35 Australian summers ago an experimental England squad made its way Down Under for a tour that was longer than a modern first-class cricket season (sans T20 & The Hundred). It started against Queensland on 24th October 1986 and didn’t finish until the B & H World Series Cup wrapped up on February 11th 1987. It was my first experience of an away Ashes and watching the highlights on the BBC but with pictures from Channel 9 in Australia wasn’t just exciting, it was revolutionary to a wide-eyed nine-year-old! The enthusiastic commentators, the excitable Aussie crowd and Daddles the duck, bat tucked under his arm walking across the screen when some unfortunate batter was dismissed for a, well…. you get it. Everything just seemed so much more glamourous than the dour BBC coverage.
I had seen snippets of the previous winter’s tour (a hammering in the Caribbean) on the news but this was the first time I had seen England win abroad. All these years later it still stands out to me as being special. Maybe it was the freshness of it or the naivety of youth that binds me to hold it in such reverence but the significance of it to both me and England, who wouldn’t win their for another quarter of a century can’t be underestimated.
Although the touring party contained some new faces – Defreitas, Richards and Whitaker – at the heart of the squad were all your 80s favourites – Gower/Botham/Lamb/Emburey/Edmonds all made the trip to be captained by Mike Gatting. Graham Gooch, missing the tour for personal reasons, was the only notable absence.
For England it was the final swan song and last hurrah for many of their players. A couple were discarded before ever really being given a proper chance, Jack Richards and James Whitaker. These two young players suffered from this all too familiar tale in English cricket in this era.
IT Botham, who took the inexperienced Merv Hughes for 22 off one over on his way to a glorious 138 in an explosive First Test never again reached three figures for England. Chris Broad, magnificent in scoring consecutive centuries in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Tests only made a further three hundreds in a Test career which had finished less than 2 and a half years later.
Martin Johnson of the Independent famously said that this England team “had only three things wrong with them – can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field” and when they won the First Test it was their Test victory since defeating the same opponents at The Oval more than 12 months previous. That run, as well as the defeat in West Indies, included home defeats to both India and New Zealand. As for the Aussies, when they finally won a Test in the new year in Sydney it was their first win in 14 attempts. England’s winning margin of 2-1 probably wasn’t reflective of how dominant they were but a clean sweep in the One Day tournaments made this one of their greatest ever tours in terms of results.
In reality though both sides were in a poor state and although England won the battle, they certainly lost the war. The defeat galvanised Allan Border and his young side. The defeat and the way they played served as the catalyst for their domination in the preceding decades. With Mark Taylor waiting in the wings and a certain Warne and McGrath a couple of years away, Marsh, Boon, Jones, Waugh, Lawson, McDermott and their captain would form the spine of one of arguably the greatest Test sides ever seen.
As for England it was a case of same old, the following year they played Pakistan a lot, mostly losing and then had the infamous summer of 1988 against West Indies. A typical micro chasm of the England cricket team in the 80s, moments of promise, plenty of talent but very little consistency.
Follow me on Twitter at: @80s90sCricket