New Zealand will contest the WTC final against India at the Rose Bowl in Southampton
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Little in life being completely original, there has been a World Test Championship final before. All the Test countries in the world participated, if only three, and the final was at the Oval in August 1912 between England and Australia.
Then, as now with the match between India and New Zealand, the final was scheduled to last up to six days if required. The major difference lies in the qualifying process.
Australia, England and South Africa played three Tests against each other in England that summer. As both Australia and England thumped South Africa – and drew the first two Tests between each other – the last match was proclaimed to be the final by the Imperial Cricket Conference, as the International Cricket Council then was: the World Test Championship final in all but name.
On the surface, nothing much has changed in the state of English batting. In the final, having won the toss, England scored 245 and 175 – much the same totals as they assembled in their two-Test series against New Zealand.
But as it had rained all night before the Oval final, and the pitch was not covered and therefore turned into a mud heap, these totals were match-winning. Indeed, at the end of the 1912 season the Editor of Wisden was to write of England’s batting that summer: “The run-getting was so consistent that on no occasion was there cause for anxiety.” What bliss to have lived in such an era!
Just how difficult batting was on damp pitches was illustrated by a single ball from England’s best bowler Sydney Barnes (who took 39 wickets at 10 runs each in England’s six Tests in the Triangular) to Australia’s best batsman, Warren Bardsley, a lefthander. The ball pitched “well outside his leg stump” according to Wisden, so Bardsley “let it alone… and the ball turning very sharply hit the leg stump.” Here was a completely different sport: much less physical, but no less skilled, and even more so in some respects, like spin bowling and batting against it.
England were so strong in batting largely because they had installed their first regular opening pair in Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes. Again, utterly unlike today, their partnership was not based on going for big shots at wide balls but on their running between wickets.
Hobbs and Rhodes kept the scoreboard ticking over with quick singles – even though, Wisden states, the Australians’ fielding was “superb”. “Thanks to constant association in South Africa and Australia the two men understood each other so well that they could with safety attempt short runs that in ordinary circumstances would have savoured of madness.”
The last England pair of Test batsmen to pressurise the opposition in this way, looking for quick singles and running fast between wickets? Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root.
England were ahead from the moment Hobbs and Rhodes put on 107 for the first wicket. The outfield was so damp that Hobbs hit only four fours, but such was his speed between wickets he ran seven threes as well as those quick singles.
Hobbs’ USP was being so light on his feet: he moved on to his back foot and pulled when the ball plugged on a wet pitch and sat up. His fielding was based on the same characteristic: Bardsley in his second innings fell into the trap of thinking a single could be had to Hobbs at cover and was run out by a direct hit. On one tour of Australia, before analysis and video highlights were alerting the world, Hobbs ran out 15 batsmen from cover.
The rest of this final is quickly told. Frank Woolley played some big shots for England to post 245, and helped Barnes to dismiss Australia for 111 between more showers.
Batting had become so awkward by England’s second innings that at one stage an edge for three was the only scoring shot in eight overs. But they scraped together enough – as English batsmen tend to do on bad pitches, even today – and reached 175
Needing 310 to win the final, Australia were dismissed for 65 just before the close of day four, England winning by 244 runs. Only just in time too, as the last two days saw incessant rain: as the Wisden Editor observed, 1912 was “one of the most appalling summers ever known, even in England.”
And it was this rain as much as anything which ruined the Triangular Tournament: a reminder that any new cricket tournament in England, like the Hundred, hinges on the weather. Nobody wanted to watch Australia vs South Africa in the rain. “The result is that the experiment is not likely to be repeated for many years to come – perhaps not in this generation,” the Wisden Editor, Sydney Pardon, prophesied.
After the events at Edgbaston last week, it has to be said that it is just as well that England are not involved in the WTC final at Southampton. How their current batting would fare against New Zealand’s first XI, or India, does not bear thinking about. Yet it will be England’s title as Test champions that India or New Zealand inherit, all of 109 years later.