England's tour of Australia resembled its predecessor in that a key player suffered severe damage to a finger within a week of arrival, in each case with far-reaching consequences. In 1990-91, Graham Gooch, the captain, was kept out of the First Test, which England duly lost inside three days. In 1994-95, Alec Stewart's broken index finger mended in time for him to play in Brisbane. But when he broke it again in the Second Test in Melbourne, and sustained a further blow to it as soon as he was passed fit to reappear - against Victoria just before the Fourth Test - Mike Atherton was deprived of his regular opening partner in all the last three Tests.
In a series in which it was clear from the start that England needed luck to smile on them, the handicap of Stewart's absence might alone have ensured that Australia kept the Ashes. In the event, England's misfortune with illness and injuries was so uniformly foul that the vice-captain's was merely the first item on a list so long that six replacements were required. Granted Australia's known superiority, especially in bowling through Shane Warne's devastating leg-spin and Craig McDermott's fire and pace, it was no disgrace in the circumstances that, after being two down with three to play, England held the margin to 3-1. The Executive Committee of the Test and County Cricket Board took a different view, however. Within a month of the tour ending, Keith Fletcher was told by A. C. Smith, the TCCB's chief executive, that his contract as team manager had been terminated midway through its five-year course. Two days later, Smith announced that Ray Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, was in addition to take on Fletcher's duties, and stressed that the county chairmen and secretaries had pledged their full support. He appeared to find no irony in the fact that the self-same functionaries had just granted Benson and Hedges a five-year extension to a competition that was probably the most disruptive on the fixture-list from the selectors' point of view.
The longer the tour lasted, the more obvious it became that in the small print of the game - fielding, running between wickets, practice techniques, plus attitude to practice - England were running second not only to Australia, but to state and colts teams too: successive defeats by Cricket Academy XIs at North Sydney Oval on a weekend in December ranked among their worst humiliations. In mitigation, though, better teams than Atherton's might have been demoralised by the spate of injuries.
Darren Gough, the find of the tour with 20 wickets in three Tests and some carefree batting down the order, and Graeme Hick, who averaged 41.60 at No. 3, both missed the last two Tests, suffering respectively from a broken foot and a slipped disc. But the most damaging setback to morale probably came when the attacking spearhead, Devon Malcolm, went down with chicken-pox 48 hours before the First Test. Inconsistent though he had always been, Malcolm's nine for 57 had shattered South Africa in England's most recent Test and he had also played a significant role in their only win over Australia in 1993, where he removed all of the top six batsmen. His physical presence, as well as his pace, meant a lot to England psychologically, so that when Mark Taylor won the toss and, with Michael Slater, hammered Phil DeFreitas and Martin McCague for 26 in the first four overs, the whole team's confidence was in tatters.
Slater went on to score 176, the first of his three hundreds in the series, with Mark Waugh contributing a classical 140 to Australia's 426. When England, batting feebly, permitted McDermott to rout them for 167, Australia might have won by an innings had Taylor enforced the follow-on. To give an exceptionally dry pitch its best chance of breaking up, however, he decided to bat again. Despite Australia's massive victory - 184 runs - and the fact that Warne took eight for 71 in the second innings, Taylor's decision seemed mistaken; Hick and Graham Thorpe went some of the way towards restoring England's self-esteem in a stand of 160. But a month later Australia won the Second Test by an even wider margin, and it was clear the captain's apparent generosity had done their cause no lasting harm.
In addition to Gough and Hick, McCague, the Kent fast bowler, who had a stress fracture of the shin, Yorkshire all-rounder Craig White and Hampshire off-spinner Shaun Udal, both with torn side muscles, also flew home early. Stewart would have joined them if his wife and small son had not been holidaying in Perth. His Surrey team-mate Joey Benjamin, whose chicken-pox was wrongly diagnosed as shingles, went four weeks without a game mid-tour; like Udal, he was never in serious contention for a Test place. There were lesser injuries for Atherton (back), Thorpe (adductor), Defreitas (groin and hamstring) and John Crawley (calf). Even physio David Roberts broke a finger in fielding practice.
Hollow laughter was afforded by the fact that the oldest players, 41-year-old Graham Gooch and 37-year-old Mike Gatting, were available for every match, a distinction shared only by Steve Rhodes and Phil Tufnell among the original 16. In order of call-up, England were reinforced by Angus Fraser, Mark Ilott, Jack Russell, Neil Fairbrother, Chris Lewis and Mark Ramprakash. After a brief stay without playing, Ilott joined the A team in India; Russell's only appearance was as a substitute in Bendigo; while Fairbrother failed to see the tour out after falling awkwardly on his right shoulder in a World Series game.
England's many injuries and the high standard of batting and fielding in Australia (Warne and McDermott excepted, they were not overstocked with bowlers) were not the only reasons the tourists were so consistently outclassed, however. Two ill-judged pieces of selection by Illingworth's panel - the original omission of Fraser and the inclusion of both Gooch and Gatting - also played their part, as did Atherton's lack of drive and urgency as captain. M. J. K. Smith's narrow interpretation of his duties as manager and distant treatment of the media, to the disadvantage of both parties, were also sadly unenlightened.
The only criticism that could be levelled at Atherton's batting was that he passed 40 in ten of his 20 first-class innings without going on to make a hundred. Atherton's resolution and commitment were unquestioned. As captain, however, he was unable to communicate his aggression to the players. On a personal level, he created temporary disunity within the team when he deprived Hick of a virtually certain hundred by declaring in the Sydney Test.
As Fraser was to prove when he replaced McCague, he should have been an automatic choice in the original 16. At 29, he had lost some of the explosiveness he possessed before his hip and back injuries on England's previous tour Down Under, but he was still by far the best and most accurate bowler of his type. Having captained England in Australia, Illingworth should have known how valuable it would be to Atherton to have a seamer who could shut a game down, especially with the unreliable Malcolm as his likely partner. The other mistake lay in backing experience to the extent of picking two old stagers, Gooch and Gatting, in a country whose conditions so much favoured youth. Not since Jack Hobbs in 1928-29 had an English batsman in his 40s enjoyed a successful series in Australia and Gooch's record in the last five Tests of 1994 - 152 runs at 16.88 - hardly suggested he could reverse the trend. Gatting was actually the sounder choice, despite having lost his place after the Lord's Test of 1993, and the fact that he owed his recall to the hope, optimistic as it turned out, that his belligerence against spin might unsettle Warne. In the event, though they trained and practised hard together - and England would not have won the Adelaide Test without Gatting's battling hundred - neither was able, overall, to justify selection. They were not blessed by luck in the Tests, Gooch getting the sticky end of an lbw decision in Sydney when he was shaping to play his best innings of the series, and Gatting being out to three balls from McDermott he would have been relieved to survive in his prime. But Gooch's aggregate of 245 from ten innings and Gatting's of 182 from nine were a fair reflection of their impact. Both announced their retirement from Test cricket as the tour was drawing to a close.
When naming the 16, Illingworth made a point of saying the selectors' priority had been to pick a team capable of winning back the Ashes. But their failure even to reach the finals of the one-day World Series ahead of Australia's second string highlighted their poor standards of fielding. These were typified by Crawley, who, though only 23, was omitted in favour of Gooch for the opening World Series game. Once Stewart and White were injured, Gooch held his place for all six qualifiers. But his and others' lack of mobility was a severe handicap. Irrespective of whether they were engaged in a five-day Test or a 50-overs game, England's fielding and running between wickets were conceding half a run an over against Australia and Australia A, and little less against the state teams. Before cricket writers wearied of the topic, England's practice sessions were derided in Australian newspapers. When Greg Baum of The Age began his preview to the Melbourne Test by writing: "England trained and grass grew at the MCG yesterday, two activities virtually indistinguishable from one another in tempo, but each with its own fascination," he was considered to be in greater peril of being sued for libel by the grass.
Of those still present when the series ended with Australia's crushing win in Perth, only Thorpe enhanced his stature: had he scored six instead of nought in his final innings, he would have averaged 50. Of his nine dismissals, Warne was responsible for five, the last with the help of an expert stumping by Ian Healy when Thorpe, with 123, had completed only the second hundred of the series for England. By scoring 444, though - all but 200 more than anyone but Atherton - Thorpe substantiated the belief that Warne's threat decreased when he was bowling to left-handers. Apart from a hot-headed attempt to take the initiative in the second innings in Melbourne, when conservation of wickets was clearly the order of the day, Thorpe appeared to have the temperament, as well as the technique, to be a fixture in the team for several years.
Gough, whose high-spirited delight in taking part made him a favourite both with spectators and his team-mates, was the other great success. His bowling had lacked discipline in the last two Tests against South Africa, but here he responded to Atherton's warning that, if he placed too much reliance on his bouncer, yorker and slower ball, they would lose the value of surprise. Consequently, he put more work into improving his stock ball and was rewarded when it earned more than half his 20 Test wickets. In Sydney, where he followed a breezy 56-ball 51 by taking six for 49, he had the pleasure of receiving a note from Ray Lindwall. It read: "Well batted, well bowled. Great effort. You will remember this match for ever. Keep up the great work and best wishes for the future." Gough showed his own respect for history by going to visit 90-year-old Harold Larwood in his Sydney bungalow.
