Tests: England 0 Australia 4, ODIs: England 1 Australia 1

The Australians in England, 1989

John Thicknesse

Allan Border could hardly have dared hope for a more triumphant fourth tour of England, and second as captain, that the one that unfolded in 1989. Arriving with a record which, though markedly better than England's since the 1985 tour - five wins and nine defeats in 30 Tests compared with their hosts' three and fifteen in 34 - was still far from satisfactory for one of the co-founders of the Test game, Australia gained such confidence from winning the First Test that when the series ended they had a right to consideration as the next strongest to West Indies in the world.

It was an extraordinary transformation which stemmed from a variety of factors. Among them was the Australians' remarkable freedom from injuries, and the hottest, driest English summer since 1976, which at times not only encouraged the illusion they were playing in Adelaide or Perth but also provided constant match-play. There was no doubt, however, that the biggest factor, by a distance, was the single-minded hunger for success implanted by the leadership.

Border had had neither a successful nor conspicuously happy time as captain since the job was thrust on him by the resignation of Kim Hughes in 1984-85. He had won only one series out of eight; and even that, against New Zealand in 1987-88, had been in unconvincing circumstances. But his commitment was undiminished, and in the coach, 53-year-old former captain R. B. Simpson, he had a kindred spirit. Like Border, Bob Simpson had been a batsman of enviable natural ability, who by determination and application had become one of the most feared and prolific of his day. Relieving England of the Ashes would have been high on both men's lists of life's priorities; and when the chance was there they grabbed it. They were a highly impressive and effective partnership and, unobtrusively supported by Lawrie Sawle, the manager, they produced the best-motivated Australian team in England since 1972, the first of Ian Chappell's. In training and coaching, Simpson concentrated on the game's basics. If a team has ever run better between wickets - more brilliantly would be the fairer comparison in the cases of Dean Jones and Stephen Waugh - I have not seen it.

Nothing better illustrated the upsurge in the Australians' reputation than the way the odds on their winning a Test match concertinaed in the twelve weeks of the series. Having made them 11/4 outsiders to win the First Test on Australia's bogey ground, Headingley, the odds were 8/11 when Border and David Gower walked out to toss for innings at The Oval five Tests later. But for loss of playing time through rain and bad light there, and in the Third Test at Edgbaston, Australia's four-love winning margin might easily have been six-love; and with a single reservation, many of those who saw every Test would have considered they deserved it. It had been a long time since the development of a series - any series - had been so much at variance with general prediction. And it sprung from Australia's ever-growing confidence, and England's loss of it. Firm favourites to keep the Ashes when the series started, an England team dogged by injuries, and further weakened by the South African defections, would in my view have been hard pressed to hold Australia at The Oval with twelve players.

The single reservation is a suspicion that the bowler who played the biggest part in England's overthrow, Terry Alderman, received undue co-operation from the umpires in respect of lbw decisions. Of Alderman's 41 wickets, which made him the only bowler twice to take 40 or more wickets in a series, nineteen were lbw compared with six bowled. Disproportionate as those figures are historically in relation to other bowlers of his type - fast-medium with movement away from the right-handers - what was in question was not, in general, the credibility of the decisions in his favour as much as the impression that, in similar circumstances, England's bowlers not infrequently seemed to be denied. Alderman's accuracy and control are not disputed. Because he tends to deliver the ball over the leg stump at his end and homes relentlessly in on the stumps the batsman is defending, a straight ball from him flies direct down the middle of the pitch. Through a combination of his probing line and subtle movement, and the poor technique which those attributes exposed among the England batsmen, it was axiomatic Alderman would hit the pads more often, and gain lbws, than any other bowler.

There were times as the series wore on, however, when the response to an Alderman appeal appeared to be almost automatic. It strengthened the impression I had formed over recent home series that, to consolidate their reputation for impartiality, English umpires have tended to favour the opposition, subconsciously or otherwise. What irony if in probably the only Test-playing country where touring teams might opt for home-based umpires, the England team might think they had a better chance with neutrals. It has the making of an invidious situation and needs close watching by TCCB.

It showed Australia's strength that although Alderman took twelve more wickets than the next bowler in the list, Geoff Lawson (and 29 more, unbelievably, that England's leading wicket-taker), it was a close thing between the Western Australian and Mark Taylor, the left-handed opening batsman, who was made Australia's Man of the Series. In the sense that its success was measurable, Simpson's championing of Taylor could be said to be his biggest single contribution to the victory. In 22 Tests since 1985-86, Geoff Marsh, the vice-captain, and his opening partner, David Boon, had established a reputation for dependability second only to that of the West Indies pair, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. From his own prolific association with Bill Lawry in the 1960s, however, and the high opinion he had formed of Taylor in his earlier capacity as New South Wales coach, Simpson held an unshakeable conviction that nothing could beat a right-hand/left-hand combination, assuming both were good enough. The new pairing had been tried without marked success in the last two Tests against West Indies in the previous southern summer; and when Taylor made a patchy start against the counties, and was omitted from the one-day international team, it was assumed the experiment had been abandoned, with Marsh and Boon once again pencilled in to open.

