After two days’ play the omens for an England victory in the 1934 Lord’s Test were not particularly good.
They hadn’t beaten Australia in a Test at Lord’s since 1896, and while they had posted a strong first innings total of 440 – Les Ames becoming the first wicket-keeper to score a century in an Ashes Test – Australia were going along nicely at 192 for 2 with opener Bill Brown having just reached his hundred. There was one chink of light for England - after striking Hedley Verity for three fours in one over, Don Bradman misjudged another drive and popped up a return catch to the Yorkshire left-arm spinner.
The next day, Sunday, was a rest day. It rained. The rain continued into Monday morning and Verity looked out of the window at breakfast and said to his teammates, “I shouldn’t wonder if we have some fun today.” These were the days of ‘sticky wickets’ - pitches left uncovered during the hours of play would soak up rain and then, as they dried out, offer disconcerting spin and bounce. They were a nightmare for batsmen, and heaven for bowlers like Hedley Verity. Only 11 runs were added before Brown fell to Bill Bowes. After that, Verity had his fun. He ripped out Len Darling and Stan McCabe with only two runs added and then ran through the rest of the Australian order, finishing with 7 for 61 as the visitors slumped to 284 all out.
Having been bowled out more than 150 behind England, Australia were forced to follow-on. There were nine overs with the new ball before Verity came on, and Brown was already back in the Pavilion. Verity now bowled unchanged for 22.3 overs, his length immaculate, his flight and turn almost unplayable. He first removed McCabe, then spent almost half an hour torturing Bradman. He bowled to a packed off side field, tempting Bradman to hit against the spin; the Australian master edged his way to 13, then a wild slash across the line sent the ball straight up in the air. Ames stepped forward to take a simple catch. Watching from slip, Wally Hammond noticed that Verity "showed not the slightest expression in his face, though he knew as we all did that the ball had won the match".
The description brings to mind the fixed expression and far-away eyes of Bob Willis during his great spell at Headingley in 1981. The final analyses too were identical: 8 for 43 as Australia collapsed to 118 all out. In the middle of the innings they even lost five wickets for one run. It was Verity of course who finished it off, claiming his 15th wicket of the match and his 14th of the day – still a Test record. Verity’s brilliance had sealed England’s first Test win against Australia in 38 years. They would have to wait 75 years for their next.