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A lone trumpeter on the sparsely filled Hill at Sydney grimly symbolised Australia's embarrassing defeats, domestic confusions and divided loyalties, by sounding the Last Post as England won the sixth Test inside four days and the series by five to one.
For Brearley, a comfortable victor over Greg Chappell in the home summer of 1977, it was a continuation of his trumphant progress since he took over the captaincy from Greig. In the space of twenty months he defeated Australia eight times in eleven Tests, and it is not uncharitable to say that his one defeat at Melbourne might have been avoided if he had not lost an important toss.
No England captain, or for that matter any captain, had won five Tests in a series in Australia, although J. W. H. T. Douglas (1911-12), A. P. F. Chapman (1928-29) and D. R. Jardine (1932-33) had comparable records in taking four Matches in a five-Test rubber.
Brearley's critics will no doubt argue that Australia, drained by defections to World Series Cricket, have never been weaker in the 102 years of struggle between the two countries. In another era Brearley might not have succeeded as he did, but he had disposed of an Australian team full of Packer players by three-nil in 1977. He was expected to win in Australia, and, to his credit, he did all that was expected of him.
The competition from World Series Cricket put heavy demands on the Australian authorities, and the game at large suffered from an over-heavy programme and too much exposure on television. The well-oiled and professional WSC publicity machine often distracted attention from the Ashes series, and the public grew tired of supporting a losing team. An original error was perhaps made in playing two Tests on the over-worked ground at Sydney, where Packer was strongly established. A brave effort was made to stimulate interest with skydivers arriving with the match ball, or the coin, marching displays and athletic events during the intervals. But the essential factor of a winning Australian team was missing and attendances dropped to alarming levels by the final Test.
The public longed for better results and new heroes. One emerged in Rodney Hogg, the 27-year-old fast bowler, whose 41 wickets passed the record 36 taken by Arthur Mailey in the five-Test series against England in 1920-21. Fittingly Hogg broke the old record in front of his home crowd at Adelaide in the fifth Test, and he went to Sydney with a chance of beating C. V. Grimmett's Australian record of 44 wickets in a series, set up in South Africa in 1935-36. But Hogg, who had averaged eight a match for five Tests, could manage only one in conditions not suited to him.
Australia's euphoria, both after the victory in the Third Test at Melbourne, and in Hogg's achievement, was short-lived. For the most part England had greater all-round strength, bowlers of genuine quality to make the fullest use of the varied pitches, were better led and more experienced, and always found a man for a crisis. The character of the team was shown in the way they fought out of desperate positions in the fourth and fifth Tests, and their refusal to panic when Australia reduced the lead to 2-1.
While Australia reshuffled and changed key positions - selectors Phil Ridings, Neil Harvey, and Sam Loxton suffered the torment of inconsistent performances from leading batsmen - England had the luxury of an unchanged team for the last four Tests. The team spirit, originally built by Greig in India in 1976-77 remained high and was a tribute to the outlook of the players and to a dedicated management.
Basically Alec Bedser and his selectors again made the right decisions. Indeed, Miller, a debatable selection, proved an invaluable all-rounder and probably made the greatest advance in technique and confidence of any in the side. Taking 23 wickets - sharing the highest Test haul with Botham at a cheaper cost - and scoring precious runs, Miller was an effective player. Twice at Sydney the off-spin combination of Miller and Emburey, a talented discovery, routed Australia.
Doug Insole, with his vast experience as a player, captain and administrator, was the quietly efficient manager; Ken Barrington's enthusiasm and wide knowledge on the cricket side was undoubtedly a telling factor, while the presence of physiotherapist Bernard Thomas was freely acknowledged as the prime reason for England's supreme fitness.
Not a detail was left to chance. The day began with Barrington phoning every player with precise instructions - his expected dress, time of departure to the ground, and so on. Before play or net sessions Thomas organised PT and limbering up exercises. Never has a touring party been so devoted to physical fitness and pre-breakfast runs in neighbouring parks.
Yallop, called to the captaincy before he was ready for such an onerous task, was no match for Brearley's tactical shrewdness, thoughtful planning, and general know-how of how to run a Test side. Around Brearley's quiet determination and honesty was forged a team spirit which speedily overcame the one serious crisis of the tour.
After the Melbourne defeat, England's batting in the first innings of the next Test at Sydney hit rock bottom and raised serious doubts about the team's ability to sustain the winning form of the first two Tests. That Saturday evening a team meeting was called, and Taylor, for whom no praise can be too high, suggested that every new day should be regarded as the first day of the tour, when all are braced for eager action. The idea was adopted. England went on to fight their way out of an ugly situation to gain a memorable victory and retain the Ashes with a three-one advantage.
Before the next Test at Adelaide, Yallop, with the approval of the Australian Board brought in a local football coach to motivate his side. Yallop also had the courage to put England in to bat - he won eight out of nine tosses in the Tests and Benson and Hedges Cup one-day internationals. On a lively, green pitch England were 27 for five, and despite brilliant effort with both bat and ball by Botham, England, with a 5-run lead, were 132 for six in the second innings. Australia seemed within reach victory and the tonic so desperately needed.
But like Cliff Gladwin's famous quip "coometh the hour, coometh the man" before the last-ball victory at Durban in 1948, Derbyshire again provided the man for the hour. In fact in this instance two men, Taylor and Miller, who put on 135 for the seventh wicket and provided the springboard for another victory and another remarkable recovery. Taylor's 97 equalled a career best and for sheer resolution and skill was on a par with the centuries by Gower in taxing conditions at Perth and by Yallop at Sydney. Yallop hit 121 out of a total of 198 on a true surface - proof of the unreliability of Australia's batting.
England also survived the shock of losing the opening first-class fixture to unfancied South Australia- where the controlled belligerence of Hogg was encountered for the first time - and the disappointment of losing two successive Benson and Hedges Cup matches. Australia won the competition by two-one. Again they had the best of the conditions, but they fought well and deserved their success.
From the drama of the opening morning of the first Test at steamy Brisbane when the first six Australian batsmen were out for 26 it was a series for bowlers. Runs were hard to come by. Both sides bowled well, often brilliantly, but there was a marked change in the character of the pitches. Often damp at the start, they were seldom friendly to batsmen and surprised Barrington, a highly successful batsman in Australia in the 1960s.
Outfields were slowed by a thick mat of grass on several grounds, and the type of ball used had a pronounced seam with the stitches in the same direction. With attackers of the calibre of Willis, Hendrick- who lived up to an accurate early-tour prediction by Sir Don Bradman- and Botham, not to mention the gifted reserves, Old and Lever, England had pace and seam to make full use of the conditions. When the wicket took spin, notably in the two Tests at Sydney, Miller and Emburey demonstrated how vulnerable Australia still remain against off-break bowling. England are often chided for fragility facing leg-spin. They might not play it well, but it seldom gets them into the type of trouble Australia have in coping with off-spin.
Willis had a difficult spell after the Perth Test, largely because of an injured toe, but suddenly he re-discovered his rhythm and speed when it was most wanted in the fifth Test. There is no better team man than Willis, and he did all that could be asked of him as vice-captain. Hendrick, fitter than at any time in his career, was a perpetual threat with his accuracy and aggression. Moreover, he was a superb close-in fielder, particularly at backward short leg, as Border discovered to his cost with a run out in the Melbourne Test.
Just before the party left England Botham injured a wrist; yet no cricketer was more impatient to get into action. His idle days waiting for the wound to heal were purgatory for him, and it was no mere coincidence that England began winning when he made his first appearance against New South Wales. Once in the thick of the fight Botham, a brave, combative and highly skilled competitor, was never out of it. His batting carried the dash of a cavalier, his bowling had the spice of aggression and experiment, and his fielding was inspired in any position.
With the all-round ability of Botham and Miller, plus the left-handed Gower and Emburey- who has the rare gift of being able to bowl a deceptive length - England must have the basis of a fine side for the future. Gooch could well be added to the list if he can maintain the spirit and class of his last innings at Sydney.
At 21, and in just his second season for England, Gower was the only batsman on either side to exceed 400 runs and an average above 40. At the end of the series Brearley described him as a minor genius who may become a major genius. Even this tribute might be considered a guarded judgment on a player already inviting comparison with Frank Woolley and Graeme Pollock. Technically he was left with some faults to iron out but, after many halting starts by England, it looked a different game when Gower, with his priceless sense of timing, stroked his runs.
Boycott, burdened by events in Yorkshire and a knee injury, fell far below expectations. Yet he remained wholly dedicated. His loyalty to the side and his captain was beyond criticism, and his stand with Gower set England on course for victory in the Perth Test. He had two opening partners in Gooch and Brearley. Neither combination was a success, through Brearley played one significant innings, and in the overall aggregate scored 5 more runs than Boycott.
