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England in West Indies 1980/81

A rare moment of relaxation for England`s captain

There was something of a sense of foreboding as England set off for the Caribbean in February 1981 for a five Test series. The previous summer they had lost 1-0 to the same opposition at home, in circumstances where they had cause to be grateful to the weather for not being more heavily defeated. Their talisman of recent years, new captain Ian Botham, had struggled for form, and there were only three men in the party, Geoff Boycott, Bob Willis and Chris Old, who had toured West Indies in the past.

Despite this the local pundits in the Caribbean were not totally confident of victory. Tony Cozier described himself as optimistic but wary, pointing out that England had not lost in the Caribbean for more than 30 years, and that while the home fast bowling stocks were extremely strong, the batting did not look quite so powerful. The recent Test records of Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd and Alvin Kallicharran were all less than impressive.

England had selected their sixteen at the end of the previous summer. In addition to those already mentioned there were six batsmen, Graham Gooch, David Gower, Mike Gatting, Peter Willey, Brian Rose and Roland Butcher. There were two more all-rounders, Geoff Miller and Graeme Stevenson. Graham Dilley made up the pace bowling contingent and John Emburey was the sole specialist spinner. The two wicketkeepers were David Bairstow and Paul Downton.

There was not a great deal of controversy about the party as selected, although there might have been. The great South African all-rounder, Mike Procter, had become qualified to play for England in the course of the previous summer, and while he was not quite the player he had been he was only 34, and Boycott for one was convinced of the merits of his selection. It was never realistic though, given that the touring party would almost certainly not have left the UK had he been chosen.

Some criticised the selection of the Barbados-born Butcher, and indeed Botham only just got his way on that particular selection, his more conservative co-selectors wanting Bill Athey to take the place. In the end Athey was first reserve and, when called up for the last two Tests after an injury to Rose, he showed Botham to be correct on that one as he endured a wretched time, with just seven runs to show for his four visits to the crease. Bob Woolmer, who had looked like he had such a promising career in front of him as he signed for World Series Cricket in 1977, might also have been selected. He had arguably been a little unlucky to be dropped after the second Test of the previous summer but, unlike Athey, he did not have youth on his side.

Amongst the pace bowlers there was no disagreement but the selection of three off spinners did raise some eyebrows. It is true that Willey was picked as a frontline batsman, but many thought that the attacking orthodox left arm spin of Phil Edmonds should have made the trip. There were doubts about his fitness at the time the squad was selected, and he was not a fan of Mike Brearley which might well have been reflected in the attitude of Botham, who was a great admirer of Brearley. But it seemed illogical to have no option to turn the ball away from the right hander when the West Indies were only likely to be fielding two lefties. On the other hand it has to be conceded that there weren’t going to be any turning wickets prepared, and Edmonds record when he did get a Caribbean trip in 1985/86 indicates that it was not a part of the world where the wickets suited him.

The tour started with a First Class match against the Board President’s XI in Trinidad which England won comfortably. Gower scored 187, and for a long time in a second wicket stand of 198 was outscored by Boycott, although hopes that he might have learned to temper his wonderful talent with a little more circumspection proved to be unfounded. But few that have ever had the pleasure of seeing him bat were troubled by that. As Test match preparation for the tourists the game was of limited value. The opposition’s spearhead was the late, great Malcolm Marshall, but the pitch was a slow turner, Willey and Miller skittling the home side in their second innings for 181 after a sound start.

Following the opening match there were a few days in St Vincent where the tourists lost the first ODI although had the batsmen provided even a modicum of support for their captain then, after dismissing the West Indies for just 127, they would surely have won. After that it was back to Trinidad and a rain-affected First Class match against the Island immediately prior to the first Test. In terms of readying England’s batsmen for the forthcoming Test series the match was next to useless. England’s batsmen totalled 355 with runs for Gooch as well as Gower and Boycott again, but all but 23 of the 141.3 overs were delivered by spinners and the odd 23 came from Larry Gomes’ innocuous medium pace and the fast-medium of Alec Burns, whose ten year career produced just 38 First Class wickets, albeit at the reasonable cost of 24.36.

