I was held responsible and got dropped for the next Test – three short of the 300. They picked Fred Rumsey and John Price for Old Trafford and the Aussies set about them with murderous ease. Bobby Simpson scored 316 at the head of a queue of happy Australian batsmen. As for me, I had a quiet laugh wondering what was going through the minds of the selectors.
They couldn’t blame me that time. But I was furious when a newspaper printed a picture of me, pint in hand, laughing my head off. I don’t suppose the selectors bothered to check, but it had actually been taken three years earlier in Australia. Largely because they had no option, they recalled me to the Oval.
England batted first in that match, and our batsmen failed once again. And when I tried to get amongst the Aussies nothing went right. Two or three catches were put down off me, I was taken off and I thought that I might not make it after all. Just before lunch on the Saturday I saw Ted Dexter standing at the wicket looking a bit vacant, ball in hand. I asked him what he was going to do, and he said he was thinking of putting Peter Parfitt on to bowl. I said, ‘No, you’re not,’ took the ball off him and put myself on. There was time for one over before lunch and with the fifth delivery I knocked back the middle stump of Ian Redpath. With the sixth and last I had Graham McKenzie caught at slip.
Just two balls had brought me out of disgrace. Now they were all clapping and cheering as I went back to the pavilion, on a hat trick for my 300th Test wicket. The news was spread by radio and television (which broke into its scheduled programmes to stay with the match) and the Oval was packed when we came out again. When my turn came I remembered that occasion twelve years previously when I so desperately wanted to take a wicket with my very first ball in Test cricket. The same feeling swept over me, only multiplied ten times.
Neil Hawke, an old pal, faced up to me. Before he did so he said: ‘Well, F.S., I wouldn’t mind being the 300th I suppose.’ I tried like hell to make the fairy story come true, but I hadn’t bowled for forty minutes, which didn’t help. The ball went just wide of his off stump. I’d aimed at off and middle. The suspense went on until we took the new ball when, in my first over, I whipped down an outswinger – my favourite delivery – and Neil edged it into the hands of Colin Cowdrey at slip. Neil was the first to congratulate me. To mark the event I gave him a bottle of champagne and it’s still on his sideboard in Adelaide, untouched.
A lot of people have asked me what went through my mind at that moment and they are always surprised when I tell them: the next wicket. There was another one to get, and I wanted it. I took it in the next over.