Monday, 26 February 2018

1983/84: England's cricket tour of New Zealand

There can be something almost enjoyable about a cricketing tour that slowly comes off the rails. As the injuries mount, the defeats follow, and off-field allegations begin, you can develop a gallows humour towards your team, as you ponder whether new levels of rock bottom can be reached. England’s tour of Australia in 1994/95 is one of my personal favourites of this genre. But the 1983/84 ‘Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll’ tour to New Zealand takes some beating.

Ian Botham openly admits in Don’t Tell Kath that he was having doubts about touring with England. “After a long and stressful tour to Australia in 1982/83, something told me that England's 1983/84 tour next winter to Fiji, New Zealand and Pakistan would be a good one to miss. As things turned out, I should have followed my instincts.” Very true.

Botham had already tweaked the noses of his bosses before the tour had started. The Test and County Cricket Board, already unhappy that Botham was risking injury by playing football for Scunthorpe, were far from thrilled when the all-rounder defied their orders and continued to play for the club just two days before the tour started. Botham’s testing winter had got off to a bad start before he had set foot on a plane.

Captained by Bob Willis, the team were almost embarrassed in their second one-day match against a Fijian XI prior to the New Zealand leg of the tour. Beating their hosts by 18 runs in the second one-day match, the situation became so worrying that England’s pace bowlers Graham Dilley and Neil Foster switched to their full run-ups to ensure that England left the island with their reputations intact.

With only three three-day warm-up matches, there wasn’t much time for England’s players to prepare before the Test series in New Zealand. Mike Gatting, Botham and Bob Taylor got the team out of trouble during their first tour match against Auckland, but a solid draw against Central Districts – Botham smashing 80 off 37 balls in the second innings – and a win over Northern Districts, at least gave England a boost as the first Test in Wellington neared.

Preparation for the series opener was hampered by rain, but on a helpful wicket, Botham took 5/59 to restrict New Zealand to 219, and when Botham (138) and Derek Randall (164) gave England a 244 first innings lead, the tourists were in a strong position to push for victory. Yet fine rearguards from Martin Crowe (100), Jeremy Coney (174 not out) and Lance Cairns (64), saw New Zealand claim a crucial draw.

It would be the second Test match where the fun and games truly begun. There had been rows involving Willis and Richard Hadlee relating to intimidatory bowling at tailenders, and tour manager Alan Smith had to smooth over an incident in an Auckland hotel bar regarding allegations of drunken behaviour of England players. Yet after the humiliation of Christchurch, the press had a reason to go to town on the state of the English game, and of their players.

Injuries began to mount. Botham and Taylor passed late fitness tests, but Foster was ruled out with a broken toe caused by Willis’ bowling in the nets. An injury to Dilley led to a call-up for Sussex bowler Tony Pigott, who was playing for Wellington in the winter. Pigott had been due to get married on the fourth day of the Test, and had to cancel his wedding. England’s shambolic display meant that the Test didn’t even make it as far as Pigott’s original wedding date.

England did reduce New Zealand to 137/5, but a combination of abysmal bowling and a thrilling 81-ball 99 from Hadlee saw the hosts post an over par total of 307. And then came the horror of England’s replies. Skittled out for just 82 and 93, England were appalling, losing by an innings and 132 runs. “I do not believe that England can ever have played as pathetically as they did in their humiliating defeat by New Zealand here yesterday,” Pat Gibson wrote in the Express. He was probably being kind.

Willis bemoaned the state of the pitch, and would later add that England were a superior team to New Zealand on true surfaces. But when the final Test was drawn, Willis had become the first England skipper to suffer a series defeat against the Kiwis. England may have won the subsequent one-day series 2-1, but as the team arrived in Pakistan for the next leg of their tour, the knives were out.

“Drugs, heavy drinking and sex romps have played a part in the poor performance of England’s touring cricketers it was alleged last night,” Philippa Kennedy wrote in the Express, with the Mail on Sunday also running articles covering the same accusations. Smith had been aware of the rumours, and revealed an investigation had “found absolutely nothing substantiated.” Yet the storm showed no signs of abating.

“I don’t know how they had anything left for the game,” an Auckland cricket official told the Express. “They had such a good time off the field.” Stories of players smoking pot circulated, with team members apparently wedging damp towels along the bottom of doors to stop the smell escaping. Reports of drunk players in hotel bars in the early hours of the morning, on the same day of matches, were rife. “Some players must have been severely hungover going out on the field,” the official added.

England’s players denied the allegations, with Botham opening up a libel case against the Mail on Sunday. Botham’s winter showed no signs of improving, though. Returning to England for a knee operation, he managed to get into more hot water, fined £1,000 by the TCCB for stating that Pakistan was “the kind of place to send your mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid.”

Eventually police and TCCB investigations cleared the players of any wrongdoing. “We have found that much of what was reported seems to have been founded in rumour and speculation,” a police statement indicated. Certainly, the stories of England players smoking dope in dressing rooms seemed ludicrous, and some of the other accusations far-fetched. But Botham would later admit that he had found an escape in the occasional joint on that tour.

“And although I have always denied the specific allegations about what was supposed to have taken place, I am quite happy to admit that, from time to time, I did take dope on this tour. I can't justify my actions, but there were times when I hid in my room, had a joint and totally switched off, otherwise, I think I might have gone round the bend.”

Allan Lamb was another to lift the lid in his autobiography. “I admit that I dabbled here and there with pot, but only socially. I say that not as an excuse, but to nail the lie that the team indulged in the habit in our dressing rooms.” You can’t have smoke without fire, and although the main accusations were quashed, a comment from Botham would come back to haunt him.

“I told reporters that I had never smoked dope in my life,” Botham reveals. However, as part of a legal compromise with the Mail on Sunday, Botham wrote an article for the paper in May 1986, under the headline “Botham: I did take pot.” The admission landed Botham a two month ban from the sport. The drug cloud hovering over that New Zealand tour just wouldn’t go away.

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