December 2006

On top down under

Interviews by Simon Lister
Simon Lister interviews the key figures behind England's successful tour of Australia, 1986-87


England had spent 1986 losing away in the West Indies and at home to India and New Zealand. Their record as they reached Australia to defend the Ashes was eight defeats in 11 Tests and no victories. They had a new captain and - for the first time - a proper coach. As Wisden put it "they flew from Heathrow carrying the prayers rather than the aspirations of their countrymen"



Botham's 138 included 22 taken off one over bowled by Merv Hughes © Getty Images

Ian Botham (England allrounder):
It was the longest tour I've ever done. An Ashes series, two one-day competitions. About five months away.

David Gower (England batsman):
You couldn't have been entirely sure how a lot of the side would play. There was the 'axis of evil' of course - Gower, Botham, Lamb - but it was a real mix of experience and yet-to-be-proven talent.

The man charged with making that mix work was the manager Micky Stewart. He was not in Australia for High Commission smalltalk. England had got themselves a proper coach.

Mike Gatting (England captain):
Micky came in, he'd played football, played cricket. He knew what it took to prepare thoroughly for a tour. We were like-minded people.

Micky Stewart:
I was appointed in August. They wanted to call me assistant manager, I said, "No, it's cricket manager". The committee said "Sorry" and I said "Forget it then". They backed down. I went as team manager.

Chris Broad (England opener):
Gatting was my kind of captain. Get up and go, loved a challenge.

Stewart:
Gatting was red, white and blue through and through - so was I. He was determined. Loved playing the Australians; loved stuffing them.

Gatting:
Micky had a very friendly exterior but underneath there was a harshness, a steeliness and he wanted to be a part of something successful.

Gower:
The trickiest problem that Gatting and Micky had was how to work with the various factions within the squad. That is the art of leadership. They managed pretty well and approached people differently and got the best from them. The stark contrast came when Micky went back to Australia with Graham Gooch in charge. They then came up with one plan for 16 players. Which, as we now know, is a complete disaster.

A more immediate problem was England's play in the warm-up games. They were beaten by Queensland and outplayed by Western Australia.

Allan Border (Australia captain):
England's early form was below par. On the other hand, Australia's preparation had been pretty good - we'd drawn a series in India - and we fancied our chances.

Botham:
The first three or four weeks we were playing against Western Australian young farmers and the crop-sprayers of Queensland. I found that pretty hard to get motivated, and as a consequence we got hammered.

Broad:
I soon realised that the senior players didn't take these games too seriously. They were acclimatising to the wine and the socialising.

Gower:
Personally, the first month of that tour was a nightmare. It felt like the worst build-up to any tour a side could have had. I exaggerate only slightly when I say that the top four had single-figure averages.

One of the British broadsheet papers wrote on the eve of the Brisbane Test that the only problem with the England side was that they can't bat, bowl or field. That really fired us up too

Ian Botham

Gatting:
I had a basic confidence in the side. All that stuff about 'worst team to leave England's shores' - how could it be when you had Botham, Gower, Lamb, Edmonds?

The early scorecards made depressing reading. Then, with the first Test in sight, came news of a more sinister distraction.

Gatting:
We had three girls from a tabloid paper fly out to try to trap one or two of the boys just before the first Test. We got wind of it so Micky took on the heroic task of chatting to them in the hotel bar for two nights before the first Test so we knew where they were.

The tabloid teasers were foiled, but a second wave of attack came from the Australians.

Stewart:
At the pre-series lunch, some senior bloke from the sponsors, Benson & Hedges, made this big speech saying how sorry he felt for England having to take on the Aussies. The boys were really wound up. The result was I didn't have to do much of a motivational speech the next day.

Botham:
One of the British broadsheet papers wrote on the eve of the Brisbane Test that the only problem with the England side was that they can't bat, bowl or field. That really fired us up too.

Gatting:
In the team meeting that night Both said, "Don't worry about what's happened before. The Tests are what count. Eleven v eleven, so let's get out there and take them on."

Apart from raising morale, Botham had been charged with looking after one of the tour youngsters - Phil DeFreitas, who was only 20. The management had gambled on Beefy thriving on the responsibility. It just about worked.

