Although the day should never come when an Australian cricket team is described as colourless, the 1977 party to England took on a very light shade of grey. The players had none of the air of their predecessors and the longer the tour went on the more one's mind drifted back to the billowing green caps which had fallen out of fashion. They always seemed to set the Australians apart from the opposition, and goodness knows this party could have done with some distinguishing mark.
A bad start with the weather did not help. Instead of concentrating on the job in hand, players were forced to resort to football to keep themselves fit during the hours spent waiting for the sun to come through.
But, like the cricket, it seldom shone brightly enough for long enough and there was a general feeling by the end that Greg Chappell's team was well content to jet back to Sydney away from the critical eye.
Left behind was one of the worst records of any Australian team making a comparable tour. A side no more than a good average had been allowed to beat them, with some comfort, in three Tests in England for the first time since 1886, so winning back The Ashes at home for only the third time this century. The other two Tests ended in draws. Chappell could have no complaints on the score of luck. He won the toss three times out of five.
There was only one defeat in three-day games, ironically the first ever to Chappell's former county, Somerset, but two of the five wins were over teams which finished 16th and 17th in the Championship, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire. And in a two-day game the Minor Counties put Australia in at Sunderland, dismissed them for 170 and finally scored at nearly 80 an hour to win. Former sides would have blushed at that.
A look at the records for first-class matches in tours since the first World War provided the comparison:
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By the anguished look on his face as the tour drew towards its close, Jack Fingleton of the 1938 side would have turned in his seat in the Press box at The Oval had there been room and Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell, captains both of more incisive teams, were appropriately reticent as they summed up the past months pictorially via satellite to other corners of the cricketing world.
Which led to the focal point of the tour, television. Though it was kept secret until the second week in May, plans had long since been set in motion by one of the media's main manipulators in Australia, Kerry Packer, to milk the game of its stars in order to set them before his own audience.
That in itself provided a lengthy serial set out in detail in another section of the Almanack, but it had to be seen as an integral part of this tour, even if, or perhaps because, Greg Chappell and the manager, Len Maddocks, were at pains to make it known that it had nothing to do with the indifferent form in the middle.
Thirteen of the seventeen Australians, Bright, Chappell, Davis, Hookes, McCosker, Malone, Marsh, O'Keeffe, Pascoe, Robinson, Thomson, Walker and Walters, flew into London with Packer contracts in their pockets. They had already inflicted the initial wound in those who sent them 11,000 miles to represent an organisation not long since celebrating something of 100 years duration.
Looked at in retrospect, there was a good deal of heresy in what the players were doing, and with that at the back of the minds of the more moderate members, it was too much to expect a side to go through an arduous tour without some reaction. It would have been a major surprise had the cricket not been affected.
Which explained to a larger extent than the participants were prepared to admit at the time why the team seldom did itself justice. This was never going to be one of the stronger Australian sides. With Ian Chappell, Edwards and Lillee leaving their flannels at the cleaners until the Packer fortunes became available, the power-house of the 1975 side had been removed.
Thomson could not be the same force without Lillee and the switching from the extrovert Ian to his more introvert brother, Greg, as captain, had its effect on the drive behind the effort.
Yet in the early weeks there was evidence of newcomers who, given the necessary encouragement, might fill the gaps adequately. Hookes, schooled for a while in club cricket at Dulwich, received due consideration, but Serjeant, despite an innings of 81 at Lord's on his Test début, soon departed the International scene and Hughes and Malone were kept in such idleness that either might have claimed restraint of trade.
With the side one down in the series with three to play. The selectors, Chappell, Marsh and Walters, relied on the golden oldies to see them through the third encounter, and then the fourth, by the end of which England were able to take the champagne off ice.
At first, Serjeant, normally number four, opened the innings while McCosker was completing his recovery from a broken jaw. And he did so in a manner full of confidence while scoring 55, 55 not out and 50 in three of his first four innings in England. Yet for the first Test at Lord's the 30-years-old Robinson was brought in to start the innings with McCosker, which was asking much of the reserve wicket-keeper. He had not played for his country before.
No doubt the fact that Robinson finished second in the batting averages in the previous Australian season prompted this move, but in the event it served mainly to suggest to English eyes that a wide gulf existed between Sheffield Shield matches and Tests. He never looked the part in scoring 11 and 4.
Then on returning as a straightforward replacement for Serjeant for the third and fourth matches against England, Robinson wielded his bat again for 11, 34, 20 and 20, and with Walters scoring 11, 28, 4 and 15 and Marsh 0, 0, 2 and 63, the older players made a very modest contribution in the middle order.
And there were those casting sidelong glances at the selection of the sides for these two games. They were composed entirely of those with allegiance to Packer.
By the time the fifth Test started all was lost. Serjeant returned, opening now, and Hughes and Malone were brought in. That only one of the three did much was no more than could be expected, for by this time much of the spirit had drained away. Malone, the exception, proved his point by hitting 46 and becoming the only Australian during the series to take five wickets in an innings.
