Tests: England 1 Australia 4, ODIs: England 0 Australia 3

The Australians in England, 1993

Australia's third overwhelming Ashes victory in succession was as well merited as its predecessors in a series that ended Graham Gooch's reign as England captain and Ted Dexter's as chairman of the England committee. The course of the series - Allan Border leading his team to victory at Old Trafford, Lord's, Headingley and Edgbaston before The Oval brought England the consolation of their first win in 19 Tests against Australia- stemmed even more than usual from confidence. In England's case, it was the lack of it, following a tour of India and Sri Lanka on which they lost all four Tests and five one-day internationals out of eight. It was no surprise, then, that when Mike Atherton, taking over the captaincy from Gooch, led England to a big win at The Oval in his second match in charge, the change of fortune aroused relief as much as joy.

The significance of the victory, by 161 runs, was impossible to judge. To take the pessimistic view, there was no doubt that in a series containing an unacceptable number of umpiring errors all but one of the wrong decisions at The Oval favoured England, among them the one that lowered the curtain on Border's final innings in a Test on English soil. Conversely, however, England's bowling and fielding showed such vast improvement on the previous Tests that it was possible they were passing a watershed. If so, much of the credit was due to Angus Fraser, the 28-year-old Middlesex seamer who, after missing 24 Tests through his injury at Melbourne in 1990-91, fortuitously came into the side when Martin Bicknell failed a fitness test the day before, and returned match figures of eight for 131. The win, completed in the second of the final 15 overs, ended a sequence of nine defeats and a draw since the Headingley Test of 1992, when Pakistan were beaten by six wickets.

Annoying as it was for Australia to stumble at the final hurdle, defeat did no more than tarnish a fine all-round performance, in which a bowler even more exceptional than Fraser, 23-year-old leg-spinner Shane Warne, played the starring role. Arriving in England after a well-fought series against West Indies in the southern summer, the tourists were into their stride with wins against Worcestershire and Somerset in their first two three-day games, took the Texaco Trophy 3-0, and were in control of the Cornhill series from the moment they won the First Test at Old Trafford, by 179 runs. Such was their confidence that when Craig McDermott, their best fast bowler, was forced to fly home for treatment to a twisted bowel with four Tests still to play, it was decided not to send for a replacement. Merv Hughes, who took over McDermott's role as spearhead, shouldered the extra burden with a will that at times came close to heroism, though it was clearly a factor in England's Oval win; Hughes was visibly flagging in the final month. The management's refusal to reinforce the team was an effective means of assuring the remaining players that Border and the coach, Bob Simpson, had full faith in them to do the job. Two new caps, Michael Slater and Brendon Julian, both 23, were among the 13 called on for the Test Series; Damien Martyn and Matthew Hayden, both 21, played in the one-day Internationals; while Wayne Holdsworth, the New South Wales fast bowler, and Tim Zoehrer, the reserve wicket-keeper, took no part in either series. Zoehrer's main contribution was to top the tour bowling averaes with his leg-breaks. It was a tribute to the immensely strong batting at Border's command that neither Martyn, who averaged 69.83, nor the left-handed Hadyn, who scored 1,150 at 57.50, could force his way into the Test team.

Although Warne had two startling analyses to his credit in his 11 previous Tests, seven for 52 against West Indies and four for eight against New Zealand, his reputation before the tour was more that of a beach-boy than a budding Test-winner. His shock of dyed blond hair, earring and blobs of white sun-block on the tip of his nose and lower lip lent his appearance a deceptive air of amiability, which an expression of wide-eyed innocence enhanced. However, his incessant niggling of umpires and truclent questioning of unfavourable decisions made it obvious that the sunny exterior hid a graceless streak, which stopped him earning the unqualified respect of his opponents. In his hitherto unexplored method of attack, founded on feroiously spun leg-breaks, as often as not angled a foot or more outside the leg stump from round the wicket, he left no doubt that Australia had uncovered not only a match-winner of singular inventiveness but a cricketer crowds would flock to see.

