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The Perth Challenge 1986/87

Graham Dilley at his best: Perth Challenge, England v Australia, 1st January 1987

With a proliferation of cricket played across all three formats these days it is perhaps easy to overlook individual one-day tournaments, the coloured clothing, lights and white ball being so ubiquitous. In the mid-1980s, however, despite the annual World Series Cup played on a triangular basis Down Under, the World Cup itself stood alone as the contest around which all cricket playing nations would rally. Back then, it was not uncommon for England to play two, at best three ODIs per home series prior to the serious business of the Test matches themselves. In the winter of 1984-85, though, Australia managed to shoe-horn the World Championship of Cricket into their already busy schedule. This was a contest that attracted all of the Test playing nations and resulted in a victory for India over neighbours Pakistan. Soon after, Sharjah got in on the act, bringing cricket to the United Arab Emirates with tournaments that invariably involved India, Pakistan and West Indies. So it was then that in the winter of 1986-87 England, West Indies and Pakistan joined hosts Australia to contest the Perth Challenge with all games to be held at the WACA ground. Conceived as part of the 1987 America’s Cup Festival of Sport, seldom can there have been a more dubious pretext for a cricket tournament. Sandwiched between that summer’s Ashes series and acting as a precursor to the annual WSC involving the Ashes combatants plus West Indies, this was a round-robin tournament which provided some excellent cricket, with unexpected results, and a series of clashes which prefigured a sea-change in international cricket.

England arrived in Perth having won the Ashes a couple of days previously, their innings victory in Melbourne nicely wrapping up the urn ahead of a two week break from Ashes hostilities. Only the fifth and final Test remained, a whole continent away in Sydney. After one of the most shambolic starts to an English overseas tour in living memory, Gatting, coach Mickey Stewart and manager, Peter Lush, had led a harmonious and successful travelling band. Of the senior players only Allan Lamb had failed to shine in the Tests, although even he had scored heavily in the state games. Prior to commencing battle in Perth, a scare had been created by the side muscle injury sustained by Ian Botham, although he had just bowled Australia out – along with the help of Gladstone Small – by trundling in at little more than military medium in the fourth Test.

Hosts Australia, convening in the distant far west of their huge land mass, were 2-0 down in the Ashes Tests. Given considerable latitude by the Australian selectors, Allan Border’s fledgling team was still taking time to gel. Of the bowlers, Bruce Reid looked threatening, the lanky left-armer able to slant the ball across England’s right-handers. Border’s own form with the bat had been unimpeachable, while Geoff Marsh had clearly learned from the “experience of batting in India” according to Ian Chappell. David Boon and Dean Jones had looked high class at times and, despite the Ashes defeat, they looked to have promise. Joining the age old rivals and fresh from an absorbing three match Test series came Pakistan and the West Indies to make up, on paper at least, a formidable quartet.

The opening encounter of the Perth Challenge came on 30th December 1986. Both protagonists, West Indies and Pakistan, looked very familiar with each other. Holding and Garner had not toured Pakistan earlier on in October and November and it was clear that Marshall was now the speed supremo. Then 28, he was reaching his absolute peak as a fast bowler. In this game, however, both he and fellow Bajan, Garner, were ruled out through injury. Holding was accompanied by Gray, Walsh and Winston Benjamin in an unfamiliar speed attack. Gray and Walsh, though, had both bowled with penetration in Pakistan and were unerringly accurate in reducing Pakistan to 199 here. Using up their allocation, Pakistan’s batsmen had in most cases made a start but had failed to push on. Javed Miandad, relishing the fray as ever, top scored with 53 off 69 balls. Needing an even 200 to win from 50 overs appeared a pushover for a batting line-up containing Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Richardson, Logie and Dujon. What followed, though, was typical of a team beginning to display marked signs of battle fatigue. After the old firm of Greenidge and Haynes had reached 40, with the former in particular looking as though he was in a hurry to dispense with the formalities, the innings crumbled. Richardson’s run out was pure farce, Richards had miscalculated wildly as he attempted one of his extravagant flicks to leg from a ball pitched around off stump, and Greenidge, after swotting Imran for a huge six over square leg, had dragged a ball which cut back into him onto his stumps. His petulant swipe at the stump on his way back to the pavillion may just have been a sign that all was not well within the camp. If they were not sick of each other then the West Indies at least looked fed up at being the most overworked hamsters on the wheel of international cricket. After themselves struggling to a total below 200, Pakistan had opened their Perth Challenge account with an unexpected victory.

