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Quaking in Their Boots

Where exactly did it hit you, Mike?

On the Kennington Oval balcony on a warm September morning in 1985, the cherubic looking England captain flashed a smile as he held aloft the miniature Ashes urn; a gift courtesy of the BBC, a scale replica of the original, much revered trophy. Peter West, the gleaming headed interviewer, beamed alongside the England Captain. Alongside his victorious opposite number stood the good humoured, though clearly humbled Australian captain, Allan Border, magnanimous in defeat, his “Captain Grumpy” persona still some way from full realisation. The whole mood engendered not only jubilation, but optimism too. The 1985 Ashes series, after all, had been won 3-1 by England. David Gower’s initial baptism of fire as England skipper seemed to have been safely negotiated, the Ashes triumph pointed to the possibility of greater things to come.

Gower had topped England’s batting averages with 732 runs that summer and had demonstrably led by example. The returning South African “rebels”, Gooch and Emburey, had justified the selectors’ faith and Botham’s return from a winter’s rest away from the team’s Indian sojourn meant that the line-up included world class performers in every department. Strengthening English optimism was the blistering form of Mike Gatting, finally free of his international stage fright and fresh from plundering the Indian and Australian attacks in the previous twelve months. Nottinghamshire’s Tim Robinson had also proved a worthy opening partner for Graham Gooch and showed that he could match elegant strokeplay with the attritional qualities of a Boycott. Allan Lamb, though quiet by his standards in the previous winter’s tour to India and in the 1985 English summer, was still a world class operator and had a proven track record against England’s forthcoming winter opponents in the Caribbean.

As Gower drank in the applause on that South London balcony on 1st September and the seemingly Farrah Fawcett inspired, golden mullet of Ian Botham roared aloud, soaking his skipper’s head in the lager of the Australian team sponsor, Castlemaine, Peter “Shiny Head” West turned his thoughts and his questioning to serious matters: the forthcoming winter tour to the Caribbean. In response Gower, with a typically laconic aside, said that he thought the West Indies would be quaking in their boots. Though few of the game’s prominent commentators took this remark seriously, and even fewer thought that England could realistically win the five Test series, there were clear grounds for at least believing that England could be more competitive this time around.

Gower’s improvements as captain, together with his side’s successes in India the previous winter and in the 1985 domestic season, had only partly healed the trauma of the 5-0 series mauling by the West Indies in the summer of 1984. The original “Blackwash”, however, had seen England compete against the world’s greatest team without a true world-class opening batsmen, since both Gooch and Boycott had been banned for their part in the 1981-82 South African Breweries sponsored “rebel” tour to the Cape. Boycott, approaching 45 in 1985 and with only one more season to play out with Yorkshire, was not realistically in contention for a place in the Test team. Gooch, however, had been flush with runs, plundering counties and touring teams alike in his three wilderness years. In the final Test at the Oval in 1985 the English cricketing public were reminded of what they had missed: a commanding 196 on the opening day, a sumptuous stroke-filled day-long romp in partnership with Gower. England were now able to choose their previously banned players, though due to the age of the SAB rebel squad, this realistically amounted to just a handful, though two were of genuine world class in the form of Gooch and John Emburey.

The West Indies, though clearly settled in almost all areas of the team, had witnessed the retirement of their leader throughout the period 1974-75 to 1984-85. The Don Corleone of Caribbean cricket, the avuncular figure who had transformed them into world champions after their Australian humiliation in 1975-76, Clive Lloyd had decided to retire at the end of the 1984-85 series in Australia. At the age of 40 he had handed over the seals of office to his vice-captain and world number one batsmen Vivian Richards. The master blaster had served a lengthy apprenticeship, although concerns were voiced over his accession in the Caribbean.

It might be popularly thought that the West Indies selectors viewed Richards as Lloyd’s natural successor. This was the view of Lloyd himself and certainly that of his team mates. However, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) viewed the succession as anything but a natural transition from the incumbent to the existing vice-captain. As Jack Williams argues in Cricket and Race Richards had, the board feared, aligned himself with a subversive, radical post-colonialism, wearing Rastafarian sweatbands on the field and attracting a politicised, pan-regional following off it. In terms of personality, he was thought more abrasive and less conciliatory than Lloyd. The great Antiguan, therefore, was a less than welcome choice as West Indies captain. In fact, so much so than when it came to the vote of the selection panel, Richards only trumped Malcolm Marshall, six years his junior, by one vote. It is, of course, impossible to know the motivations of individual selectors but Marshall, from the island of Barbados, may have presented a more natural successor in the eyes of the selectors. With his ready smile and popularity among team mates and opposition alike, this may well have figured in the selectors’ thinking, especially as at Lloyd’s retirement, Marshall was still short of his 27th birthday, as opposed to Richards who was 33. Caribbean historian Hilary Beckles’ observation that Richards’ batting was political; he said so and I knew it clearly caused much anxiety among the West Indian selectors when the subject of Lloyd’s retirement was raised.

