Wednesday, 20 November 2013

1986-87 Ashes: Chris Broad

The usual suspects apart - Botham, Lamb and Gower - my first few English cricketing heroes were slightly unexpected. Tim Robinson had been part of the foundations behind the 1985 Ashes success, his first innings at Headingley dragging me into a sport which I have subsequently spent far too much time worrying about. And then came Richard Ellison, the icing on the cake at the conclusion of that series, giving me my first taste of Ashes victory. The 1986/87 Ashes tour would provide me with another example of a man in the right form, in the right place, at the best of times; Brian Christopher Broad, or Chris as his mates (like me) call him, was about to write his own chapters in the history of the Ashes.

Broad's road from county player to Ashes icon was not smooth. An ambitious man, the tall left-hand opener departed Gloucestershire in 1984, stating that he wanted to win silverware, and complaining that it was increasingly difficult to gain international recognition at such an unfashionable county. His decision to join Nottinghamshire appeared to be justified; Broad would end up with every major honour available in his time with the county, and just a few months after his move, he received his first international call-up.

There could be no bigger test at the time for an opener on debut than facing the mighty West Indies. Thus Broad's 55 in his first innings at the highest level gave the impression that he was not out of his depth, a knock which drew plaudits and admiration from the opposition. Broad's return in the series - 195 runs at 24.37 in his four Tests - was respectable, and when he then followed this up with his highest Test score of 86 against Sri Lanka at Lord's, it looked as if Broad was here to stay.

The England selectors had other ideas, however. When the party for the 1984/85 tour to India was announced, Broad's name was missing, chairman of selectors Peter May openly stating "Broad is unlucky, if not very unlucky". The perception at the time seemed to be that Broad had a weakness against spin, which explained his omission from the selectors' point of view. Robinson and Graeme Fowler excelled in the subcontinent, and when Graham Gooch's South African related ban ended in the summer of '85, Broad all of a sudden looked a long way down the pecking order.

Luckily for Broad, this was the England cricket setup in the 1980s. After a disastrous 1986 - a 5-0 thrashing in the Caribbean, home series losses to India and New Zealand - there were places up for grabs for the Ashes tour down under. England's woes had been so bad, that in 1986 alone they used seven openers, and Gooch's announcement prior to the New Zealand Test at the Oval that he would not be touring for family reasons, meant that numerous names were being discussed for the opening berths; Robinson, Broad, Bill Athey, Martyn Moxon, Wayne Larkins, Wilf Slack, Mark Benson, and Ashley Metcalfe all had their supporters.

Broad's selection for the Ashes tour was widely anticipated, his six hundreds and 1476 runs at 38.84 in the County Championship enough to convince the selectors that the Notts man was worth another go. What was more surprising though was Robinson's absence. His haul of 1319 runs in five fewer matches than Broad looked certain to earn him a place on the plane, yet the selectors controversially opted for Slack instead. As it would evolve, Athey would be the man to open with Broad in the Test series, but many had felt that the selectors had missed a trick even before the players had the country.

Once the tour had started, it didn't take too long for the press to get stuck into England. An embarrassing defeat against Queensland and a weather-assisted draw in Perth led Martin Johnson to infamously state in The Independent: "There are only three things wrong with this England side - they can't bat, can't bowl, can't field".

In particular, the opening positions were causing great concern, although Broad's place was assured in the team, his 63 in a win over South Australia helping his cause no end. But Slack and Athey were having a terrible time, averaging 4 and 9 respectively in the first-class matches, and with a highest opening stand on the tour of just 15, England went into the first Test at Brisbane with very little faith or expectation.

Broad and Athey could not better the record opening partnership on tour - Broad falling for 8 leaving England 15/1 - but a truly match-changing innings from a certain IT Botham, along with half-centuries from Athey, Gatting and Gower, enabled England to post 456. Dilley's first Test five-for ensured England could enforce the follow-on, and Emburey's 5/80 in the second innings left the tourists requiring only 75 for victory. Broad was dropped on his way to an unbeaten 35, as the team that couldn't bat, bowl or field went 1-0 up in the series. The Australians would soon get used to the sight of England's opener, the next three Tests cementing Broad's place in the annals of the famous Anglo-Australian clashes.

The second Test at Perth gave us all our first glimpse of what was to follow in Broad's magical Australian summer. A partnership of 223 with Athey demoralised the Aussies, Broad batting sublimely for over seven hours for his maiden Test century. "I've never hit the ball in the middle of the bat as often as I did today," a delighted Broad related at the end of day one, shortly before joining his parents Ken and Nancy for an evening out (they had timed their visit from Bristol brilliantly). Centuries from Gower and wicketkeeper Richards allowed England to declare on 592/8, but as soon as the hosts edged past the follow-on target, the match petered out into a draw. Broad had announced himself on the Test scene, winning the man of the match award, as the show rolled on to Adelaide.

A Botham-less England looked vulnerable for the first time in the series, after Australia declared on 514/5. Broad allayed any fears though, scoring 116 and sharing in stands of 112 with Athey and 161 with skipper Gatting, as England easily saw the match out. There was even time for a 15 not out in the second innings, just in case the Australians had not seen quite enough of England's new star.

And then came the crowning glory. Broad's third century in successive Ashes Tests in the same series put him in an exclusive club alongside Jack Hobbs and Walter Hammond. More importantly, Broad's 112 was made in a winning cause, England triumphing inside three days and retaining the Ashes with a match to spare.

For almost nineteen years this match remained my favourite Ashes Test, hardly surprising really, considering what was to follow from an English perspective. The highlights for me were sporting heaven: a half-fit Botham somehow ending up with five wickets; the last minute inclusion in Gladstone Small taking 5/48; Jack Richards' five catches, including three blinders; Broad's history making innings, only 19 runs fewer than Australia's first innings total; and the Ashes retained on that glorious December day. Bliss.