As New Years Day 1987 dawned, England kicked off their campaign against Australia. In bald statistical terms England won the match by 37 runs having made 272-6, while Australia responded with 235. The game will be remembered, however, for the exploits of one man: Ian Botham. Arriving at the crease with England 150-3, he simply knocked the stuffing out of the Australian bowlers and made a mockery out of any field Border set for him. In 39 balls he hit 68 with 7 fours and 3 sixes. In only 50 minutes he had taken the game out of Australia’s hands. Feet of clay he may have had against the West Indies only 8 months earlier, but here he could still reduce Australia’s bowlers to a state of enervation. One particular over from Simon Davis has entered into Botham folklore. Davis, a one-day specialist and nominally fast-medium, had been reintroduced into the attack by Border. In the commentary box summariser Max Walker described Davis as a “run miser” before adding the disclaimer that he was now facing “the ultimate problem” that of the on-strike Botham. Rarely has a commentator so given the kiss of death to a bowler. Twenty-six runs flowed from Botham’s bat. The first four was a straight drive which whistled down the ground at such velocity and having been struck so purely that stump microphones picked up no sound from Botham’s bat. Next came an on-driven four followed by a full-toss struck over the in-field on the leg side for four. Botham then thrashed the next ball for six over deep mid-on before stepping back to leg a la Richards to loft his off drive for six into the crowd. Earlier Chris Broad had made 76, continuing his excellent Ashes form and Lamb, no slouch either, had made 66 from 72 balls. Despite Dean Jones’ excellent century, tight bowling from Defreitas and Dilley reduced Australia to 235.

Centurion Jones carried his rich vein of form into the Australian’s next game with Pakistan in what turned out to be a captivating contest. The closest game of the entire tournament was eventually won by Pakistan with one wicket remaining off the penultimate ball. What was so remarkable about Pakistan’s victory was the precarious position from which they launched their fight back. Demonstrating the same spirit and tenacity that would see their captain brand them as “cornered tigers” five years later, Pakistan contrived to rescue a lost cause from the position of 96-5 chasing Australia’s 273. Shoiab, Rameez, Javed and Mudassar had all fallen for single digit dismissals, while Imran had made just 20 before being caught behind by Zoehrer off Steve Waugh. When the redoubtable little right-hander, Qasim Umar, perished for 67 Pakistan seemed sunk. Incredibly, late order pyrotechnics from Manzoor Elahi, Asif Mujtaba and Salim Yousuf saw them home in dramatic and improbable fashion.

For their second game of the tournament West Indies and England paired off on a hot and bright Saturday. Having been put into bat, England were reduced to 96-5. Turning the clock back to 1984, Allan Lamb salvaged England’s innings with 71 from 108 balls, ably supported by ‘keeper Jack Richards with 50. Requiring 229, West Indies seemed well set at 178-4 when Dujon, without appearing in any difficulty, backed away needlessly to Dilley and has his stumps removed. Tony Greig’s “that was a silly shot by Dujon” summed up the dismissal. Earlier, Greenidge had, once again, edged a ball too close to his body into his wicket before, as in the opening game, turning round and aiming a kick at the stumps. When Marshall was cleaned bowled by a fully firing Dilly, the game was all but up for the Windies. Walsh was the last man out, leg-before to Emburey as England made it to the final after just two games. With Australia having lost to Pakistan the previous day, the next fixture between this game’s losers, West Indies, and the hosts would effectively be a Plate-Winner’s contest.