Phil DeFreitas (England allrounder):
As we checked in and got our room keys Botham said, "C'mon, you're with me". I went, "Oh my God". He was one of my heroes. I was so nervous.

Gatting:
I gave Beefy express instructions not to go drinking with him. DeFreitas was a good lad. I remember Botham brought in tumblers of Scotch at one point and Daffy said, "I can't - the skipper said so". He was as good as his word. The next morning the two glasses of Scotch were there, untouched.

DeFreitas:
I'd gone to bed. Beef came back a couple of hours later with a bottle of whisky. He said, "You're on tour - pour". I was so knackered I soon fell asleep. Good job too. If we'd have started he'd have probably made sure we emptied the bottle to teach me a lesson.

The first Test was at Brisbane. Australia won the toss and put England in.

Geoff Lawson (Australia fast bowler):
I was 12th man but I should have played. I'd been injured but the opening bowling attack had a total of nine Tests between them. Really inexperienced. I said to the selector, Greg Chappell, "Mate, I'm not pushing my own barrow here, but you've got it wrong". We bowled appropriately badly.

Gatting:
I was still a little bit nervous about our batting. David Gower hadn't got so many runs and I decided to do three and he went in five. That decision was made after the toss.

The first innings - and the match - was defined by a fifty from Gower and a hundred from Botham.

Gatting:
They dropped Gower horribly. He sliced one to third slip and they spilled it. As good a player as him doesn't need a second chance and he and Both put on some runs.

Gower:
It helps every now and then to have a bit of luck, whatever people say. I started to rediscover what it was all about. It was my most important innings of the tour - even though I was to get a hundred at Perth. By battling away to get fifty-odd at the Gabba, I actually rediscovered some confidence.



'Bringing back the Ashes was without doubt my best moment as a cricketer' © Getty Images

Botham's 138 included 22 taken off one over bowled by Merv Hughes. Wisden compared the innings to his century at Old Traff ord against Australia in 1981.

Border:
The couple of hours that Botham batted was a key moment in the entire series. It went from bad to worse for us and set the tone for the tour.

Five wickets from Graham Dilley in the first innings made sure the Australians followed on, and five more from John Emburey in the second meant England needed only 75 to win the game on the last day. The bowling had been as good as the batting.

Stewart:
It used to drive me barmy that England bowlers that summer would beat the bat twice, try a yorker which was actually a half-volley, beat the bat twice more, get cross and throw in a bouncer that was top-edged over the slips and suddenly they had eight runs from the over. The idea now was to make them fight for every run.

Gatting:
We bowled tremendous lines and the two spinners kept it very tight. Edmonds and Emburey didn't get many wickets but played a huge part in the series.

Gower:
The result was a bit of a surprise. It was a tour of discovery because we had old and new with Gatt on his first trip as captain and Micky Stewart trying to find his feet as manager. There were lots of things to play with. A bit of experimentation going on. Lots of things to work out.

Stewart:
I knew how a losing dressing room could get down and how one win could make such a difference. I thought it was a talented side, better than the Australians' in fact. But I'd never known such a bunch of talented people with such little confidence. I wanted to boost that confidence and get the big players performing.

The second Test at Perth was drawn. Chris Broad scored the first of his three Ashes centuries and Bill Athey showed what a good opening partner he was. Gatting became the first England captain to declare in Australia since Ray Illingworth 16 years previously.

Gower:
To predict that Broad and Athey would have the series they did would have taken a bloody good crystal ball. Broad had been in the side then out of it; Athey had been round about the side without really making it big.

Broad:
The outfield was so fast. It was like an upturned saucer. If you got it past the infield it was four runs. Bill and I got away to a terrific start.

Lawson:
During the first Test I fell over the fence by the old dog track on the way back from nets. I shouldn't have played at Perth - let alone run in and bowled. I was on painkillers, had about four catches dropped. I was bowling line and length but not very fast.

At Adelaide, in the third Test, there was another first-innings score of more than 500 - this time for Australia. But England, growing with confidence, replied with 455. Another draw suited them - if not all of the crowd. "A female spectator set up an ironing board and attended to her laundry throughout the fifth day's play" noted the Wisden Book of Test Cricket. Then came Melbourne.

