40 years since the end of the Headingley Ashes Test

It seemed fitting that Australia lost the match after ending their 2nd Innings on a cursed Nelson – 111.

Well, I think most Australians would know the story of ‘Botham’s Test’.

In the 1981 Ashes, Australia led the series 1-0 after winning the low-scoring 1st Test at Trent Bridge, before drawing the 2nd Test at Lord’s, which led to Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham being replaced as England captain by Mike Brearley, with England having failed to win any of Beefy’s 12 Tests as captain – 4 defeats and 8 draws.

Come the 3rd Test in Leeds, it appeared the Aussies were on track to go 2-0 up in the series when they posted 9-401 in the 1st Innings (John Dyson scoring 102 and captain Kim Hughes 89) in spite of a revived Botham taking 6-95.

Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Geoff Lawson then proceeded to rip through the English lineup on Day 3 and bowl them out for 174, with Botham again playing a lone hand with the bat as he scored a half century.

Despite being told not to bat last on the Headingley wicket, Hughes enforced the follow-on with a 227 run lead, with England some 500/1 with the bookies to win the match, and after the rest day Sunday (July 19), Day 4 on Monday began with England plummeting to 4/41, before Beefy joined Geoff Boycott at the crease with England at 5-105, having already checked out of his hotel room, and I can only think those 500-1 odds would’ve been closer to 1000-1 after the hosts slumped to 7-135, and Graham Dilley joined Botham at the crease.

From there, the legend of ‘Botham’s Ashes’ well and truly took off, as Beefy said “Right, let’s have a bit of fun,” and the pair put on 117 runs in 80 minutes of play to power England ahead, before Dilley was finally bowled by Alderman for 56 (8-252), then No.10 Chris Old pitched in with 29 runs as England made it to 9-319 as Botham brought up the ton, and with Bob Willis happy to watch up the other hand, Botham would end the day on an unbeaten 145 and England on 9/351.

So then we get to July 21, and England added 5 more runs to the overnight score before Bob Willis was caught by Alan Border to become Alderman’s 6th wicket for the innings, leaving Botham’s almighty knock to end on an unbeaten 149 off 148 balls, and Australia needed what appeared to be a simple 130 runs to win.

Sure enough, the Aussies reached 1-56 and looked set to wrap up the match with Dyson and Trevor Chappell at the crease….

But, Big Bad Bob Willis, who had gone wicketless in the 1st Innings, had other ideas.

Bowling downhill from the Kirkstall Lane end, Willis would claim 8-43, the best bowling figures by an Englishman in the 1980s, and Australia were spectacularly bowled out for the cursed figure of 111, and England, having had the last rites read, won ‘Botham’s Test’ by 18 runs.

Thus, for only the second time in history, and for the first time since 1894, a team lost a Test match after enforcing the follow-on.

Ironically enough, Australia lost that 1894 test to England in Sydney, and 20 years after the events at Headingley, Australia would once again lose after enforcing the follow-on, this time in the epic Kolkata test against India.

Botham was unsurprisingly awarded Player of the Match for his 50 & 145* to go with bowling figures of 7/110, and with Australia utterly devastated, England would win the next two Tests at Edgbaston, with Botham taking 5 wickets for 1 run in 28 balls, and Old Trafford, where Botham scored 118, to retain the Ashes 3-1, before the 6th Test at the Oval ended in a draw, as Botham took another 10 wickets for the match, only bettered by Dennis Lillee’s 11.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the last time Australia would have their hearts crushed by a lone Englishman batting with the tail at Headingley.

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