I am always thankful that I discovered cricket in 1985. As an English boy, the Ashes triumph of that year was the ideal introduction to the sport, more of a Graham Thorpe debut rather than an Andy Lloyd. From this point onwards, I would sit in front of the television on summer mornings, eagerly waiting for the first few click-clicks of the Soul Limbo theme tune, before Peter West or Tony Lewis would appear, and that would be me sorted for the rest of the day. Had my induction occurred a year either side though, I cannot be 100% sure that my commitment would have been quite so high; the 5-0 thrashing at the hand of the West Indies in 1984 was understandable, but 1986 was downright depressing.
At the start of the year, England again lost 5-0 to the West Indies, but even at a young age I could comprehend the awesome ability of that team from the Caribbean, and besides, the tour wasn't covered live on national television, so this inevitable despair was not constantly in my face. The 2-0 defeat at home to India however, was a total shock to my system. Such was the state of the national team at the time, that in all England used 19 players in the three match series, and two different captains, although replacing David Gower with Mike Gatting was akin to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. At least Gatting managed to oversee a draw in the last Test at Edgbaston, bringing an end to seven consecutive Test defeats. Yes, a draw was truly something to celebrate, as England managed to stop the rot and the nation partied like it was 1999. Unfortunately before too long we'd all get that 1999 feeling, as New Zealand arrived on our shores and left victorious.
Being a supporter of the New Zealand cricket team in the mid-eighties must have been a dream. Back-to-back series wins against Australia, their first against their old rivals, saw them come to England in a confident mood, skipper Jeremy Coney diplomatically pointing out that England were similarly there for the taking: "We are fresh from winning the series against Australia, who are going through a low in their cycle. England also seem to be trying various combinations and we go into the series with a very positive and confident attitude."
New Zealand's batting was unspectacular but solid, with John Wright and Bruce Edgar as openers, and Ken Rutherford (Hamish's dad) and Jeff Crowe in the middle order. Coney had excelled in the home tour against the Aussies, scoring one hundred and two fifties whilst averaging 146, but it was the burgeoning talent of Martin Crowe (Jeff's brother) that was beginning to flourish. His combined home and away haul of 488 runs at 69.71 against the Australians proved that Crowe was ready to make the step up to the ranks of world class, and the first Test of the England tour gave further proof that New Zealand possessed a player of undoubted ability, technique and temperament.
There could be no doubting New Zealand's star turn in the bowling department. Richard Hadlee's test record of 315 wickets at 25.60 was conclusive evidence that they possessed one of the greatest bowlers ever, and his recent demolition of Australia (49 wickets at 16.08) indicated that his powers were not waning, and if anything they were gaining strength. Hadlee only joined the tour at the start of the one-day series, New Zealand allowing him to play for Nottinghamshire and organise his benefit season, and he would return to his adopted county after the Test matches. Come the end of the series, England probably wished that Hadlee could have played for Nottinghamshire all year.
Whilst England were struggling towards the end of the Indian series, the New Zealanders had enjoyed an unbeaten start to their tour, their six-wicket victory over Essex inspired by the spin duo of John Bracewell (Doug's uncle) and Evan Gray, who took 7/61 in a fine win over the reigning county champions. The tourists continued their run, as the one-day series commenced, any England fans hoping for a brief respite from the norm of 1986 were soon put back in their place, after yet another spineless defeat in the first Texaco Trophy match at Headingley. The loss was bad enough, but the familiar chaos and general panic surrounding the performance - three run outs in England's innings highlighting as much - didn't bode well for the rest of the summer ahead.
The poor form snowballed into the next ODI at Old Trafford. New Zealand's total of 284/5 from 55 overs, was aided greatly by some shabby bowling, allowing the Crowe brothers and Hadlee to plunder 118 from the last eight overs, including 71 from the last four, not helped by the fact that Gatting was so desperate that he had to turn to Gooch to bowl the last over which promptly disappeared for 26 runs. The Manchester crowd were not slow to anger, booing the England team and slow hand clapping their way through the shambles, as if they were unanimously deciding that rock bottom was not far away for English cricket.