In Border, however, Simpson had an ally. The stocky Taylor opened after all. And at Headingley, after Australia had been put in on a ground where they had lost their last three Tests, he vindicated their faith in him by making 136, batting until threequarters of an hour before lunch on the second day, building the platform for a score of 601 for seven declared, which in turn set up a crushing and far-reaching win by 210 runs. Fundamentally an accumulator, whose concentration was such that the only memorably bad stroke he played throughout the series was the one that got him out lbw at Headingley, he proved himself a willing and fluent driver of anything overpitched on the off.

Taylor scored a half-century or more in every Test, and at Trent Bridge, in the Fifth, he broke with Marsh the record opening stand in Tests between England and Australia, their 329 beating by 6 the 323 by Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes at Melbourne in 1911-12. Australia's previous record was 244 by Simpson and Lawry at Adelaide in 1965-66. Both were at Trent Bridge to see it broken, Lawry, 52, as a commentator for Australian television. Taylor, who went on to share a second-wicket stand of 101 with Boon, scored 219 in 550 minutes, while Marsh made 138, his only score above 50 in an unproductive series. Of Australians, only Sir Donald Bradman, with 974 in 1930, scored more runs in a series than Taylor's 839.

It was at Headingley, too, that Waugh broke the hundred barrier. His timing had marked him as a young batsman with a future from his début as a twenty year old against India in 1985-86. But though he had scored his share of runs at No. 7 and No. 6, including two consecutive 90s against West Indies, his 26 successive Tests had been played without a hundred. At Headingley, with a dazzling 177 not out with 24 fours off only 242 balls, and in the Second Test at Lord's where with a mature 152 not out he supervised the addition of 263 runs from the last four wickets, he decisively made up for it. In more than a century of Tests, there cannot have been many better maiden hundreds than Waugh's at Headingley. Yet, despite the significance of helping to give Australia the momentum of a lead, the more damaging to England psychologically was his unbeaten 152 at Lord's.

On the first day, through batting more in keeping with a festival than a Test which, after Headingley, it was crucial not to lose, England had been dismissed on a true pitch for 286, potentially a losing score. On the second day, however, a stirring effort by the bowlers cut Australia to 276 for six, raising hopes in the capacity crowd that flocked to Lord's in perfect weather on the Saturday that the match might yet be won and the series squared one-all. It was in that atmosphere of expectation that Waugh, resuming 35 not out, instilled by his calmness such self-belief into his lower-order partners that the four wickets added 66, 50, 130 and 17, prolonging the innings until tea and, with 528, establishing a winning lead of 242. In retrospect it could be seen as the key day of the series, not only setting up Australia's second win but, by exposing Gower's limitations, doing lasting damage to his team's respect for him as captain. Both Taylor and Jones, who signed off with an explosive 122 and 50 at The Oval, overhauled Waugh's series aggregate. But he topped Australia's averages at 126.50 and removed any lingering doubts there might been about his quality.

Neither Boon not Border, at No. 3 and No. 4 respectively, scored a Test hundred, although the latter twice made two half-centuries and averaged 73.66. Handicapped as England were by such a glut of injuries that a different pair of opening bowlers played in each of the six Tests, it was a tribute to the solidity of the Australian batting that their mean first-innings score was 511.66. England's was 293. After Robin Smith, who scored 553 runs at 61.44, there was a drop of 22 units before the next man in the list, Jack Russell, the wicket-keeper, who was also playing his first full series. It was a huge help to Australia that after Headingley, where Greg Campbell of Tasmania made his one appearance, they were unchanged for five successive Tests, calling on only twelve men in the series compared with England's 29. Equally it was a reflection on their success. As captain, Border was blessed in his possession of four other stars, Alderman, Taylor, Waugh and Jones; but Merv Hughes, the bewhiskered, villainous-looking fast bowler, Trevor Hohns, an accurate leg-spinner, wicket-keeper Ian Healy, and the rest of the supporting cast never let him down.

