It took Test cricket more than eight decades to produce its first tied match when, in 1960, West Indies’ fieldsman Joe Solomon’s steely nerves and flawless throw completed the game’s most famous run out.
Had 19-year-old Gervys ‘Gerry’ Hazlitt been able to execute a similarly precise shot at the stumps, the second Ashes Test of 1907–08 would be known as history’s original ‘tied Test’ as well as the closest Ashes finish on Australian soil for more than a century.
Barely 30 years after the inaugural international match between Australia and England at the MCG, and on the same turf as that rivalry was cast, Hazlitt fielded a ball at cover point and hurriedly hurled it at the single stump in his sights as England’s last batsman Arthur Fielder floundered mid-pitch.
A run out would have ended the game with scores level, but the throw sailed well wide of both wicket and wicketkeeper and Australia had lost.
Unlike Solomon, who was compelled to throw down the unguarded stumps to prevent Australia winning that famed 1960 encounter at the Gabba, Hazlitt had only to lob the ball to his gloveman Hanson Carter to effect the pivotal dismissal.
But to suggest the teenager cracked under the strain of holding the fate of the game in his right hand was to ignore his heroics of three weeks earlier, when he found himself in a similarly nerve-jangling scenario in a remarkable start to the five-Test series.
England had arrived for the 1907–08 tour minus star batsmen C. B. Fry and ‘Tip’ Foster, and soon found themselves down another when captain Arthur Jones contracted pneumonia before the first Test in Sydney and was sent to convalesce in the Blue Mountains.
Searching for a replacement, England officials seconded Nottinghamshire’s George Gunn, who also happened to be in Australia for rehabilitation reasons, the southern summer prescribed to aid his recovery from a lung haemorrhage.
The decision to draft an uncapped player, when there were auxiliary batsmen in the original squad, did not impress some in the touring party.
Among the most miffed was one of those extras, Jack Hobbs, who was yet to play a Test but would become the greatest first-class runs scorer of all time.
Gunn got the nod ahead of Hobbs for the opening Test, even though Gunn had not picked up a bat in three months, and arrived at the SCG just minutes before the match began.
A further 10 minutes on, and Gunn was in the action, batting at number three and required when stand-in captain Fred Fane was dismissed for two.
When his maiden Test innings ended, Gunn had top-scored with 119. He then made a further 74 in his second innings, which helped set Australia a victory target of 274.
Australia slumped to 6-124 their hopes for victory dimmed even further, but debutant Hazlitt found an ally in fellow tailender Albert ‘Tibby’ Cotter.
The pair put together an unbeaten ninth-wicket partnership of 56 as Australia snuck home by two wickets, Hazlitt heaving the decisive boundary off the bowling of Fielder.
Further England illnesses meant Hobbs got his chance in Melbourne’s second Test, his selection immediately vindicated when he made 83 as an opener against Cotter, the bowler with a reputation for snapping stumps, and who Hobbs rated the fastest he ever faced.
Much of the match was played in extreme heat, the speed of the scoring often lethargic as a consequence.
England laboured to a 116-run lead on the first innings, then were set 282 to level the series.
Like Australia in the previous Test, their chances appeared gone when Wilfred Rhodes was run out early on the sixth morning and the score stood a forlorn 7-198.
Enter S. F. ‘Syd’ Barnes, known as perhaps England’s greatest bowler and a habitually cantankerous character, but rarely regarded a Test match winner with the bat.
Yet he built a precious ninth-wicket stand of 34 with wicketkeeper Joe Humphries, and was left fuming when his partner was adjudged lbw with England still 39 runs in arrears.
“In my opinion, it was a wrong decision,” Barnes seethed years later.
“I got a little annoyed and as Fielder, the last man, came out from the pavilion, I told him what had happened and said, ‘Come on, Pip, we’ll knock ’em off now’.”
Barnes also advised England’s number 11, who in seven previous Test innings had averaged 9.5, to thrust his bat straight down the pitch at every ball he received, and be ready to run like a hare.
The theatre that had played out in Sydney became even more dramatic at the MCG.
In the England dressing room, players remained rooted to their viewing spots lest the slightest movement somehow distract the pair in the centre.
Among the crowd that had grown to 7,000, ‘there were men round the ground so breathless that they could not speak,’ the Sydney Morning Herald reported the next day.
England’s last two edged their way to within two of victory when Fielder knocked the ball straight to mid-on and called Barnes through for a tight single.
It was risky, with a bulk of Australia’s fielders positioned on the leg side and on their toes, but it ensured England could not lose. Knowing Australia’s Warwick Armstrong would maintain his leg-stump bowling attack, Barnes then drew back as the next delivery approached and tucked it to the off-side, where Hazlitt was the lone figure at cover point.
As Barnes set off for the winning run he realised Fielder remained stationary in his crease, prompting him to bellow, ‘For God’s sake, Pip, get off!’
Hazlitt had the ball in his hand by the time Fielder got running but, in the haze of the moment, launched a wild heave past wicketkeeper Carter and the winning run was safely made.
Hazlitt, who newspapers had already speculated would be dropped for the next Test and who would have to wait four years to again play for Australia, was later found to suffer from a heart ailment and died aged 27.
Having secured victory, an exultant Fielder kept running through the crowd that had spilled onto the ground in excitement, and towards the England dressing room where his teammates leaped and shouted in joy.
“Pip kept on running flat out,” Barnes recalled.
“Had not the pavilion been in the way I think he would have finished up in England and been the first to bear the good news.”
As Wisden was to drolly note, the result could be equally attributed to ‘A. Fielder’ and ‘a fielder’.
This is an extract from ‘Under the Southern Cross – The Heroics and Heartbreak of the Ashes in Australia’ published by Harper Collins and licensed by Cricket Australia. It is available for purchase here
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21