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England were badly beaten in Australia, and against a strong and well-knit team they might well have suffered the same fete even had luck been on their side. In the event, deprived of Graham Gooch, the captain, for a month spanning the First Test, Allan Lamb, another mainstay of the batting, for the Second and Third Tests, and Angus Fraser, the best bowler, for the Third and Fifth, they were never in contention.
It had been apparent from the outset that to recover the Ashes, won so convincingly by Australia in England in 1989, a minimum of six players - the three already named plus Mike Atherton, Robin Smith and Devon Malcolm - had to strike their best form and maintain it. When that condition was not met, it was predictable that the upshot should be a series dominated by Australia. Admirably led by Allan Border, they won 3-0 on merit, England's one minor consolation being that, unlike in 1989, there were moments in each Test when the initiative was theirs. Contrary to expectation, batting was the touring team's chief weakness. Collapses developed from the unlikeliest positions in November and December and became habitual long before the tour ended in New Zealand in mid-February. Overall, England lost sixteen and won only nine of 31 fixtures, and the record was a true reflection of their cricket.
Using fourteen players in the series, compared with England's sixteen, and reinforced by the return of Bruce Reid, the 6ft 8in fast left-armer, Australia were even more impressive than in the previous Ashes series, despite the fact that Mark Taylor, Dean Jones and Steve Waugh, the batting successes on the tour of England, scored only 458 runs between them in 21 innings. Waugh was dropped midway through the rubber after an unbroken run of 42 Tests since his first appearance. Under Border and their coach, former captain Bob Simpson, they had developed into a formidable combination, with plenty in reserve: Tom Moody and Carl Rackemann, both of whom missed selection for the tour of the West Indies that followed the Fifth Test, would have been in or close to England's team, and so might Geoff Lawson.
Reid, with 27 wickets in four Tests, after two years out of cricket with a back condition which had threatened his career, took as many wickets as were shared by Malcolm and Fraser, England's leading wicket-takers, while the boisterous Craig McDermott grabbed eighteen, even though he was not picked until the Fourth Test. David Boon, solid as an oak, was the leading run-scorer with 530, while Mark Waugh, replacing his elder twin, gave 17,000 Adelaide spectators memories for life with a maiden hundred that, for balance, footwork, timing and variety of stroke, stood comparison with any hundred in a Test between the countries since the end of the Second World War. It was an ironic reflection on the gulf between the teams that Jack Russell, the one Englishman other than Gooch who could have been certain of selection for a Combined XI, was unable to hold his place as England's wicket-keeper because of the length and helplessness of the tail.
More culpable than losing the Test series, however, was England's failure to reach the finals of the 50-overs World Series Cup competition, in which the third team was New Zealand. Despite being without Gooch for the first three of eight qualifying games, and embarking on the programme within a week of losing the First Test by ten wickets in three days, the tourists should have been able to out-point a New Zealand side in the early stages of rebuilding. Had Gooch been one to seek excuses, he could have pointed out that England, though winning only twice, would still have reached the finals but for Australia's batsmen collectively hallucinating in pursuit of a sitting target in Hobart, in New Zealand's last qualifying game. But playing as they did, England undoubtedly got what they deserved.
It was during the sixteen-day period of exclusively one-day cricket at the beginning of December that the team's technical and mental shortcomings were exposed. As they lost six games out of eight - twice to each opponent in World Series matches, the others to scratch teams at Canberra and Bowral - no fewer than ten wickets fell to run-outs, the silliest of them in ways that would have been scoffed at in club cricket. It was one of the most depressing aspects of the tour that the same amateurish errors were still being perpetrated two months later, when England signed off with three one-day internationals in New Zealand and lost that series too. The team had been beaten too heavily in Australia to save face by winning in New Zealand, but victory there would have saved them additional embarrassment when they flew home to Heathrow.
