When Lawry's Australians paid it forward

Forty years ago, Australia's cricketers undertook back-to-back Test tours, just like now. If it wasn't for the shabby treatment they received back then, their modern counterparts might not have had it as good as they do

Brydon Coverdale
Brydon Coverdale
Lawry (right) and Ali Bacher: which one's the chirpier captain?  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Lawry (right) and Ali Bacher: which one's the chirpier captain?  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

On New Year's Eve, 1969, an Australian squad led by Bill Lawry flew out of India after a five-Test series. They had triumphed 3-1 in difficult conditions and had been away from home for two and a half months, but instead of flying back to Australia for a well-deserved break from the rigours of international cricket, they set off for South Africa and another four-Test series. In all, they were on tour for more than five months.
Fast forward 41 years and Michael Clarke's men are in South Africa, ready for the second leg of another back-to-back Test tour.
How things have changed. The Australians of 2011 played three Tests in three weeks in Sri Lanka, before some of the squad members spent a few precious days at home between series. Now they are ready for an absurdly short two-Test series in South Africa. The presence of three formats also extended the layoff for some.
There was no such luxury in 1969-70. On the contrary, by proposing an extra Test at the end of the South African series and refusing to pay the Australian players what they requested for the additional work, the Australian board unknowingly laid the foundations for the World Series Cricket revolution later that decade.
By the time a fifth Test was suggested, Australia had lost 4-0 to an outstanding South Africa side, having failed to carry their form from India. Barry Richards averaged 72 as an opener, Graeme Pollock was at his best, and no Australian scored a century.
"It wasn't so much the different conditions, it was that Graham McKenzie and the fast bowlers had had a heavy workload over all those months," Lawry said, recalling the tour in the lead-up to this week's first Test in Cape Town. "It was a big ask. They wouldn't do it today. They play two Test matches and come home today. It was a very heavy workload, but that's no excuse - we were beaten by a better side.
"They were the only four Test matches Barry Richards ever played, and he's probably one of the best opening batsmen of all time. Graeme Pollock was at his peak. Then there was Eddie Barlow and all these other players; Mike Procter was at his peak. And they were just a very well-balanced side. They got us on the rebound a bit but we never really looked like beating them.
"If we'd gone there fresh from Australia, we probably would've still got beaten - perhaps not the same result, but we would have been beaten. You've just got to give full credit to South Africa."
But the Australians didn't go to South Africa fresh. Their tour of India, though successful on the field, was extremely testing off it. The players were unhappy with the accommodation, which the offspinner Ashley Mallett later described as "more hovels than hotels". He wrote that on a late-night visit to their hotel kitchen in Guwahati, the players "were greeted by a sea of cockroaches swarming over the wet floor and several cats dancing on the salads in the fridge".
In the book Chappelli Speaks Out, Ian Chappell recounted that the day before flying to South Africa, the players stayed at the luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, "but it was only for one night, and that only increased our anger because we knew that there were good hotels in India, but our board wouldn't book us in at them".
"South Africa were leading 4-0, and we said we'd play but we wanted more money. The board said, no you won't. It was typical of the board, unfortunately"
Lawry on why the proposed fifth Test in Johannesburg was cancelled
"It should never have happened," Lawry said. "The tour we went on and the accommodation and the food - but that's history. We could make all the excuses in the world, but you can't take it away from South Africa, they were just too good. I played in three series against South Africa, in '64, '67 and '70, and we never beat them once. Over that period of time they were as good as any side in the world."
All the same, the discontent towards the board encouraged the players to stand up for themselves when a fifth Test in Johannesburg was proposed. The board offered each player an extra $200 for their trouble. At a team meeting, Chappell, the vice-captain, encouraged his team-mates to show the board they wouldn't be pushed around. The players told the board they would play for $500 extra per man.
"It was a grab for money," Lawry said. "South Africa were leading 4-0. The board said, no you won't. It was typical of the board, unfortunately. We would probably have been beaten 5-0 but we were prepared to play if they were prepared to pay us a reasonable amount of money, which we weren't getting at the time."
The board refused, the fifth Test was not played, and when Lawry submitted a scathing captain's report to the board on his return to Australia, his cards were marked. The men in suits who ran Australian cricket were not amused.
"I never had a direct meeting with the board or board members. The only meeting we had was in Victoria, when the Victorian players asked for a meeting with the Victorian board members, which we got. We told them what the situation was. The answer was very simple. They said, 'If you don't play for us, who do you play for?' We walked out and that was the end of discussion. That was their attitude. In 1976-77 they paid the price."
Unfortunately for Lawry, he paid the price much sooner, when he was stripped of the captaincy before the final Test of the 1970-71 Ashes.
"I knew I'd have a black mark, but sooner or later you have to make a stand," Lawry said. "You might not win, but you have to make the stand."
Future generations of Australian cricketers, Clarke's squad included, should be thankful that he did.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo