Thursday, 28 January 2016

1986: Mike Gatting and his broken nose

Mike Gatting was in a confident frame of mind at the start of England's tour to the Caribbean in 1986, but one ball from Malcolm Marshall changed everything.

Mike Gatting faced his fair share of famous deliveries during his career. Many will remember that reverse sweep he attempted off Allan Border's bowling in the 1987 World Cup final, a shot that was accompanied with derision and disappointment in England. And naturally the role played by Gatting in the Ball of the Century is still discussed, his confused expression after Shane Warne had fizzed a leg break past his outside edge all part of the theatre that surrounds that moment in cricketing history.

If Warne's delivery had sent shockwaves through world cricket and panic through the England dressing room (and amongst many living rooms too), then this was not a new thing where Gatting was concerned. For on February 18, 1986, England's vice-captain would be on the receiving end of a delivery from another all-time great that would have serious repercussions for the rest of England's tour of the Caribbean. MW Gatting b Warne 4 may have been uncomfortable viewing for English cricket supporters, but MW Gatting b Marshall 10 was truly painful.

Gatting had enjoyed a superb run in the England team since skipper David Gower backed him openly by appointing the Middlesex man as vice-captain before the 1984/85 India tour. Scoring his maiden Test century in the first Test defeat - his 54th innings for England - Gatting played a full part in England's 2-1 victory, his 207 in Chennai a crucial factor in determining the outcome of the series. Two more centuries followed in the 1985 Ashes series in England, meaning that Gatting boarded the flight to the West Indies in the purplest of purple patches; since becoming vice-captain he had played 11 Tests, scored four centuries, and was averaging 91.83.

The early part of England's disastrous tour saw Gatting's run continue. Scoring 77 in England's worrying seven-wicket defeat against the Winward Islands, Gatting followed this up with 71 in the draw with the Leeward Islands, and 80 in a morale boosting win over Jamaica, a direct contrast to the form of Gower, who had made scores of 5, 9, 2 and 11 on the tour. As the first one-day international approached at Sabina Park, Jamaica, Gatting's batting displays had been one of the rare bright spots on a trip that was already threatening to go slightly pear shaped.

The pitch that awaited the tourists would have done very little to calm any anxiety in the England ranks. In Botham's Century, England's all-rounder stated that the strip was "corrugated and bare at both ends, grassy in the middle, and would almost certainly have been condemned by the health and safety inspectors," so all the best lads, facing Joel Garner, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Walsh and Malcolm Marshall on that. It was a recipe for disaster, and after Viv Richards won the toss and inserted England, the terrifying trial by pace would begin.

Debutant Patterson got off to the dream start, dismissing Tim Robinson and David Gower with his fourth and eighth deliveries, England slumping to 10/2 and now fully aware of the talents of the latest cab off the West Indian bowling rank. Gatting strode confidently to the wicket, building a partnership of 37 with Graham Gooch as the pair attempted to rebuild the innings. But on that day in 1986 you could see off Garner and Patterson, and Viv Richards would then throw the ball to Walsh and Marshall. And facing Malcolm Marshall was a frightening prospect for any Englishman during his career. Just ask Andy Lloyd.

Lloyd was making his Test debut in 1984 at Edgbaston and although England were struggling - a double-strike by Garner saw the home team reduced to 5/2 - the Warwickshire batsman was looking relatively solid as he moved to 10. Yet this was as far as Lloyd's international career would progress. Struck on the head by a Malcolm Marshall bouncer, Lloyd knew he was in trouble immediately, unable to read an advertising board as he was seen to by the England physio Bernard Thomas. Retiring hurt, Lloyd did not bat again in the Test match, and his next County innings was in 1985. An estimated 35% reduction in the central vision of his right eye spelt the end of his international dreams.

Mike Gatting had also moved on to 10 when his particularly painful Marshall moment arrived. Sending down a short-pitched ball, Marshall told the Daily Mirror how the delivery "took off like lightning straight towards his (Gatting's) face". The Englishman, in a confident mood, chose to take on the hook shot, but a combination of Marshall's pace and the sporting nature of the wicket did little to help him.

"I shaped to hook but the ball skidded off one of the grassy patches and I realised it was coming too quick," Gatting told the press the day after the event. "So I changed my mind and tried to paddle it around the corner - but before I knew anything else it smacked me on the nose."

Blood immediately gushed from Gatting's wound, the victim understandably grabbing at the source of the pain, as the grotesque nature of the injury began to zoom into focus. It was almost an irrelevance, but the ball had dropped on to the stumps after rearranging Gatting's nose - and he had also trodden on his stumps for good measure - something that irked the insanely brave Gatting later in the day.

England's physio Laurie Brown was quickly on the scene. "It is the worst injury I have ever seen in all my years working with footballers and cricketers," Brown said. "There was an awful lot of blood." A significant amount of Gatting's claret was on the pitch, as the victim was led away from the scene, leaving incoming batsman Allan Lamb feeling a little apprehensive.

"I can't remember feeling so nervous as when I had to pass him (Gatting) as he was led off with his nose spreadeagled and blood all over," Lamb recounts in his autobiography. But after Lamb had taken guard trying to ignore the blood on the pitch, there was another incident that highlighted the severity of the injury.

Marshall admitted that the sight of blood had turned his stomach, so much so that he had let others help Gatting after the crack of leather on bone. His breakfast almost made a reappearance, however, when the ball was thrown to him. "Then I went to pick up the ball only to discover, to my horror, a piece of nose bone lodged in it," Marshall told the Daily Mirror the day after the event. "I dropped it like a hand grenade and began to feel light-headed at what I had seen."