So unsure were the West Indies selectors about who should succeed Lloyd that they stalled for time after the 1983 World Cup in England. Lloyd had made it clear that he wished to retire after the tournament but was persuaded otherwise by the selectors and by touring team manager, Jackie Hendricks. The great Guyanese finally ditched the famous white sun hat only after the 1984-85 tour to Australia. For probably the first time in his career, therefore, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards had much to prove to the West Indies selectors in this his first series as skipper. As Tony Cozier has pointed out, Richards’ zealous will to win as skipper was a result of him feeling that he wasn’t wanted.

A relatively easy home series win against New Zealand in the spring of 1985, however, showed that the transition from Lloyd to Richards had been almost seamless on the field. Still, question marks remained about the longevity of the existing pace attack. Marshall was then approaching 28 and had added increasing subtlety and guile to extreme pace. A latter day Lillee, he now rather than Holding and Garner was viewed as the bowling spearhead. Holding, then 32 and Garner, 33, were the last members of the original pace quartet. Andy Roberts had retired at the end of the tour of India in 1983-84 when 32 and Croft, increasingly injury prone, had effectively cooked his goose by agreeing to join the West Indian “rebels” on the South African tour in 1982-83. Summing up the series in Wisden, Matthew Engel wrote of the Caribbean rumour mill surrounding Holding and Garner prior to the series. They were, it was felt, two components of the West Indies’ machine who were starting to disappear over the hill top. However, this was most probably a hope going into the series, an attempt, perhaps, to build up England’s chances and to bolster optimism following their successive series victories against India and Australia.

Though both Garner and Holding were reaching the end of their careers, their effectiveness had not dimmed with age. Injuries had perhaps reduced their chances of participation through a full series and also their willingness to tour, but once pressed into action, they were still formidable. In 1983-84, Holding had taken 30 wickets in the 6 Test series against India on the sub-continent, a tour Garner had declined to make for gastro-intestinal reasons. Only Marshall with 33 wickets had taken more. In the 1984 series in England, both Garner and Holding had proved still more effective with, in Holding’s case 15 wickets at 22.86 and 29 at 18.62 for Garner. Holding had missed the second Test at Lord’s through injury and had been replaced by Milton Small, evidence of a niggling tendency during his later years of having to sit out parts of series through injury. Furthermore, the preceding series in the spring of 1984 in the Caribbean where Australia were routed, further underlined their continued quality. Garner had surpassed even Marshall by claiming 31 victims at 16.87, while Holding, though injured for one Test, claimed 13 wickets at 18.84. In Lloyd’s last series as captain in 1984-85, the West Indies had pulverised the Australians on their home soil, only coming unstuck on a slow, turning pitch in the final Test in Sydney which encouraged Bob Holland and his leg spin. This came, admittedly, at the climax of a dead rubber where West Indies had already wrapped up the series with victories in the first three Tests. In this, Clive Lloyd’s valedictory tour, Garner had claimed 19 wickets at 29.78 while Holding, injured again, still managed 15 scalps at 16.60.

Therefore, if the West Indies had any reservations about their speed attack going into the spring 1986 series they perhaps concerned Michael Holding who was becoming increasingly injury prone, though still deadly effective when fit, and the reliance on Marshall, who had destroyed the New Zealanders in the Caribbean in early 1985. In the same series Garner had also appeared comparatively sluggish claiming 10 wickets at 30.20, suggesting either fatigue or injury on the big Bajan’s part. Andy Roberts’ retirement in early 1984 and Colin Croft’s earlier disappearance to South Africa had denied the West Indies selectors the luxury of a consistent four man pace attack. Since their retirements, the “fourth man” role had variously been filled by Eldine Baptiste (reliable though not genuinely quick), Milton Small, Winston Davies, Wayne Daniel (both erratic and, again, injury prone) and a gangling, though promising young Jamaican named Courtney Walsh. In an attempt to balance the attack and to provide lower middle order batting cover, West Indies had also turned to spinners Roger Harper or Clyde Butts on occasions, though the emphasis was still on the liquidation of the opposition through express pace. For the forthcoming 1986 series with England, however, the West Indies selectors had their “fourth man”. Balfour Patrick Patterson was now Jamaica’s fastest bowler, ahead of his island team mates Holding and Walsh. Previously erratic, his most recent performances in the then Shell Shield inter-island competition suggested a genuine force to be reckoned with. By February 1986 and the start of the series with England, the West Indies had enjoyed almost a year’s rest from Test cricket. Enough time, perhaps, to soothe the aching, not to mention ageing, limbs of the men who it is said in the Caribbean bowl with pace like fire.