Border:
The fourth Test. We were about to cop another shellacking.

Gatting:
Graham Dilley came up to me 20 minutes before I had to toss up and said, "I've done me knee in" and so we had to choose between Gladstone Small and Neil Foster all of a sudden. We chose Gladstone and after his first over, he'd hardly hit the mown track - one down the leg side, one wide on the off. I thought, "I've picked the wrong one here".

But Gladstone was just nervous. Botham, who had missed the third Test with a side strain, was back - but not back to his best. Even so, both Small and Botham finished with first innings five-fors.

Botham:
I was about 50-60% fit but we felt like it might do a bit, so I waddled in off a few paces and the Australian batsmen obliged.

Gatting:
Beefy was still struggling - nowhere near the pace of Brisbane - and you wouldn't say it was his best five-for. But there were some unbelievable catches by Jack Richards behind the stumps.

DeFreitas:
I bowled one of my best spells in Test cricket and didn't get a wicket - had no luck at all. Both came on, bowled a load of rubbish and got a five-for.

Gatting:
Gower caught Dean Jones off a leading edge - that was very important. I screamed, "Catch it David" and he casually jogged in and his first words were, "There's no need to shout". The other big wicket came in the second innings when Gladstone got Border. I was thinking, "third slip or gully?" I plumped for a slip and Border got a bit of width and absolutely kitchen-sinked this ball and Emburey had one hand round it at full stretch, and that was the moment I thought, "We're gonna win this".



Gladstone Small celebrates England's victory © Getty Images

Gatting was right. With Border out, Australia were heading for defeat by an innings. Their last seven wickets fell for 41 runs. Merv Hughes scooped Phil Edmonds to Gladstone Small at deep backward-square and the Ashes were England's. In the dressing room, a special fan arrived to help with the celebrations.

Stewart:
Elton John had been in Australia for much of the tour. He had a good friendship with Botham and Gower. That was a surprise wasn't it? He was also a great red, white and blue man - a true sporting Corinthian actually.

Gatting:
He got champagne thrown all over one of his silk suits which had cost him about five grand. It was great having a legend like him in the dressing room.

Gower:
Elton had become our No. 1 groupie. He was not supposed to be on tour in Australia when we were but he had to have an operation on his throat, so he decided to stay. He knows his cricket and he's a clever bloke. We saw a lot of him. If it had been Joe Bloggs following us on tour we wouldn't have him in the dressing room but we didn't mind Elton there. He's not short of a bob or two, but he is a very generous soul and he looked after us.

Defeat for England at Sydney in the final Test was irritating, but as far as this Ashes series was concerned irrelevant. It did though provide a hint of what was to come in future Test series between England and Australia.

Broad:
Australia weren't a poor side, they were an emerging side. The one thing we took an age to realise, and that Australia had started doing, was to pick players who they thought would be very good and to stick with them and make them better.

Gower:
Even if Australia are below par, they're still not bad. Like there's no such thing as a bad champagne - well, there is actually, but anyway - there's no such thing as a truly bad Australian side. The fact was that during the tour we took control at the right moments.

Lawson:
People tend to forget that we lost half a dozen of our best players to the South African rebel tours. Alderman, Hogg, Rackemann. People gloss over the fact that we weren't trotting out with our first-string side.

Stewart:
We won everything. The Ashes, both one-day series which included West Indies. We wanted to win every session, every day. It was very satisfying. Hour by hour, over by over. Every ball was an individual match.

DeFreitas:
Only when I got back to England did I realise what it was that we had achieved.

Gatting:
Bringing back the Ashes was without doubt my best moment as a cricketer.

Border:
It was probably the lowest point for Australian cricket in my experience. We'd had some pretty ordinary performances for a few years. I'll never forget being in the sheds at the MCG when we were drowning our sorrows. The tennis player Pat Cash was winning the Davis Cup for Australia on the dressing-room TV. Speaking at the tennis, the Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke said, "It's a pity there weren't more Pat Cashes at the MCG today". There was this stunned silence and I thought a few beer cans would fly at the screen. Even the Prime Minister was having a go. Later that evening, after a thousand beers, we promised ourselves that it had to stop there and we made a pact that it wouldn't ever be that bad again.