England's tour of Australia and, very briefly, New Zealand in the winter of 1982-83 had, for them, two redeeming features: one of the most exciting Test matches ever played, at Melbourne immediately after Christmas, resulted in an English victory, and despite some transparently poor umpiring England played the game in a good spirit. The Ashes, which England had held since 1977, were surrendered, Australia winning the Test series by two victories to one, and, in competition with Australia and New Zealand, England failed, really rather abjectly, to reach the final stages of the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup.
With those players who, against the wishes of the Test and County Cricket Board, had been to South Africa in the spring of 1982 being barred from Test cricket, England flew to Brisbane on October 13 some way below full strength. Of the outcasts none was missed more than Graham Gooch. Without him England were practically never given a good start to an innings. Against his inclinations, Chris Tavaré was obliged to open in four of the five Test matches. Of his partners, Geoff Cook, though he did quite well against the states, proved easy prey for Australia's opening bowlers in the Test matches, while Graeme Fowler, after a dreadful start to the tour, suffered a broken bone in his foot in the fourth Test match, just when he was beginning to play with some assurance. Eight times in ten Test innings England lost their first wicket before 15 runs were on the board.
With the last five and a half weeks of the tour being set aside for one-day cricket, the five Test matches had to be finished by January 7. This allowed little time for acclimatisation and none for up-country matches. It also meant that the players who were not in the Test team had hopelessly little first-class cricket. Robin Jackman, Vic Marks and the reserve wicket-keeper, Ian Gould, all had to wait until the one-day games before making any sort of an impact. Another snag proceeding from the itinerary was that England, after being eliminated from the World Series Cup on February 6, had eleven days to kill, without cricket, before going on to New Zealand for a series of three one-day matches. On their way home from New Zealand, where their form and fortunes were abysmal, England broke fresh ground when eleven of them played an unofficial one-day match against a strong Pakistan XI in Dubai.
Once again fast bowling proved the decisive factor in the Test series. Although Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman were injured in the first Test match and unable to play in the last four, Australia were still able to field much the stronger pace attack, Geoff Lawson, Jeff Thomson and Rodney Hogg all being faster and more consistently hostile than anything England could muster. England lost the second and third Tests easily enough to go to Melbourne for the fourth, which they won, in some disarray. Victory there was a great tonic, not only for Bob Willis and his side but for everyone associated with English cricket. Had John Dyson, one of Australia's opening batsmen, been given run out, as he palpably should have been, in the first over of the fifth Test match, the series might even have been saved and the Ashes retained, though had that happened it would not have reflected Australia's undoubted superiority.
Willis was the first specialist fast bowler, in modern times, to captain England on tour. G. O. Allen, when he led England in Australia in 1936-37, though a fast bowler was also no mean batsman. Tenacious by nature, Willis was at his best off the field where he adhered, often despite extreme provocation, to his pre-tour resolution never to be critical of the umpires, whose job was made barely tolerable by the constant use, on television, of slow-motion action replays. During the tour the introduction of a third 'arbiter', with access to these replays, was widely canvassed. On the field Willis left much to the other senior members of his side - David Gower, his vice-captain, Ian Botham and Bob Taylor. Willis seemed unable to put everything into his own bowling, while applying himself, simultaneously, to tactical requirements.
In retrospect Willis may have felt that more could and should have been made of Norman Cowans's bowling. But what, more than anything, upset England's calculations was the fact that Botham, their match-winner, failed to win them any matches. Never, by contemporary standards, particularly fit (back trouble hindered his pivot, and he grew very heavy), he failed to produce, either with bat or ball, a single devastating piece of cricket. In 32 innings, in all kinds of cricket, his top score was 65. He left behind in Australia many past cricketers and present judges who have yet to be convinced that he is a great all-rounder. For all that, Botham held more catches in the Test matches than anyone else on either side, many of them of the utmost brilliance, and his eighteen wickets, though expensive, were exceeded in the Test series by no other Englishman.
In Gower England had the outstanding batsman of the Australian season. His elegant style, powered by fine timing, was much admired. His consistency improved as soon as he started to take greater care when playing the ball off his legs, a stroke which got him into trouble in the early part of the tour. As Botham's stock declined so Gower's went up. Allan Lamb, visiting Australia for the first time, also created a good impression. When he made runs he did so in a sturdy, pugnacious, uncompromising way. The third batsman to pull his weight was Derek Randall, whose two innings of 78 and 115 in the first Test ensured England a draw. Randall had a much lower failure-rate than when he had been in Australia on England's previous tour. He was also, of course, England's outstanding all-round fielder, as he would have been in sides that fielded better than Willis's.
Although Tavaré scored 147 against New South Wales and twice made 89 in the Test matches, he was too often non-plussed by the pace and the bounce of Australian pitches. If he is ever to be really successful there he may need to quicken up his footwork, especially when going in first. By the end of the tour he was fortunate still to be in what was considered the best side. However, to many who had thought of him only as a stonewaller, his first innings in the Melbourne Test match came as a revelation.