Gooch's absence from November 10, when he had an operation on a poisoned hand, to December 11, when in the hope of refloating a sinking ship he returned a week ahead of schedule for the match at Bowral, was far and away the most damaging of England's many injuries: indeed, a blow from which they never recovered. It stemmed from what seemed a insignificant injury. Attempting a caught and bowled off a hard drive by Smith in the opening practice game in Perth, Gooch gashed the fourth finger of his right hand below the lower knuckle. Though the cut was deep enough to expose the bone, the doctor who inspected it decided that stitches were unnecessary, and used butterfly tape to hold the skin together. All seemed well when, having tested the finger later that week at Geraldton, where a Western Australian Country XI willingly agreed that he could play as a batsman only, Gooch suffered no reaction for more than a fortnight. In this time he played nine days of cricket, only to feel acute pain in the finger while batting in the nets before the second day of the South Australia match at Adelaide. The initial diagnosis then was that the finger had turned septic; but a second examination, carried out in hospital, revealed that the poison had spread dangerously to the palm of Gooch's hand, which was operated on that evening.
The loss of the captain and main run-scorer, midway through the build-up to the Brisbane Test, was shattering, and had immediate and dire effects. The first was an astonishing decision not to send for a replacement, despite the fact that Atherton and Wayne Larkins were the only other opening batsmen in the party, and that in the last match before the Test, England were meeting an Australian XI containing, in McDermott, a fast bowler who would be flat out to leave his mark. The policy was arrived at jointly by Peter Lush, the manager, Micky Stewart, the team manager, Gooch as captain, and the vice-captain, Lamb, on the grounds that, even if the replacement boarded a plane within 24 hours, there would be no possibility of playing him in the Test, but it ranked among the least far-sighted decisions taken by an England touring team in two decades.
By luck rather than management they got away with it. The Hobart pitch lacked pace, and Atherton and Larkins, scoring only 12 runs in the match between them, scarcely batted long enough to risk injury. Within days, though, Lush and Stewart acknowledged their misjudgment by sending for the Glamorgan left-hander, Hugh Morris, who but for Gooch's faith in Larkins must have been among the original sixteen. Insisting on labelling him a reinforcement, rather than a replacement, England granted Morris only two minor games in just over a month, in which he scored 33 and 50, before he flew home in time to lead the A team to Pakistan in early January. Certainly he was used less than two other makeweights who subsequently joined the team. Phillip DeFreitas, initially a reinforcement for Gladstone Small, blossomed into a fully fledged replacement when, on December 27, it was decided that Chris Lewis should return to England for treatment on a stress fracture in his back; while Phil Newport, on a brief absence from the A team, which was by that time in Sri Lanka, played in the final Test at Perth when Fraser and Martin Bicknell were unfit. Fraser was suffering from a recurrence of the hip injury which first troubled him during his lion-hearted six for 82 at Melbourne in the Second Test.
Taking into account that Micky Stewart spent a night in hospital during the Victoria match at Ballarat, as a precaution after he complained of prolonged numbness in a leg, it can be judged that the party's health was a source of continuous anxiety. Only a handful of players avoided injury, among them Atherton and Alec Stewart, both of whom played in every Test. As the side mostly trained diligently under Lawrie Brown, the hard-working physiotherapist, the appalling fitness record added to the problems facing the England Committee, whom the Test and County Cricket Board listlessly reappointed en bloc for another year within a month of the end of the tour.
Lamb's injury, the most serious after Gooch's, was effectively self-inflicted. He tore a calf muscle jogging back to his Ballarat hotel a short time after completing a three-hour 143 against Victoria. Considering he had torn the same muscle in the same way eight months earlier in Barbados, it was a foolish thing to do. It compounded his shocking error of judgment at Brisbane when, as captain, and 10 not out in a parlous score of 56 for three on the night before what turned out to be the final day of the First Test, he went to a casino 50 miles from base in a party that included David Gower, Tony Greig, the former England captain, and Kerry Packer, one of the highest rollers in Australia, on whom Lamb was relying for transport back to Brisbane. When he was out in the first over next morning, he was lucky to get no worse than a rap over the knuckles; the tour manager accepted his word that he was back in the hotel by midnight.