Few tours can have begun as inauspiciously as this one. From the moment that the TCCB announced their touring squad serious objections were raised about the selectors’ choice of personnel, specifically those members of England’s party that had formed part of the SAB tour to South Africa in the winter of 1981-82. Immediately it was clear that there would be no Test or one day matches on the South American mainland in Guyana. Clearly, in the Apartheid era, the inclusion in the squad of not only Gooch and Emburey, but also of Leicestershire fast bowler Les Taylor and county team mate Peter Willey was deemed politically insensitive. At the beginning of the 1985 international summer, Richie Benaud had remarked that it must have been a relief for the England selectors to be able to pick their own team rather than have other countries pick them for them. However, feelings in the Caribbean toward the abhorrent regime in South Africa meant that this was not to be so simplistic.

To heavily paraphrase Nikita Khrushchev, squeezing the testicles of South Africa by imposing bans on their sports teams raised as much awareness of the Apartheid regime as any international economic sanctions. Subsequent bans of English, Australian and West Indian “unofficial” touring teams sent out a clear – if not hypocritical message, given the international trade stance of some nations – that engaging in sport with South African teams, whether official or otherwise, would be viewed as tacit acknowledgement of the Apartheid regime. The tourists encountered protests throughout the tour from West Indian crowds and even the condemnation of the Antiguan Prime Minister, Lester Bird, bringing the point home in no uncertain terms. That England’s next tour to the Caribbean in 1989-90 would be led without dissenting voices in the West Indies by Graham Gooch, principal object of scorn around the islands on this trip, shows how quickly forces moved after 1986 to bring down Apartheid and reintroduce South Africa back into the international cricketing fold. Sentiment around the Caribbean in early 1986 was not so understanding or forgiving, however.

England’s opening fixture against the Windward Islands was played without Botham or Gower. Their presence on a yacht at the time England slid to defeat was indicative of the direction of coverage, not to say intrusion, of the British press on this tour. The Windward Islands team contained no West Indies internationals or any players that could be said to be on the fringe of selection. An improved, though far from earth shattering display against Leeward Islands on Richards’ home ground in St. Johns, Antigua, led England on to Jamaica in preparation for the first one day international and opening Test.

Before either of these games, however, came an island match against a Jamaica captained by Michael Holding. The resultant win by 158 runs was England’s only first-class victory of the tour. Holding used himself sparingly in the first innings without bowling a ball in the second. A hamstring tweak ended the skipper’s participation, however, and he did not bat in either Jamaican innings. His compatriot and protege, the young Courtney Walsh took the new ball in both innings, a peek into the future for England’s batsmen. Gatting, with a first innings 80 and Lamb with 78 and an undefeated second innings 60 led the way for England. Botham batted productively in each innings and only Robinson and Gower had insufficient time at the crease during the course of the match. After three warm-up games the serious business of the international fixtures could begin. For the first one-day international on 18th February, England remained in Jamaica. Rarely, if ever, can the first international match between hosts and tourists have so set the pattern for the remainder of the summer. England’s descent into the abyss of Caribbean demoralisation began in the first one-day international and with their opening encounter with Marshall, the rejuvenated Holding and Garner, and the new kid on the block, Patrick Patterson, who had been rested in the previous island game.

February 18th dawned at Jamaica’s Sabina Park ground for the opening one-day encounter with the West Indies. Matthew Engel in Wisden Cricket Monthly summed up Patrick Patterson’s visceral impact on the senses: boxer’s build, the torso of a middleweight set upon oddly spindly legs. The gap-toothed Jamaican did not saunter rhythmically to the crease a la Holding, or sprint into his leaping delivery stride with the athletic grace of an Imran; rather, he propelled the ball from the crease after an awkward, shuffling run up, arms whirling, as if launching a weapon of mass destruction, the aim seemingly being to take out the helmeted, padded obstacle twenty two yards away by any means possible. After Gower had been caught at slip and Robinson had been cleaned bowled, Gatting then famously had his nose rearranged by a Marshall bouncer. That the Middlesex captain should be ruled out so cruelly, and so dramatically, at this stage of the tour only increased the tourists’ existing sense of doom. Exuding confidence and form pre tour, Fat Gatt now performed like the kind of player he had always promised to be. The surmounting of the psychological hump of his first Test hundred, achieved in India on the previous winter tour, had been the breakthrough for a player so often described as pugnacious that any dictionary definition of the word ought to be accompanied by a shot of the man himself in full flight. Now, less than a month into the tour, Gatting returned to England to be confronted by possibly the least observant interviewer ever and a lay off which excluded him from duty till March. Back on the pitch, England’s 145 was never going to be enough and the home team knocked off the runs with comfort, losing just four wickets. England had just three days to lick their wounds and prepare for the first Test match on the same ground. The less than cheering news for the tourists was that Holding was back in the West Indies squad, rested and fit, to take the place of Walsh.

The bald statistics state that West Indies won the first Test match at Sabina Park by 10 wickets with over two days to spare. Beyond statistics, however, the palpable signs of incipient cricketing shellshock in both players and travelling press contingent were becoming apparent. England’s mauling was not met with the usual criticism of a team that could and should have done so much better. Instead, the consensus was that this performance was probably about par for the course given the opposition and the conditions. What was so shocking, in fact, was that England did about as well as they could realistically be expected to have done. The much vaunted batting line up from the previous summer was only changed in one significant aspect: that of Surrey’s David Smith for the injured Gatting. In addition, Peter Willey, brave and seasoned performer against the quick men, supplemented Gooch, Robinson, Gower, Lamb, Smith and Botham. In Downton, Ellison and Edmonds, England’s tail could safely be expected to wag against normal opposition. In what was evidently shaping up to be anything but a normal tour, England were blown away twice for a combined total of 311. In order to survive for any period of time at the crease, England’s batsmen had to improvise, or at least develop new ways of accruing runs while accepting that they might probably be hit. Lamb’s first innings 49, Gooch’s 51 and Willey’s second innings 71 all relied on strokes which would not normally meet with the approval of the coaching manual purist. Even Gower, in his frenetic first innings 16 lasting just 10 balls, slashed a delivery from Patterson over the slips for 6 with a one-legged upper cut. England’s two innings lasted a combined total of 88.2 overs, theoretically less than a day’s play.

The physical battering encountered during the match was such that all batsmen that stayed for longer than one over were hit. As John Woodcock famously observed in the Times I have never felt it more likely that I should see someone killed. Wisden Cricket Monthly noted that this was cricket’s equivalent of the Somme while adding of the 263 balls delivered in the first innings the miracle is that England survived all but 10 of them. After a second innings where both Gooch and Robinson had their stumps removed without scoring, England capitulated once more and Patterson was named Man of the Match for his 7-74. Scarcely known outside the Caribbean before the tour, the Jamaican would temporarily eclipse Marshall as the fastest bowler in the team, although not the most skillful. His match figures, immeasurable in terms of impact, can be backed up by Wisdens claim that this was a bowler delivering the ball consistently at speeds not seen since Jeff Thomson in Australia in 1974-75.

Of course, English press criticism of the West Indies’ modus operandi was reaching a peak during 1985-86. In his book Cricket and Race Jack Williams catalogues a litany of English complaints about West Indies’ bowling tactics. Robin Marlar also remarked that the West Indies had reduced the art of Test cricket to that of a coconut shy, with the batsmen as coconut. David Frith, then editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly kept up a steady stream of criticism which peaked with a verbal confrontation with Clive Lloyd during a televised debate. On the 1985-86 tour, though, a combination of a fiercely fit, settled and focused West Indian pace quartet, poor quality pitches and limited opportunities for the touring team to gain form outside the international games, meant that the visiting press were perhaps more fixated than usual with the cause of England’s demolition, the fabled pace quartet. Added to this was the shock and disbelief that England’s finest batsmen, who had put the Australians to the sword the previous summer, simply had no answer to their tormentors.

England’s next stop was the island of Trinidad and Tobago for an island fixture, along with a one-day international and then the 2nd Test. Sandwiched between a draw in the island game and another heavy defeat in the Test match, Gooch played possibly the greatest of all limited over innings against the West Indies in their peak years. In a rain affected game which reduced the contest to one of 37 overs per side, West Indies totalled 229 at more than 6 runs an over. In the days before pitch hitters, Botham opened alongside Gooch but hoiked Garner straight to his other Somerset team mate Richards with the score on 9. Wilf Slack added valuable support to Gooch in taking the score to 98, but thereafter England’s eventual victory owed everything to Gooch’s mastery of the pace battery. No bowler was spared. Hitting 17 fours and a huge, straight six off Walsh, Gooch carried England home off the last ball. On an increasingly troubled tour, and for an increasingly troubled opening batsman, this proved to be the incongruous high point and a shockingly brief respite.

The 2nd Test, and the first of two at Port-of-Spain began with Richards sending England into bat. The tourists’ 176 owed everything to Gower’s 66 and Lamb’s 62. Each struck 11 fours during their 106 run partnership, carried out at 7 runs an over. On a pitch that was more benign than that encountered in Jamaica, no other batsmen reached double figures. Still, brief showers freshened up the track and interrupted England’s flow when Gower and Lamb were in full flight. The home side countered with 399, built around a century from Richardson and solid contributions all the way down the order, including an unbeaten 62 from Marshall. Botham’s profligate opening spell, which resulted in him giving away 68 runs in his 9 overs meant that he was not called upon for the remainder of the innings. England’s second innings 315 showed spirit with contributions from Gooch, Gower, Willey and Lamb. Greg Thomas and Richard Ellison, in a last wicket stand of 72, took the plaudits, however. After West Indies had knocked off the 95 required runs, Marshall was named man of the match for four wicket hauls in each innings. Two Tests, two heavy defeats, with England’s next stop being Barbados. Furthermore, anti-Apartheid protestors had gathered outside the venue in Port-of-Spain though demonstrations were not replicated in the ground.

England’s Bajan leg of the Caribbean tour began with the island game with Barbados two days after the end of the 2nd Test. Captained by the returning Gatting, the tourists’ eventual defeat seemed less important than the thumb injury sustained by the Middlesex skipper. Cruelly once more, Gatting would be excluded from the Test team by injury. An estimated six thousand England supporters had converged on Bridgetown for the third Test match in the hope of fortifying England’s support for the contest ahead. Another visitor, albeit one from the Home Counties with a vested interest in the team’s success, was encamped in the team dressing room for the Barbados Test and was evidently unimpressed with his side’s efforts. The watching PBH May was hardly less impressed than the thousands of paying holiday-makers. After the game, which saw England disintegrate by an innings in under four days, the chairman of selectors left the team manager, Tony Brown and his assistant, Bob Willis, with the clear message that greater resolve was expected from the players, and that a much stricter practice and net regime would surely be beneficial to the team’s chances. Gower’s style of captaincy, which relied on a relaxed, convivial style, was clearly better suited to circumstances where conditions were less inhospitable. Thousands of miles away from home, against the greatest team in the world, with senior players openly dissenting and unhappy was perhaps not the best vehicle for the Gower style. Peter Willey, speaking some years later described his captain’s style as irritating while former Leicestershire team-mate, Roger Tolchard added I think I’d want David in the trenches next to me although, he continued, Gower would not be his choice in leading his charges out of the trenches and over the top. The great left-hander was severely impeded, however, by concerns over Gooch and Botham.

Having led the rebel tour to South Africa in 1981-82, Graham Gooch was the focal point of protesters’ ire. Beyond the normal concerns caused by protests around the region’s grounds, however, Gooch received an open, public rebuke from the Deputy Antiguan Prime Minister, Lester Bird. Bird said that Gooch would not be welcome in Antigua. It is beyond doubt that this played on Gooch’s mind throughout the tour, more than likely affected his form and brought him close to quitting the team altogether. In his autobiography, David Gower remarked that Gooch became so lugubrious that he almost shut himself off from the rest of the squad completely. Only Gower’s personal plea to his loyalty and the TCCB’s intervention prevented him from returning to Essex. Though 32 at the time, Gooch was not yet the all conquering, commanding world presence he would go on to be after gaining the captaincy in 1989-90. Clearly, this introspective and sensitive man was deeply troubled by the political implications of the SAB tour of 1981-82 and seemed unable to shut out the distractions when in the West Indies.

Ian Botham’s distractions were created by his own poor form leading up to the 3nd Test and the gradual souring of relations between the press pack and the great all-rounder which descended into all out acrimony. After his dismissal in the second innings at Port-of-Spain, caught behind off Marshall, Botham made a gesture to the press box which he subsequently explained as being that of a man who felt the noose had been tied around his neck and all that remained was for the press to complete the hanging. His shambolic opening spell of 5 overs for 39 runs in that Test had sorely tested Gower’s patience, especially with the surfeit of short-pitched bowling with which he attempted to induce a skied chance off Greenidge and Haynes. This was a stark contrast with his performances the previous Ashes summer where, at times, the Somerset all-rounder had bowled with genuine speed, most notably during spells at Lord’s and at Trent Bridge. His series tally of 31 wickets after a winter of rest suggested a man at peace with himself, batting with aggression – he hit a record number of sixes that summer – and bowling with a rhythm and speed perhaps not seen since his glorious summers of 1978 and 1979.

However, his well-intentioned charity walk after the Ashes series may have drained a man of even his seemingly inexhaustible energy reserves. His public profile, not matched in English cricket until the rise of Flintoff, reached gargantuan proportions even by his standards in 1985 due to his physical appearance – bleached mullet combined with old school striped blazers and fedora hats – and his association with his flamboyant manager, Tim Hudson. Hudson, a risible Arthur Daley figure, even attempted to market Botham as an English Rambo and had designs on international stardom. Not surprisingly, Botham’s relationship with Hudson soured and the two later split. Botham’s profile, therefore, was then as high as ever. Touted once again as a national hero at the denouement of the previous summer’s home Ashes series, his relationship with the press, always fragile, disintegrated once again after he and Gower ducked the opening fixture against Windward Islands by being out on a fishing boat at the same time as the touring side collapsed in their second innings. Botham’s tour descended to new depths when a former Miss Barbados, Lindy Field, accused him of having enjoyed cocaine fuelled sex romps with her during the tour, allegations strenuously denied and subsequently found to be entirely fabricated. As ever when in trouble throughout his career, Ian Terrence Botham sent an SOS across the Atlantic for his most trusted ally, his wife Kath.

Events on the field in Barbados, however, continued in the same vein as the previous Test at Port-of-Spain. England lost in less than four days by an innings and thirty runs. Once more, Richie Richardson provided the foundation for the West Indies total of 418 with an innings of 160. England capitulated from a position of strength when, at 126-1, Gower and Gooch were well set. After that, only Botham and Downton hit double figures as England crashed to 189 all out. Holding, back in the team for Walsh, joined Patterson, Garner and Marshall in routing England again as the visitors totalled 199 in the follow on. Following the Test, successive thrashings in the one day internationals in Barbados, and again at Port-of-Spain, by 135 runs and 8 wickets respectively, suggested a team haemorrhaging belief.

The second Port-of-Spain, Trinidad Test match and the fourth of the series was won in 3 days by 10 wickets by, of course, West Indies. Botham’s 5-71 was his best performance of the tour adding to his 38 and 25 with the bat. David Smith performed bravely, and creditably, for his first innings 47 and second innings 32. Richards’ 87 for West Indies was the top score in their 312. In knocking off their 39 to win in the second innings, Greenidge and Haynes pummeled Botham for 8 runs an over. West Indies’ quick bowlers had shared the wickets evenly, with Garner’s first innings 4 wicket haul proving the best analysis. For England, however, only the trip to Antigua, Richards’ home patch, remained. The final Test, in St. John’s, Antigua awaited.

And so on to Antigua went England. Once more West Indies batted first and again they scored heavily. A Desmond Haynes century and late, hard hitting from Harper, Marshall and Holding, all scoring half centuries, took them to what looked certain to be an unassailable total of 474. Botham, out of sorts with the ball again took some heavy stick, particularly late in the innings from Holding. England began their first innings with the kind of fortitude that had been missing throughout the tour. As at Port-of-Spain in the second Test and at Barbados in the third, a century partnership, this time between Gooch and Slack of 127, did not prove the foundation of the innings that it should have. Gower’s beautiful 90, scored at almost a run a ball and with 10 fours and a six, proved in vain as England posted just 310. With a lead of 164, West Indies went out for quick runs and got them. The local hero’s 110 off 58 balls, including 7 fours and 7 sixes killed any remaining vestige of English belief.

This was a team evidently with more than the homeward flight on their minds. Richards carried out his massacre as if playing in a benefit match. This was not the cold, calculated butchery of the 1979 World Cup final innings, or his backs to the wall 189* at Old Trafford five years later. This time, Viv was just enjoying himself and killing the tourists off in the process. Botham’s bowling reached its nadir in this innings and the overwhelming image is of his remonstrating with captain and fieldsmen, arms outstretched in a gesture of hopelessness, while trying to contain Richards as a surfeit of long hops and full tosses disappeared over the boundary ropes. Not for the first time in his career, the conqueror of so many other test teams with bat and ball found these champion opponents just too much to deal with. He had famously flung his bat to the floor in frustration here in 1980-81 after being dismissed by Michael Holding. Now, five years on his inability to contain, much less to penetrate with the ball had left him equally perplexed. When Paul Downton was dismissed, LBW to Marshall on the final day, England had lost by 240 runs and West Indies had completed their second consecutive Blackwash over England. Ten defeats out of ten in Test matches, the blue riband form of the game. England came to the Caribbean in the hope of at least being competitive. The disparity between the two teams was well known, although England pointed to a recent upturn in their form and the return of proven performers back from international exile. The reality was that they had been mauled more crushingly than ever before, even more so than in 1984.

So, what exactly went wrong? Having arrived in the Caribbean with what appeared on paper to be a strong, experienced batting line-up, England simply crumbled. In 10 completed innings, only Gower with 370 runs at 37 topped three hundred runs. Gooch scored three fifties, with Lamb and Willey both contributing one each. None of those three, however, came close to Gower in terms of runs scored. Gooch’s 276 in ten completed innings being the next greatest tally. The conditions certainly could not have helped England’s cause, for the pitch at Sabina Park combined low, unreliable bounce with regular patrols from the refreshed Holding and Garner and a Marshall reaching his peak. Added to this was a pitch described by Wisden as, Well grassed for about four yards either side of centre, and bare in the areas forward of the popping-creases, the playing surface could not have underlined with greater emphasis the disparity between the two teams’ bowling strength if its preparation had been left to West Indies four-pronged pace attack itself. Furthermore, the fourth member of the pace attack was given the remit of “shock” bowler. Patterson, without the guile of his more experienced team mates operated almost as a kind of West Indian Devon Malcolm. Unluckily for England, however, “Patto” managed to bowl at speeds greater than any bowler on either side, combined at times with spells of unnerving accuracy.

Gooch, successful against the various pace quartets throughout his international career, admitted that there were times during the Jamaica Test when he thought it would be healthier to lose his wicket than to spend any further time out in the middle. Patterson, he admitted, was the most frightening bowler he had ever faced. Moreover, in four first class matches and two one day internationals, England had failed to find a pitch conducive to getting their eyes in. Indifferent, unreliable bounce, a lop-sided itinerary and a growing reluctance to simply knuckle down and practice meant that as the Test matches wore on, England simply never came up against weaker opposition where the batsmen could score more freely and build their confidence. With the exception of island fixtures with Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, each game after the first Test in Jamaica saw the tourists facing the West Indies in either a Test match or one day international. The intensity was simply relentless. Additionally, although the touring team was excused its annihilation in the first Test, the travelling press was less forgiving as the tour progressed and defeats mounted. Compounded by the shocking injury to Gatting in the first one day international, the pressures on Botham and Gooch and the gradual wilting of the recently bereaved Gower, Wisden probably had it about right in saying in cold fact, England never had a hope.

That winter’s Caribbean tour also marked the beginning of the end of the Botham-Gower-Lamb era. They would only tour together one more time and that for the following year’s jaunt to Australia. Botham in particular had been dismally ineffective in the 1985-86 series. Averaging 16.8 with the bat and having taken just 11 wickets at 48.63, he had singularly failed to lift his performance or lead by example. That said, the Somerset all rounder was clearly under almost intolerable pressure throughout the tour. His confession to the Mail on Sunday before the start of the 1986 domestic season about drug use meant that his international duty that summer was curtailed to just one Test match, the final one, against the New Zealanders at the Oval. That game, too, saw Lamb’s return to the fold after an early summer blighted by poor form.

Given the hyperbole and profile of the FA Premier League today, it is difficult to believe that, back then, Botham had a far greater profile than any other contemporary British sporting figure. His larger than life persona, ebullient nature, high profile friendships and off-field antics meant that, for many reasons, he was often the leading object of sporting or gossip columnists’ attentions. This reached its zenith in 1985/86, however, after which – the following winter’s tour of Australia apart – his performances went into a decline marked by fatigue, age and injuries. In short, the mammoth physical burden of carrying England out of the post-Packer years of 1977 had finally caught up with him.

Returning to England for a split summer with the Indians and New Zealanders, David Gower had missed the 1986 Leeds test against India through injury, meaning England went into a Test match for the first time since 1978 without he or Botham. Clearly in a state of shock from the Caribbean tour, England’s flair batsmen were taking time to readjust to English conditions and to finding their form. In their absence more pedestrian, less exalted performers were beginning to take their places during 1986. Chris Smith, Mark Benson and Bill Athey all took batting slots for the Indian series. With Gooch’s unavailability for the 1986-87 tour, the selectors chose Nottinghamshire’s Chris Broad to partner Bill Athey in the opening positions. Although the Australian tour was an unmitigated success, with victories in the Ashes, the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup and the Perth Challenge, a quiet revolution was under way in English cricket.

Shrewdly managed by Peter Lush, with assistance, coaching and practice headed up by Mickey Stewart, the tour passed without the sour, external distractions of the previous winter. Senior players like Botham, Gower and Lamb were given some latitude but were also expected to pull their weight in practice. Gatting, who had succeeded Gower as captain after the first Test defeat against the Indians at Lords in June, exuded authority but also had the respect of his senior lieutenants. His vice-captain was his Middlesex team mate, John Emburey, and of the previously influential troika of Gower, Lamb and Botham, only Gower was latterly added to the tour’s selection committee. Botham, joined by his family and children’s nanny settled happily into life in the ranks where he pulled off one last, great Beefy performance: the butchering of Merv Hughes, Bruce Reid and Chris Matthews at Brisbane with a six-strewn 138. Gower, too, scored heavily after a poor run of form leading up to the Tests. The days of optional nets following a heavy defeat were over. Following the defeat in the 1985-86 Barbados Test, nets were made optional. Gower, along with 5 other players did not even attend the practice session. The close relationship that Gower and his senior players had with the then assistant manager Bob Willis evidently did not engender a strict training and net regime. Under Mickey Stewart, no such luxuries would be afforded players in future.

The winter of 1985-86 can also be said to have ushered in a period of change for the West Indies, too. The years which spanned the two England tours to the Caribbean in 1980-81 and 1985-86 represented the peak years of the pace quartet. The latter series was the last home rubber that Holding and Garner participated in. Virtual ever presents since the days of World Series Cricket, they, along with Roberts, Croft and then Marshall, had been responsible for maintaining West Indies’ period of cricketing hegemony. Both would only tour once more, to Australia and New Zealand in 1986-87 after which they announced their retirements. Joining them in retirement, although less heralded at the time, was Larry Gomes. The West Indian 1983 “rebel” tour to South Africa had not damaged the official side’s effectiveness one iota, the touring party consisting largely of players nearing retirement and those on the very fringe of selection. If anything, the existing conquerors in maroon took the game to new heights. During the period spanning the tour to India in 1983-84 and the home series with England in 1985-86, West Indies won 21 test matches, drew 8 and lost just 1. The year 1984 gave them 11 consecutive Test victories. Then, at the very zenith of their destructiveness in 1986, the great team began to break up.

There was, it has to be said, something decidedly fin de siecle about the West Indies in 1986. They would continue to be the world’s best Test side, although discernibly less destructive, less frightening after Holding and Garner’s retirements. Their frequent batting collapses and often lethargic bowling in the Perth Challenge and World Series Cup down under in 1986-87 meant that they lost out on places in the finals in each tournament, soiling their record of having won the WSC on each occasion they had competed in it. Australian crowds witnessed the spectacle of cricket’s original Harlem Globetrotters, a team who had perhaps trotted the globe together once too often, unable to summon up that old magic, that winning blend. Furthermore, their limp displays in the 1987 World Cup meant that they missed out on the final for the first time since the tournament’s inception and have yet to appear in it since.

