England won the first Ashes Test of the 1978/79 series by seven wickets in Brisbane. It was reported on in the 1980 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack by Alex Bannister.
At Brisbane, December 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. England won by seven wickets. Fifty years of Test cricket at Brisbane was fittingly celebrated by an arresting match of fluctuations, changing moods, and a determined fight-back by Australia after a catastrophic start. To commemorate the occasion three skydivers landed on the ground carrying a specially struck coin for the toss. Yallop, leading Australia for the first time, had a difficult choice to make and opted to bat in humidity and under a thick cloud cover.
Disaster swiftly overtook Australia. Starting with an unlucky run out of Cosier by Gower with the fourth ball, six wickets went down for 26 to Willis- suffering from skinned toes and blistered feet – Old and Botham. They revelled in the conditions with devastating swing and cut off the wicket. Although Old was off with a dislocated finger for forty-five minutes, and not every chance was accepted, Australia were in sad disarray. Not one of the first six batsmen reached double figures.
Total calamity was avoided by the lower half scoring a brave 90. MacLean and Hogg, in their Test baptism, fought valiantly and helped by Yardley set a standard of resilience and resistance for the remainder of the match. Willis (four for 44), Botham and Old had given England the key to victory, but Hogg, with an impressive six for 74, and Hurst, only fractionally less hostile, made it anything but a walkover.
Randall played the first of two innings which won him the Player of the Match award, and when batting was far from easy Gower and Botham hit cleanly to make 95 in one hour forty minutes. Before then Randall and night-watchman Taylor had scored 73 in two and a half hours. Taylor held out for two hours fifty minutes for his 20, and with Miller and Old adding useful runs, England gained a solid lead of 170. A clue to the conditions was that the wicket-keepers, MacLean and Taylor, shared ten catches in the first innings.
In their second innings, Australia again made the worst of starts. Cosier was bowled first ball by an in-swinger from Willis, and Toohey fell to Botham’s fourth delivery. The total was 2 for two, and at 49 Wood was out. The likelihood of England having to bat again seemed remote, but Yallop and Hughes refused to be intimidated and produced a third-wicket stand of 170 in four and a quarter hours. Before a brilliant reflex catch by Willis ended his innings, Yallop had become the second Australian to hit a century in his maiden Test as captain, repeating the feat of G. S. Chappell against the West Indies in 1975-76. Staying five and threequarter hours he set the best of examples, which Hughes was not slow to follow. Last out, Hughes batted for just on eight hours; he faced 409 balls and hit two 6s and eight 4s. The next highest contribution from the bat was 16. Even if they could not prevent the inevitable, Yallop and Hughes at least brought dignity to Australia’s depression.
England had nearly seven hours to reach 170, but there were some uneasy moments before victory arrived in mid-afternoon on the fifth day. Toohey provided a nasty shock by running out Boycott from cover, but Randall and Gower gradually overcame keen bowling and tigerish fielding to get the last 96 runs. As Brearley said afterwards, Australia should not have been too disappointed at the way they were defeated.
Subscribe to the Wisden Cricket YouTube channel for post-match analysis, player interviews, and much more.