The West Indies clash with Australia will be associated with Gordon Greenidge’s first international hundred down under. Difficult to image in hindsight, it would not be until 1988 when aged 37 and on his fifth and final full tour of Australia that he would make a Test hundred. In early 1987 he was a few months short of his 36th birthday and still capable of devastating any attack, although appearing temperamentally out of sorts in the first couple of matches here. When he was dismissed for an even 100 out of 176, West Indies had then to rely on Holding with a typically belligerent 53 to shore up their innings. Richards’ men need not have worried as their 255 proved far and away too much for Border’s team who capitulated to 91 all out, the weakest batting effort of the whole tournament. Back firing on all cylinders here, too, were Garner and Holding. Incredibly, only Steve Waugh with 29 made double figures. For Australia and West Indies, participation in the Perth Challenge was over. What remained was a Pakistan v England final before which an irrelevant round-robin contest would take place between the same two.

The penultimate game of the tournament was a dress rehearsal of between the two finalists, England and Pakistan. Imran opted to bat on winning the toss and Pakistan’s 229-5 was built around Javed’s fluent 59 from just 65 balls, and the rather more prosaic 66 from the son of Hanif, Shoiab Mohammad. Although Emburey had received some rough treatment, having conceded 65 runs from his 10 overs, the seamers had all proven economical. With Dilley resting, Defreitas, Small and Botham were all tight and controlled. Needing 230, Broad and Athey made the ideal start with 104. England subsequently made rather heavier going of the total than perhaps should have been the case, but eventually crept home with two balls and with three wickets to spare. Broad had once again eased the ball around the ground with style, particularly off his pads as he accumulated 97 from 130 balls.

And so the final dawned. Slightly anti-climactic after the same two teams had played out an essentially meaningless group game two days previously, the tournament had thus far been an absorbing clash of the new and the old, the fresh and the jaded and the innovative and the shambolic. Having chosen to field, Mike Gatting’s seam attack pinned Pakistan back to 166-9 from their full 50 overs. Dilley, Defreitas, Botham and Small were all naggingly accurate. Emburey, too, with his 8 overs going for 34 provided little respite. Only the colossus from Karachi, Javed Miandad, managed to save Pakistan from acute embarrassment. With an unbeaten 77, he made virtually half of Pakistan’s total, working the strike to his advantage. In reply, England briefly showed wobbly legs as they plunged to 47-3. Then, with Gatting and Lamb joining forces in a partnership of 89, all Pakistani hope was snuffed out. Both men were subsequently dismissed but Botham arrived, hit out and carried England home with the assistance of Jack Richards. Having wrapped up the Ashes with a Test to spare, England now added the Perth Challenge to their tally of tour treasure. What had seemed an unnecessary addition to an already congested fixture schedule proved to be a series of games with a surprising outcome played in an atmosphere without rancour.

The Perth Challenge represented a clear stage in the evolution of each of the four participants. The hosts, Australia, although finishing with the wooden spoon here, would soon get back to business in the final Test of the Ashes series three days later. Their ecstatic reaction to their victory in that see-saw of a contest in Sydney was as though they had won The Ashes themselves. Although not readily apparent at all times during the Perth Challenge, players like Boon, Marsh, Dean Jones, Steve Waugh, Bruce Reid and Craig McDermott were at last responding to the entreaties of their captain, Allan Border and coach, Bobby Simpson. The Ashes year of 1985 had proved to be something of a Year Zero in Australian cricket and the decision to pick young talent, groom it and back it, was beginning to come to fruition. Less than one year on from this series in Perth, of course, and they would be hoisting the Reliance World Cup themselves in India. When the young New South Welshman in Border’s team, Steve Waugh, was captain himself, he implored his charges to “back themselves”. Over a decade earlier, Allan Border was asking the same of his men and the message was just beginning to sink in. That fifth Ashes Test match, therefore, starting some three days after the end of the Perth Challenge, can be seen as the beginning of the way back for Australian cricket. Their national team had been in a parlous state, had reached absolute rock bottom and was now beginning to climb to a level where it could, once again, compete and later best what the rest of the world had to offer. All of that, however, was somewhere in the future at the end of this Western Australian extravaganza.