Twice Player of the Match - a distinction he also achieved in the Melbourne Centenary Test in 1977 - Randall was attractive in full spate. He likes the ball coming on to the bat, but his continuing shuffling landed him in trouble. With Randall on one side of the wicket and Gower on the other, England had two remarkable fielders.
Hit on the head by the redoubtable Hogg in the opening first-class game, Radley was never able to offer a challenge for a Test position. England missed his gritty performances. It was also a disappointment to Edmonds to lose his place, but with his ability it was generally regarded as a temporary setback.
Tolchard suffered a bad facial injury at Newcastle which ended his playing days on the tour. He could never hope to attain Taylor's form behind the wicket, but he was seriously considered for a Test place as a batsman after a remarkably fine innings against Western Australia. Yorkshire's Bairstow was his late replacement, but his chances were necessarily restricted. His breezy personality helped uplift any flagging spirits towards the end of a hard tour.
As if their task was not difficult enough Australia created a bizarre record by having one of their openers run out in every Test. Wood marred his excellent contributions with some erratic running. He, Yallop and Hughes showed genuine class at times, but there were too many failures and too many collapses to give more than a spoonful of praise to Australia's batting, Constant changes did not help, and to try to give strength to the middle batting Dymock made way for Carlson. England were not unhappy at the decision, for Dymock's left-arm bowling often presented problems. The introduction of Wright as wicket-keeper for the last two Tests was a decided improvement, although MacLean, a gutsy opponent, had his moments.
While Brearley was setting Test records, which may never be beaten, his team were firm favourites and splendid entertainers in the up-country games. Though visits to the remoter areas occasionally come under attack they are an essential service to the game at large and must remain an integral part of every touring programme.
In every sense the party was a credit to England and English cricket.
Test matches-Played 6: Won 5, Lost 1.
First Class matches-Played 13: Won 8, Lost 2, Drawn 3.
Wins- Australia (5), New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia.
Losses- Australia (1), South Australia.
Draws- Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania.
Minor Matches- Played 13: Won 9, Lost 2, Drawn 2. Wins- Australia (1), Victoria Country XI, Australia Capital Territory XI, Queensland Country XI, Western Australia Country XI, Northern NSW Country XI, Tasmania (2), Geelong and Districts, Losses- Australia (2) Draws- Australia (1), South Australia Country XI.
|Tests||Innings||Not Outs||Runs||Highest Inns||Average|
|A. R. Border||3||6||2||146||60*||36.50|
|G. N. Yallop||6||12||0||391||121||32.58|
|K. J. Hughes||6||12||0||345||129||28.75|
|G. M. Wood||6||12||0||344||100||28.66|
|W. M. Darling||4||8||0||221||91||27.62|
|P. M. Toohey||5||10||1||149||81*||16.55|
|G. J. Cosier||2||4||0||52||47||13.00|
|J. A. MacLean||4||8||1||79||33||11.28|
|K. J. Wright||2||4||0||37||29||9.25|
|R. M. Hogg||6||12||0||95||36||7.91|
|J. D. Higgs||5||10||4||46||16||7.66|
|P. H. Carlson||2||4||0||23||21||5.75|
|A. G. Hurst||6||12||2||44||17*||4.40|
Played in one Test: A. M. J. Hilditch 3, 1, T. J. Laughlin 2,5.
* Signifies not out.
|R. M. Hogg||217.4||60||527||41||12.85|
|A. G. Hurst||204.2||44||577||25||23.08|
|J. D. Higgs||196.6||47||468||19||24.63|
Also bowled: A. R. Border 31-13-50-1; P. H. Carlson 46-10-99-2; G. J. Cosier 12-3-35-0; T. J. Laughlin 25-6-60-0.
Match reports for
Tour Match: South Australia v England XI at Adelaide, Nov 3-6, 1978
Tour Match: Victoria v England XI at Melbourne, Nov 10-13, 1978
Tour Match: New South Wales v England XI at Sydney, Nov 17-20, 1978
Queensland Country v England XI at Bundaberg, Nov 22, 1978
Tour Match: Queensland v England XI at Brisbane, Nov 24-27, 1978
Tour Match: Western Australia v England XI at Perth, Dec 9-11, 1978
Tour Match: South Australia v England XI at Adelaide, Dec 22-24, 1978
1st ODI: Australia v England at Melbourne, Dec 26, 1978
Tour Match: Tasmania v England XI at Launceston, Jan 18, 1979
Tour Match: Tasmania v England XI at Hobart, Jan 19-21, 1979
Tour Match: Tasmania v England XI at Melbourne, Feb 3, 1979