1963 was an exciting year for cricket.
The Gillette Cup brought new vitality to the county game and the West Indies were on tour, led for the first time in England by a black captain - Frank Worrell. Worrell’s first tour in the job, to Australia in 1960-61, had produced cricket of breathtaking excitement and high sportsmanship. His team had proved so popular that they were granted a tickertape procession before departure. Two years later, the crowds flocked to see their thrilling brand of cricket.
Meanwhile, England stalwart Colin Cowdrey was enduring a difficult summer. Runs were not coming easily - he had only passed 50 once and his first-class average stood barely above 30. In the first Test at Old Trafford he made just four and 12 as Lance Gibbs spun the tourists to a convincing 10-wicket victory. Lord’s would provide an even sterner test against the fierce pace and aggression of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. Cowdrey’s contribution to England’s first innings was another scratchy four.
A gripping encounter of fearsome fast bowling and counter-attacking batting approached its conclusion with England facing a fourth innings target of 234. It would be the highest ever successful run chase in a Lord’s Test if they achieved it, but they were struggling on 31 for 3 when Cowdrey came to the wicket once more. Along with the stubborn Ken Barrington, Cowdrey edged the score up to 72. Hall and Griffith were relentless, merciless; both batsmen took blows to the body rather than risk fending a catch to the close field. At last one ball reared up towards Cowdrey’s face. He raised his arm in defence and the whole crowd heard the sickening crack. They watched aghast as Cowdrey stalked back to the Pavilion, his wounded arm held close to his chest. Barrington hung on with Brian Close. The light worsened and England ended day four on 116 for 3.
Barrington fell early the next day, but Close kept going under heavy skies, letting the ball thud into his chest when he wasn’t hitting out. He was still there at the start of the last hour, 48 still needed, England with five wickets in hand, if you counted Cowdrey. But with his arm in a plaster cast, nobody seriously believed he would bat. Then with 31 needed, Hall took care of Titmus and Trueman in the space of two balls. David Allen came in and blocked. Close took to striding down the wicket to the fast bowlers, hitting everything he could. With 20 minutes to go, and 15 runs, they had him at last, caught at the wicket off Griffith. It was down to Allen and last man Derek Shackleton. But Cowdrey was on the dressing room balcony, and he was wearing his whites.
Only six runs came from the next four overs. But England were still in touch. Just. The crowd held its breath and the BBC delayed its regular evening news bulletin to stay with the live coverage. Hall began the last over with England needing eight. Two singles were scampered off the first three balls, but off the fourth, calamity. Shackleton swung and missed and looked up to see Allen chasing down the wicket towards him. Desperately, Shackleton urged his 39 year-old frame towards the non-striker’s end; he was in a race of the veterans against Worrell, running back from silly mid-off. He lost. Cowdrey, wearing a glove on one hand and a plaster cast on the other, smiled as he walked out through the Pavilion gate.
He took his place at the non-striker’s end as Allen prepared to face Hall. Two balls left to survive for the draw, and surely six to win was too much. Worrell was not so sure - whatever you do, don’t bowl a no-ball, he told his shattered fast bowler. Twice more, Hall charged in off his 40-yard run, hurling the ball down fast and straight. But Allen’s bat was just as straight and twice he kept it out. It was all over and the match drawn. Cowdrey’s bat had not been needed, but his courage had been.