If Lamb had been nervous before, then he readily admits that this didn't help the situation. "It was bad enough taking guard with blood on the crease, but I felt even worse when Maco stopped halfway in his run-up to deliver my first ball. He went to the umpire, gave him the ball and said, 'I can't bowl with that. There's a piece of Gatt's nose stuck in the seam'." Full credit to Lamb that he was able to make 30 - England's second highest score behind Gooch's 36 - as England made 145/8 from 46 overs (they would later lose by 6 wickets).

As all this was going on, Gatting was being treated in the dressing room, taking a look at his splattered face before he made the crucial mistake of blowing his nose. "I will spare you the gory details but suffice to say that the dressing room attendant was busy for several minutes clearing up the debris," Botham recalls in Don't Tell Kath. Botham, who was lucky enough to miss the match due to a groin injury, would accompany Gatting and Brown to the local hospital, attempting to lighten the mood by stating that the blow may have improved Gatting's looks. 

Doctor Herb Elliott, Jamaica's sports medical adviser, was very concerned when he was confronted with Gatting's injury, worried that fragments of bone may well have been driven backwards towards Gatting's brain. "The ball scored a direct hit on the bridge of the nose causing abrasions and shattering the bone structure which had to be built on the inside," Elliott said, after sending Gatting back to the ground. Amazingly, Gatting got back to Sabina Park with the intention of carrying on where he had left off.

Unaware that he had in fact been bowled, the extremely brave/mad/crazy Gatting was actually ready to get out in the middle and face the chin music again. "Bollocks," was Gatting's succinct response when someone kindly informed him that a return to the crease was not possible that day. Indeed, Gatting's participation in the rest of the tour was now very doubtful.

Unable to breath through his nose, and with blood constantly trickling on the inside, Gatting spent the next few days in an anxious state before the decision was taken to fly him home or an operation. On landing in England, Gatting attended a press conference, which did at least provide an infamous one-liner that still manages to bring a smile to the face.

After informing the press that he had been a bit late on the shot and that it had struck him on the nose, one wise journalist wanted further clarification. "Where abouts on the nose?" came the instant reply, before Gatting saw the daft side of the question and general tittering broke out. "I think X marks the spot quite happily actually," said Gatting, the gash on his nose clear to all, as well as two black eyes for good measure.

England's tour in Gatting's absence was not quite so funny. Despite Gower trying unconvincingly to turn the Gatting injury to the advantage of his team - "an incident like this can actually raise morale in the side" - there can be no doubting that the shocking moment was detrimental to the mental state of the players. "Not only did the blow mean that the side was weakened for the first Test but also the confidence of the team was badly dented," Botham wrote in Don't Tell Kath. "Subsequently, during the three days it took the West Indies to win the match (the first Test) by ten wickets, it was shattered."

The first Test thrashing was sadly inevitable, and more and more holes were drilled into Gower's ship before the end of the tour, until only the wreckage remained, and the analysis and investigations could begin. Instead of looking closer to home, some began to query the role of the West Indians in the anarchy. ""Brutal bowling and brutish baiting is tearing the sport apart," wrote the Daily Mirror's Tony Stenson, adding "What has happened to the game I love?" The many disgusted of Tunbridge Wells also had their say in the Daily Express letter pages:

"It is no longer a game but a war of attrition, with the seeming aim to eliminate as many of the opposition as possible. Cricket is no longer "cricket".
CJ White, Tredegar, Gwent

"Is it not time that all fast bowlers were made to cut down on the run up? This would be just as fair to both sides"
Syd Loman, Edgware, London

"Perhaps the pitch should be lengthened. This would alter the trajectory and give the batsman more time to play his stroke"
HJ Rogers, Whitehill, Bordon

"But is this the type of cricket we want? The game's administrators have done nothing about the intimidatory and dangerous fast bowling that has spoiled the game we love"
R Caswell, Merriott, Somerset

As all the grumbling continued, Gatting flew back out to the West Indies - complete with a new helmet fitted with a metal-grille visor - hoping to take part in the third Test in Barbados. But ill-luck was beginning to follow Gatting around. Playing against Barbados in a tour match, Gatting batted like he had never been away, until a delivery from Vibert Greene brought more agony. Gatting had his thumb broken, ruling him out of both the third and fourth Tests and one day internationals. Two innings, 46 runs, two broken bones. Not the tour Gatting had been hoping for.

He did make it back for the last Test, as a record-breaking century from Viv Richards helped the West Indies seal their 5-0 blackwash at Antigua. Gatting's 15 and 1 summed up his Carribean experience in 1986; short and not so sweet. But strangely his bravery and lack of culpability in the series thrashing helped Gatting in the long-term. Gower was naturally under pressure and appointed captain for only the two one-day internationals and first Test against India at the start of the English summer. When the first Test was lost, Chairman of Selectors Peter May immediately turned to Gatting, completing his rise to the top.

The sight of Mike Gatting's battered nose and blackened eyes is an iconic sporting image of the 1980s. A picture that speaks volumes about the fearsome West Indian attacks throughout the decade, and also highlights the bravery of Gatting and the many others who put their bones on the line in the name of sport. We did not get to see much of that Carribean tour on our television screens, but I'm guessing if we had then we may have hidden behind the sofa whilst doing so. Rather them than me.

Now, where exactly did it hit you again, Mike?

1 comment:

  1. The Australian version was Geoff Lawson having his jaw broken by Curtly Ambrose at the WACA in 1988/89: