The Hottest Cricket in a Hundred SummersGareth Bland |
The England tour of Australia in 1982-83 is often overlooked at the expense of Mike Gatting’s mission four years later when the tourists carried all before them to beat Australia 2-1 in the Ashes, defeated Pakistan in the final of the brief Perth Challenge – which also involved Australia and a creaking West Indies – and also finished top of the pile in the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup. That tour is largely remembered for the three Test centuries compiled by Chris Broad in successive matches, together with the assured and diplomatic management of Peter Lush and his harmonious relationship with team coach, Mickey Stewart. England’s previous tour in 1982-83, however, came during one of those periods of upheaval common to the English game in the 1980s and in which the opposition was immeasurably stronger than that which Gatting’s team faced four years later. The first Australian tour of the eighties by England was a memorable one, though, as it contained some fine cricket – predominately from the home side – with the occasional flash of stardust dispensed by the visitors.
England’s departure for Australia in the early Autumn of 1982 came at the conclusion of twelve months of incredible on-field events, the like of which would seldom be seen again, in addition to the defection by a team of rebels to South Africa which came about as a result of some of the most internecine arrangements of the age. From then on, the term “rebel tour” would be common place for many of the Test playing nations through the 1980s. What was perhaps so shocking was that England’s “rebel” tour, sponsored by South African Breweries (SAB), included several of the players that had been involved in Botham’s Ashes during the summer of 1981. Although a number of the South African tourists who had opted to take the Rand at the end of England’s tour of India in 1981-82 were reaching the end of their careers, some, by their absence through the resulting 3 year ban, would be sorely missed. The first real test for the new look England on foreign soil being the Australian voyage at the end of the 1982 domestic season. Of the sixteen who were penalised with a three year ban, by common consent Gooch, Boycott, Emburey, Les Taylor and perhaps Geoff Humpage, the Warwickshire ‘keeper, would have strengthened England on the trip down under. As it was, England took off for Australia with a team that had easily beaten India in the three Test home series in the 1982 home summer and then ran into a more competitive, combative Pakistan team in the latter half of the summer. Narrowly victorious by a 2-1 margin, Imran’s pace had troubled almost all England’s batsmen, whose bowlers had proved largely ineffectual on the Lord’s surface where Mohsin Khan scored 200 in Pakistan’s lone Test victory.
England flew to Brisbane on 13th October 1982 with a team managed by Doug Insole once more (he had been responsible for Brearey’s full Ashes tour in 1978-79) and assisted by former Worcestershire man Norman Gifford. Gower was deputy to Willis with the remaining berths being taken up by: Vic Marks, Robin Jackman, Graeme Fowler, Geoff Cook, Norman Cowans, Derek Pringle, Chris Tavare, Geoff Miller, Eddie Hemmings, Ian Gould, Allan Lamb, Bob Taylor, Derek Randall and, of course, the irrepressible Ian Botham. Shorn of the remaining members of the SAB touring party, this “new” England was a decidedly post-seventies model. Indeed, one could argue that, as far as English international cricket was concerned, the eighties began in 1982. This, therefore, was the first touring party of that new era. Players like Boycott, Amiss, Hendrick, Knott, Lever, Old, Underwood and Woolmer had all formed part of the England team throughout different stages of the 1970s. Indeed, Boycott, Underwood and Knott had a legacy stretching back even further, to the sixties. Furthermore, although Larkins, Willey and Arnie Sidebottom would go on to represent England after the suspension, their best cricket was a thing of the past by the time the ban was up. Gooch and Emburey would of course return in 1985 and enjoy the most fruitful years of their international careers, although they were notable exceptions.
Even those players that had formed part of Brearley’s team in the Ashes summer of ’81, luminaries like Boycott, Hendrick, Old, Knott and Woolmer now look like players who belong to a different era than their counterparts from 1982 onwards. When Bob Woolmer trotted off in the second Test at Lord’s in June 1981, blue peaked cap atop his head,bat tucked underneath an arm where the long sleeves had been rolled up to the elbow, he could quite conceivably, in appearance at least, have been walking off a Lord’s ground a decade previously to be met at the members’ gate by a portly Cowdrey on his way out to the middle. Botham’s Ashes, the SAB tour of South Africa and the clearing of the decks of an old but cherished guard meant that a new era beckoned England.
Once the tour began, the team had acclimatised and the cricket started, the shock to the first time viewer of Australian cricket took hold. First, there was the incredible light. Not for nothing does Imran Khan describe Australia as the best place in the world to play cricket because of this fantastic light. This was not the fresh, dewy haze of an English summer but an ultra-violet assault on the senses. Additionally, the light seemed to enhance the parched surfaces out in the middle. The ball did not so much scuffle through to the ‘keeper and slips. More, the lift created resembled that of a golf ball bouncing on concrete. When this combination of light and bounce was juxtaposed with the conclusion of the English domestic season and the early autumnal setting of a departing Mike Brearley at Worcester’s New Road ground in mid September,the contrast could not have been more marked than with the golden Antipodean glow of a few weeks later. It was almost, it seemed, as though England had left the leafy, cool old Albion to play a series on another planet altogether. Seven years before Sky beamed England’s tour of the Caribbean into our living rooms, the BBC treated us to a nightly highlights package courtesy of Channel 9. This was the first Ashes series set in Australia since the ACB had reached a settlement with Kerry Packer’s Channel 9 and the fourth full season since that settlement was reached. As such, the PBL marketing men, in a shameless stretching of the superlatives branded the 1982-83 season The Hottest Cricket in a Hundred Summers. England and Australia, then, prepared for battle in the opening Test at Perth on Friday, 12th November 1982.
On a sun-baked Friday morning in Perth, England, batting first after being put in by Greg Chappell, negotiated the opening salvo from first Lillee, then his 1981 opening partner Alderman. This techniclour rematch set in a light and heat as far removed from the events of 16-21 July at Headingley the previous year as is imaginable, was not unkind to England. With the early loss of Geoff Cook for 1, David Gower joined Tavare. When he departed with the score at 109-2 Gower had made 72. In one of those innings where he looked relaxed, carefree yet in control, Gower drove and glanced sumptuously. He himself has described that innings as the one where he felt utterly at ease and capable of anything. As Christian Ryan described it years later Gower deserved 400 that day, not 72. With Tavare following his job description of total obduracy to the letter, the jaunty Allan Lamb joined him at the crease and continued England’s momentum. Eventually dismissed for 46, Lamb carried his early tour state form into the Test match and looked utterly at home on the firm, true Perth pitch. With Botham falling cheaply and unluckily after he looked like destroying an Australian attack one again, Randall and Tavare batted out time to the close where England ended day one on 242-4.
On the second afternoon an incident followed that would have considerable implications for the remainder of the series and the bowling attack that Australia would field. Alderman, the Australian star of the 1981 Ashes series attempted to rugby tackle a rampaging England fan to the ground and suffered a dislocated shoulder. Shaken, the Australian players were now reliant for the remainder of the game on the veteran Lillee and Lawson, with Yardley’s off breaks and the occasional medium pace of Chappell and Hookes, together with Border’s slow left arm. That England finished on 411 was thanks largely to the improvisation of Randall with 78 and a lively ninth wicket stand of 49 between Taylor and Willis. Australia’s response, a total of 424, was centred around a lively 62 from Hughes, now vice-captain, and a majestic 117 from the prince, Greg Chappell. Though this was probably not quite the Chappell of Lord’s and 1972 with that 131, Australia’s non-touring captain stamped his class on proceedings. With 2 sixes and 11 fours, he faced a mere 174 balls, scoring at a rate of 67.24.
Amid the glamour and the elegance, however, a definite chink became apparent and it is perhaps one that the 21 year old Norman Cowans, watching from his third man/fine leg base picked up on. Having endured by his standards a lean summer in 1981-82, Chappell had notched up no fewer than 7 ducks in a twin international summer against the visiting West Indies and Pakistanis. A year on, and if the England bowlers could not be compared to Clive Lloyd’s quartet or Imran Khan, they nonetheless contained a still genuinely fast Willis, plus the Middlesex rookie, Norman Cowans, capable with his rhythmic action, of what Geoff Boycott calls express pace. What the England bowlers saw was a distinct discomfort on Chappell’s part at negotiating the rising ball. Faced with a short pitcher, Chappell would hook unconvincingly and uppishley, or would be in two minds as to duck or play. His ground strokes, however, were as dreamy as ever, punching the ball through what Max Walker has described as The Greg Chappell V. With Hughes and Hookes both contributing, the Australian middle order had a much more aggressive look to it than that which England last faced on home soil the previous year. Lawson’s rapid 50 meant that the home team closed on 424-9. England’s match saving second innings 358 was built on Randall’s 115, Lamb’s pugnacious 56, a sound 47 from Pringle down the order and some pyrotechnics from Norman Cowans with 36. Australia, going in a second time, finished on 73-2 and the game was drawn. For his typically chirpy, though gritty second innings hundred, Randall was awarded the man of the match award.
As England made their way east across the vast continent to Brisbane, the Australian selectors made firm, decisive choices ahead of the second Test at the Gabba. Out went Wood, with the opening spot going to the inelegant, though effective Kepler Wessells, who had represented the WSC Australians four years earlier. With the most complimentary description of his batting stance usually being a variation of the term “crab-like”, Wessells presented an aesthetic image which was the polar opposite to that of his captain. However, his Shield form could be ignored no longer and the South African born left hander made his debut on his home ground. Replacing the injured Alderman came Carl Rackemann. A fast bowler who fulfilled a new set of “B” criteria for the budding Australian fast bowler: big, burly, balding, bustling and blonde,Rackemann was also capable of discomforting pace and lift, together with what the initiated call a “heavy ball”. The Queenslander was awarded his place when Lillee, originally in the 12, pulled out requiring knee surgery. One other figure from the past reclaimed his place, too. Jeffrey Robert Thomson, still capable of electrifying pace at 32, would join Rackemann and Lawson in a three pronged, reshuffled pace trio, alongside the off-breaks of Bruce Yardley. In the muggy, damp heat of Brisbane the second Test was about to take off with the home selectors having tweaked their formation.
With a revamped bowling attack containing not one, two, but three genuinely quick and hostile pace men, Australia approached Brisbane revitalised, although the loss of Alderman and the circumstances of his injury caused much soul searching. Immediately, England’s openers failed to surmount the new ball sufficiently well to give the tourists a decent start. Geoff Cook having being dropped meant that Tavare was joined by the left-handed Lancastrian Graeme Fowler. With Gower falling after a promising start, Lamb with 72, along with Botham went on a mini rampage. Sun-hatted, Botham immediately rose to Thomson’s challenge and despatched him straight over the square leg fence for 6. Lamb, too, scored briskly and England seemed to have compensated for the earlier losses when Botham skied Yardley to backward point. Thereafter, after a 78 run stand, the innings folded with Randall’s 37 being the only significant contribution. Clearly Chappell, electing to field once more, fancied his chances with his three pace men. However, Lawson apart, they did not bowl particularly well. England’s total of 219, a disappointing one, was a tale of the batsmen being the victims of their own shot selection.
In response, Australia’s 341 was built around Wessells’ titanic first Test innings. Fit and strong he rarely seemed to wilt at all until he was last man out. Given his contortionist’s stance his main scoring area was through point and gulley and through his use of space around mid-off where he could punch the ball using his upper body strength. He was accompanied by a brisk scoring Chappell and by Yardley later on in the innings. England would eventually work Wessells out and restrict his scoring by cramping him for room but this would come later in the series. England’s second innings 309 threatened more but, as in their first innings, they were hampered by only one of their first six batsmen going on after making a start. Randall alone was dismissed for single figures, while each of the others appeared well set when they were dismissed. Fowler was brave and batted for almost 6 hours in making his 83, while, earlier on, Tavare endured what Bill O’Reilly called a “degrading” piece of bowling as Thomson bounced him four times in one over. After a break for rain, Thomson was officially warned by umpire Baillache for further intimidatory bowling. England’s eventual 309 was reached thanks to the help of 52 Australian extras. Eventually, Chappell’s team ran home by seven wickets with Hughes and Hookes at the crease. In the first innings Willis had bowled inspirationally for his 5 wicket haul. However, Cowans still looked wayward while Botham bordered on the profligate and ineffectual. In 22 first innings overs he was pounded for 105 and in the second went wicketless for 70 runs in under 16 overs. Worse still, he was evidently overweight and was suffering from back pain which hindered his mobility. As England moved on to South Australia and beautiful Adelaide there was much to ponder, with a clear improvement called for.
The tourists’ performance in the 3rd Test at Adelaide was their poorest in any of the five Test matches. Outplayed from the moment Bob Willis won the toss and elected to field, England wilted, despite an improved all round performance from the under fire Botham. Wessells and Dyson chipped in with 44 a piece on the opening morning, preparing the way for their skipper who, once agin, score crisply and briskly for an elegant 115. Aided by Hughes with 88, Chappell’s innings took Australia to a first innings total of 438. With Rackemann having being declared unfit following an injury picked up at Brisbane, the Aussie selectors took a bold move and picked the hero of 1978-79, Rodney Hogg. In combination with Thomson and Lawson, he was simply devastating. Quick, hostile and operating in his usual short bursts, he roughed up England alongside that other veteran, Thomson, who finished with 3-51. Hogg, opening with Lawson took 2-41 and the New South Welshman Lawson finished with 4-56. England were shot out in 67.5 overs for 216. This seemed all the more disappointing as Gower and Lamb had earlier scored briskly to take England to 140-2, when the left hander was caught behind of Lawson. Thereafter, it was the usual collapse. Lamb made an impressively constructed 82, proving that he was really taking to the hard Antipodean tracks, Botham rallied with 35 and, of the remaining English batsmen, only Fowler with 11 reached double figures. Once again the openers failed to build a platform with Tavare being dismissed for 1. Following on, England’s second knock of 304 fell well short of requirements and contained a beautiful, regal 114 from Gower, a patient 58 from Botham under considerable pressure, and, regrettably precious little else, although Fowler showed considerable pluck at the top of the order to compile 37 after, once again, Tavare had fallen cheaply and the the first wicket had fallen at 11. Dyson and Chappell took Australia to a 2-0 lead as they knocked off the 83 required for victory. Lawson was made man of the match for his aggressive though controlled performances in each English innings. Two nil down with two to play,England simply had to up their game as they headed for Melbourne and the Boxing Day Test.
Given the largely one sided nature of the Brisbane and Adelaide Test matches, it came as a bolt from the blue that the fourth encounter of the series at the vertiginous MCG should prove to be, by any measure, one of the most enthralling Test matches ever played. Simply put, it ranks alongside any of the amazing contests of the 1981 or 2005 series between these two teams. In often uncomfortable, humid and overcast conditions, Melbourne produced a classic so incredible, with the balance of power forever shifting between the two teams, that it remains, 30 years on, the one contest for which this series is remembered. The closeness of the contest is evident in the totals for each completed innings: 284, 287, 294, 288. Moreover,on each of the first three days play ended at the completion of an innings, emphasising still further the tight nature of the combat. The Melbourne Test, then, was a contest which, when viewed in isolation, seems utterly incongruous in the context of the whole series.
After Greg Chappell won the toss and elected to field, the fourth consecutive time the winner of the toss had chosen to do so, Australia once again broke through early as Fowler was dismissed at 11, the returning Geoff Cook at 25 and Gower at 56. Cook, called upon to open so that Tavare could go in first drop, was drafted into bolster English batting due to Randall’s injury in the one day game against Tasmania where a certain MA Holding had been responsible for an entry in the Randall dental records. What followed was a partnership between Lamb and Tavare that showcased the Northants man’s burgeoning talent on the international stage and an innings from Tavare that showed the Australian crowds the Kent right hander’s true colours. Hitting 161 in 32 overs, the two played a series of fine strokes, with Tavare hitting 15 fours in his 89 and being especially severe on Yardley. Alas, at 217 the partnership was broken and Lamb also fell shortly afterwards, prompting Richie Benaud to remark on Lamb’s inability to convert once established once again he can’t go on with it. With 46 and 56 at Perth, 72 in the first innings at Brisbane and 82 in the first knock at Adelaide, Lamb had looked the real deal; a class act with the nous, aggression, guts and hard-track technique to take on the Australian bowlers. Once again, here, he had fallen short when well set. Nevertheless, his attractive 83 in the first innings had confirmed his pedigree. Predictably given what had gone before, England then subsided to 284 on the first evening.
In Australia’s first innings of 287, where they gained a slender 3 run lead, no fewer than 6 batsmen were clean bowled. Bob Willis bowled with control and seemed to have rumbled Wessells as he now cramped him for room, restricting his off side strokes. Psychologically, however, the greatest blow was delivered by Cowans. Sensing Chappell’s discomfort with the rising ball, he positioned Lamb at deep square leg exactly for the short ball. Chappell snatched at the bouncer, failed to get over it and it was safely pouched by Lamb. The relief and pleasure that the team exuded at Cowans’ good fortune was palpable, for “Flash” the young Middlesex quick, was a popular tourist. He then seemed freed from his nerves and proceeded to bowl more rhythmically. Hughes with 66, along with Hookes and Marsh who each contributed 53, made the runs for Australia. On day three, England began their second innings and the third of the match. Their eventual 294 was owed to even contributions down the order after initially slumping to 45-3, with Tavare going for a duck, bowled by Hogg, and Gower being dismissed for 3. This came after a opening stand from Cook and Fowler of 40. Botham later hit 46, Bob Taylor 37 and Pringle 42. It was the highest total of the match and on the fourth morning, Australia would set about their target of 292.
That Australia should get even close to their target was an achievement after being reduced to 218-9. After Hughes and Hookes had earlier given the home side some momentum with 48 and 68 respectively, Border, badly out of touch all summer, began to find his bearings. Ending the day on 255-9, Australia required a further 37 to win on the final morning. The final wicket partnership of 70 was broken by – who else – Botham. As Thommo sparred at a widish delivery, a startled Tavare flicked the ball to his neighbour in the slip cordon, Geoff Miller, who safely took the catch. Cue utter delirium as England were back in the series at 2-1. Border and Thomson had contrived to turn down 29 comfortable singles during their partnership, although this was no time to point this out. For his second innings 6-77 Norman Cowans was made man of the match. After such a heart stopping finale to the match, the most closely fought of the series, the fifth and final Test at Sydney, just after the New Year break was bound to be something of an anti-climax. True, it did not compete as a contest – there was little way in which it could be hoped that it would compete with Melbourne – but it did contain enough quality and controversy to sustain interest in the series until the very end.
Greg Chappell decided to bat on winning the toss and just in case there had been insufficient incident at Melbourne, the final delivery of the opening over produced a moment in which perhaps the psychological balance of the series was tipped. Fielding off his own bowling, Willis threw down the stumps with Dyson apparently well short of his ground – a good 18 inches, according to Wisden. Worse still, the whole incident was immediately replayed on the SCG’s giant screen. There had still to be a run on the board and umpire Mel Johnson gave Dyson not out. The opener went on to score 79, Australia 314, and, unluckily for England 3 hours on the first day had been lost to rain. England’s first innings riposte of 237 would have been scarily much less were it not for a pair of fluent innings of 70 each from Gower and Randall. The Notts man was back in the side at the expense of Fowler whose foot had not sufficiently healed from Melbourne. Australia’s second innings total of 382 contained further evidence of Border’s return to form – his 83 matched his first innings 89 in terms of quality – and perhaps the last great innings from Kim Hughes who hit 12 fours and 3 sixes in his 137, described as a “classic” by Wisden Cricket Monthly.
In this first week of 1983 while both Border and Hughes were engaged in their partnership of 149 it was difficult to imagine what fate had in store for each of them. In less than two years, by December 1984, Hughes would be effectively finished as an international cricketer at the age of 30, after which,Border, then the quiet man, would have the task of rebuilding Australian cricket entirely in his own image, with the help of Bobby Simpson and the comparative largesse of the Australian selectors. The game was effectively out of England’s reach as they were set a gargantuan 460 to level the series and retain the Ashes. Their final 314-7 was due in no small part to a heroic 95 from nightwatchman Eddie Hemmings. The final scene of amicable handshakes, back slaps and bonhomie as both sets of players departed was completed by the poignant scene of the 41 year old Bob Taylor stooping to kiss the SCG turf on what he knew would be his last tour of Australia as an England player. Kim Hughes was awarded the man of the match award; a moment of great personal pride after his torrid summer as captain in England eighteen months earlier, while Geoff Lawson was made man of the series after his haul of 34 wickets.
The Test series had been a chastening experience for England. They had been genuinely competitive at Melbourne in the most closely fought and even contest of the five, although this could not be sustained throughout the series. Initial, pre-tour worries about their lack of genuine Test quality in certain areas were not unfounded, however.In 8 out of 10 starts England’s openers failed to surpass 15. Clearly this was no basis from which to mount credible totals consistently. Cook, though showing flair in the state games was found lacking in the Tests as the extra bounce encountered against top class speed merchants often found him rooted on the back foot. Fowler, after a slow start, relied on pluck to make decent scores at Melbourne and in Adelaide. Though he clearly lacked the genuine class to open at the highest level, he nonetheless showed no lack of determination and resolve, qualities he would go on to show in the following two home summers against New Zealand and the West Indies.
The case of Tavare shows the combination of muddled thinking and the paucity of resources available to the selectors at the time. Restored to the national set up during the last two Tests of the 1981 series, “Tav” was given the sheet anchor role of number 3, where he assumed the role of bolstering the England batting should one of the openers fall cheaply. Given that this invariably proved the case he became obliged through selectorial fiat to play against type. Ostensibly a free flowing shot maker for Kent, he was moved to the opening slot to perform an essentially sacrificial role during the 1982 home summer and remained there. Had Gooch been available to open with, say, Fowler or Cook, Tavare may have been able to drop down to his natural station and play a more natural, free-flowing game. However, despite his difficulties encountering the extra pace and bounce of Hogg, Lawson and Thomson, he nonetheless showed Aussie crowds his natural game with his aggressive 89 at Melbourne in the fourth Test and in the day-night game against New Zealand in the WSC. Accompanying the centurion Lamb, he carried England to an eight wicket victory with a free scoring 83 and swung Martin Snedden over deep square leg for six into the bargain.
There were, however, positives for England. Gower, with a century in the Adelaide Test and three half centuries cemented his reputation, at the age of 25, as a genuinely world-class batsman. His innings in Perth on the opening day, although he was ultimately dismissed for 72, will not easily be forgotten by those who witnessed it. With his commanding performances in the one day internationals against Australia and New Zealand he was named the international cricketer of the year. Lamb, too, announced himself as a permanent fixture. With four half centuries he had looked a batsman of high class, having qualified to play through residence at the age of 28. If one could be critical, it was in his habit of getting out while well set. The biggest disappointment was without doubt the great all rounder himself, Ian Botham. His highest score with the bat all summer was 65. He produced not one five wicket haul in Test matches and looked thoroughly out of sorts, lacking form and fitness.Palpably overweight and struggling with the media expectations, he looked a husk of the player that had set the world on fire two summers previously. In the bowling department, Bob Willis topped the averages with 18 wickets at 27 each and one five wicket haul. His young team mate, Norman Cowans, produced the most memorable English bowling performance all summer but was otherwise wayward and,in some instances, underbowled.
The English spin department generally had a defensive look and most obviously missed Emburey. Eddie Hemmings and Geoff Miller soldiered on but lacked the penetration to bowl teams out. Miller did, however, produce some useful lower middle order batting performances and Hemmings was a stoic nightwatchman at Sydney. The decision to omit altogether the attacking slow left armer Phil Edmonds, who had been deployed against India in the first half of the 1982 season, seems as perplexing now as it did then. The other spinner, Marks, was not used in the international fixtures until the one day games came round, the same being true for Ian Gould and Robin Jackman. Randall topped the averages despite missing the fourth Test through injury.However, the omission of Gatting from the touring squad, on domestic form thought by Ray Illingworth at that time to be the best batsman in the country, seemed a glaring error. Without him, and despite Gower and Lamb, the middle order took on a defensive appearance, especially given Botham’s poor form.
