Wednesday, 16 November 2016

1980s cricket: Australia lose six in a row

Australia recently suffered their fifth Test defeat in a row, the innings and 80 run loss against South Africa the latest in a series of embarrassing reverses. But in the 1980s the team managed to go one better (or worse), losing six on the bounce, and in the process, reducing their skipper to an emotional wreck.

The post of national captain had been far from kind to Kimberly John Hughes. After winning his first Test in charge in 1979 against Pakistan, things always seemed to conspire against the Western Australian. On the brink of taking a 2-0 series lead in the 1981 Ashes series, Hughes saw victory, and most probably the urn itself, snatched from his hands, as an inspired Ian Botham and Bob Willis combined to pull off the miracle of Headingley.

When Botham's 5-1 in 28 balls sealed another unlikely win at Edgbaston, and Beefy bludgeoned a marvellous century at Old Trafford, Hughes had gone from possible hero to absolute zero in the space of a few dizzying months.

Relieved of the captaincy after the return of Greg Chappell in the Australian summer of 1981/82, Hughes was then handed the poisoned chalice once more when his predecessor and successor made himself unavailable for the Pakistan tour in 1982/83. It was a smart move from Chappell; Australia were hammered 3-0 in the subcontinent, and when Chappell returned to lead his team to regain the Ashes in 1982/83, Hughes must have wondered if some higher force had it in for him with regards to the captaincy.

Chappell stood down after the Ashes triumph, with Hughes leading a full strength Australia to a home series win against Pakistan. The two Tests won during that series would eventually account for 50% of Hughes' wins as Australian captain, and with the international retirements of Chappell, Rod Marsh, and Dennis Lillee, the forthcoming tour to the Caribbean looked like a disaster waiting to happen.

Mar 30-Apr 4, 1984: West Indies won by 10 wickets (Barbados)

Australia had actually enjoyed a relatively positive start to the series. Setting the West Indians 323 for victory at Guyana, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes put on an unbroken stand of 250, and the first Test was drawn, but with Malcolm Marshall returning for the next Test, things were going to get a lot harder for Hughes' inexperienced team. Only two heroic knocks from Allan Border - 98 not out and 100 not out - and a rare rearguard from Terry Alderman, prevented defeat in Trinidad. But in Barbados, the tourists would finally crack.

Facing Joel Garner, Marshall, the returning Michael Holding, and Eldine Baptiste was a daunting prospect, yet after being inserted, Australia managed to reach an excellent 429, with Wayne Phillips scoring his second and last Test century, and Graeme Wood, Greg Ritchie, and Tom Hogan all making important contributions. But after the West Indies replied with 509 - Haynes and Richie Richardson scoring centuries - the Australian house collapsed in spectacular fashion.

Closing day four on 68/4, Australia were demolished by Marshall and Holding on the final morning, with the last six wickets falling for just 29 runs. Extras was the third highest contributor with 18 runs, as Haynes and Greenidge easily knocked off the same amount of runs needed for victory, and with Wood returning home due to a fractured finger, plus Rodney Hogg missing the fourth Test with an Achilles strain, Australia's tour was hurtling out of control.

Apr 7-11, 1984: West Indies won by an innings and 36 runs (Antigua)

Hughes may have won the toss for Australia, but that was as good as things got at St John's. With an Australian team containing seven players with less than ten Test appearances each - Ritchie, Phillips, Dean Jones, Roger Woolley, Hogan, John Maguire, and Carl Rackemann - the West Indies could sense blood. Despite another fine knock from Border (98) and a half century from David Hookes, Australia's first innings total of 262 was woefully inadequate.

This was highlighted even more when Viv Richards and Richie Richardson added 308 for the third wicket, and when no Australian batsman could pass 29 in the second knock, the innings and 36 runs victory saw the West Indies retain the Frank Worrell Trophy with ease.

"On the fourth day, the Australian batsmen could find neither the spirit nor the technique to cope with their formidable task: the largest contribution to the innings came from 36 extras," stated Wisden. In fairness, the combination of a fine West Indian side and raw Australian team merely led to the inevitable, yet Hughes was coming under increased pressure, with both his form and captaincy under scrutiny.

Apr 28-May 2, 1984: West Indies won by 10 wickets (Jamaica)

Hughes' wretched tour showed no signs of improvement as the teams moved on to Jamaica. Scores of 19 and 23 left the Australian skipper with a series average of just 21.50, and with his team struggling, the vultures were circling. It probably didn't help that his main contender for the job scored 521 runs at 74.42, as Border would again top score in both innings of the final Test.

