Jim Laker was certainly the most lethal and successful English spinner to have ever played the gentleman’s game. While Laker produced many spectacular spells, he etched his name in the golden letters in the history of English cricket during the Ashes 1956. The off-spinner single-handedly routed the visiting Australian team during the fourth Test of the five-match series by picking monumental 19 wickets.
The Ashes 1956 was tied at 1-1 when England and Australia locked horns with each other in the fourth Test match at Old Trafford in Manchester. The toss went home skipper Peter May’s way and he opted to put a total on the board. The first innings saw the domination of the England batters.
The hosts entertained the cricket fraternity with their attractive stroke play and aggressive outlook towards the game. Playing 158.3 overs in the first innings, England posted a score of 459. David Sheppard top-scored for the hosts as he played a remarkable knock of 113 runs. Sheppard found a suitable ally in the form of Peter Richardson as he also smashed a century (104 runs).
What followed after the first innings, was a complete carnage of the Australian side. The spin master Jim Laker made the most out of the dry and dusty pitch of the Old Trafford. Laker caused a terrible collapse of Australia in the second innings by stopping them at a score of 84 runs.
The off-spinner took as many as nine wickets. The only wicket that wasn’t picked by Laker in the second innings was off Jim Burke who was dismissed by Tony Lock. Asked to follow on, Australia failed to show any improvement in their last batting innings too.
Laker again delivered a stellar performance as he didn’t give any time to the opposition batters to settle in the middle. This time around, the off-spinner picked all the ten wickets and bowled out Australia for 205. Laker’s 19th wicket of the match came on the final day i.e July 31, 1956, when he wrapped up the wicketkeeper Len Maddocks on the pads. The exploits by the spinner steered England to a victory by an innings and 170 runs.
The Frizinghall-born’s mind-boggling spell of 19 wickets in the Test match at Old Trafford is still considered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, spells by a spinner in the longest format of the game.