England's bowling, though seldom if ever inspired, was not wholly collared until towards the end of the one-day matches. It happened then with increasing regularity, and by the time they got to New Zealand the attack was barely second-rate. Willis reached his peak in the first innings of the second Test match. After that, having had problems with his run-up and follow-through in the second innings of the same match, he was reliable but rarely threatening. Plucked out of county cricket as a raw 21-year-old, with fewer than 50 first-class wickets to his credit, Cowans, for some weeks, cut a somewhat lonely figure. He was virtually ignored for long stretches of the second Test, and left out of the third, before bowling like a hero in the fourth. By dint of hard practice he improved his accuracy as the tour went on, and he could bowl the occasional very fast ball.
Through some long weeks of idleness and lack of success Jackman's enthusiasm was never seen to wane. The three off-spinners - two would have been ample - had changing fortunes. Geoff Miller played in all five Tests, not without success, and Marks, a bystander for nearly three months, finished by being the most economical of all the bowlers. Having had a good run-up to the first Test match, Eddie Hemmings was left out of it, and when in the last in Sydney he had the chance to bowl on a turning pitch he failed to make the most of it. But he was by no means a failure, bowling one long and admirably steady spell in perfect batting conditions in the Adelaide Test and making 95 on the last day of the series, an innings that was by way of being a major windfall.
Derek Pringle was given three Test matches, more as an extra seam bowler than as an all-rounder, though he did make two Test 40s, the second of them at an important time in England's Melbourne victory. At times he made the ball lift more than England's other bowlers, but he bowled far too many no-balls and gave the impression generally of needing time to mature. Pringle was as lucky to be chosen for the tour as Trevor Jesty, Phil Edmonds, Mike Gatting and David Bairstow were unlucky to be left behind. When, in fact, Jesty was sent for, just before Christmas, after Randall had suffered a nasty injury in Tasmania, he soon won a place in the one-day team. This was mainly as a batsman, though in his first over in Australia, under the Sydney lights, he dismissed Kim Hughes for 0 and had Hookes dropped, first ball, off a difficult chance.
As always, Taylor was utterly dependable behind the stumps. Gould, because of his potentially livelier batting, was eventually preferred to Taylor in the one-day games. Until then Gould had been mainly a wholehearted spectator, and the highlight of his tour remained the moment when, fielding as substitute for Fowler, he held a spectacular catch to dismiss Greg Chappell in the Melbourne Test.
The tour was huge financial success. The five Tests were watched by 554,142 people, the seventeen one-day games by 451,098. Of Melbourne's three one-day games, two attracted crowds of 84,153 and 71,393. It was soon obvious that the winning of the Ashes means as much to the Australian players and public as it ever did; with the help of a good deal of brain-washing on television, the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup also attracted great interest. The Australian players shared, all told, just over £100,000 in prize-money. Strengthened by the introduction of the naturalised South African, Kepler Wessels, and with David Hookes showing real signs of fulfilling his outstanding promise, and Hughes having a fine Test series with the bat, Chappell making two hundreds in his first five Test innings, and Allan Border overcoming a poor start to the series, and with Thomson, Hogg and Lawson replacing Lillee and Alderman so effectively, Australia played at times like a distinctly good side. In going down to them by only the odd Test match in five, England, despite their many shortcomings, did a lot better than they might have. If they were unlucky to be deprived by the weather in Perth of reaching the finals of the World Series Cup, which was won eventually by Australia, they had only themselves to blame for not having made sure of doing so long before. Once against New Zealand, and once against Australia, England were run ragged in the one-day games, and seldom did a match of any kind go by without their suffering a batting collapse. They were a side with too few players good enough to be representing England in Australia and too many batsmen without a sound basic technique.
There were times during the World Series Cup when the game that was being played bore little resemblance to the more sophisticated and skilful form of cricket which had preceded it in the Ashes series. To gratify PBL Marketing Ltd, who now promote cricket in Australia, all the one-day games were played in coloured clothing and with a white ball. Fired by chauvinism and the exaggerated gestures of some of the Australian players, as well as the frantic nature of much of the cricket, the atmosphere seemed at times more like that of the Colosseum than a cricket ground. There were days when gimmickry reigned supreme, a development which not only the most conservative of watchers viewed with some anxiety.
The England team were quietly and efficiently managed by D. J. Insole, whose experience will be of value to him in his capacity as Chairman of the Cricket Committee of the Test and County Cricket Board. Norman Gifford, of Worcestershire until 1982, was assistant manager, and the physiotherapist for the eleventh successive tour was Bernard Thomas of Warwickshire, who kept muscles finely turned, if not every waistline slim.
Test matches - Played 5: Won 1, Lost 2, Drawn 2.
First-class matches - Played 11: Won 4, Lost 3, Drawn 4.
Wins - Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia.
Losses - Australia (2), Queensland.
Draws - Australia (2), South Australia, Victoria.
Non first-class matches - Played 12: Won 6, Lost 6. Wins - Australia (2), New Zealand (2), Northern New South Wales, Tasmania. Losses - Australia (3), New Zealand (3).
Non first-class matches - Played 3: Lost 3. Losses - New Zealand (3).
Match reports for
Match reports for