So England were ill-prepared for the Fire in Babylon that they knew was coming in the first Test. The start of the game was delayed by rain and when Botham won the toss he had no hesitation in inviting Lloyd to bat. Water had leaked under the covers and it was hoped there might be some early life in the pitch as a result. In the event the 426-9 that West Indies amassed before Lloyd declared were 79 too many for England who were dismissed for 178 and 169, no one other than Gooch, Gower and Boycott making any runs.

Bob Willis, courtesy of a knee injury, had not played in the first Test and after it finished it was decided he should return home. Surrey’s Robin Jackman was flown out as his replacement and, with the party then due to move to Guyana for the next leg of the tour, he immediately took centre stage, albeit for reasons unconnected with the game of cricket. It was 23 February 1981 that Jackman arrived. He was greeted by tour manager Alan Smith and passed through Customs and Immigration without incident. The following day the news in Guyana was full of the fact that Jackman, whose wife was South African, had spent the previous 11 winters coaching and playing in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Test was due to start on 28 February and, Dilley and Old both troubled by injury, Jackman appeared to be a certain starter.

The Gleneagles Agreement, the accord which effectively recorded the terms of South Africa’s sporting isolation, did not permit goverments to take action against the citizens of another country and, to the extent it was relevant, Jackman’s name did not appear on the then current list of 168 sportsmen with links to South Africa. On 26 February the British High Commissioner announced that Jackman would not be, as was thought possible at one stage, expelled. At a press conference he made the comment, quite remarkable for a man who it would have been thought would have received at least some basic training in the art of diplomacy; The whole thing is idiotic. The fact that Robin Jackman is here as a member of a multi-racial England team to play in multi-racial Guyana against a multi-racial West Indies team is hardly a demonstration of apartheid…

Not surprisingly in the circumstances later that evening Jackman was served with deportation papers. Equally unsurprisingly the England team chose to leave Guyana en bloc, refusing to be dictated to on matters of team selection, thus consigning the second Test to oblivion. Next day the party flew to Barbados, a nation whose government now faced the tricky decision as to whether to endorse the Guyanese decision knowing that to do so would bring the tour to an end. This would have had far-reaching consequence to the finances of not only the board but the government itself given that more than 2,000 tourists had been expected to rock up in Bridgetown for the third Test. It is unlikely that the kind offer of Pakistan to travel to the Caribbean at short notice for three replacement Tests cut much ice.

There was much toing and froing and hushed negotiations between the two sides before, probably inevitably in light of the economic considerations, it was announced on 4 March by the Bajan External Affairs Minister that the tour would continue. It must have been much like the situation that the Australian Cricket Board found itself in in 1932/33, where it could not stick to its guns because of the money it would have to forego. Unlike the depression ridden Australians however the Guyanese were absolutely right. The tour should have been cancelled and the English authorities and their arrogant government sent the right message. Had they done so change in South Africa might have been hastened, and dear old Kenny Barrington might have been with us, if not to this day, then for much longer than he actually was.

When England began a 50 over match against Barbados on 6 March it was only their second day of cricket in the last 16. That they won, against a Bajan side that contained eight internationals and whose attack was led by Joel Garner, Wayne Daniel and Sylvester Clarke was, given the circumstances, a pleasant surprise. For the four day match that followed Garner was replaced by Malcolm Marshall. These were the days when Barbados as a single cricketing nation could have competed on level terms with anyone, and England were pleased to see Willey, Butcher and Jackman all start to find form in a game that meandered slowly towards an inevitable stalemate.

The England team for the Barbados Test showed four changes from the one so heavily beaten in Trinidad as Gatting, Butcher, Bairstow and Jackman came in. The latter was the strange one given that Old and Stevenson, both picked ahead of him for the original touring party, were fit. But Jackman took a couple of wickets as the home side were reduced to 65-4 and proved his point. Lloyd, eventually dismissed by Jackman for exactly 100, dealt with the crisis in company with Gomes and at the close West Indies were 238-7. Next morning Botham, as he so often did in his pomp, dispatched the tail in short order as the innings closed on 265. On the face of it England were still in the game, but most at Kensington Oval knew that West Indies had been allowed to score about 100 runs too many, and so it proved as, before the close they were batting again, England having been dismissed for 122.

