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The 1985 Australian touring team, the 30th to play Test cricket in England, disappointed its supporters. After four matches in the Cornhill Test series, England and Australia had a victory apiece, and one further success by Australia in the remaining two Test matches would have ensured their retention of the Ashes. At this point, while England were felt to be the better side, it was beyond most objective pundits to foresee England's two crushing victories, each by an innings, that unveiled a conclusive superiority.
That so many of Australia's shortcomings remained only half-revealed for so long was attributable to the determined and often daring batsmanship of Allan Border, the captain, and the piecemeal support he received from Andrew Hilditch, Graeme Wood, Kepler Wessels, Greg Ritchie and the elegant batsman-wicketkeeper Wayne Phillips. Border created a new record by scoring hundreds in his first four first-class innings of the tour, and was always the batsman whose downfall meant most to both sides. The inconsistency of Australia's batting turned to downright fragility in the last two encounters as nerves snapped and technique was found wanting before the surging skill and confidence of a settled England team.
The bowling was even more disappointing. Geoff Lawson's bronchial problems reduced his effectiveness, and Bob Holland's leg spin, hailed as an aesthetic asset and triumphant in the Lord's Test, was used unadventurously, proving of little value beyond containment as he operated from around the wicket for long spells, shunning use of the googly. The young all rounder, Simon O'Donnell, after a handsome hundred in the match against MCC, seemed likely also to be as useful a bowler as Connolly had been a cricket generation ago, but he failed to hold his place for the final Test. Jeff Thomson, who turned 35 during the fifth Test, tried in vain to muster the speed and bite of bygone summers, while Dave Gilbert was plainly still learning his craft. The off-spin of the idiosyncratic Greg Matthews and slow left-arm of Murray Bennett, though tidy, posed little threat.
The outstanding success was Craig McDermott from Queensland, fiery, strong and seemingly more mature than his twenty years. Though, understandably, he could not always sustain the pace and accuracy that earned him eight wickets in England's only innings at Old Trafford, he was a perpetual menace, and returned a worthy 30 wickets in the Test series.
The selection of this touring party was hampered by the unavailability of those who chose to sign contracts for the disapproved tour of South Africa, though Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop signed only after their surprising omission from the team bound for England. They and bowlers Alderman, Hogg, Maguire and Rackemann would unquestionably have strengthened the side, almost to the same extent that the presence of Gooch, Emburey, Willey and Taylor- all newly liberated from the three-year TCCB ban for similar defections to South Africa- fortified England. Others overlooked included Hookes, Kerr and Jones. It was therefore essential that the team, from the day of its arrival in England, should put the complications and the persistent bouts of rumour aside and mould quickly into a unit. Externally, under the firm leadership of Border, the solicitous management of Robert Merriman, and the tactical control of his assistant, Geoff Dymock, this was achieved. But internally the lingering dissatisfaction caused by the inclusion of Dirk Wellham, Wood and Wayne Phillips, after they had changed their minds about touring South Africa, led to tensions in the camp. It was an echo of the uneasiness felt within the 1977 Australian touring team, some of whom had not signed for the then forthcoming World Series breakaway movement.
By the end of the 1985 tour, the bowling figures told a significant tale. McDermott and Lawson finished with 52 of the 69 wickets taken by Australian bowlers in the six Tests, and the cost was extraordinarily high. Indeed, England's overall run-rate of 60.67 runs per 100 balls received (3.64 per over) was the fastest ever by either side in England- Australia Tests. The policy going in with only four front-line bowlers was abandoned only in the fifth Test, at Edgbaston; and then England piled up 595 for five. The ability to bowl the testing length in the right direction was frequently lacking right through the ranks - a problem with England's bowlers too, until the latter stages of the series. This was a crucial differential.
Carrying on from where he left off on the 1981 tour, Border amassed runs this time at a faster rate, bristling with confidence until an excess at Old Trafford, when he was stumped. Thereafter, his wicket became even more difficult to capture. Hilditch surprised with his stroke-range in the opening Test, when he made 199 runs, but subsequently he failed to reach fifty and became notoriously susceptible to poorly played hook shots. Wood was in serious danger of losing his place before his marathon 172 at Trent Bridge, missed the next Test through injury, and failed in the important last two contests. Equally telling was Wessels's lack of success. So often effective in past Test matches, despite his ungainly method, he was kept well in check by sound England planning. David Boon, the powerful little Tasmanian, found Test cricket an agonising trial. His century against Essex saved his position for the third Test, and a double-century against Northamptonshire kept him in for the fourth, where he top-scored with 61 in Australia's wavering first innings. His slip catching, up till then a distinct asset, now let him down, and he disappeared for the rest of the series. Wellham, who scored consistently well outside the Tests, failed twice to Ellison when he came in for the Oval Test.
Ritchie was Australia's sole gain on the batting front. Elegant, though rounded of profile, the genial Queenslander followed a fine 94 in the Lord's Test, when he shared a double-century partnership with his captain, with an admirable six-hour 146 at Trent Bridge, and stood alone with an unbeaten 64 at The Oval as Australia crumpled for 241.
Only the reserve wicket-keeper, Ray Phillips, of the seventeen players was not called upon for Test duty on a tour blighted by rain which rendered the experiment of four-day matches against the counties inconclusive. It will remain a curiosity that such a damp summer could have housed so many Test match days of high scoring, admittedly on slow pitches. The Australians left these shores subdued but with hope for the next Ashes series. Border was still bewildered and unable to explain the disintegration, but deeper analysis in the months that followed, allowing that much Australian talent was otherwise occupied in South Africa, should guarantee a more closely fought series in 1986-87. - D.E.J.F.
Test matches- Played: Won 1, Lost 3, Drawn 2.
First-class matches- Played 20: Won 4, Lost 3, Drawn 13.
Wins- England, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Kent.
Losses- England (3).
Match reports for
1st ODI: England v Australia at Manchester, May 30, 1985
2nd ODI: England v Australia at Birmingham, Jun 1, 1985
3rd ODI: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 3, 1985
1st Test: England v Australia at Leeds, Jun 13-18, 1985
2nd Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 27-Jul 2, 1985
3rd Test: England v Australia at Nottingham, Jul 11-16, 1985
4th Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Aug 1-6, 1985
5th Test: England v Australia at Birmingham, Aug 15-20, 1985
6th Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 29-Sep 2, 1985