For the home side this was a glorious return to form and fortune and the reclaiming of the Ashes after their being over 5 years in England’s possession was a deserved reward. Kim Hughes seemed much happier as vice-captain to Chappell, who once again agreed to return to play in a home Test series. Then 35, Chappell would only play one more Australian summer before retiring along with Lillee and Marsh. Although he occasionally appeared jumpy against the lifting ball, Chappell produced two innings of genuine class and always scored briskly. Hughes, too, with his 137 at Sydney and his 469 runs overall looked like the batsman who had dominated at the 1980 Centenary Test. Hookes was consistent throughout – and aggressive – and the batting conveyed less of the defensive mindset of the 1981 touring side. Border returned to form at Melbourne and Wessells started off like a man in a hurry to break records, although England eventually stopped feeding his strengths and reduced his effectiveness to a degree.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the 1982-83 series, and the one which ultimately had perhaps the greatest bearing on the outcome of the series was the composition of the Australian bowling attack. After injuries to Lillee and Alderman in Perth and then to Rackemann after Brisbane, Australia, through sheer serendipity, stumbled on a devastating pace combination of Lawson, Hogg and Thomson. In four Tests Thomson finished with 22 wickets at 18.68, Hogg bagged 11 wickets at 27.45 and Lawson, man of the series, 34 wickets at 20.20 with four five wicket hauls and one 10 wicket match. Backed up by a nagging Yardley who himself took 22 wickets at 36.04, the pace trio gave the English batsmen no respite. They were particularly effective with the new ball, too. Only twice in 10 innings did the English opening stand advance beyond 15. Hogg looked like a bowler rejuvenated, performing his best international deeds since 1978-79 when he burst on to the scene. Thomson looked like a bowler intent on turning the clock back to 1974-75 and in this one last great series he looked as devastating as he had been eight years previously. With Lillee having lost a yard of pace and Alderman’s effectiveness always greater on softer, overseas seaming pitches, it is debatable that a team containing the Western Australian pair would have been as effective or as cutting with the ball as this one.
England’s first sojourn overseas without their banned SAB players proved a salutary experience. Their lack of experience and genuine Test class in key areas of the team being evident and not, as it happened, a total surprise. That said, they participated in, and won, one of the greatest Test matches ever played at Melbourne over the Christmas period. The problems inherent in the English game were magnified by this excursion as it proved that England’s ability to create and refine technically orthodox batsman was on the wane. Although Gower was then 25 and unquestionably a world star, Lamb had been born and raised in South Africa and Randall was then 31 and anything but orthodox or consistent. Gooch’s ban and the fact that Boycott was then 42 highlighted the overall standard of English batsmanship which the selectors had available to them. The claims for Trevor Jesty’s inclusion were also becoming difficult to ignore as the Hampshire all rounder had enjoyed a remarkable county season in 1982, especially with the bat where he had exhibited a classical technique. Jesty at this stage was 34 himself, however, and could hardly be considered “one for the future”. With the ball it appeared that, Willis apart, no bowlers from the new generation could consistently apply enough pressure on the batsman and that, for the sheer volume of limited overs cricket played in England, their form in the Benson and Hedges WSC showed them shockingly lacking in the fundamentals of that format, too. Under a new selectorial regime, the chairmanship of the great Surrey batsman Peter May, England would struggle throughout the remainder of the decade – and beyond – in creating Test class players who could compete consistently with the world’s best.
Whatever personnel the selectors had available to them the cold fact remained that England had not won a series overseas since 1978-79. In 1979-80, in what was a truncated three Test series against Australia where the Ashes were not at stake, England were trounced 3-0 with a side containing many of the lamented South African defectors. Among the list of weaknesses that could be levelled at English cricket, the inability of Test teams to perform away from home must have befuddled those who were responsible for guarding the game and producing the next generation of international players.
For Australia, too, this proved to be something of an illusory series. Within two years amid the calamitous home series against Clive Lloyd’s West Indians and the appalling public humbling of Kim Hughes, their cricket plummeted to new depths. A subsequent Australian “rebel” tour to South Africa cleared the reserves of international class players to such an extent that, by the time that the 1986-87 Ashes series came round, prominent commentators in the game pondered whether the Ashes was now a contest for the wooden spoon of international cricket.