The second over of the innings, Holding to Boycott, has found its way into the folklore of the game. In the batsman’s words The first delivery was short of a length and gloved me, bouncing well in front of the slips; the second was short and I played and missed as it bounced; the third nipped back and hit me on the inside of the left thigh; the fourth bounced and I played it down in front of gulley; the fifth was an action replay of the fourth; the sixth plucked my off stump crazily out of the ground. It was a bit rapid to say the least, in fact it went like a rifle bullet. He added For the first time in my life , I can look at a scoreboard with a duck against my name and not feel a profound sense of failure.

There were concerns expressed by England about a pitch that was so fast having as much grass left on as it did, but all that paled into insignificance with the news overnight of Barrington’s death. Undoubtedly one of the most popular men ever to mentor a touring party the sudden loss of their assistant manager brought tears to the eyes of many of the England side. As Barrington would have wanted the game continued after a minute’s silence, and West Indies went on to amass 379-7 before Lloyd declared. The victory target of 523 was well beyond England and they duly lost by the huge margin of 298 runs, but not before Graham Gooch scored a fine century. He and Gower put on 120 after the first two England wickets had fallen with just two on the board. Had Gower not got himself out to a truly dreadful heave at the innocuous off spin of Richards, the final total may well have been much more respectable.

From Barbados it was off to the beautiful island of Montserrat for a four day game against the Leeward Islands before the fourth Test, which was to be the first ever played on Antigua. The Leewards team was not particularly strong and, missing Botham, Gooch and Gower, the tourists also looked less than formidable and indeed had it not been for a fine unbeaten 77 from Butcher in the second innings they may well have slid to what would have been an ignominious defeat.

The pitch at St John’s quickly became renowned for producing tracks that made bowlers weep. It wasn’t quite such a road in 1981 but was still expected to be the best pitch of the series by a distance and so it proved to be, although England still had some alarms early on. In their first innings they subsided to 176-7 before Willey, who had served notice in the previous Test as to his courage and committment to the cause, got to 102 before he ran out of partners with England on 271. England’s problem was Croft, who delivered the ball from so far wide of the crease that at one end, inevitably the one that he bowled most of his overs from, the sightscreen was insufficient and there were a number of deliveries that the England batsmen simply could not see. His 6-74 were to remain his best figures against England, surpassing his 5-40 earlier in the series at Port-of-Spain. Croft didn’t get everything his own way though, Willey famously crashing a short lifter over gulley, and then onwards and upwards for six.

England’s total was never going to be enough but although the bowlers did not look threatening they made the West Indies work for their runs and it was deep into the third day when, after 155 overs, Lloyd declared on 468-9. He had planned a difficult half hour for England but in the end was frustrated in his ambitions as bad light meant that Gooch and Boycott only had to survive four overs which, in relative comfort, they succeeeded in doing. Day four was lost to the rain and while batting out an entire day was something England had failed to do at Queen’s Park and Kensington they did so here with ease, Boycott batting right through the final day, much of it with Gooch, as England finshed on 234-3.

And so it was on to Jamaica for the final Test. A four day game came first, the main point of which seemed to be to determine which two of Gatting, Athey and Butcher would take berths in the Test side. There were runs for Gatting, 93 and 42 to be precise, but they were not enough to displace Athey, who was to endure another torrid time in the Test.

Lloyd won the toss at Sabina Park and to the surprise of some asked Botham to bat. When England took lunch at 92 with Gooch and Boycott still together there were plenty who questioned his decision. Sadly for England however Boycott went for 40 straight after the interval and after that wickets fell regularly until they were all out for 285 early on the second morning. Fifth out at 249 a superb 154 from Gooch spared England from embarassment. For West Indies it was a stop start reply. Greenidge and Haynes put on a century for the first wicket, and Lloyd and Gomes another for the fifth wicket, but although most of the other batsmen got a start England’s bowlers, particularly Emburey who bowled 56 overs for just 108, plugged away and restricted the lead to 157 at the close of the third day.

With two days left England subsided to 32-3 with Gooch and Boycott both gone before Gower took over and played one of his finest innings. When rain and bad light brought an early end to the fourth day it was 134-3 with Gower 70 and Willey 44. Willey carried his score to 68 before he departed and Butcher followed soon afterwards without troubling the scorers. Botham hung around showing considerable restraint for an hour, but the real blunting of the West Indies pace attack was done by Downton who saw out more than three hours unbeaten, with just 26 to his name. When a declaration secured the draw Gower had batted for well over seven hours for his undefeated 154.