Just as with 2006/07, I will pretend that the fifth Test didn't happen. Broad was unable to make it four centuries in a row, scores of 6 and 17 proving that he was human, Australia claiming a dead rubber win that England would become so adept at doing in the intervening years. Unsurprisingly, Broad was named as the man of the series, the bare statistics emphasising just how good my new idol had been: 487 runs at 69.57; three centuries; and the small matter of 23 hours and 23 minutes spent at the crease. I loved the sight of that stance, with his bottom sticking out and his bat raised in the air, yet I'm guessing that Border and co were less enamoured.

Broad and England were not finished yet though. After the Ashes had been secured, the team donned their blue pyjamas to take part in the Perth Challenge, a tournament which was part of the America's Cup festival of sport. Broad made his ODI debut on January 1 1987, scoring 76 as England defeated Australia in their opening game of the group stage. Another win followed over the West Indians, and when Broad's 97 in the final group match gave England victory against Pakistan, the team entered the final against the same team brimful of confidence. England won the final, but Broad caused a stir when he openly objected to being given out for a duck. The decision did look dubious, yet this would certainly not be the last time in which Broad's actions in the middle would provoke discussion.

The third leg of England's treble was not quite so straightforward. Broad scored consistently throughout the World Series Cup - 49, 55 and 33 against the West Indies, and 45 (in Allan Lamb's match) and 46 against Australia - but come England's final group game in Devonport, the fatigued tourists needed to win their West Indian showdown to book a place in the final. Broad's 76 anchored England's total of 177, guaranteeing a final with Australia, and a 53 from Broad's broad bat in the second final helped England complete the grand slam on their 86/87 Australian tour.

Watching my Victory in Australia and On Top Down Under videos repeatedly in the months that followed, only strengthened Broad's place in my very own cricketing hall of fame. For a 12-year-old boy who had already got used to ritual humiliation when it came to English cricket, it wasn't hard to cling on to any new figure of hope. Broad's three centuries in an away Ashes series, described by John Woodcock as "a remarkable achievement", only improved with age. It would take until 2010/11 for England to win in Australia again, indeed Broad's own son, who was in nappies at the time of his dad's finest hours, would play the first two Tests of that series. As the years dragged on and the tapes became more and more worn, at least I had the consolation of being old enough to have remembered Broad's contribution to that superb tour.

The rest of Broad's career naturally failed to reach the heights of 86/87, a year in which he was crowned International Cricketer of the Year. A broken thumb at the start of the 1987 season led to him missing the first Test of the Pakistan series, and an average of 27.57 was a disappointment to a naive boy like me who expected success on every visit to the crease. There were some more flashes of inspiration; 116 in Faisalabad and a fine tour of New Zealand. But generally, the last couple of years of Broad's time in an England shirt were dogged with controversies.

Broad's refusal to leave the wicket after being given out in Lahore earned him a reprimand from the England tour management, and he was fined £500 when he demolished his stumps after being bowled for 139 in the Bicentenary Test in Sydney. He was finally dropped from the team after a loss of form and another moment of dissent after being given out lbw in a Test against the West Indies at Lord's. Obviously I forgave these transgressions, turning a blind eye to his misdemeanours, and hoping that one day the England selectors would see the errors of their ways and reinstate our Ashes hero to his rightful place in the team.

Broad did return a year later, as Ted Dexter hoped, like so many of us, that we could rewind to 86/87 and the man of the series could magically reproduce that form against the touring Australians. Alas we were all in for a rude awakening; Australia's 4-0 win still brings me out in cold sweats, as Broad's Test career ended in that chaotic summer of 29 players and the news of the rebel tour to South Africa, which Broad, Robinson and Ellison were unfortunately a part of. Three of my Ashes favourites gone before the end of the decade; I should have known that the 1990s were going to be difficult.

I don't want to end this blog on a negative though. I want to remember Chris Broad as an accomplished batsman, who for one special series in 1986/87 experienced a purple patch in form which happily coincided with a trip to Australia. A man who "played most admirably, some of his on-driving being uncommonly good," according to John Woodcock, who would also compliment Broad on his temperament, application, workmanlike technique, and opportunism. A boyhood hero of mine, who thankfully helped me to witness victory in Australia just in the nick of time.

2 comments:

  1. That's a wonderful memoir. I watched Graham Dilley's 5-for at the Gabba from high up in a grandstand that no longer exists. As an Australian fan, that was a painful summer, but there was so much to like about that England team. You shouldn't get so down about that Sydney Test either. Apart from the great Australian performances from Jones, Taylor and Sleep, Emburey's 7-wicket haul and Gatting's second innings 72 were wonderful contributions to a great match.

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  2. Couldn't agree more on the Sydney test. England would probably have been able to bat out a draw, but instead they were positive and went for the win. The psychological turning point against the Aussies was not the Sydney test but the defeat in the World Cup final the following year.

    More generallyk the story of Chris Broad and the 86/87 tour was a microcosm of everything that was actually wrong with English cricket at the time. Broad scored heavily despite a number of technical flaws that were later exposed. Botham's opening century and golden arm disguised the fact that he was almost finished as a test-class bowler and his batting was in decline. The whole tour was a glorious series of one-off performances that were a result of luck, not careful planning and consistent selection policies. But it fooled English cricket into thinking that all was well....this misconception was ruthlessly exploited by the 1989 Australian team, who had spent the intervening years putting together a tough-as-nails team that could be more than the sum of their parts.

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