On and off the field, bad thinking was an ever-present feature of the tour. If the team weren't running between wickets like headless chickens, they were behaving like lemmings searching for a cliff. That there was a shortage of strong leadership in Gooch's absence can be gauged from the fact that Gower and Lamb were the only past or present county captains in the side. Yet it could equally be argued that a by-product of the squad system dear to Gooch and Stewart was that it discouraged players from thinking for themselves.
By crowning a Second and Third Test sequence of 20, 58, 59 and 54 with a magnificent double of 87 and 117 at Adelaide, Gooch scored 426 runs at 53.25, a tribute to his mental strength (his previous average against Australia, in 27 Tests, was 26.28). But his innings were inadequately supported; and put together only after Australia had gone one up at Brisbane, they could not alter the series result. From Ashes history, and Australia's home record through the 1980s, it was clear that for England to win they had to be in the lead after the Second Test at Melbourne. Only two England teams had won in Australia coming from behind, in 1911-12 and 1954-55, and both had had better attacks than Gooch possessed.
Australia, on their record over a decade, had shown themselves to be most vulnerable at Brisbane (won four, lost four, drawn two) and Melbourne, their bogey ground, where they had won only two of twelve Tests in the 1980s and lost five, two of them at England's hands. Yet England lost on both grounds, at Melbourne after the most dramatic of their many collapses: six wickets fell for 3 runs in 53 minutes, from a point when they held the upper hand - 193 runs ahead with six wickets standing and four sessions left for play. When Australia went on to win by eight wickets, through an unbroken stand of 187 between Geoff Marsh and Boon, England, two down with three to go against a buoyant side, had only pride to play for.
Some was regained at Sydney, where Gower made his second hundred in successive Tests and Atherton his first against Australia, and more at Adelaide. There, inspired by Gooch, the tourists briefly looked capable of conjuring an epic out of a match doomed to be a draw. But at Perth Australia reasserted their superiority. When they won by nine wickets on the fourth morning, after England had been 212 for three at tea on the first day, it was their eighth victory over England in thirteen Tests, with the other five all drawn.
Of the established players, other than Russell, whose reaction to being dropped was to work ever harder on his mislaid batting touch, surprisingly it was Malcolm who made the biggest advance, despite his costly wickets. Even by Australian standards it was a scorching summer, and in the last four Tests, under Gooch, Derbyshire's big Jamaican averaged 25 overs an innings. But he came back full of running for every spell, bowling with pace and heart, and he might well have won the Sydney Test if Gooch had given him an early chance to attack Rackemann. Instead, Australia's No. 9 held off the spin of Phil Tufnell and Eddie Hemmings for 32 overs when Australia were in trouble in their second innings. Among the new caps, Tufnell provided the brightest hope for the future with his left-arm spin. Overtaking Hemmings, he looked in four Tests to be England's slowest spinner since Fred Titmus, at his best when tossing the ball up with a man out straight. A bad match in the Sydney outfield earned his fielding a reputation he could not shake off, and this affected his self-confidence; but in the same match he showed he could make use of favourable conditions, dismissing Boon, Border and Jones in a return of five for 61. He seemed young for his age at 24, but as a bowler he looked worthy of encouragement.
John Morris had the misfortune to make his only hundred against Queensland in the final state game, when, because Smith also made a hundred to protect his threatened place, and Stewart was pencilled in to keep wicket at Adelaide and Perth, it was too late to challenge for a Test role. It added to Morris's chagrin that Carrara was the scene of his escapade with Gower in a pair of 1938 Tiger Moths. To greet Smith's century they prevailed upon the pilots of their hired planes to buzz the ground at low altitude, for which each was fined £1,000. For all their dereliction of duty in leaving without permission a game in which they were playing, it was a harsh penalty for an essentially light-hearted prank, reflecting all too accurately the joyless nature of the tour. Impressive as Gooch's captaincy was, a hair shirt was usually to be found hanging in his wardrobe.