Luck inevitably had a hand in it, but credit was also due to their general fitness - and to the attention paid to training - that there were only two serious injuries on tour. Carl Rackemann, who had been regarded as the third prong of the fast attack with Alderman and Lawson, never threatened Hughes's Test place after undergoing keyhole surgery on a knee in early June. And Mike Veletta, who at least had the satisfaction of playing in two of the Texaco one-day internationals, broke a finger in the Minor Counties match in July and made no subsequent appearance. Jones, mistiming a hook off Pigott of Sussex in the third game, made such a quick recovery from the resultant fractured cheek-bone that he took his place in the one-day internationals sixteen days later. Tim May, the off-spinner, and Tim Zoehrer, the reserve wicket-keeper, suffered minor injuries which had no bearing on the series. Tom Moody, one of the spare batsmen, might well have lost heart as he saw his chances of a Test place dwindling. Instead, it exemplified the unflagging keenness of the party that he was often to be seen practising after close of play in Tests.

The only defeat in the first-class game came against Worcestershire in the opening first-class fixture, the county edging home by three wickets on an uneven pitch. A similar grassy surface at Derby, on which Alderman, Rackemann and Campbell stole an 11-run win in the match before the First Test, by dismissing Derbyshire for 141 in the second innings, prompted Simpson to comment: "The inconsistent bounce meant that getting a broken hand was a real possibility and we are just happy to get out of the match with nobody injured. I am very disappointed with the standard of pitches we have found so far on tour. I really do feel sorry for English county batsmen if this is the standard of pitch they play on. It's a great tragedy. It makes it difficult for the batsmen, it isn't good for the bowlers either, and it all seems to be done in the cause of getting results."

The reply that criticism drew from Kim Barnett, the Derbyshire captain, epitomised the expediency of current English thinking. "We felt that this type of pitch gave us the best chance of winning. It need hardly be said that the lure of grabbing some prizemoney was behind it." Castlemaine, an Australian brewing company, had devised a system whereby victories in the county matches qualified for a share of a £25,000 prize fund. From what Simpson said, he clearly felt it explained the pitches the tourists had to contend with at Worcester and Derby, among others, but overall it worked out to their advantage. The financial incentive encouraged them to continue to play positively between the Test matches, and after their narrow win at Derby there were similarities with Sir Donald Bradman's 1948 tourists in the way they brushed aside the counties. Victory over Derbyshire was the first of six in succession - over England at Headingley, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, England at Lord's, and in a one-day game against Oxford & Cambridge Universities. When Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Essex were subsequently beaten, the majority by crushing margins, it made a point nearly always overlooked by touring teams - success breeds success. No amount of match practice, which in the case of batsmen is too often a euphemism for average-hunting, is more beneficial than acquisition of the winning habit. Not the least revealing statistic of the tour was that Waugh, Taylor and Border all had much better batting records in the Tests than in the county games. To an extent that reflected the contrast in the pitches; but it showed, too, that priority was given to the interests of the team. From May 25, when they had a collectively bad day in the first one-day internationals, they did not lose a match of any kind, while winning 15 out of 22.

Defeat was a disconcerting as well as a bitter experience for England. After losing two series each to West Indies and Pakistan since 1985, and one each to India and New Zealand, they were counting on keeping the Ashes as proof that however low they had sunk, it was not to the bottom of the heap. The substitution of an England committee for the conventional selection committee, with E. R. Dexter as its paid chairman, showed that the Test and County Cricket Board recognised the need for an active participant at the hub of matters. When Dexter appointed a quartet of former Test players to keep an eye on county cricket in their areas, it guaranteed a more detailed flow of information to the panel, and thus, supposedly, to greater accuracy in the selection of the Test team.

It was a good concept in theory. To work, however, judgement was required, and that was lacking in a variety of ways. It came to light in Dexter's report to TCCB that Mike Gatting would have captained England but for O.S. Wheatley using his veto as chairman of the Board's Crickets Committee to block him. Given that improvement of the Test team's image was desirable following the dissent-ridden tours of Pakistan and New Zealand under Gatting in 1987-88, however, Gower had much to recommend him. His sportsmanship was unquestioned and he was certain of his place. It was a factor in his favour, too, that England had regained the Ashes under his captaincy four years earlier, when the first of Border's teams in England lost one-three. In the event, however, hopes of a repetition of that series faded when Australia won at Headingley, and vanished entirely when they went on to win at Lord's, where the helplessness in adversity which West Indies had exposed in Gower in the blackwashes of 1984 and 1985-86 became unmistakable again.

To a considerable extent, though, it was England's ill-judged selection that enabled Australia to take the initiative. Evidence that the panel of Dexter, Gower and Micky Stewart, the team manager, had their priorities in a tangle came when Chris Broad, who had scored four hundreds against Australia in the last five Tests and, not least as a left-hander, was certain to be Graham Gooch's partner at Headingley, was omitted from the Texaco Trophy squad to allow Gower to open. The selectors could hardly have said more clearly that they thought the Ashes could be retained without bothering to give a key batsman a quick refresher course in Australia's bowling. They compounded the error by dropping Broad after two Tests, despite his prolific form in Australia in the previous series.

