The morale and reputation of English cricket has seldom been as severely bruised as it was during the 1988 Cornhill Insurance Test series against West Indies. Another resounding loss, with four consecutive and heavy defeats after a drawn First Test, was not unusual - the margins in the previous series between the countries, in 1984 and 1985-86, had been complete; 5-0 to West Indies each time. England even had the satisfaction, brief and illusory though it might have been, of winning all three one-day internationals for the Texaco Trophy. The euphoria ended there and the season was quickly transformed into a sequence of traumatic events, on and off the field.
It began with the dismissal after the First Test of Mike Gatting, the captain since 1986, on the evidence of obscene allegations in the tabloid press of his nocturnal relationship with a young barmaid during the match. The affair, filled with sordid controversy, shook the foundations of English cricket, undermined the confidence of the team, and opened the selectors, under the continued chairmanship of Peter May, to harsh and widespread criticism. It was certainly not the only reason for yet another humiliating demise, for West Indies again proved powerful and confident opponents. Yet England's problems multiplied rapidly after it; under Vivian Richards's increasingly assured captaincy, and with Malcolm Marshall's irresistible fast swing bowling, the West Indians took fullest advantage.
England's selectors did not seem to know where to turn, either for a new captain or for a settled team. Their confusion was evident even in the dismissal of Gatting. While accepting his assertion that nothing improper had taken place with the young woman, they removed him all the same for improper behaviour. After that, they appointed John Emburey for the Second and Third Tests, even though Emburey's place in the team was increasingly tenuous. When they decided that Emburey was not their man, they chose Christopher Cowdrey on the basis of his influence in Kent's current success in the County Championship. Cowdrey, son of a great batsman and former England captain, as well as May's godson, came with well-founded doubts over his ability as a player of Test quality. It was generally taken almost as a blessing in disguise when, after England had lost heavily under him at Headingley, he injured his foot in a county match and was ruled out of the final Test at The Oval. With most of their major candidates exhausted, the selectors made Graham Gooch their fourth captain of the summer. Gooch, a cricketer of vast experience, had relinquished the captaincy of Essex at the end of the previous season in order to concentrate on his batting.
England did somewhat better under him but lost nevertheless, by eight wickets. He confirmed that he remained one of the finest batsmen in the game and was the only Englishman to play in all five Tests, although Allan Lamb, along with him the only century-maker, and Graham Dilley, the leading wicket-taker, were prevented from doing so only by injury. Even David Gower was dropped after reaching the rare landmark of 7,000 runs in his 100th Test, at Headingley. In all, 23 players were chosen for the five Tests, which was a manifesto for failure, especially against opponents quick to spot and exploit the slightest weakness. At the end, England were without either an obvious captain or a single player who had established himself during the series.
The West Indians arrived in May after seven months of demanding cricket during which they struggled to come to terms with the retirements of three of their most influential players, the fast bowlers, Joel Garner and Michael Holding, and the left-handed batsman, Larry Gomes. They had been eliminated from the World Cup in India and Pakistan before the semi-finals, shared the subsequent Test series in India when beaten in the final Test, and salvaged a draw against Pakistan in an exciting home series by winning the Third Test by two wickets. Several players were still unknown quantities, and Richards was yet to assert himself as captain, even three years after succeeding Clive Lloyd. Defeat in all three one-day internationals, when the unreliability of their batting on damp, green pitches was exposed, England's determined fight to save the First Test, and the loss of five wickets before lunch on the first day of the Second Test provided a stern examination of the West Indians' character. As England faltered and Richards's stature as a mature leader grew, they showed they were made of stern stuff.
Marshall, already justifiably numbered among the great fast bowlers, was again the dominant individual, his 35 wickets at 12.65 each creating an overall record for the series. Speed and hostility had been his stock-in-trade in 1984 and 1985-86, when he had a total of 51 wickets and physically damaged several batsmen. Now he revealed a new side to his bowling, moving the ball - late, appreciably and both ways - to suit pitches left slow and holding by a wet summer. He hardly resorted to a bouncer for he had no need to. A rib injury reduced him to thirteen overs in England's second innings of the First Test, probably costing West Indies victory as well as prompting his change of style.
Marshall had long stood tall in international company, but of those who came in support, only Courtney Walsh could be counted as an established Test bowler. It did not take long for Curtly Ambrose, a tall Antiguan who shot to prominence only a few months earlier in the West Indies season, to demonstrate that he was a ready-made replacement for Garner. The height of his delivery, the bounce he could generate, and his direct method made him a constant menace and earned him 22 wickets. Walsh, Winston Benjamin and Patrick Patterson, all with English country experience, were capable backups, yet the most exciting prospect was not required in the Tests. Like Ambrose, Ian Bishop, aged twenty, was on his first tour. He possessed all the attributes for bowling fast - size, strength, stamina, speed and a model action. Counties were queuing to offer him contracts long before the tour was over. Derbyshire eventually secured his signature as Northamptonshire had earlier gained Ambrose.
Yet again, West Indies' emphasis was on fast bowling, almost to the complete exclusion of spin. As it was, the only specialist spinner, Roger Harper, fell into such a muddle over his action that he had to seek remedial attention at the MCC Indoor School and was ineffective for much of the tour. In the interim, he compensated with improved batting to the extent that he headed the tour averages and played two important innings in the Tests. Additionally, he claimed five wickets in the final Test, a measure of his determination to overcome a problem and of his cricketing intelligence.