Luckily a riot was averted after a batting display that was as good as the bowling had been bad. Bill Athey and Gooch put on a record opening stand of 193, enabling England to win by a comfortable margin of six wickets. Such was the quality of Athey's innings, that it is still the joint sixth highest individual innings by an Englishman in an ODI (admittedly scored in the 55 overs format), and crucially at the time it gave England a glimmer of hope going into the Test series. But in the week leading up to the opening Test at Lord's, England's cricketers were again making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
News began to filter through that seven England players - Gooch, David Gower, Allan Lamb, John Emburey, Derek Pringle, Neil Foster, and Richard Ellison - had been drinking into the early hours of the Friday morning before the second ODI, consuming an alleged ten bottles of Champagne between them at a bar in Hale. Gatting labelled the players involved as silly and unprofessional, declaring that although he had himself been out late before in the past, that this incident was bound to be blown-up due to the lack of form shown so far by the team during the year. England may well have won the second ODI, but this was hardly the sort of press that the team needed at the time, especially after the actions of one Ian Terrence Botham earlier in the year.
Beefy was approaching the end of his two month ban imposed by the TCCB after he admitted that he had smoked cannabis (after previously denying this), and although he would miss the first two Tests of the series, it was hard to ignore the gaping hole left in the England side due to his absence. Every move he made, each innings he played in unofficial matches, were documented in minute detail by the press, as English fans counted down the days until his return. In hindsight this reflects just how needy we all were as England supporters in this era, clinging on to any vague hope that the return of our hero could somehow galvanise the England team, despite the fact that in all honesty Botham's best days were beyond him. But in reality, he was still by far the best all-rounder in the country, by a massive distance, and true enough on his return to the side at the end of the summer and in Australia, Botham showed us all just what we had been missing.
That was all in the future however, as England named their twelve for Lord's. Yorkshire's Martyn Moxon was the latest opening batsman selected to partner Gooch, after various international outings for Graeme Fowler, Tim Robinson, Wilf Slack, Mark Benson, and Athey during the summer. Moxon had been waiting for his debut for a couple of years, after withdrawing from the 1984 Lord's Test against the West Indies due to a rib injury (a lucky escape), and having to return from the Indian tour of 84/85 after the death of his father. Boringly, comparisons were immediately made with Geoff Boycott, but there was no disputing that Moxon's current form, including two hundreds against the Indians at Scarborough, had rightly earned him the chance to make his debut.
There was still no place for Lamb in the squad after he had been dropped during the Indian series, and David Gower was under particular pressure to perform due to the emergence of young talent within the county game, James Whitaker and Rob Bailey being prime examples. Pringle was originally included in the squad and given the unenviable task of filling Botham's ample boots, although come the final reckoning he was omitted, back spasms not helping his cause. Foster, Graham Dilley and Worcestershire's Neal Radford were expected to provide the pace options. The Middlesex spin pair of Emburey and Phil Edmonds were included, although Emburey would later have to withdraw from the squad after breaking his nose in a John Player League match. Emburey's place was taken by Peter Willey, a remarkable comeback for the Leicestershire man, after he had undergone keyhole surgery on his knee earlier in the year. Bruce French would continue behind the stumps, yet he would not be the only Englishman to don the wicketkeeping gloves during this Test (more of which later).
As the nation recovered from the excitement of Andrew and Fergie's wedding on the Wednesday (be still my beating heart), the first Test got underway at Lord's on Thursday, July 24. Day one centred upon two men: Moxon and Hadlee. After England had won the toss and elected to bat first, Hadlee began his technical examination of both openers, probing and rarely bowling a loose delivery in a typically fine opening spell. At the other end, Willie Watson was making his debut in place of the injured Ewen Chatfield, who had broken a finger in the first ODI, a medium pace bowler straight off the Kiwi production line of wicket to wicket seamers. It is often reported that this was the series in which Gooch famously described facing New Zealand's bowlers and Hadlee in particular as "like the World XI at one end, and Ilford Second XI at the other." A little harsh perhaps, but throughout the Lord's Test and the rest of the series, you could see what Gooch was getting at. His opinion was backed up by the Daily Mirror's Paul Weaver, who described Hadlee as "not so much an all-rounder but an entire cricket team." High praise indeed, yet certainly merited.
Of course it was Hadlee who made the breakthrough, having Gooch caught behind by Smith, but England recovered well via the Yorkshire-born partnership of Moxon and Athey. New Zealand were not helped when an injury under his left arm pit forced Coney out of the attack after just four overs, and as England reached 102/1, Gatting's decision to bat first looked justified. Hadlee did remove Athey, at a cost though with Jeff Crowe dislocating his thumb in taking the slip catch (he was able to bat later in the match), and a spritely half century by Gower put England back in control at 196/2. The balance of power was soon shifted however, as first Moxon, who had batted with great patience for his 242 minute 74 became Hadlee's third victim, trapped lbw, and when Hadlee clean bowled Gatting for just 2, England were suddenly 198/4. New Zealand's finest was doing a Brisbane and England needed to get to stumps without any further damage.
Gower unusually took it upon himself to grind things out, scoring just 12 runs in a 95 minute period during the mini collapse. However, when Martin Crowe brilliantly caught the former England skipper at midwicket off the bowling of Bracewell, England closed on 248/5 with nightwatchman Phil Edmonds surviving until the end of the day. At 196/2 England had been cruising, until Hadlee got to work, but one positive to come out of the day was the mature batting performance of Moxon. "That's fairly good but I'm a bit disappointed I couldn't go for the 100," stated the debutant, who must have been as irritated as the rest of us that his fine innings and the platform he had provided appeared to have been squandered on a wicket that the experts were surmising that 400 was about par.
Edmonds was soon dismissed at the start of day two, Hadlee claiming his fifth wicket and equalling Botham's record of 5+ wickets in an innings 26 times. Willey continued his fine resistance but for Bruce French there was only pain. Struck on the head by a rearing delivery from Hadlee (his county colleague nonetheless), French collapsed to the floor and had to be helped from the field. "I can't remember anything about it," said French after the incident, adding "For ten minutes I didn't know where I was, although I don't think I ever lost consciousness." This moment not only gave French a significant headache - he needed three stitches in his head - but it would have repercussions for England throughout the rest of the match.
When Watson dismissed Willey for his maiden test wicket, New Zealand were in charge of the match, England's 271/7 looking a little light. A combination of Dilley, Foster and Radford managed to scrape the final total up to 307, Hadlee finishing with the dreamy figures of 37.5-11-80-6. Athey deputised for French in the two overs before lunch, but in the interval an SOS was sent to one of the sponsors' tents to retired 45-year-old Bob Taylor, only on the ground in his role as a public relations officer for Cornhill Insurance. Taylor takes up the story: "It was a bit of a rush. I had to borrow French's trousers and shirt, Gatting's socks, the physio's floppy hat and Gooch's jockstrap...it was a new one, I think." Taylor kept competently, not conceding a bye in 51 overs, and during a visit from the Queen in the tea interval, he spent longer than anyone in conversation with her majesty. Maybe England could have drafted in Elizabeth too, as come the close of play, New Zealand were in a position of great strength.
It had all started so well for England; Dilley removed both Wright and Rutherford for ducks as New Zealand slumped to 5/2. Unfortunately, Edgar and Martin Crowe then began the rebuilding process, a fine 122-run partnership guiding New Zealand to 127/2 overnight, with both players unbeaten on 52. England would need quick wickets on the Saturday morning, otherwise it was looking like a very long road back, with Hadlee looming on the horizon.
As befitted the England setup at the time, there was a little bit of muddled confusion on the Saturday morning. French failed a late fitness test, Taylor honestly informed the team that he couldn't possibly do a six hour day, and so come 10.30 the headless chickens involved in the England management structure were flapping around trying to find a solution to the wicketkeeping problem. Eventually, Hampshire's Bobby Parks was contacted, and after driving up from his south coast home, he would become England's third wicketkeeper of the Test.
Edgar and Crowe would also prove a nuisance, taking their partnership to 210, still New Zealand's record third-wicket partnership against England. Gooch's part-time bowling finally accounted for Edgar (83) with Crowe departing soon after for a classy 103, and at 218/4 England were getting back into the match. Jeff Crowe and Coney put on 56 for the fifth wicket to edge closer to England's total, before Edmonds claimed his second Crowe brother and Radford dismissed Coney. Hadlee and Gray ensured England's total would be surpassed, but brilliant bowling by Edmonds restricted the damage, both batsmen succumbing to the Middlesex left-armer, and when Dilley removed Smith, England had fought back admirably. Coney knew that New Zealand's 342/9 at the end of day three could and should have been a whole lot better: "We were looking for a total of 450 but we didn't get it because of a series of relaxed, casual strokes and some good bowling." Edmonds was easily the pick of England's bowlers, though the Daily Express headline 'England just look ordinary', neatly summed up the general opinion on the rest of the bowling unit.
After the rest day on the Sunday (a big frustration to a young cricket fan, I can tell you), Dilley struck with the first ball on the Monday, meaning that New Zealand did not add to their overall lead of 35. It proved a useful advantage though, as before England had wiped out the deficit, Hadlee removed Moxon, and when Gray bowled Athey round his legs - after Smith had already given him a life off Hadlee - England were 68/2 and wobbling. Gray, who had previously only taken 8 Test wickets at 38.87, repeated the dose on a casual Gower (a standard prefix for the outrageously gifted batsman), and with fitness worries over Willey's knee and French, England's position of 72/3 - a lead of just 37 - was looking precarious.
Gooch and Gatting led a slight recovery to 110/3 come the end of play, though the home team were assisted by bad light and rain which curtailed play just before tea. At first, the duo refused the light, only to complain a few overs later to umpires Whitehead and Bird (who the week before had been to Buckingham Palace to collect an MBE) that the conditions were unplayable. More cloudy thinking during this troublesome period for the English national team.
Any English fan of a nervous disposition i.e. everyone, would have been squirming significantly on the final day when skipper Gatting was caught at midwicket off Gray. Only 101 ahead, and with just Gooch and Willey of the recognised batsmen remaining, a familiar feeling of trepidation filled the air. For once though, we were pleasantly surprised, as a partnership of 126 in almost three hours steadied the ship and dragged England to safety. Willey's 42 was priceless, but it was Gooch's magnificent rearguard 183 in over 7 hours that drew most plaudits. Questions still remained regarding Gooch's participation on the forthcoming winter tour of Australia, and on this form it seemed crucial that the Essex opener commit himself fully. As it transpired, Gooch did not tour, although this did allow Chris Broad to experience his finest moments as an England player.
On Gooch's departure, Gatting even had the luxury of declaring on 295/6, allowing French to take the field and become England's fourth gloveman of the match, and for both Edgar and Wright to be dismissed for ducks, Wright completing a pair. The draw did at least mean that England were now undefeated in two Tests - yes, that is how bad the situation was - and Gatting seemed realistic about the performance of his side: "We're still building and there's still plenty of room for improvement, but I think we fought and battled all the way through."
It couldn't last of course; England made four changes for the next Test at Trent Bridge, and Hadlee excelled on his stomping ground, taking ten wickets, as New Zealand won by eight wickets. Botham's fairytale return at the Oval was a splendid high in the drabbest year imaginable for English fans, but even Beefy could not prevent the weather wrecking England's chances, giving New Zealand their very first series win in England.
In many ways, the first Test at Lord's was a microcosm of what was to follow for English cricket in the 1990s. A stirring and inspiring knock from Graham Gooch; the constant search for someone to fill Ian Botham's role in the side; and selectorial mayhem, although in fairness, the wicketkeeper situation at Lord's was hardly a problem of England's making. Come the end of the Test, Mickey Stewart had accepted the role as manager of the England team (after Ray Illingworth had rejected an approach) and it did at least appear from the outside as if steps were being taken to improve the dire state of the national team. But the 1986/87 Australian tour apart, the rest of the eighties was an absolute shambles for England's Test fortunes, with only a solitary Test win against Sri Lanka in 1988 to show for their efforts.
Yet through all these sad and crushing experiences, I kept coming back for more. Why I will never know. Most normal boys of my age would have wised up to the shower before their eyes, chosen to do some more interesting instead. But oh no, not me. There I was come rain or shine, watching in eager anticipation on the off chance that they might surprise me, that maybe, just maybe, we could turn a corner. Rather appropriately, there was a song in the charts around the time of the Lord's Test that I liked (please don't judge me), by Owen Paul. The title of this song? My Favourite Waste Of Time. How very fitting.