The period up to and including 1985-86 marked the immediate post-Packer era and the global domination of cricket by West Indies. The constant presence of a four pronged pace attack kept that domination absolute. During World Series Cricket, Dennis Waight was appointed team physio and fitness specialist and he honed the occasionally lax speed men into incomparable shape. Adding focus to their innate talents produced a battery of pace bowlers who had express speed, variation, hostility and fitness. So great was the West Indian supply of fast men that the likes of Wayne Daniel and Sylvester Clarke – whom both Gower and Viv Richards identifed as the fastest and most hostile they ever faced – could not even get into the side. Therefore, England’s Caribbean tour during the spring of 1986 represented the last hurrah of the team that contained two of the speed merchants, in Holding and Garner, who had initially been responsible for the West Indies’ ascendency.

The team that Vivian Richards inherited in the spring of 1985 was essentially that nurtured by Clive Lloyd from the Packer era onwards. Those players were loyal to an ethos fostered by a leader who had instilled in them a culture of fierce professionalism following the Australian debacle in 1975-76. Richards, on ascending the Caribbean throne, effectively began the business of managing the decline of West Indian cricket. As international competition caught up with his ageing team, so Richards found it increasingly difficult to tolerate their reduced effectiveness. His clashes with journalists and his blatant intimidation of umpires in the 1989-90 series against England, together with subsequent contretemps with the Australian tourists one year later, were evidence of a leader struggling to cope with a changing cricketing landscape. By late summer 1991 at the end of the tour to England, however, he seemed to benignly accept the threat to his great team’s fading omnipotence. On the Oval balcony he smiled and admitted that he was satisfied with a draw away from home. Following that series the greatest batsmen since Bradman went into retirement. Cricket fans the world over knew that they had witnessed the passing of something unique with Richards’ retirement, perhaps best summed up in John Arlott’s apposite phrase, intimidatory batting.

So, how good were the teams of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards? In 1984-85 Sir Donald Bradman was asked if that year’s touring West Indies were the greatest team he had ever seen. Reflecting on the question, the Don replied that, yes, they were the greatest fielding combination that he had ever witnessed but that their bowling attack was unbalanced. He argued that when conditions did not suit their pace bowlers, they would struggle. Bradman was talking after that winter’s Sydney Test match, where Lloyd’s team was shot out twice on a turner by the previously unknown leg-spinner, Bob Holland. The observations made by the Don about the unbalanced nature of their attack did not materialise during that period due to the protean skills of the original pace men and the team’s peerless batting strength. The significance of the 1985-86 series is that this was the last series in which the West Indies would take the field with a side made up of the spine of the Packer team. Fittingly, they made their swansong the most sublime example of their destructive superiority. For one last glorious Caribbean summer this was the Lloyd constructed West Indies in excelsis.

West Indies’ golden era proved that they were too good for England in England, too good for Australia in Australia, too good even for Pakistan in Pakistan, not to forget being too good for India in India; in all conditions, on all surfaces, across the continents, pace prevailed to an extent not seen before or since. That this could not have been achieved with brute force and intimidation alone has only recently been acknowledged, thanks largely to the otherwise disappointing Fire in Babylon, which has done much to introduce Lloyd’s teams to a younger generation. The documentary’s focus on the socio-cultural significance of the West Indies’ rise to dominance, as opposed to events on the field meant that the opportunity to showcase a unique era of cricketing dominance was missed. Imagine, for a moment, the impact that a Senna style narrative documentary, infused throughout with both cricketing and behind the scenes period footage, may have had.

Each of the leading fast men was a technician in their own right. To cite but one example, Mike Selvey summed up the late, great Malcolm Marshall as having the tricks of Paul Daniels and the variation of Elgar. Graham Gooch also describes the Bajan as his ace man. Geoff Boycott has said that without hesitation his most difficult opponent was Joel Garner. The last word, perhaps fittingly, should go to one of the greatest fast bowlers produced by a Test nation other than the West Indies, the captain of a team that came closer than any other, albeit briefly, to challenging Caribbean supremacy in that era, Imran Khan. Referring to the West Indies between 1976 and 1988, he said I don’t care what they say about Bradman’s 1948 Australians. They could not have been a better team than this.


Excellent piece Gareth, great job!

Comment by chasingthedon | 12:00am BST 20 March 2012

One of the best features I’ve read in a long time, really brought it back.

Comment by stumpski | 12:00am BST 20 March 2012

Excellent article. I especially agree with your assessment that since Holding and Garner retired, they have not been as dominant even though they had Marshall, Walsh and Ambrose to join them later.

The one point I wish to make is that even if England had gotten good pitches to bat on Windies would have prevailed, such was the quality of their bowling.

Comment by Arun M | 12:00am BST 31 March 2012

Just about to print it out for Andy to read. You can take the man away from cricket but you can’t take cricket away from the man!! Good Skills

Comment by Jane mannion | 12:00am BST 13 April 2012

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