It would be less than fair to David Gower and the team he captained in the West Indies to label the tour simply a disaster. Their record, true enough, was all of that - another blackwash in the Test series and only two wins, compared to ten defeats, in fourteen matches. Much went wrong, too, that with firmer captaincy and management might not have.
But there were many mitigating circumstances, of which the brilliance of the opposition, captained by Viv Richards, and the poor quality of too many of the pitches were the most decisive. In cold fact, England never had a hope. That they could and should have done better, few who saw them would dispute. Their lack of commitment was reflected in their attitude to practice, a department in which West Indies showed them up as amateurs. However, any chance England had of competing in the series - slender at the best of times on the record of West Indies since the middle 1970s - vanished to all practical purposes when the batsmen reached the first Test in Jamaica without having met, in four matches, one pitch on which to find their confidence. On top of that, they had been deprived by injury of Mike Gatting, who had been in better form than anyone. Gatting, the vice-captain, had his nose broken by Malcolm Marshall in the first one-day international, misjudging the ball to hook, and the consequences were long-lasting both in playing terms and psychologically.
Three days after Gatting's injury, England were in the thick of the Test series on a dangerous Kingston pitch, and within two more had been beaten by ten wickets after being demolished twice in 88 overs and two balls. Almost overnight another star fast bowler, Patrick Patterson, had risen in the firmament. Raw at that stage, but very quick, he took seven wickets on his début and left more mental scars and bruises than Marshall on a fast, uneven pitch. Well grassed for about four yards either side of centre, and bare in the areas forward of the popping-creases, the playing surface could not have underlined with greater emphasis the disparity between the two teams' bowling strength if its preparation had been left to West Indies four-pronged pace attack itself.
England might conceivably have recovered from that unnerving experience had Gatting been on hand to pump some ginger into them. But while he was at home for three weeks, having attention to his nose, the side was like a ship without a rudder. It was a great credit to Gower that he pulled his batting together to average 37 in the Tests, having scored only 27 runs in five innings before the series started. But his inability to lift a beaten team's morale, with Graham Gooch as the temporary vice-captain, was as apparent as in 1984. Gower is among the most graceful figures in the game, a lovely natural strokeplayer who is well liked by his fellow-players, not least because of his unselfishness. But instead of the strong leader England needed in those crucial weeks, they had a dilettante. Regrettably, it was not only that he had no faith in practice - a weakness exacerbated by Ian Botham's presence - but sometimes he seemed even to lack interest. In the opening fixture, for example, against Windward Islands in St. Vincent, he not only decided not to play, but on the second day went sailing. There was scant encouragement in that for Greg Thomas and David Smith, the two first tourists.
To lose 0-2, or 1-3, would have been a good result for England, given the known gulf between the teams. For the margin to have been as close as that, however, certain key players, notably among the batsmen, had to play to top ability. In the event, Gower was the only one to average more than 30 in the Tests, while of the bowlers only John Emburey enhanced his reputation. His success should be measured not by his Test average (32.00) but rather by the fact that he dismissed Richie Richardson, the West Indies number three, in six successive innings. By the final Test, he had him in his grip.
Though it undoubtedly reflected upon the inconsistency of England's faster bowlers that Emburey, with fourteen, should be the leading wicket-taker, he bowled his off-spin beautifully. A word for Thomas in that context, though. A poor fourth Test cost him his place in Antigua in the final Test, and he showed that he needed to work hard on his line. But he bowled with a bit of pace and no lack of heart. Picked on debatable credentials - a succession of injuries and only 34 wickets in the Championship for Glamorgan in 1985 - he vindicated the selectors' judgement. He has it in him to be England's spearhead.
Another pleasant surprise was how little the anti-apartheid protests infringed themselves on matters. There were many threats before the tour of strong reaction to the presence of four players - Gooch, Emburey, Peter Willey and Les Taylor - who had toured South Africa under the banner of the South African Breweries XI in 1982. Noisy demonstrations were staged outside Queen's Park Oval in Port-of-Spain during England's first fortnight there, but at no stage did they become physical, and they had largely fizzled out by the time the team returned to Trinidad at the end of March. England were under police escort in every island; but there is nothing new in that on modern tours to third world countries.