In Pakistan’s case they too had shown a steep, upward development since their captain’s return from that debilitating stress fracture of the shin. Though no longer capable of that sustained, express pace of old, Imran was as totemic a figure as ever. In Javed, he had a tigerish batsman at his peak, along with Wasim Akram, at age 20, already one of the finest quick bowlers in the world. Perhaps more importantly, though, the team fought hard as a cohesive whole. Against West Indies and Australia in this tournament they had fought back from positions which seemed like lost causes. In Saleem Yousuf, they had a combative, aggressive ‘keeper-batsman constructed to Imran’s design. Although the side’s composition would change and evolve between 1987 and 1992, the ethos and spirit would not. Like his Australian counterpart, Border, Imran had a huge say in shaping the destiny of his team. Unlike Border, though, Imran Khan had direct influence over the selectors themselves and was almost always able to get the kind of player he wanted. Pakistan had just shared the spoils of a three Test series with the West Indies in late 1986 and, in summer 1987, would beat England on their own patch. In the spring of 1988 after making yet another comeback, Imran took his team to the Caribbean where they squared one of the best Test series of the later 1980s. Runners up here in Perth, this Pakistan team was without question one on the up and one to be reckoned with.

The West Indies had made this their fifth tour of Australia in eight summers. Although just three of those trips had been full Test match tours, with a further two bringing them Down Under to compete in the annual triangular one-day WSC competition, this was still a surfeit of cricket. Just as Greg Chappell had partially explained away the under-arm incident as being a consequence of the pressure of constant cricket, so Viv Richards’ team had looked out of sorts here, too, at times. Their standard of outcricket was not of its usually high standard and the occasional run outs suffered by the batsmen out in the middle were almost laughable. Of the bowlers, Holding, in particular, was not always fit and seldom looked to be at full-throttle. Along with Garner, he would make this tour his last and both would retire from international cricket during the subsequent New Zealand series. While the bowlers never really exuded that pack-hunt sensation of menace that had hitherto been their trademark, the batsmen seemed out of sorts, too. Greenidge seemed to be waging some internal war with himself, kicking at the stumps as if struggling to concentrate, while his captain, Richards, was beginning to display a tendency to play deliveries in a premeditated way, rather than rely on his instinctive brilliance and reflexes to react to the situation. In West Indies opening game with Pakistan, he had moved so far over from outside leg stump to off that he looked as though he had lost his bearings altogether.

This was a clearly tired team, then. Garner, 34, Holding, 33, and the batting order’s cool buffer, Gomes, 33, would all retire from regional colours after this their last Antipodean sojourn. Holding himself was succinct in explaining his relatively early departure from the international game: “I had had enough”. It was quite a shock to see it happen seemingly all at once, but West Indies’ decline had probably set in as soon as Lloyd retired in early 1985. The pulverising of England a year earlier in the Caribbean summer of 1985-86 had probably masked over cracks in the team brought on by weariness, fatigue and over-familiarity. There were other reasons, too. The change in leadership from Lloyd to Richards had brought with it a marked change in style. Never the darling of the WICB to begin with, Richards’abrasive nature had ruffled the feathers of his senior players once captain. In his autobiography, Whispering Death, Michael Holding stated “man-management calls for tact, patience and understanding but these did not come easily for such a passionate man as Viv Richards”. Indeed, Hilary Beckles, in the second volume of his magisterial The Development of West Indies Cricket: The Age of Nationalism has argued that it was Richards’ aggressive and blinkered temperament which brought the curtain down earlier than might otherwise have been the case:

“The view has been expressed that this divide (between Richards’ lack of social tact and his abundance of cricket tactics) caused the premature retirement of Michael Holding and Joel Garner and the final restructuring of the Lloyd regime”

Whatever the reasons, Wisden was not slow to lament the end of an epoch as it summarised the West Indies tour of New Zealand which followed the Perth Challenge and World Series Cup in 1986/87:

“The unmistakable evidence after the West Indians’ tour of New Zealand early in 1987 was that both teams were on the decline and faced a period of rebuilding. Each relied on the same players who had formed the nucleus of its sides for several years; most were over the age of 30 and several had passed their peak. The West Indians, particularly, lacked the all-round brilliance with which they had dominated international cricket for the better part of a decade, their enthusiasm diminished by a glut of cricket. They had come directly from a hectic one-day series in Australia. The catching of both teams was unusually faulty, the West Indians falling well below their accepted standard by putting down fifteen catches in the Tests alone.”