The West Indian batting was unpredictable, with the middle order lacking its old reliability. Gordon Greenidge's masterful century at Lord's was the only three-figure Test innings. Both Richards and Desmond Haynes went through a series in England without a century for the first time, Richie Richardson's technique made him vulnerable to the moving ball, and it often required the last half of the order to repair early damage. Gus Logie, Jeffrey Dujon, Harper, Marshall and even Ambrose featured in such revivals.
Logie's unrestrained response to even the deepest crisis was typically West Indian, but he now added the consistency that he had lacked at the highest level. Dujon, elegant in his stroke play, level-headed in his approach, was a joy to watch in whatever he did, whether as batsman or wicket-keeper. His century partnerships with Logie in each innings at Lord's were critical to the balance of the match, arguably of the series even.
Carl Hooper, 21,and the left-handed Keith Arthurton, 23, were two young batsmen on their first tours of England. The latter was included as the seventeenth player at the request of the selectors to gain experience. Hooper's potential, already revealed against India and Pakistan, was evident in his high-class 84 in the First Test, but injuries to Greenidge, Haynes and Richardson, following that to Philip Simmons earlier, elevated him to the unaccustomed No. 3 position for the last three Tests, in which his form declined markedly. The injuries also opened the way for Arthurton to make his Test début at Headingley. The success of bringing him on the tour was reflected in two outstanding, unbeaten innings of 101 and 78 in the final match against Essex. Arthurton's fielding in the covers was in keeping with the high standards long since set by West Indies and maintained by this team, in which Harper, in any position, and Logie, under the bat at short leg, were exceptional.
The third batsman new to England, the third opener, Simmons, had his tour cut short by a blow on the head during his only first-class innings, against Gloucestershire at Bristol. Hit by a ball from the fast bowler, Lawrence, while batting in poor light on a lively pitch and without a helmet, Simmons developed a blood clot on the brain, and only a quick operation at the nearby Frenchay Hospital, one of Britain's finest neurosurgical units, saved his life.
As in 1984, the former Test wicket-keeper, Jackie Hendriks, was a capable and popular manager, assisted by a fellow-member of the selection panel, Calvin Wilkin of the Leeward Islands. Happily, there was little of the criticism of the over-rate and short-pitched bowling which was directed at the 1984 team, simply because there was very little of the latter and the former was covered by the Playing Conditions which set 90 overs as the minimum to be bowled in a day. With rain and bad light constantly intervening, and the option to extend play by an hour often being utilised, it rarely ended on time. It was not unusual for play to continue until after seven o'clock; once it carried on to 7.40 p.m.
The days when counties regarded matches against the touring team as a highlight of the season - and counties such as Surrey and Yorkshire would present as much of a challenge as England - have long gone. Now there was little point to them. The West Indians used them principally for practice, the counties viewed them as an unwanted intrusion into a crowded programme when key players should be rested. Kent, leading the Championship at the time, were without seven of their regular first-team players in a match they duly lost by an innings in two days. Never pressed in any county match, the West Indians would have won many more if that had been their object. In spite of this, however and of England's depressing plight, the tour proved highly profitable, with Lord's recording takings of over £1 million, the first time for a Test in England. Corporate sponsorship provided much of the revenue but led to complaints in the media that the genuine lover of the game was being turned away by increased entrance fees. Certainly, the formerly high level of attendance by the West Indian immigrant population was noticeably diminished.
Test matches - Played 5: Won 4, Drawn 1.
First-class matches - Played 16: Won 6, Drawn 10.
Wins - England (4), Kent, Somerset.
Draws - England, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Worcestershire.
One-day internationals - Played 3: Lost 3.
Other non first-class matches - Played 4: Won 3, Drawn 1. Wins - Hampshire, Lavinia, Duchess of Norkfolk's XI, Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Draw - Minor Counties.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Sussex v West Indians at Hove, May 7-10, 1988
Tour Match: Duchess of Norfolk's Invitation XI v West Indians at Arundel, May 8, 1988
Tour Match: Hampshire v West Indians at Southampton, May 12, 1988
Tour Match: Somerset v West Indians at Taunton, May 14-15, 1988
Tour Match: Gloucestershire v West Indians at Bristol, May 25-27, 1988
Tour Match: Worcestershire v West Indians at Worcester, May 28-30, 1988
Tour Match: Lancashire v West Indians at Manchester, Jun 8-10, 1988
Tour Match: Northamptonshire v West Indians at Northampton, Jun 11-13, 1988
Tour Match: Oxford and Cambridge Universities v West Indians at Cambridge, Jun 23-24, 1988
Tour Match: Kent v West Indians at Canterbury, Jun 25-26, 1988
Tour Match: Minor Counties v West Indians at Trowbridge, Jul 9-10, 1988
Tour Match: Glamorgan v West Indians at Swansea, Jul 13-15, 1988
Tour Match: Leicestershire v West Indians at Leicester, Jul 16-18, 1988
Tour Match: Nottinghamshire v West Indians at Nottingham, Jul 27-29, 1988
Tour Match: Essex v West Indians at Chelmsford, Jul 30-Aug 1, 1988