On Monday June 2, 1975, just over a month before the Ashes series was due to start at Edgbaston, it snowed in the West Midlands.
A blanket of white lay over the Lickey Hills, Warwick Alf’s shed received a light dusting and an inch of snow fell at Buxton, preventing play on the second day of the championship match between Derbyshire and Lancashire.
It was a different story down south. At Hastings, Dennis Amiss was untroubled by either snow, the white stuff, or Snow J.A., the England fast bowler. Amiss’s glorious unbeaten 143, along with a typically robust 112 from John Jameson and a polished unbeaten 57 from Rohan Kanhai saw the Bears chase down 355 in 72.4 overs to secure a spectacular eight-wicket win over Sussex.
Amiss appeared to be warming up nicely for the Ashes – but what he and his England team-mates would have given for a nice thick fall of snow at Edgbaston five weeks later.
They went out to toss and Mike came back in and said ‘they’re batting.’ I said ‘oh, we lost the toss then’ and he said ‘no, we won it.Dennis Amiss
The Ashes series opened in Birmingham five months after the previous one down under had ended with England thrashed 4-1 and pummelled into submission by fast-bowlers Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson. The pair took 58 wickets in the series and meted out enough fractures, bumps and bruises along the way to leave England’s batsmen psychologically, as well as physically, scarred.
It was safe to say that, come July, Lillee, Thompson and their highly-skilled swing-bowling colleague Max Walker were looking forward to the Ashes resumption more than captain Mike Denness’s England team. Sure enough, after 73 years and 17 Tests, England’s unbeaten Test record in Birmingham came to an end. Along with it went a couple of careers.
More punishment from Lillee and Thomson duly arrived, though England did not help themselves with a real toss clanger.
“It looked a typical Edgbaston wicket where if you can get past lunch without too much damage you can get a good score,” recalls Amiss. “It was an uncovered wicket and we saw that there was some rain forecast, so we all said to Mike ‘we’ve got to bat.’
“We’d just been battered by Lillee and Thomson in Australia so if it was a flat deck to start perhaps we could get some runs and some confidence back and then bowl on a wet wicket. They went out to toss and Mike came back in and said ‘they’re batting.’ I said ‘oh, we lost the toss then’ and he said ‘no, we won it.’
“We couldn’t believe the decision. It turned out that Alec Bedser, the chairman of selectors, had told him we had to bowl first!”
Against England’s ageing new-ball attack, Australia started strongly and went on to amass a solid 359. Then, after Amiss and John Edrich has faced just one over of England’s reply, came the rain. A thunderstorm drenched the whole ground, including the vital 22 yards in the middle of it. After a 100-minute delay, England were rattled out for 101: Lillee 15-8-15-5, Walker 17.3-5-48-5.
On Monday morning, British prime minister Harold Wilson outlined his “total will and determination” to grapple with inflation. On the fourth day at Edgbaston, however, England’s batsmen failed to show the requisite will and determination in grappling with the Aussie pace battery. Following on, they were bowled out 173, this time Thomson doing most damage with 18-8-38-5. Australia won by an innings and 85 runs.
Amongst the carnage, young Essex batsman Graham Gooch had made his Test debut and began with a pair. Gooch would be back. Others not so. It proved to be Geoff Arnold’s farewell to Test cricket and, before the match was over, Denness had tendered his resignation.
England prepared to look to the future under the captaincy of Tony Greig and to new blood and youth. Well, sort of…for the second Test they brought back 34-year-old Peter Lever and 32-year-old Barry Wood and gave a debut to 33-year-old David Steele…