If the team that Packer built, West Indies, was reaching the end of a cycle then the team that Packer definitely did not build, England, had been something of a revelation; particularly given their traumatic 1986 and poor form overseas during the first half of the decade. How, then, to account for England coming out on top in this competition, the Ashes and then the annual World Series Cricket carnival which followed? Of all the combatants here, England’s performance had the least bearing on their immediate future. While Australia and West Indies would eventually cross each other on the international escalator as one declined and the other rose, so Pakistan remained on course for their ultimate triumph in 1992 in Melbourne. Imran’s team may have swapped personnel occasionally but as long as he remained captain, the type of player that came to represent Pakistan had to be one which he approved of. With England, though, The Perth Challenge, along with other successes on that glorious Australian jaunt 26 years ago, was nothing if not incongruous in the context of the later 1980s and early 1990s.

When Botham described the Headingley innings in 1981 as “one of those glorious one off flukes” he could well have been talking about the 1986-87 tour down under, too. Simply put, everything came together all at once. The management of Peter Lush was smooth, professional and mature. The coaching of Mickey Stewart, combined with the captaincy of Mike Gatting, though firm, at least realised that a one-size-fits-all approach did not work in this instance. In terms of team selection, two distinct lacunae had been successfully filled. In Chris Broad and Graham Dilley, England had at last discovered another international class opening batsman and, in Dilley’s case, a penetrative, genuinely quick strike bowler who had never played better in national colours. The Hemingway and Fitzgerald of English cricket – Botham and Gower – were partially indulged, while at the same time proved their fealty to the leadership with their deeds out on the field. No player, least of all Botham or Gower, wanted a repeat of the hell that was the Caribbean the previous year, where press intrusions and scandal had magnified their gruesome maulings out on the field. While Botham’s uproarious machismo was tolerated and Gower’s sybaritic life style found its place, each came with the understanding that it should not interfere with younger, more impressionable members of the squad. On this tour the perfect balance appeared to be struck between work and play, with Gatting the ideal leader for his senior players. Moreover, his personality and approach did not jar with Botham and Gower as Gooch’s would do when captain later on. Recalling the tour some twenty years later, David Gower observed:

“The trickiest problem that Gatting and Micky had was how to work with the various factions within the squad. That is the art of leadership. They managed pretty well and approached people differently and got the best from them. The stark contrast came when Micky went back to Australia with Graham Gooch in charge. They then came up with one plan for 16 players. Which, as we now know, is a complete disaster”

More than any other captain since Brearley, “Gatt” seemed able to fruitfully combine the competing philosophies within the English hierarchy of the time. The discipline and work ethic espoused by chairman of selectors, Peter May, and his proxy, the team manager, Mickey Stewart, somehow managed to find itself transformed into a blueprint for success that would not exclude the two superstars who subscribed to a quite different philosophy of cricket. The Middlesex and England skipper was not afraid to take his players to task, though, and they knew what was expected of them on this trip. Mike Gatting’s happy band provided English cricket’s greatest overseas triumph during that decade and, little did we know it, the last flicker of the amateur spirit went with it. England’s next significant overseas performances came at the decade’s end, in the Caribbean in 1989-90. Under a quite different regime, with different players, the days of wine and song were well and truly over. For those of us who will never quite be able to get the England tour of 1986-87 out of our heads, though, we still have the luminous, heat-hazed, Channel 9 tribute that is the On Top Down Under VHS cassette to turn to.

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