With England’s 1000th Test being played at Edgbaston this week, it has been a joy for a cricket nerd like me to wallow in the numerous articles taking a look back at the best matches and players that have been part of 141 years of history.
Naturally, I am drawn to the decade of my childhood, and I started to recall the highs and lows of English Test cricket in the 1980s. Sadly, there were far too few of the former and rather too many of the latter.
The decade would start and end with series defeats against Australia. Indeed, under Mike Brearley’s captaincy, England lost the first two Tests of the 1980s, starting as they meant to go on. Soon, Brearley’s reign would be over (for now). After the Jubilee Test against India in Bombay, the hunt for a new captain would begin.
The hero of the victory against India would be handed the poisoned chalice. Ian Terrence Botham’s 13 wickets and century in Bombay highlighted his importance to the national team, and it was hoped that the 24-year-old could lead by example. It didn’t quite turn out like that.
In truth, Botham was unlucky that two of his series in charge were against a superb West Indies team. But with his form deteriorating rapidly, and, Beefy’s pair at Lord’s proved the final act of his less than successful term; four defeats and eight draws in twelve Tests.
“Who writes your scripts, Beefy?” Graham Gooch’s quote after Botham had taken a wicket on his first ball back after a cannabis related ban in 1986 was accurate. But the particular plotline for the rest of the 1981 Ashes was too good to be true. Even Hollywood might have rejected this barely believable script.
Headingley: Botham back in the wickets, and runs, but England forced to follow-on; England 500/1; Beefy and Dilley giving it some welly; that confectionery stall; Willis, seemingly in a trance, taking 8/43 for one of the most fantastic victories ever known.
Edgbaston: Australia apparently righting the wrong of the previous Test, 114/5 chasing only 151 for victory; Beefy steaming in to take 5-1 in 28 balls, stump raised aloft. Old Trafford: Beefy bludgeoning 118 off just 102 balls, applying the final touches to Botham’s Ashes.
It would never be that good again in the 1980s. How could anything possibly compete with that? In the next few years we saw a brief spell in charge for Keith Fletcher, and then Bob Willis took the reins.
Willis’ years as captain saw England perform like Guinness – great at home, but not the best traveller. Home wins over India, Pakistan, and New Zealand were all well and good, but overseas the team struggled.
The Ashes were relinquished, despite the relief and euphoria of the buttock-clenching three-run win at Melbourne. Theincluded possibly the most embarrassing headlines and Test of the decade; , with England scoring 82 and 93.
After another series loss in Pakistan, the end was nigh for Willis. David Gower, who had first captained England in 1982 – losing to Pakistan at Lord’s – was the next cab off the rank, but he must have been cursing his timing.
The 5-0 blackwash in the summer of 1984 against Clive Lloyd’s touring West Indian team was painful to play in (ask Andy Lloyd and Paul Terry) and watch, with Gower’s declaration at Lord’s bringing particular criticism from many quarters.
The pressure was already mounting. Whenand then went behind in India, Gower was on the brink. But England being England promptly shocked everyone , and for a brief period of time, supporting the England Test team was fun.
My timing was obviously better than Gower’s had been twelve months before. Andrew Hilditch joke here). If Test cricket was this good – Soul Limbo, TMS, – then why had it taken me so long to discover it?, (insert
I was naïve; following England for the rest of the decade alerted me to this fact. Another blackwash followed in the Caribbean, and Gower was replaced by Mike Gatting.
At first, things did not get any better for the new man in power. Defeats against India and New Zealand at home, and a tricky start to the Ashes tour of 1986/87 saw Martin Johnson write his famous “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field” line about Gatting’s tourists.
Yet there was time for two final acts from Beefy. His, and his 5/41 at Melbourne, helped England retain the Ashes, with .
What is the opposite of it’s always darkest before the dawn? If Melbourne 1986 was a sunshine moment, then the rest of the decade was damp and miserable. It would be a full eighteen Tests before England won another match, and in that period the team went through captains at an alarming rate.
It all started to unravel in Faisalabad, after Gatting’s finger-wagging row with umpire Shakoor Rana. From this point, Gatt’s days were numbered. An alleged incident in a hotel room during the Trent Bridge Test of the 1988 series against the West Indies kicked off the silly season.
The 4-0 defeat to Australia was a sadly appropriate end to the decade, played out under the speculation of another rebel tour taking place, and with England using a staggering 29 players in the series. It set the foundations for what was to follow during the next ten years.
In all, England played 104 Tests during the 1980s, winning just 20. Their streaks without a victory are hard to comprehend in the modern era; 12 matches in 1980/81; 13 in 1983/84; 11 in 1986, including seven straight defeats; one win in 25 after Melbourne 1986.
But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. When England won the Ashes in 2005, I felt so much better than any of the Johnny-Come-Latelies who all of a sudden wanted to talk to me about cricket.
I’ve always described watching England in my formative years as my favourite waste of time. Most normal people would have given up and gone to do something more interesting instead. But I wasn’t ordinary, even if the team I was following for the majority of the 1980s was.