That teams tend to play all the better for enjoying themselves was borne out at Carrara, where Queensland's defeat spared Gooch the ignominy of becoming the first England captain to go through a tour of Australia without a win in first-class cricket. No summary would be fair that failed to draw attention to the fact that Gooch, Lamb and Fraser played only one Test together, in Adelaide, and even there the Middlesex bowler was less than fully fit. Nevertheless, for all their efforts and commitment, it was clear that Gooch and Stewart had failed to get the balance right. For England in Australia, the diet was cricket morning, noon and night, and for too many of the players it was indigestible.
G. A. Gooch ( Essex) (captain), A. J. Lamb (Northants) (vice-captain), M. A. Atherton (Lancs.), M. P. Bicknell ( Surrey) A. R. C. Fraser (Middx), D. I. Gower (Hants), E. E. Hemmings (Notts.), W. Larkins (Northants), C. C. Lewis (Leics.), D. E. Malcolm (Derbys.), J. E. Morris (Derbys.), R. C. Russell (Glos.), G. C. Small (Warwicks.), R. A. Smith (Hants), A. J. Stewart ( Surrey) and P. C. R. Tufnell (Middx).
P. A. J. DeFreitas (Lancs.), H. Morris (Glam.) and P. J. Newport (Worcs.) joined the party subsequently as cover or replacements for injured players.
Tour manager: P. M. Lush. Team manager: M. J. Stewart.
Test matches- Played 5: Lost 3, Drawn 2.
First-class matches- Played 11; Won 1, Lost 5, Drawn 5.
Losses- Australia (3), South Australia, New South Wales.
Draws- Australia (2), Western Australia, Australian XI, Victoria.
One-day internationals- Played 11: Won 3, Lost 8. Wins- New Zealand (3). Losses- Australia (4), New Zealand (4).
Other non-first class matches- Played 9: Won 5, Lost 3, Drawn 1. Wins- WACA President's XI, South Australian Country XI, Tasmania, Australian Cricket Academy (2). Losses- Western Australian Invitation XI, Prime Minister's XI, Sir Donald Bradman Invitation XI. Draw- Western Australian Country XI.
Match reports for
1st ODI: New Zealand v England at Christchurch, Feb 9, 1991
2nd ODI: New Zealand v England at Wellington, Feb 13, 1991
3rd ODI: New Zealand v England at Auckland, Feb 16, 1991
Match reports for
WACA President's XI v England XI at Perth (Lilac Hill), Oct 25, 1990
Tour Match: Western Australia Combined XI v England XI at Perth, Oct 30, 1990
Tour Match: Western Australia v England XI at Perth, Nov 2-5, 1990
Tour Match: South Australia v England XI at Adelaide, Nov 9-12, 1990
Tour Match: Tasmania v England XI at Hobart, Nov 14, 1990
Tour Match: Australian XI v England XI at Hobart, Nov 16-19, 1990
1st Test: Australia v England at Brisbane, Nov 23-25, 1990
2nd Match: England v New Zealand at Adelaide, Dec 1, 1990
4th Match: England v New Zealand at Perth, Dec 7, 1990
5th Match: Australia v England at Perth, Dec 9, 1990
7th Match: England v New Zealand at Sydney, Dec 13, 1990
8th Match: England v New Zealand at Brisbane, Dec 15, 1990
9th Match: Australia v England at Brisbane, Dec 16, 1990
Tour Match: Victoria v England XI at Ballarat, Dec 20-23, 1990
2nd Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Dec 26-30, 1990
11th Match: Australia v England at Sydney, Jan 1, 1991
3rd Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Jan 4-8, 1991
12th Match: Australia v England at Melbourne, Jan 10, 1991
Tour Match: New South Wales v England XI at Albury, Jan 13-16, 1991
Tour Match: Queensland v England XI at Carrara, Jan 19-22, 1991
4th Test: Australia v England at Adelaide, Jan 25-29, 1991
5th Test: Australia v England at Perth, Feb 1-5, 1991