“And it’s Australia, bowled Laker.”
It’s probably the oldest entry in the book of sporting cliches: records are meant to be broken.
Yet, every now and then, a performance so unique comes along that you would not hesitate betting your bottom dollar on, for never being broken. England’s Jim Laker taking NINETEEN wickets in one Test match is likely never to be matched, let alone be broken, as long as cricket is played.
The bowlers to take all wickets in an innings
|Laker (ENG)||51.2||23||53||10||1.03||v Australia||Manchester||26 Jul 1956|
|Kumble (IND)||26.3||9||74||10||2.79||v Pakistan||Delhi||4 Feb 1999|
Sure, you can point to the fact that Anil Kumble picked up all 10 wickets in one innings, 43 years later. In fact, 17 men have (as of July 2020) picked up nine wickets in one innings. Any one of those instances could have been a 10-for, right?
But picking up all but one of the 20 possible wickets in a Test match is a feat so unique that it has not been achieved in the history of all first-class cricket, let alone at the highest level.
Bowlers to take 15 wickets or more in a Test
|Laker||68.0||27||90||19||1.32||England||v Australia||Manchester||26 Jul 1956|
|Barnes||65.3||16||159||17||2.42||England||v South Africa||Johannesburg||26 Dec 1913|
|Hirwani||33.5||6||136||16||4.01||India||v West Indies||Chennai||11 Jan 1988|
|Massie||60.1||16||137||16||2.27||Australia||v England||Lord's||22 Jun 1972|
|Murali||113.5||41||220||16||1.93||Sri Lanka||v England||The Oval||27 Aug 1998|
|Briggs||33.3x4||16||28||15||1.24||England||v South Africa||Cape Town||25 Mar 1889|
|Lohmann||25.3x5||11||45||15||2.10||England||v South Africa||Port Elizabeth||13 Feb 1896|
|Blythe||38.3||10||99||15||2.57||England||v South Africa||Leeds||29 Jul 1907|
|Verity||58.3||23||104||15||1.77||England||v Australia||Lord's||22 Jun 1934|
|Hadlee||52.3||13||123||15||2.34||New Zealand||v Australia||Brisbane||8 Nov 1985|
|Rhodes||30.2||3||124||15||4.08||England||v Australia||Melbourne||1 Jan 1904|
|Harbhajan||80.1||26||217||15||2.70||India||v Australia||Chennai||18 Mar 2001|
Controversy around the pitch
England were on the backfoot against Australia at the start of the 1956 Ashes. After a draw in Nottingham, on a lively Lord’s wicket, the visitors posted a big win to take a 1-0 lead. Heading into the third Test at Headingley, England’s best option of wrestling back the momentum was to let their Surrey spin duo of Tony Lock (left arm finger-spin) and Jim Laker (right-arm off-spin) dictate terms. Sure enough, they combined to take nine wickets in each innings (total of 18 wickets in the match) to dominate Australia.
Naturally, heading into the fourth Test at Old Trafford in Manchester, the pitch was under focus.
“Bradman wouldn’t have lasted on that pitch,” is how one Australian — Len Maddocks — who played in that match described the 22-yards that was offered by the Old Trafford curator.
“Looking back on it, I still believe the English administration cheated. But not the England players; they played the game perfectly well, according to the traditions of the game, and they weren’t responsible for the conditions,” said Colin McDonald, the man who top-scored for Australia in the second innings with a remarkable 89 when no other visiting batsman crossed 40 in the entire match.
England won the toss and made the most of the best batting conditions, smashing more than 300 runs in one day. With 459 on the board, the hosts would have been confident of winning on a pitch that would deteriorate but no one could have predicted what came next.
Or maybe not.
Going back a few months, Laker had ripped through the Australian batting line-up in a tour match for Surrey. Former Australia captain and commentator extraordinaire Richie Benaud recalled 50 years later:
“Looking back on it... at the time anyone who had thought about omens, they’d go back to that Surrey match. When Jim Laker took 10/88 (against the touring Australia side) and Tony Lock got no wickets bowling round about the same number of overs. If you throw forward to Old Trafford, I suppose in your worst dreams you might think it could happen again.”
Indeed, Laker picked up nine wickets in the first innings with Lock accounting for one of the openers. The ball of the innings, and perhaps the entire match, was reserved for Australia’s best.
Neil Harvey, regarded as Australia’s best batsman at that time, said: “Much has been said about the Warne-Gatting ball — an unplayable delivery. Well, I must admit that the ball that Jim Laker bowled me, at Old Trafford in 1956, was just as good as Shane Warne’s.”
Indeed, with Laker bowling around the wicket, the ball drifted in towards the left-handed batsman and turned sharply to go on and rattle the off-stumps. A dream off-spinner’s dismissal. A little while later, Laker went on a spree, taking seven wickets for eight runs in 22 balls
With Australia blown away for 89, England enforced the follow on. But, hey, it’s a match in Manchester and that meant rain had to make its presence felt. Large part of day four was washed out and when they came out to bat on the wet uncovered wickets, the ball was reportedly not gripping as much. Suddenly during the course of the second innings, there was hope for Australia to save the match as McDonald defied the English spinners.
Alas, after a good first session on the final day of the Test, the sun came out in the lunch break and dried the pitch up. Laker, then, went to work.
Once McDonald’s partnership with Ian Craig came to an end, Laker took little time to wrap up the innings. Wickets tumbled left, right and centre.
And all the while, it was also an interesting battle between the two England bowlers. Much as the pitch was criticised, it was arguably the same for both spinners, and yet only one man seemingly made the most of it. Lock’s inability to get more than one wicket in that match is, perhaps, as incredible as Laker picking up the other 19.
Alan Oakman, who took six catches in the match, said: “In the first innings, when Jim was getting wickets, Lock was applauding. In the second innings, when Jim got his wickets, Lock folded his arms. He was a bit downcast I think.”
And that is what truly makes Laker’s achievement extraordinary. He was not the only strike bowler capable of exploiting the nature of the pitch.
As Australia batsman Harvey said: “We haven’t seen it since, and I don’t think we’ll ever see it again.”
Truly, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.