1981 Ashes – Edgbaston’s Eric Hollies Stand was truly launched as a force
"Many people involved in cricket," commented the Lichfield Mercury in July 1981, "contend there should be no place in the game for a draw. It is argued it is inconclusive and leads to boring cricket. Those players and spectators who were at Longdon on Saturday for the match between Longdon and Lichfield Taverners would not subscribe to that theory."
The Mercury correspondent, having just watched a gripping draw in which Longdon made 173 for seven and the Taverners replied with 152 for eight, had a point. But even that cliffhanger could not compare for entertainment, drama and sheer excitement with the Edgbaston Ashes Test of 1981 - a match which proved beyond doubt that there is nothing in cricket, perhaps nothing in sport, as engrossing as a fiercely-contested Test match which fluctuates its way to a thrilling conclusion.
It was not the first big match of the week in England. At 11.20am on July 29, 1981, a crowd of 3,500 at St Paul's Cathedral watched Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer get married. Lady Di made the three-and-a-half minute walk up the red-carpeted aisle with the sumptuous 25ft train of her Emmanuel-designed, ivory taffeta and antique lace gown flowing behind her.
At 11.25am on July 30, 1981, a crowd of 15,000 at Edgbaston watched Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley walk out to open the batting for England. Neither wore an Emmanuel-designed, ivory taffeta and antique lace gown with a sumptuous 25ft train flowing behind it - it would have made taking quick singles very difficult. Boycott, dressed in traditional white, faced the first ball from Dennis Lillee - two all-time greats in combat - and a truly great Test was underway.
Like so many magnificent games, it was a low-scoring affair. All 22 players batted twice yet nobody scored a half-century with Brearley's first-innings 48 proving to be the top score in the match. The England captain had many critics and was far from a top-drawer batsmen as his career Test average of 22.88 from 39 matches shows. But, in this most momentous of matches, while all the headlines were to go to Ian Botham following the sensational denouement, it should not be overlooked that, without the runs of Brearley, Australia would have won and put the nightmare of Headingley nine days earlier straight behind them.
Instead, that nightmare recurred as, for the second successive Test, England won from an apparently impossible position. Australia led by 69 on first innings and, after England struggled again second time round, required only 151 to win. At 105 for four, they were easing to victory.
Then off-spinner John Emburey produced an unplayable ball to dismiss key man Allan Border. 105 for five. And then Brearley had an idea - he threw the ball to Botham at the Birmingham End.
On a magical, mesmeric Sunday afternoon, roared on by the Edgbaston crowd, the great all-rounder eviscerated Australia's lower order with a spell of five wickets for one run in 28 balls.
England won by 29 runs and went 2-1 up in the series - and Edgbaston's Hollies Stand (as it was to be later named) was truly launched as a force to be reckoned with in England's armoury.
"A large crowd helped give the match an exciting an emotional finish," was Wisden's rather restrained description of the final afternoon. In other words, the Edgbaston Effect took hold. And the legend that is the Hollies Stand atmosphere was born.
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