So England lost two (heavily), drew two (comfortably enough in the end) and had no opportunity to show what they could do in Georgetown. Averages always tell the story of a Test series but do so more starkly than usual here. Of the batsmen Gooch and Gower averaged over 50, Willey almost joined them, and Boycott, despite his wretched time in Barbados, was on 43. The rest were nowhere, Butcher the best of them but still only 14 – tailender standard. The bowling lacked penetration. Skipper Botham was the best of the bunch, but by his lofty standards he would have been disappointed. No one took more than his 15 wickets, nor averaged better than his 32.80. There was just one five-for, for Emburey at Port-of-Spain, but he only took two more wickets in the other three Tests, and overall his wickets cost him nearly 60 runs each.

Botham remained England captain for just two more Tests, and his record as skipper is poor, but it is difficult to see a great deal more that he could have done in this series with the hand that he was dealt. The tour was surely the most difficult that any England team has ever undertaken. It was, as other teams demonstrated over a period of 20 years, tough enough just to face the battery of quick bowling that was on show in the Caribbean. Adding to the mix the political problems that dogged the tour and the tragic death of Kenny Barrington and it does the England team great credit just to have avoided a 4-0 defeat. It was not as if the political problems were confined to Guyana. There were protests throughout the region and the players had armed guards wherever they went. That sort of security might be par for the course in the 21st century but it was certainly not anticipated in 1981, and it should not be forgotten that there seemed for some time to be a real possibility that, due to the Jamaican Government’s concerns, the Sabina Park Test would not take place either.

There was genuine expectation in some quarters that, if the South African issue were not tackled head on that there would never be another England tour of the Caribbean. Of course in the end it was, and the tours have carried on as normal, but the fears were such as for Jack Bannister to write in Wisden Cricket Monthly in its June 1981 edition; If, as I fear, this was the last tour of its kind to these far-flung countries, then a romantic and colourful chapter of cricket history will have been closed on a jarringly sour note.

After 1980/81 West Indian cricket remained in the ascendancy for more than a decade. For Botham and England things got worse before they got better, but less than three months after he returned from the Caribbean Botham had put his troubles behind him and was embarking on the three Tests that will define his career for as long as the game is played.


Another good read

Very strange Tour.

The Jackman affair should never have blown up.

I remember that if England’s batting ever got set Lloyd would forget about attacking fields and strangle the scoring rate until a breakthrough came along.

In the situation all the England tons were great innings.

Peter Willey was (is) one tough hombre.

The Holding over to Boycott sounded fast on the radio……

Still recall hearing the stunning news about Ken Barrington. I don’t know how the England team managed to play that morning.

Comment by Biryani Pillow | 12:00am BST 25 April 2012

It was a mixed bag. Obviously the death of Kenny Barrington over-shadowed everything. I think it was obvious enough at the time that keeping the score to 2-0 wasn’t a bad effort. We thought that Gooch and Gower had stepped up a gear, and figured that they’d have no trouble with what looked a markedly inferior Aus attack a few months later. Shame it didn’t turn out that way.

Roland Butcher was always going to be a daft selection, being largely based on a quick bash near the end of the Nat West (still Gillette?) cup final. Athey was far too young to be thrown in against that lot. Woolmer surely should have toured. Probably the best captain we never had, and the player who lost most by signing up with Packer. We all thought that Willis was near the end of the road when he went home early: none of us could imagine him captaining the side 15 months later.

Comment by wpdavid | 12:00am BST 25 April 2012

I had forgotten about the Procter business when I started out on the research for this – I remember it being said that he could be selected for England but I don’t recall it ever being seriously suggested that he would be, yet Boycs was very clear that he felt he should have been – I wonder whether it might have been different if the 80/81 tour had been to Australia

.. and I agree that the Jackman business was a nonsense – I thought then, and still do, that his call-up was just a bit of muscle flexing from Lord’s or maybe even beyond that – there were plenty of other decent county seamers who might have made the trip

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am BST 26 April 2012

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