Chappell had been looking a weary man. He played well at Lord's and hit one of the most polished centuries of the summer at Old Trafford, but as the cracks widened so the frown deepened.
Number three in the order, he went in with the score at 25 and 5, 4 and 0, 79 and 18, 8 and 31 and 0. Not much there to build on. And, as it transpired, not a lot to come afterwards either. So having hit 246 runs in his first four Test innings, his contribution dropped to 125 in the next five.
Chappell still finished the tour well out in front with an overall average of 59.10 from 1,182 runs, including five centuries. He also hit his side's only hundred in the one-day Prudential series, which Australia also lost, by two matches to one. Walters on the other hand could do no better than average 26.52, compared with 60.30 in 1975, and McCosker slipped just as badly from 59.88 to 23.77.
Hookes came next to his captain in aggregate but was still 378 runs behind at 804 from one extra innings. Only once did the total exceed 400, and that against Nottinghamshire, whose attack was by no means among the strongest.
So the bowlers seldom found themselves with many runs at their disposal. Thomson could certainly have done with more. Not only did he come without his better half, Lillee, but his right shoulder was pinned following a dislocation the previous Christmas.
To add to his worries physically he jarred his right elbow during the tour, which he began, as in 1975, with so much trouble in his run-up that at times it seemed doubtful whether he would get through the over.
Thomson also had second thoughts about the Packer series and announced his withdrawal before the third Test. Despite all these handicaps he had his moments, as did Walker, Pascoe and Malone in turn, on the big occasions and England's path would have been much less smooth but for an extraordinary malady -- more far reaching perhaps than the lack of runs -- dropped catches.
For Australia to dispose of Boycott for a duck playing for Yorkshire at Scarborough must have looked fine at the time. Clearly it was likely to rebound, as it did with a century in the second innings.
Then for McCosker to drop the Yorkshire captain when 20, at the end of three hours painful acclimatisation on his return to the Test arena at Trent Bridge, was courting utter disaster. Instead of 87 for six England remained 87 for five and with the assistance of Knott, Boycott ensured that another 210 runs were on the board before the next wicket went down.
Boycott's influence on the series did not end there. He chose his own Headingley ground for his 100th century, again with the help of a missed catch, albeit a difficult one, when 22, and went on to 191 before being last out. He just missed the opportunity of becoming the first Englishman to carry his bat against Australia in a home test.
The balance of power had been shifted by this one player who came from a three-year self-imposed exile to average 147.33 in five innings. Before his return there was little between the sides man-for-man. England held their catches more often.
Chappell, just 29, must have been deciding to call it a day, while Boycott, eight years his senior, was thinking how good it was to be back. Chappell's announcement of his retirement from the Test scene came in time for the crowd at The Oval to acknowledge his services in the accepted manner, but with regret.
The Australian Test selectors lost no time in appointing a successor to Chappell. They needed someone of proved ability as a player and one with the authority and drive to restore the sense of purpose so lacking from the 1977 party.
Their answer was to turn back to Bobby Simpson, who had appeared in 52 Tests and scored 4,131 runs, an aggregate only bettered by Sir Don Bradman and Neil Harvey. Simpson averaged 48.62 and retired in 1968 after leading Australia in 30 Tests, a record. He succeeded Benaud and there followed Lawry and the two Chappells. So at the age of 41 and nine months he returned to the Test match to lead the new Australia against India.
Test Matches -- Played 5: Won 0, Lost 3, Drawn 2.
First-Class Matches -- Played 22: Won 5, Lost 4, Drawn 13, Abandoned 1.
All Matches -- Played 31: Won 8, Lost 8, Drawn 15, Abandoned 1.
Wins -- Gloucestershire, M.C.C., Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire.
Losses -- England (3), Somerset.
Draws -- England (2), Surrey, Kent, Sussex, Glamorgan, Worcestershire, Essex, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex.
Abandoned -- Hampshire.
Non-first-Class Matches -- Played 9: Won 3, Lost 4, Drawn 2.
Wins -- England, Lavinia Duchess of Norfolk's XI, Gloucestershire.
Losses -- England (2), Minor Counties, Rest of the World XI.
Draws -- Ireland, Oxford & Cambridge XI.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Duchess of Norfolk's Invitation XI v Australians at Arundel, Apr 27, 1977
Tour Match: Surrey v Australians at The Oval, Apr 30-May 3, 1977
Tour Match: Kent v Australians at Canterbury, May 4-6, 1977
Tour Match: Sussex v Australians at Hove, May 7-10, 1977
Tour Match: Hampshire v Australians at Southampton, May 11-13, 1977
Tour Match: Glamorgan v Australians at Swansea, May 14-16, 1977
Tour Match: Somerset v Australians at Bath, May 18-20, 1977
Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Bristol, May 21-23, 1977
Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Bristol, May 24, 1977
Tour Match: Marylebone Cricket Club v Australians at Lord's, May 25-27, 1977
Tour Match: Worcestershire v Australians at Worcester, May 28-30, 1977
Tour Match: Minor Counties v Australians at Sunderland, Aug 4-5, 1977