Thanks to TV, Warne's first ball in Ashes cricket, which bowled Mike Gatting, may become the most famous ever bowled. It was flighted down the line of middle and leg, the fierceness of the spin causing it to swerve almost a foot in its last split-seconds in the air, so that it pitched six inches outside the leg-stump. From there, it spun viciously past Gatting's half-formed forward stroke to hit the off-stump within two inches of the top. Had Gatting been in half an hour longer, or ever faced Warne before, he might have got a pad to it. As it was the ball was unplayable and, by impressing the bowler's capacities on England, it had a profound impact on the series. Of Warne's subsequent 33 wickets, only two came from deliveries that seemed to turn as far - 18 inches or more - and in each case the spin was accentuated by the ball being delivered round the wicket. Gooch was the victim on both occasions, caught at slip for 120 in the second innings of the Third Test, and bowled behind his legs for 48 in the second innings of the Fifth. Nothing better illustrated England's problems than the fact that one of the most experienced batsmen in the world could be bowled in a way when all he was attempting was to block the ball's progress with his pads.

Warne bowled half as many overs again as any other bowler, without showing signs of tiring, even in his frequent two-hour spells. Of leg-spinners, only Arthur Mailey, with 36 in 1920-21 (in five Tests) has taken more, wickets in an Ashes series than Warne's 34.

Several of his team-mates had a big hand in Australia's win and none more so than David Boon, who scored 555 runs at No. 3, and Hughes, who in the first four Tests, took 25 wickets compared with 23 by Warne. Ian Healy made 26 dismissals behind the stumps, a record for any series in England, and played several vital innings. The Waugh twins, sharing 966 runs, and Tim May and Paul Reiffel, who took 21 and 19 wickets with off-spin and fast-medium seam respectively, also made important contributions. There was little doubt, though that the main difference between the two teams was Warne. He was considerably helped by the perversity of the England selectors, who waited until two Tests had been lost before introducing a left-hander, 23-year-old Graham Thorpe of Surrey, previously uncapped, as a possible antidote. He scored 114 not out in the second innings of his maiden Test, adding 150 with Gooch when England were in danger of losing at Trent Bridge, though the circumstances of the innings compelled an open verdict: for much of the partnership Hughes was off the field nursing a strained groin, while twice when Thorpe was in the 50's he almost fell to Warne, picking the wrong ball to attack. Irrespective of Thorpe;s good showing, however - in three Tests, he averaged 46.00 and was dismissed only once by Warne - the absence of a left-hander at Old Trafford made it abundantly clear that the panel either under-rated Warne or had failed to notice his lack of success against the West Indian left-handers in Australia. Brian Lara, Keith Arthurton and Jimmy Adams headed the tourists' Test averages, and on Warne's four appearances, Arthurton, once, was the only one of them he brought to book.

A number of factors combined in England's failure, not least that, by wasting gilt-edged chances of victory in the one-day series, they went into the Test series with eight consecutive defeats behind them. By flying in the face of Warne's revealing record against left-handers, however not to mention basic cricket sense, the selectors - Dexter, Gooch, team manager Keith Fletcher, and Dennis Amiss - gratuitously aggravated England's problems. It was essential not to lose at Old Trafford, with the tourists in possession of the Ashes, and Lord's - England's bogey ground against Australia- a fortnight later. Thorpe was the obvious candidate as a left-hander in the First Test. He had batted serviceably in the Texaco Trophy and had a look at Warne, who missed those games, when Surrey played the Australians a week before the Test. But because of his class and experience and good record against Australia - nine hundreds - there was also a case for David Gower, despite his habitual lack of runs in county cricket. (Ironically, having been ignored, as he had been with disastrous and far-reaching consequences on the tour of India, Gower scored 153 for Hampshire on the first day of the Tests, only to crack a rib by falling on a ball while fielding, which ruled him out of contention for Lord's.) Hugh Morris, who had made two hundreds and three fifties in ten innings opening for Glamorgan, was another possible candidate.

Regrettably, as so often during Gooch's captaincy, the selectors were the only ones in step. At Old Trafford they paraded six right-handed batsmen followed by the (right-handed) all-rounder Chris Lewis and a four man (right-handed) tail. Then, after Hughes and Warne, with eight for 151 and eight for 137 respectively, had bowled Australia to victory, they picked the same six specialists for Lord's. When a ten-man Australian team(McDermott never took the field) won by an innings, having lost only four wickets in the match, the question became not whether resignations would be forced upon the chairman and the captain but when. In the event, Gooch bowed out at Headingly, when Australia made certain of the Ashes, and Dexter at Edgbaston, a few hours before they took a 4-0 lead. It was little consolation that the downfall of both men could be traced to Gower's omission from the tour of India, since when nothing had gone right for English cricket.

Gooch had already made it clear that he would not be touring the West Indies the following winter. But at the start of the season, Atherton was only the third favourite to succeed him. The confusion over Alec Stewart's role in the team - batsman or wicket-keeper? - worked against his candidacy. There was a growing feeling that Gatting might be installed as a stop-gap. But after Lord's he lost his place in the side just as Atherton was looking increasingly secure. That one ball from Warne may have decided far more than was apparent at the time.

But for that and another freakish dismissal in the First Test, Gooch's on the final afternoon, when he ended a faultless 133 by cuffing a looping deflection off Hughes away from the stumps to be out "handled the ball", England might have got away from Old Trafford unbeaten; Australia won with only 58 balls to spare. It would have been an escape neither the selectors nor the team deserved, however. Not only had the former discounted Warne, they failed to grasp that, because of England's low spirits and lack of penetrative bowling, the priority should have been to make Australia sweat blood for victory by selecting seven batsmen. The team had put on two feeble batting displays in which each of the specialists had a hand in his dismissal in one innings or the other. Gooch subsequently criticised the attitude of certain players, implying defeatism (nobody was named, but Lord's was the last Test of the summer for Lewis and Philip Tufnell). However, Gooch himself appeared to have earned a large measure of blame, through going on to the defensive at a time in Australia's second innings when two wickets would have evened up the game. Two days after this crushing defeat, Gooch's appointment as captain, initially for the first three Tests, was extended to cover the whole series, which suggested only one plausible explantation, that Dexter was attempting to create an illusion of stability. In the event, 24 players appeared in the series, Warne and May dislodging even the steadfast Robin Smith before The Oval. Gooch, Atherton and Stewart, who kept wicket, were the only ever-presents, though Peter Such, the Essex off-spinner, played everywhere but Headingly, where the attack comprised four seamers.

At Lord's, any slight chance England may have had of gaining a toehold on the series disappeared. In what turned out to be his penultimate first-class match before being forced into retirement by his weak left knee, Neil Foster replaced Phil Defreitas from the team beaten at Old Trafford. But when Australia won the toss in easy batting conditions, and Mark Taylor and Slater, the openers, rattled up 101 by lunch, 212 by tea, and 260 before Slater fell for 152 an hour and five minutes before the close, the only question Border had to answer was how long to bat before the declaration. In the event he called a halt at 11.45 on the third day, when nearly 13 hours had brought 632 for four at all but 100 runs a session. England were demoralised. Although Atherton held an end for more than four hours, making 80, a score of 193 for nine off 90 overs by the close represented England's most supine piece of batting since Bob Willis's team were demolished for 82 and 93 by New Zealand at Christchurch in 1983-84.

There was stronger resistance in the follow-on, which lasted nine hours and ten minutes. But when Atherton was run out for 99, slipping on the turn when Gatting sent him back on what would have been a safe third run had they taken the first two more quickly, and Gatting was the victim of a badly judged lbw decision half an hour into the final day, Australia never looked like being stopped. Two Tests later, at Headingly, they won by an even bigger margin, an innings and 148 runs compared with an innings and 62 at Lord's. But it was the flat pitch at Lord's that exposed more emphatically the gulf between the teams. In conditions favouring the bat, the England attack was putty in the hands of the Australians, while their own batsmen were always on edge against Warne and Hughes, especially when Gooch failed, as he did twice at Lord's.

The simple fact was that until the Oval, where Devon Malcolm and Steve Watkin, as well as Fraser, were making their first appearance of the series, Australia's batting was much too good for England's bowling. The tourists had an ideal balance - two quick-footed strokeplayers, Slater and Mark Waugh, two left-handed accumulators, Taylor and Border, a rocklike No. 3 in Boon (until a double failure at The Oval, his average batting time was three and a half hours), and in Steve Waugh and wicket-keeper Healy a No. 6 and No. 7 capable of attacking or defending as the position of the game required. Between them the Australians scored ten hundreds in the Tests and shared 13 three-figure stands, the highest an unbroken 332 between Border and Steve Waugh at Headingley, which has been bettered only once for the fifth wicket in Test history.

And from June 7, when Boon took over at the top, they dominated the national averages, eventually occupying the first four places (statistical freaks apart). Taylor had a modest series compared to 1989, when he amassed 839 at 83.90. For England, though, only Gooch, with 673, and Atherton, with 553, scored more than his 428, one of six Australian aggregates above 400. During Gooch's 79 in the second innings at The Oval, he became England's highest scorer, overtaking Gower's 8,231 when he reached 18. But Gooch and Thorpe made the only three hundreds, there were only five three-figure stands, and the longest Australia had to wait to take a wicket was three hours 40 minutes at Trent Bridge, when Gooch and Thorpe put on 150 for the sixth wicket in the second innings. Statistically, the gulf between the teams was overwhelming, Australia's average stand being 51.28, England's 30.86.

In Border's ninth year of captaincy, his single-minded pursuit of victory showed no sign of weakening, while his batting contained a quality - absolute determination not to make a present of his wicket - that was echoed among England's batsmen only by his opposing captains, Gooch and Atherton. By scoring 433 runs at 54.12 in the Tests, the fourth time in four full tours of England he had averaged more than 50 in a series, he lifted his aggregate in Anglo-Australian Tests to 3,548, third behind Bradman (5,028) and Hobbs (3,636).

That he will be remembered in England with respect rather than affection stemmed from his condoning, not infrequently his participation in, the sledging of opponents and umpires during play, in open violation of the International Cricket Council's code of conduct. By insisting on a panel of eight, the Test and County Cricket Board are much to blame for the deterioration in the standard of England's Test umpiring - not since 1989 has an umpire been helped to get the feel of a series by being appointed for successive Tests. But Border, who usually fielded within earshot of his bowlers, may also have contributed indirectly to the more obvious misjudgments of lbws and bat-pad catches, estimated by some at more than a dozen in the series, by failing to stamp out the questioning of decisions that sapped the umpires' confidence.

Despite all of that, and the promise of England's win at The Oval, the figures of the last three series were conclusive - England 1, Australia 11, drawn 5. Nobody could question that Border was the man Australia had to thank for that. -John Thicknesse.

Match reports for

Tour Match: England Amateurs v Australians at Radlett, Apr 30, 1993
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Tour Match: Middlesex v Australians at Lord's, May 3, 1993
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Tour Match: Worcestershire v Australians at Worcester, May 5-7, 1993
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Tour Match: Somerset v Australians at Taunton, May 8-10, 1993
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Tour Match: Sussex v Australians at Hove, May 13-15, 1993
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Tour Match: Northamptonshire v Australians at Northampton, May 16, 1993
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1st ODI: England v Australia at Manchester, May 19, 1993
Report | Scorecard

2nd ODI: England v Australia at Birmingham, May 21, 1993
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3rd ODI: England v Australia at Lord's, May 23, 1993
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Tour Match: Surrey v Australians at The Oval, May 25-27, 1993
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Tour Match: Leicestershire v Australians at Leicester, May 29-31, 1993
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1st Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Jun 3-7, 1993
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Warwickshire v Australians at Birmingham, Jun 9-11, 1993
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Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Bristol, Jun 12-14, 1993
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2nd Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 17-21, 1993
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Tour Match: Combined Universities v Australians at Oxford, Jun 23-25, 1993
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Tour Match: Hampshire v Australians at Southampton, Jun 26-28, 1993
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3rd Test: England v Australia at Nottingham, Jul 1-6, 1993
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Tour Match: Minor Counties v Australians at Stone, Jul 8, 1993
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Tour Match: Ireland v Australians at Dublin, Jul 10, 1993
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Tour Match: Derbyshire v Australians at Derby, Jul 13-15, 1993
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Tour Match: Durham v Australians at Durham, Jul 17-19, 1993
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4th Test: England v Australia at Leeds, Jul 22-26, 1993
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Tour Match: Lancashire v Australians at Manchester, Jul 28-30, 1993
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Tour Match: Glamorgan v Australians at Neath, Jul 31-Aug 2, 1993
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5th Test: England v Australia at Birmingham, Aug 5-9, 1993
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Tour Match: Kent v Australians at Canterbury, Aug 11-13, 1993
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Tour Match: Essex v Australians at Chelmsford, Aug 14-16, 1993
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6th Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 19-23, 1993
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© John Wisden & Co