bowling at slow-medium pace, was played with care as he moved the ball around in helpful conditions. Things progressed rapidly after lunch, wickets falling and Sobers and Kanhai in a thrilling stand, and then Kanhai and Solomon, taking the score to 245-6 at the close. This decent total under the circumstances was extended to 301 the following morning, Shackleton taking three in four balls to polish things off. Kanhai top-scored with 74 and Trueman finished with 6-100.
England started badly as Griffith ripped out both of the Surrey openers, Edrich and Stewart. But Dexter took the attack to the Windies’ quicks as he plundered 70 out of 100 in a memorable and thrilling knock of 75 balls in which fire was met with greater fire. Dexter was third out at 102 but Barrington, as ever, held firm as England slowly closed on the West Indian total. Barrington was dismissed for a priceless 80 by Worrell at 203-6. England were 244-7 at the close of day two, but a plucky 52 not out by Titmus, assisted by Parks, helped England to 297 the next morning, a deficit of just 4. Griffith had taken 5-91.
In the afternoon the West Indies were soon 15-2 in their second innings, and at 104-5 with Solomon winkled out by Allen, they were on the ropes. Butcher, however, was still in and playing extremely well, and, in yet another shift of fortune in this see-saw game, Worrell and Butcher put on a century stand, so that by the close the score was 214-5. Butcher on 129 had played one of the greatest test innings in a tight situation seen at Lord’s, wresting the advantage so that now it was England under the cosh and contemplating over the rest day the likelihood of facing a large total to get in the 4th innings.
When play resumed on Monday 24 June, fortunes were immediately reversed as Trueman blasted out Worrell, Murray and Hall in succession, and Shackleton finally had Butcher leg before for 133. It had been a dazzling display of stroke play, especially on the leg side, with 17 fours and two sixes. But the last 5 wickets had gone down for only 15 and England now faced a tantalising target of 234 with most of two days to go. Trueman had taken 11 wickets in the match.
Once again England made a terrible start against the fast bowlers in poor light, losing 3 for 31, including both openers and first-innings hero Dexter, bowled by Gibbs for 2. To make matters worse, Cowdrey was struck on the wrist by a nasty lifter from Hall and had to retire hurt at 72 – as it turned out with a broken bone in the wrist. Effectively that was 72-4. But Close entrenched himself in gritty defence in as Barrington proceeded as in the first innings, breaking out of his monkish cell in that characteristically mischievous way of his to slog-sweep Gibbs massively over midwicket for six twice in one over. When bad light curtailed the day’s play, England were left on 116-3, Barrington again the rock of England’s innings with 55 not out. But at this point the money was on the West Indies.
The final day dawned very gloomy and wet, but eventually play got under way at 2.20, with 140 minutes available for England to score another 118 runs. The gates had been locked 10 minutes before play, and the thousands of excited spectators, filling a packed house, huddled with expectation in their overcoats and scarves.
Barrington was soon caught behind off Griffith for 60, but Close’s chin had never jutted so defiantly as he alternated dour defence with aggression, assisted first by Parks and then by Titmus, as the score crept forward steadily. Five down at tea time, England seemed to be acquiring a grip on the game.
Astonishingly, Hall and Griffith continued bowling right after tea at high pace, with many short balls, a number of which Close took on the body. Newspapers the next day showed his torso looking like a world war one battlefield. Geoff Boycott claims that Close was ever keen to display his purple sacrifices for the team; yet taking these blows was safer than trying to fend the ball down with two short legs, three slips, and gully waiting a few yards away. Tension was so high it was off the charts. Nails and scarves were being chewed to bits at a considerably rate. Across England people were glued to their TV sets. At one point Close advanced down the pitch to Hall, who pulled up without bowling, and appeared to threaten to throw down the wicket until he realised the ball was dead; he seemed to have ricked his back in the process, but nonetheless proceeded to bowl very fast for the remainder of the innings. Was this, I wonder, a rare example of a fast bowler physically intimidated by a batsman?
Worrell maintained attacking fields throughout the day, two short legs in attendance, one square and one forward, thirsting for every chance of a wicket even at the expense of runs into the many gaps in the field. Close now managed a few boundaries, mainly behind the wicket on the off and leg sides. But with only 31 to get, Titmus was brilliantly caught by McMorris at short leg off Hall, who then had Trueman caught behind first ball. It was 203 -7 and all to play for, for both sides, as Allen walked in to bat. Soon afterwards England suffered a huge blow when Close’s magnificent, courageous innings was ended, caught behind off Griffith for 70. It was 219 – 15 runs to get and the last man, Shackleton, in. Allen and Shackleton then inched the score forward with a series of heart-clutching leg byes, byes, quick singles, and balls fended close to the fielders.
And now came the the last over, delivered by Hall, beginning at 5.56pm with all four results still possible. 6 to get, one wicket left. Off the fourth ball, Shackleton played into the slips, Allen charged up to his end, but Shack was ball-watching and set off late for the run. The ball was tossed to Worrell at short leg, who coolly raced Shack to the bowler’s end and whipped off the bails. Shack was well short and on his way back, a 38-year-old beaten by a 40-year-old in a 22-yard dash!
But it was not over. Who should emerge from the pavilion shadows (and yes it was pretty dark by now) but Colin Cowdrey with his arm in plaster, returning to the crease to save his side a day after having his wrist broken? It was now 6pm and the BBC turned to the Six O’Clock News, but the almost audible “NO!” from millions across the country resulted in immediate reversal as the announcer said the BBC would be returning to Lord’s for the conclusion of this exciting match. Fortunately, the batsmen having crossed, Cowdrey would be the non-striker. Allen failed to score off the 5th ball, and, no doubt instructed by Dexter not to try hitting a 6 off the last ball, fended down Hall’s final missile in front of him. The match was a drawn.
The crowd went wild with enthusiasm and the general view was that a draw was a good result as both sides had played so well. It was a match with much to remember, and great performances from Butcher, Kanhai, Dexter, Barrington, Trueman, Griffith, and others. But I wonder if the sheer athleticism and stamina of both Hall and Griffith has been sufficiently recognised. I swear that Wes Hall’s last ball was as fast as his first. There were no laser guns in those days, but I am sure his average speed was over 90mph. He bowled 40 out of 91 overs (Griffith bowled 30) in the second innings, a crippling workload for a very fast bowler, and it would be hard to forget the tall, muscled West Indian’s long straight run of 15 paces, gathering speed and length of stride as he approached the wicket, arms flailing, crucifix swinging from his neck, to hurl the ball towards the batsman. His second innings analysis was 40-9-93-4. But the equal and opposite image would be Brian Close’s impassive and defiant left-handed stance, jaw jutting towards cover, waiting at the other end, body bruised but undefeated, to block yet another lifting delivery.

It was without doubt one of the greatest ever test matches. It simply had everything. A game where you play 5 days in high tension with no result defies common sense to most of the world. Thank goodness common sense does not apply to such matters!

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