Ashes absent but England bite the dust
Two seasons of Kerry Packer's World Series in the late 1970s had left traditional cricket fractured, confused and cross. In the winter of 1979-80 the first Test series hosted by Australia after WSC was to feature not one touring team but two, England and West Indies
Greg Chappell (Australia captain): We were happy to be back playing Test matches. World Series Cricket had proved a point and we were getting a little bit of respect. Test cricket before Packer had been a closed shop, a cartel. We had always suspected as much and we had been proved right. The boards had been in cahoots, agreeing to limit what they'd pay us. It was like businesses getting together to sort out price-fixing.
Kim Hughes (Australia): I think we were all pretty excited to be in the team. We were appreciative of the fact that those days were over, because it certainly affected Australia more than anybody else. The West Indies pretty much had kept the same side from Packer days. It was good to be in a side where you had all your champs again.
Hughes was lucky. Many of those who had remained "loyal" to Australia when the best players were signed by Packer would never play for their country again because the stars had returned. England had profited from Australia's disruption, regaining the Ashes in 1977 and retaining them on the 1978-79 tour.
Chappell: We had a great respect for Mike Brearley and his side. We knew he'd be tactically sound. But I thought we'd win.
It was to be a busy time. Australia would play three Tests against both England and West Indies. The tourists would meet each other only in the many one-day games scattered through the itinerary.
Clive Lloyd (West Indies captain): This was such an important tour for us. We'd never won in Australia. Their Packer players were all back. The rows were over, so both sides could choose their best players. And of course we had to make right the 5-1 defeat of 1975-76.
The Tests and one-dayers were aggressively marketed by an Australian board anxious to make money again after being humbled by Kerry Packer. The West Indies board was even poorer and was eager to please. England's administrators were sniffy. No, England would not play in coloured clothing and no, the Ashes would not be contested in a shortened Test series.
Bob Willis (England): There was still a reluctance to embrace the Packer innovations. Remember that we had a rather buttoned-up board, and the chairman of selectors and tour manager was Alec Bedser, who was pretty conservative. I recall there was a row over the type of kit we should wear. As I remember, I think we agreed at one stage to have a sort of military-style stripe running down the length of our whites, which just made us look
Bob Taylor (England): It was wrong not to play for the Ashes. It was a Test series against Australia, so they should have been up for grabs.
Hughes: It was small-minded, narrow-minded and not within the spirit of the game. But, you know, that was the Poms... It was the Poms being Poms - not necessarily the players but the powers that be. "Here they go," we thought, "not wanting to join in again."
Willis: There was certainly some ill-feeling. My view was that, if you're playing Australia, the Ashes should be at stake.
Chappell: We were disappointed. But hey, in the end, what did it matter?
Denied the chance to compete for the little urn, Australia took matters into their own hands.
Hughes: Someone went out and got a trophy from a sports shop - a little bloody thing which cost 10 or 15 bucks and we christened it "Ernie".
The first Test was in Perth. Australia had already drawn one against West Indies and all three teams had started the one-day series, in which England had beaten Australia twice in a week - but it did them little good at the WACA: they were bowled out twice for less than 250.
Chappell: We were a much more experienced side, of course, and we had some good young players. Allan Border had come into the Test side while we'd been with Packer. We had a strong bowling attack and the problem that had dogged us in England in 1977 - weak batting - was no longer an issue.
The only England batsman to put up resistance had been Geoffrey Boycott. Trying to save the game in the second innings, he was a few runs from a century with Bob Willis, the last man in, at the other end.
Willis: Ah, yes. That's right (chuckles). Geoff Dymock and Dennis Lillee were bowling and the agreement we reached was that I would take Dymock and Geoffrey would have Dennis. So Geoffrey, on 97, clipped one off his legs for what should have been an easy three for his hundred. But after two runs I held up my hand and sent him back because I would then have been facing Lillee and that wasn't the plan.
Boycott, stranded on 99, had to watch Willis bat.
Willis: I think I lasted two balls. Geoffrey wasn't terribly pleased. It took him a little longer to leave the pitch than it took me. We didn't speak about it in the dressing room.
Boycott was not the only man to miss out on a century. In Australia's first innings Kim Hughes had also reached 99 when he was caught.
Hughes: I should have hit it out of the ball park but I tried to keep it low and I got an edge. I look back and think, "Ah - instead of having so-and-so number of centuries, I'm one short." We won the game, which helped, but even as a 54-year-old I think, "Gee it would have been nice to have another hundred to add to your list."
After Perth came more one-dayers, then a Test in Sydney. As Wisden noted, it was not a happy start to 1980 for England. "A decision to give the ground staff the day off to celebrate the New Year virtually decided the outcome. The pitch was left exposed to a violent thunderstorm, and further rain resulted in it still being damp and patchy when the match began."
Chappell: So I went to see Mike Brearley, knowing what I'd get from him because, of course, he had Derek Underwood in the side, who was probably the most lethal bowler in the world on a drying wicket. Mike gave a little smile and said: "I'd like to play as soon as possible". I knew he'd do that.
"Winning the toss almost guaranteed victory," recorded Wisden. But despite the eagerness of the England captain, the coin came down on Australia's side. They bowled. First-innings scores of 123 and 145 meant a win was inevitable, and it went to Chappell's team on the fourth day. Australia had taken the series.
Willis: This time it was a little bit different. We were given a rude awakening from having beaten their third XI the winter before.