Moreover, in the critical First Test at Headingley, a ground which for years had looked kindly on fast-medium out-swing bowlers, Phil DeFreitas, a fast, inconsistent in-slanter who in his previous four Tests had taken four wickets for 363 without hitting the stumps a single time in 142 overs, was chosen to spearhead the attack. It looked a bad selection and it proved to be one. England's fast and seam bowling was all over the place in conditions that justified Gower's decision to put Australia in. The selectors were unlucky. In not one of the six Tests were they picking from full strength and, having picked, there was not one occasion when they were not forced to make one or more late adjustment through injury. The unofficial tour to South Africa was also disruptive, as a distraction while it was being secretly arranged, and by narrowing selection in the last two Tests.

But the one-day internationals, through the omission of Broad, and the Headingley Test, through the selection of DeFreitas, were where England's troubles started, and both were self-induced. By The Oval, Australia were playing with such confidence that they might have been a match even for West Indies. Yet man for man with England, there was little enough between the teams for the series not to have gone the other way with more far-sighted selection. It was a sobering thought that, in spite of the longest losing run in England's cricket history, the penny had still not dropped for the three men who mattered most. The weaker the raw material, the more essential it became to get the optimum eleven on the field.

AUSTRALIAN TOUR RESULTS

Test matches - Played 6: Won 4, Drawn 2.

First-class matches - Played 20: Won 12, Lost 1, Drawn 7.

Wins - England (4), Derbyshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire.

Loss - Worcestershire.

Draws - England (2), Glamorgan, Hampshire, Kent, Somerset, Warwickshire.

One-day internationals - Played 3: Won 1, Lost 1, Tied 1.

Other non first-class matches - Played 8: Won 7, Wins - Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk's XI, League Cricket Conference, MCC, Minor Counties, Oxford & Cambridge Universities, Scotland, Yorkshire. Loss - Sussex.


Match reports for

League Cricket Conference v Australians at West Bromwich, May 5, 1989
Scorecard

Duchess of Norfolk's Invitation XI v Australians at Arundel, May 7, 1989
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Sussex v Australians at Hove, May 9, 1989
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Marylebone Cricket Club v Australians at Lord's, May 11, 1989
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Worcestershire v Australians at Worcester, May 13-14, 1989
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Somerset v Australians at Taunton, May 17-19, 1989
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Middlesex v Australians at Lord's, May 20-22, 1989
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Yorkshire v Australians at Leeds, May 23, 1989
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1st ODI: England v Australia at Manchester, May 25, 1989
Report | Scorecard

2nd ODI: England v Australia at Nottingham, May 27, 1989
Report | Scorecard

3rd ODI: England v Australia at Lord's, May 29, 1989
Report | Scorecard

Warwickshire v Australians at Birmingham, May 31-Jun 2, 1989
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Derbyshire v Australians at Derby, Jun 3-5, 1989
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1st Test: England v Australia at Leeds, Jun 8-13, 1989
Report | Scorecard

Lancashire v Australians at Manchester, Jun 14-16, 1989
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Northamptonshire v Australians at Northampton, Jun 17-19, 1989
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2nd Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 22-27, 1989
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Oxford and Cambridge Universities v Australians at Oxford, Jun 28, 1989
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Oxford and Cambridge Universities v Australians at Oxford, Jun 28, 1989
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Glamorgan v Australians at Neath, Jul 1-3, 1989
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3rd Test: England v Australia at Birmingham, Jul 6-11, 1989
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Scotland v Australians at Glasgow, Jul 15, 1989
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Minor Counties v Australians at Trowbridge, Jul 17, 1989
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Hampshire v Australians at Southampton, Jul 19-21, 1989
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Gloucestershire v Australians at Bristol, Jul 22-23, 1989
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4th Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Jul 27-Aug 1, 1989
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Nottinghamshire v Australians at Nottingham, Aug 2-4, 1989
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Leicestershire v Australians at Leicester, Aug 5-7, 1989
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5th Test: England v Australia at Nottingham, Aug 10-14, 1989
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Kent v Australians at Canterbury, Aug 16-18, 1989
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Essex v Australians at Chelmsford, Aug 19-21, 1989
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6th Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 24-29, 1989
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Netherlands v Australians at The Hague, Sep 2, 1989
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Netherlands v Australians at The Hague, Sep 3, 1989
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Denmark v Australians at Brondby, Sep 5, 1989
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Denmark v Australians at Copenhagen, Sep 6, 1989
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© John Wisden & Co