I’m not old enough to have experienced the excitement of The Ashes in the early 80s, missing out on the thrilling 3 run England win in the Boxing Day Test of 1982 and of course the extraordinary home series of 1981. My introduction to the oldest of cricketing rivalries came during the glorious summer of 1985. A time of big unemployment, big hair and several big scores from both sides.
David Gower’s England, fresh from a morale boosting success in India, were looking to win the urn back from Allan Border’s transitional Australian side. In the space of a few summer months I inherited a lifelong passion for cricket and a new set of childhood heroes courtesy of Ian Botham and his captain.
With hindsight as an England follower I could definitely have picked worst summers to fall in love with cricket, the two either side, were unmitigated disasters. A 1984 hammering off West Indies may well have dampened my youthful enthusiasm but if that didn’t work then the awful cricketing summer of 1986 (Ian Botham’s heroic return aside) that saw England lose home series to BOTH India and New Zealand would certainly have done the trick and somewhat lacks the romantic connotations of an Ashes win.
Instead I walked into a world where, for the time being, England played exciting cricket and won Test Matches. On paper the side had its fair share of exciting players. Gooch, Gower, Lamb and Botham are all part of English Test cricket legend but just like the Australians there was plenty of rebuilding to do. Boycott, Knott and Willis were yet to be properly replaced and, in some cases, would take years to do so.
Despite 2 Graham Gooch centuries in the three-match series it was Australia that started the international summer by winning the Texaco Trophy. However, it was clear that the touring side had problems. An upcoming “Rebel Tour” had decimated their original squad and although they managed to reach agreements with the some of the rebels the services of chief Graham Gooch tormentor, Terry Alderman, weren’t available to them. You only need to look at the impact that he had on the 1989 series to see how huge a loss this was. Instead veteran fast bowler Jeff Thomson toured to provide cover for Geoff Lawson and the young, exciting Craig McDermott.
Every Test saw at least one score of 450+ and Gower (3), Border, Gatting and Robinson all scored a couple of centuries during the summer. The sheer volume of runs scored by the 2 captains during the series was frightening. The bowlers weren’t to be left out though, both McDermott and Botham (31) took 30 wickets and Richard Ellison for 2 Tests was more unplayable than Joe Root in Ahmedabad.
After 4 Tests, with The Ashes delicately poised at 1-1 the Kent man, renowned for his late swing was recalled for Edgbaston and what an impact he had. The previous summer he had taken 5 wickets on his debut against West Indies and this time he went one better. He took 10 wickets in the match to steer England to an innings win and a MOM award. A further 7 wickets at The Oval helped bring about another innings victory and England had won the series 3-1. Ellison was named one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year and looked set for a long and successful England career. A serious back injury in 1987 and then his decision to go on a “rebel tour” in 1989/90 meant his Test career was over just 9 months after his heroics at the end of 1985.
There have been more high profile victories for England since 1985 but for me that summer will always remain the best. The commentary on the accompanying VHS from that summer’s action is magical. I’ve watched it over a million and one times, including before writing this. Gower greeting and chatting to Richie Benaud at Lord’s before segueing into the cricket. It remains one of my all-time favourites, although I’m sure the picture never used to look quite so grainy when I used to watch it!
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