The final Test was in Melbourne and the best player was one of Australia's most experienced - Dennis Lillee. In Perth he had made an exhibition of himself by using an aluminium bat. At the MCG he did what he did best and with the ball made England look silly.
Taylor: I'd first played against Dennis when I was in the Rest of the World side in 1971-72. He bowled brilliantly then but broke down because of his back. I remember a taxi driver in Adelaide going on about him and I replied: "If he's that good, let's see if he's still around taking Test wickets in a few years.'
He was. Not as fast as he had been but probably the most intelligent bowler in the world.
Willis: It was some of the best bowling I've seen. Brilliant accuracy and they were fast legbreaks really. It was a remarkable sight to behold.
Taylor: He didn't rely on pace, although he still knew how to bowl a bouncer. It was the line. That's what I remember. Absolutely immaculate it was.
Lillee took six wickets in the first innings and five in the second. Ian Botham's first hundred against Australia was in a losing cause and Australia won by eight wickets, taking the series 3-0.
Hughes: I still have the photo of me and Greg Chappell holding "Ernie" after we won the series. We presented it to ourselves. We thought, "Bugger 'em - they didn't want to play for the pot, so we've brought our own and we won it."
Chappell's men had defeated England but at the same time were being beaten themselves. There was no question about who was the best team in town.
Lloyd: My knees were going and I was pretty certain this would be my last tour. I was 35 after all. I told the boys as much and the first thing they did was to ransack my kit bag hunting for souvenirs. It was actually Kerry Packer who took me to a knee specialist, and he said: "If this guy says you're finished, you're finished." I was fit for the second Test.
It was a game West Indies won. 1-0 up with one to play.
Hughes: They were phenomenal and we weren't up to their standard. Arguably the greatest side that's played the game. Wonderful captain, brilliant fielders, never mind the batsmen or bowlers. A team with hardly a weak link.
In the final Test in Adelaide, Lloyd's team proved their power by asking Australia to score 574 to win. It was never going to happen.
Lloyd: In the dressing room Andy Roberts was saying to me, "Let 'em chase a thousand, Cappie." I'd never forgotten Bill Lawry at Sydney in 1969 when he set us more than 700 to win. On and on the Australians had gone. This wasn't revenge but I wasn't going to declare early.
Chappell: Clive Lloyd worked out how to beat us and he did it.
Hughes: We were a long way ahead of England but a long way short of West Indies. We were the second best team in the world - but by a distance.
Lloyd: What pleased me most was that nine of us had been in Australia for the 5-1 thrashing in '75 and were still playing. One of the criticisms of our side was: "Oh they just turn up, bowl fast and win Test matches." This was nonsense. The side had grown up and developed. We did it together. The same fellows who'd been told they had no future in '75 were still together and we were world champions - so they must have learned something.
Chappell: Yeah, that was interesting. Our record in Australia against them had been okay. But they were shaping up to become the best Test team in the world. But actually I think we noticed it most in the one-day games. Whatever the score, they could always make one more run, they stopped everything in the field, they had power-bowling. Even when we played at our best, we knew sometimes it wouldn't be enough. Psychologically that was very challenging.
Australia did not even make the finals of the one-day series, which was won in two straight games by West Indies. It was Packer's legacy - white balls, floodlights, pastel flannels (England excepted) and boisterous crowds. Too boisterous for Wisden: "The loutish, drunken behaviour of many ... posed additional headaches for the ground authorities ... Brearley was the subject of a disgraceful campaign wherever he went."
Taylor: As far as I remember, it was just the same as it always had been.
Hughes: A campaign against Brearley? What's to be surprised about? One: he was a Pom. Two: he was the captain. What more do you want going against you?
Willis: In actual fact, I would say that it was the beginning of the end of really loutish behaviour. It had been worse. Throughout the 1970s people routinely invaded the pitch at Test matches. Of course Mike didn't help things. He was sporting this long beard and was soon given the nickname "Ayatollah" by the Australian crowds. Their justification was that the Poms were stuck in a time warp.
Chappell: Let's be realistic. One of the great sports of Australia is to have a go at the Poms. I think it was nothing more than a mark of the times. Socially Australia was changing a great deal, the country was moving on rapidly, and the crowds simply reflected that.
Taylor: It was a bit like the Australians' reaction to Douglas Jardine all those years ago. In their eyes Mike was posh, educated and had a strange accent. They were rough and ready Aussies, he was a softly spoken Cambridge graduate. It was bound to rub them up the wrong way.
Hughes: I have so much respect for Mike nowadays. Unlike many captains he wasn't the best player. Physically he didn't dive around in the covers like, say, Clive Lloyd had been able to. He wasn't a blond Tony Greig at six-foot seven. He was an intellectual who struggled to keep his place in the side. But as I've got older I've appreciated how he got the best from different personalities in the side. We probably didn't appreciate that at the time.
Forty-two days of international cricket in two months had come to an end. The mixed bag of Tests and one-dayers had arrived. Cricket's international calendar would now fill up faster than ever before.
Willis: It was a busy schedule, but having toured Australia in the early and mid-70s, when we played all manner of up-country XIs, it wasn't too arduous. Topsy-turvy, yes. A one-day game here, a Test match there. Not ideal. The very strong impression lingered throughout that this was a tour cobbled together very quickly.
This article was first published in the January 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here