Dismissed for 199, Hughes and his men were forced to chase leather, as Greenidge and Haynes put on 162 for the first wicket. Bowling figures of 4/57 from Maguire, in his final Test appearance, at least helped to restrict the hosts to 305. But with Steve Smith absent with a broken finger, and extras alone providing Border with any support, Australia could only muster 160, with Marshall taking 5/51.

Greenidge and Haynes put on the 55 needed for a 3-0 series win, with The Times emphasising the gap between the two teams: "The West Indies have gone through this series without losing a wicket in their second innings, a remarkable statistic which illustrates their superiority." Quite.

Nov 9-12, 1984: West Indies won by an innings and 112 runs (Perth)

If Hughes was looking for respite, then he was dealt a rough hand with Australia's fixture scheduling. The next Test match opponent in the Australian summer would be the same team that had crushed them in the Carribean, and as Ian Botham can confirm, facing the West Indies in back to back series can do serious damage to your captaincy statistics.

Describing the West Indians as "the strongest, most disciplined and most professional" he had played against, Hughes must have been cursing the fact that he had to face Clive Lloyd's all conquering side once more.

There was simply no let up as the Test series commenced on the fast and bouncy track in Perth. Although Alderman and Hogg reduced the West Indies to 186/6, centuries from Larry Gomes and Jeff Dujon dug the tourists out of a hole, and their total of 416 would be enough to ensure that they didn't have to bat again. Holding then decimated the Australian batting, taking 6/18 in 35 deliveries as the hosts were dismissed for 76, their lowest ever score against the West Indies.

The Australians managed to limp to 228 in their second innings, with Hughes' score of 37 his highest since the Pakistan series of 1983/84. "Don't look now, cricket fans, but the Australians are doing worse than England," stated the Daily Express, comparing Australia's performances to that of England in the 1984 'Blackwash' series. Schadenfreude is a big part of being a sports fan, but in terms of consolations for English fans, that was probably scraping the barrel ever so slightly.

Nov 23-26, 1984: West Indies won by 8 wickets (Brisbane)

"Hard work is the only answer," a defiant Hughes claimed after the latest defeat, yet competing against this West Indian team was a thankless task. The end game would arrive in Brisbane for the beleaguered Australian captain, his tearful resignation speech highlighting just how much of a mental battering he had endured.

"The constant criticism, speculation and innuendo by former players and a section of the media over the past four or five years have finally taken their toll," Hughes struggled to say, before breaking down and leaving the press room. Team manager Bob Merriman completed Hughes' statement.

It was hardly surprising that Hughes was driven to breaking point. Again Australia were shot out for a low total, dismissed for 175 on a blameless Gabba strip, despite the fact that Holding could only bowl 6.2 overs. Two wickets from 38-year-old debutant Bob Holland helped to reduce the West Indies to 184/5 in reply, but as with all great teams, the tourists recovered. Centuries from Richardson, Lloyd, and a half century from Marshall helped the West Indian total to 424, with Australia now contemplating another innings defeat.

There were some positives. A fifty for David Boon on debut; Australia forcing the West Indies to bat again; and the tourists actually lost a couple of wickets in the second innings for once. But with Hughes standing down, and the West Indians showing no signs of relenting, Australian cricket was in a right mess as Border stepped into the breach.

Dec 7-11, 1984: West Indies won by 191 runs (Adelaide)

"I don't think we've performed as well as we can," Border stated on the eve of the third Test. "I hope we'll play at our absolute best and they will drop a notch or two." Even this was no guarantee of competing with the West Indians during this period, though, and Adelaide would see the latest clinical performance by Lloyd's team. Their 191 run victory saw the West Indians win their eleventh Test match in a row, this record lasting until 2001, when Steve Waugh's Australia set a new benchmark.

As England discovered in both 1988 and 1993, you can change the captain of your ship, but the results often stay the same. Border's Australia were reasonably competitive for the first three days, but a Gomes century set Australia a target of 364, and only Kepler Wessels showed any resistance, as Marshall (5/38) and off-spinner Roger Harper (4/43) saw the visitors wrap up the series.

"To take them into the fifth day is an achievement in itself," Border said. "But we can't seem to match them at this stage." Not many could, though. Australia did at least stop the rot in Melbourne - thanks in large parts to the weather - and then even had the cheek to win in Sydney, but this was really papering over the cracks. Home and away defeats to both England and New Zealand would follow in the forthcoming years, as Border started the long road to recovery.

Player retirements, a revolving door selection policy, a change of captain, South African rebel tours, and numerous Test defeats. It seemed that Australian cricket had a lot in common with their English rivals during the 1980s. Alas, it was Australia that would get their house in order first, and with the World Cup in 1987 and the Ashes in 1989, Border helped to drag his country to the level he demanded. The mid-1980s proved to be the darkness before the dawn.

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