The demonstrations, and a number of hostile editorials in the local press, were nevertheless a factor in the team's decline through the effect they had on Gooch. As captain of that side in South Africa, he was invariably the main target of the protesters' opprobrium. Ironically, his superb 129 not out - England's only hundred - in the one-day international at Port-of-Spain did more than anything to take the wind out of the protesters' sails. Unfortunately he took no steps to prevent his edginess being apparent to the team, and feelings were mixed when he was persuaded by Gower to stay on for the final Test, rather than make a protest of his own, following a derogatory article by Lester Bird, the Deputy Prime Minister of Antigua, by flying home from Trinidad. Donald Carr, the secretary of the Test and County Cricket Board, made a special journey to discuss that issue with Gooch; but it was Gower, by appealing to his loyalty, who talked him out of a move that might well have damaged his career.
Botham had a dreadful tour in every imaginable way. England may not have fared any better in results had he not been picked, but they could only have pulled together better. His aversion to net practice set a bad example, and only once, when he was under threat of being dropped, did he produce a good performance with the ball. Allegations in a British Sunday newspaper concerning his behaviour during the fortnight in Barbados added to the problems of Tony Brown, the manager. It was a hard tour for him, complicated by the fact that Bob Willis, his assistant, who was in charge of practice, lacked the imagination or initiative to make the best of poor facilities.
The worst error of the selection panel - choosing only two opening batsmen in Gooch and Tim Robinson - was camouflaged to a certain extent by the arrival of Wilf Slack as batting reinforcement after the first of Gatting's injuries. (Rejoining the tour in mid-March, Gatting immediately suffered a broken thumb in the match against Barbados.) But the folly of tackling a West Indies tour on the assumption that both openers would hit form, while avoiding injury themselves, was shown clearly enough by Robinson's exposure by the fast bowlers. In 21 innings he was bowled nine times and had a single-figure average in the Tests.
Phil Edmonds, the other spinner, took only three expensive wickets in the first three Tests. Nevertheless, as one of the most determined members of the party, he made a gallant attempt to show the senior batsmen that even a tailender could sometimes frustrate the opposition by ignoring short-pitched balls and by taking every opportunity to play forward in defence. His omission from the last two Tests was due more to the repeated batting break-downs higher in the order than to the shortage of his wickets. For following a visit by P. B. H. May, the chairman of selectors, to Barbados, where the tourists lost three times, England's priority was to stop the rot. The resultant inclusion of an extra batsman left no room for Edmonds: to the cost not only of balance in attack but also of a standard of fielding that on more than one occasion embarrassingly reflected the lack of proper preparation.
Smith, preferred to Slack at Port-of-Spain in the fourth Test, justified his selection by top-scoring in each innings, a feat which, had he followed it with a good match at St John's, must have enhanced his prospects in England in 1986. However, he withdrew on the morning of the final Test with a recurrence of his back trouble. Willey and Richard Ellison, after starting strongly in the first Test with, respectively, a sterling 71 and an analysis of five for 78 in 33 overs, also met later disappointment. Willey's second-highest Test score was 26, and he was struggling to keep his place when, on an unaccompanied evening run in Trinidad, he badly jarred an old knee injury and flew home before the final week. It was a sorry reward for the training schedule he had imposed upon himself to retain peak fitness at the age of 36. Ellison, unlucky in the second Test, missed the third through illness and was neglected for the fourth in conditions suited to his method.
Allan Lamb was another to fall back after encouraging beginnings, while Neil Foster never did himself full justice and Taylor and Bruce French were given little opportunity, Taylor despite a steady effort in the first one-day international. For French, the tour was a disheartening repetition of his Indian experience in 1984-85, the selectors seeming scarcely to look beyond Paul Downton as wicket-keeper in the major games, even though his batting was no longer a factor in his favour. He passed 20 once in nineteen innings, and his performance with the gloves was uneven.
It must be reiterated, though, that through their fast bowlers West Indies were always certain winners in the conditions that prevailed. It was fitting that Richards should crown their superiority with his devastating 56-ball hundred in the final Test, the fastest ever in Test cricket in terms of balls received. But there are ways and ways of losing. Once England fell love-two behind, they seemed to lose their appetite to fight. There were certain notable exceptions, but for the last month of the tour too many of the team, sub-consciously or otherwise, gave the appearance of scoring off the days before they could return to England. At nearly £900 a week per head, they owed the Test selectors, and the British public, a good deal more than that.
ENGLAND TOUR RESULTS
Test matches - Played 5: Lost 5
First-class matches - Played 10: Won 1, Lost 7, Drawn 2
Win - Jamaica.
Losses - Windward Islands, West Indies (5), Barbados.
Draws - Leeward Islands, Trinidad & Tobago.
Non first-class - Played 4: Won 1, Lost 3, Win - West Indies. Losses - West Indies (3).
Match reports for