When Australia's cricketers, led by Richie Benaud, arrived in Birmingham on the evening of Tuesday June 6, 1961, ahead of the opening Test of the Ashes series, they were met at Snow Hill station by 12 girls brandishing baskets of Australian apples and pears.
The warm welcome was extended across the city. Awaiting the Aussies at Edgbaston was a sparkling stadium, renewed by sustained improvements over the previous five years. Test cricket had returned to Birmingham, after a 28-year absence, in 1957. Now, after a 52-year gap, the Ashes were back and the great rivalry would resume in a transformed ground.
Warwickshire County Cricket Club was determined to make Edgbaston a regular, long-term home of international cricket and that ambition had been resoundingly backed, through the Supporters’ Association, by the people of the city and the region. The ’61 Test was heavily rain-affected but, despite the loss of almost half the playing time, the match attracted 83,000 people who enjoyed themselves in unprecedented comfort.
The Warwickshire officials and their Supporters Association deserve the highest praise for the excellent conditions provided for the players, spectators and commentators.Wisden
“The Warwickshire officials and their Supporters Association deserve the highest praise for the excellent conditions provided for the players, spectators and commentators,” commented Wisden.
The Birmingham Post went further. “The Test crowned the most remarkable developments of a first-class ground, in a short space, in history. Accommodation and amenities for the public have improved beyond recognition and the Supporters Association has supplied at least £250,000 towards making Edgbaston the best-equipped ground in the country.”
On the first morning of the Test, spectators awoke to startling front-page news – the UK had confirmed that it was about to deliver definite proposals to join the European Common Market. On this issue, however, the 470 staff on duty at Edgbaston had no time to dwell. In the 11 marquees erected to support the existing catering operation, those staff were undaunted by the prospect of large, thirsty crowds. The Post reported that: “A representative of the catering firm said it would be impossible to drink the ground dry.”
Warwickshire’s supporters no doubt had a good go at that challenge, but unfortunately three of the five days were haunted by the rain which had followed Australia around for weeks. Before the opening Test the tourists had already played 11 first-class games but spent many hours in pavilions from Worcester to Bradford and Chesterfield to Cambridge waiting for the rain to stop.
Among the downpours, the Aussies built a strong position, bowling England out for 195 then replying with 516 for nine. On the final morning, England remained in jeopardy when they resumed on 106 for one, still 215 from avoiding an innings defeat, but they were shored up by Raman Subba Row and Ted Dexter who took their side to 202 without further loss. After Subba Row fell for an accomplished 112, Kenny Barrington dug in to see England past the point of safety – after which Dexter turned on the style.
“The hour after tea,” reported the Post, “when Edgbaston’s green was lit by a rare June sun and Dexter, with England’s arrears cleared, hitting Simpson and Mackay tremendously to all points, was one of the most inspiring sights the ground can ever have seen. A more continuous wave of applause has surely not been heard there.”
Dexter finally fell for a brilliant 180 and walked off to a standing ovation from a 10,000 crowd, among which the Warwickshire supporters were also celebrating some happy news from Kent. Heavy overnight rain having got under the covers at Blackheath, off-spinner Basil Bridge had made hay with 5.1-4-2-5 to bowl Kent out for 76 and the Bears to victory by 154 runs.
It would have been 5.1-5-0-5 had David Baker not inside-edged one between the short-legs for two…