England's tour of 1983-84 has claims to rank among the unhappiest they have ever undertaken. Ineptly selected, burdened with a bad itinerary and losing three out of fifteen players through injury or illness (including the captain), they became the first English team to be beaten in a Test series by New Zealand and Pakistan - and to fill their cup to overflowing they were publicly accused of taking drugs. Following allegations in The Mail on Sunday, a London newspaper, that certain members of Bob Willis's team had smoked pot in New Zealand, the Test and County Cricket Board held an inquiry, which resulted in the party being cleared of having done anything off the field which might have affected their playing performance.
The team's record in their first-class matches was depressing. Out of six Tests and four three-days games, their only win was against Northern Districts in mid-January. Coming immediately before the three-Test series in New Zealand, the victory sent the team into the first Test in Wellington in confident mood. But, inspired by maiden Test hundreds from Martin Crowe and Jeremy Coney, New Zealand escaped with a draw, after conceding a first-innings lead of 244, and went on to overwhelm England in the second Test at Christchurch. The twelve hours New Zealand took to win that match represented England's nadir: they put up an exhibition that would have shamed a side in the lower reaches of the County Championship.
Abysmal bowling, branded by Willis as among the worst he had seen in more than 80 Tests, enabled New Zealand to reach 307 in conditions in which 180 to 200 should have been the upper limit. Whereupon, in mute surrender, England were brushed aside for 82 and 93. It was the first time this century that an England team had been bowled out in both innings for fewer than 100, and the first time they had lost to New Zealand by an innings. On his home ground Hadlee had a brilliant match, smiting 99 off 81 balls and taking eight for 44; but it was a victory to which nearly every New Zealander contributed.
Because of injuries to Neil Foster and Graham Dilley, England had taken the uncommon step of going outside the touring party to complete their team, calling up the 25-year-old Sussex opening bowler, Tony Pigott, who was playing for Wellington in New Zealand's domestic first-class competition. It was a mixed experience for him, the satisfaction of becoming the first Harrovian to win a cap since M. C. Bird, in 1913, being outweighed, one would presume, by involvement in such a mortifying display. An ironic footnote was that to make himself available, Pigott postponed his wedding, little thinking that by the Monday of a match begun on Friday there would be time to have started a honeymoon in South America and got married as well.
On the run-in to this second Test, England came close to paying for the folly of an itinerary which consisted entirely of Tests and one-day internationals from the sixth week to the end. With that in mind, the selectors took a calculated risk on the legendary fitness of the 42-year-old Bob Taylor by naming him as the only wicket-keeper, though Paul Downton, of Middlesex, was paid to act as stand-by while on a coaching engagement in South Africa. Four days before the Christchurch Test, when Taylor was showing no improvement from a muscle injury sustained 48 hours earlier, Downton was alerted to prepare for a quick dash from Cape Town. In the event, the senior 'keeper made a good enough recovery for Downton not to make the 24-hour journey. But it was touch and go.
Three weeks later, when the team flew on to Pakistan, nobody with an open mind could possibly have argued that the truncated nature of the itinerary was not a factor in England's defeat in the first Test in Karachi. Arriving some ten hours behind schedule, because of engine failure on the flight from Auckland, England not surprisingly found the combination of jetlag and unaccustomed heat and glare too much to cope with when, within 60 hours of touching down, they were confronted by the leg-breaks and googlies of Abdul Qadir on a turning pitch.
Having asked for a short tour, the team in a sense had no-one but themselves to blame. But the greater fault lay with the Test and County Cricket Board for indulging them. It begged the question, which was duly asked, who was running English cricket: a coterie of senior players or the Board? Willis, typically, remained adamant, sticking to the view that England had a better chance of a respectable performance within a few hours of getting off the aeroplane than they would have had by playing a three-day match up-country and running the risk of illness.
On their way to New Zealand, England had broken new ground with a five day visit to Fiji, which included two limited-overs matches. It was a timely venture, with cricket in need of a boost in the islands, a fact testified to by the smallness of the crowds. But with the thermometer in the 90s, the humidity very oppressive and the mosquitoes voracious, the TCCB would be well advised to schedule future visits for the cooler months, possibly in October enroute to Australia.
Depressing though the tour was in many ways, it did have its compensations. When Ian Botham, then Willis, returned early from Pakistan, the first to have a knee examined, the captain with a viral infection, the loss of their most prolific and experienced bowlers brought out the bulldog spirit in the team. In the last two Tests England did more than hold their own, giving David Gower a comparatively easy task as captain. That he thrived on the extra responsibility was obvious from his scores - 152 at Faisalabad, followed by 9 and 173 not out in the last Test at Lahore. Chris Smith, solid and determined, Norman Cowans, who deserved better figures than he got, and Foster, at 21 the youngest member of the party, were others who advanced their reputations. For most of the reminder, not excluding their over-worked and anxious manager, A. C. Smith, it was an experience they could have done without. The assistant manager, for the second tour running, was Norman Gifford. Bernard Thomas, the physiotherapist, completed, with the captain and the two managers, a Warwickshire quartet.
Non first-class matches - Played 2: Won 2.
Wins - Fijian Association President's XI (2).
In New Zealand
Test matches - Played 3: Lost 1, Drawn 2.
First-class matches - Played 7: Won 1, Lost 1, Drawn 5.
Match reports for
Match reports for