Not even Malcolm's chicken-pox deflated the tourists more than Gough's injury, which came a week after the Sydney Test as he jumped into his delivery stride in a day/night match at Melbourne, shortly after he had completed a match-winning 45. Contrarily, England's record improved following his departure, thanks to Australia's random batting in the second innings in Adelaide. But there was as little doubt that Gough belonged in the side as that vigorous rebuilding was required.
Allowances had to be made for Tufnell, in that he was often obliged to bowl over the wicket to a leg-side field, which did not suit his temperament or style; the mercurial Lewis took 11 wickets in the last two Tests, and sharpened up the fielding; and Ramprakash advanced his claims by scoring 72 and 42 in Perth. Crawley's moderate fielding detracted from the composure of his batting; Rhodes had a patchy tour as wicket-keeper and failed with the bat; while Defreitas and Malcolm each paid more than 40 for his Test wickets. It was no surprise that the team had been turned upside down again midway through the home series that followed.
Australia looked unbeatable in the first two Tests, when it seemed Taylor had only to throw Warne the ball for wickets to start tumbling. His figures in Brisbane and Melbourne were 112.2-43-190-20, including, in the Second Test, his first hat-trick. In the New Year, however, his workload increased when off-spinner Tim May was dropped, and inevitably it took its toll: in the last three Tests Warne's seven wickets cost 51.28 apiece. By Perth, rather than touring New Zealand and the Caribbean, Warne looked in need of a holiday to rest his bowling shoulder.
Even so, it was a tribute to McDermott's strength that, at 29, he outlasted a spinner four years his junior, taking 32 wickets to Warne's 27. That eight supporting bowlers had to be content with 30 wickets, though, showed how much Australia relied on their big two. Damien Fleming, fast-medium swing and seam, was the most successful of the rest, with ten. Glenn McGrath's sharp form in Perth suggested England were lucky he bowled so untidily in Brisbane - he was left out of the following three Tests. Had Merv Hughes been even four-fifths the force he was in England in 1993, he might have opened the bowling with McDermott. But his legs were spluttering SOS signals about the increasing bulk they had to carry, and six games for Australia A were the closest he came to an international recall.
That the batting was less effective than in any Ashes series since 1986-87 could be explained on two counts. David Boon, at No. 3, suffered such a loss of confidence, passing 50 only once, in his century at Melbourne, that in the final Test Taylor sent in a night-watchman an un-Australian 25 minutes before the close to protect him. The second cause was Allan Border's retirement. On paper, Australia's top seven still looked as strong as any in the world. But without the reassuring presence of their unflappable ex-captain in the middle of the order, they were edgy under pressure. It was hard to imagine England bowling Australia out in four and a half hours in Adelaide, on a flat pitch, had Border been in charge. With Taylor as captain, however, the series was played in a better spirit than in Border's latter days.
Seeking to maintain the right-hand/left-hand balance, the selectors turned first to New South Wales left-hander Michael Bevan to fill the gap at No. 5. England discovered how good he was when his century for Australia A at Sydney in the World Series ensured that England would not reach the finals. In three Tests, though, he played without conviction, and was dropped. Such were Australia's resources that any one of three middle-order batsmen could have been chosen to replace him: Justin Langer, a dogged left-hander in the Border mould, his Western Australian captain Damien Martyn, or another outstanding strokeplayer, 20-year-old Ricky Ponting of Tasmania. Instead, because the dislocated shoulder Steve Waugh sustained in Pakistan still prevented him from bowling, the panel chose South Australia's Greg Blewett, a young opener cum medium-pacer, who vindicated their judgment by making hundreds in both his first two Tests, though he failed to take a wicket. With Border gone, though, and Boon out of sorts, there was a brittleness about the batting England had not experienced in three series.
The change was reflected by Australia's average partnership - 33.94 per wicket, compared with 57.86 in 1989, 38.57 in 1990-91 and 51.28 in 1993. One thing, regrettably, was incontestable: neither England's batting, bowling, nor fielding, nor organisation was improving. Of the 22 Tests played over the four series, Australia had won 14 compared with England's two - both of them achieved when the battle for the Ashes was already decided.
M. A. Atherton (Lancashire) (captain), A. J. Stewart (Surrey) (vice-captain), J. E. Benjamin (Surrey), J. P. Crawley (Lancashire), P. A. J. DeFreitas (Derbyshire), M. W. Gatting (Middlesex), G. A. Gooch (Essex), D. Gough (Yorkshire), G. A. Hick (Worcestershire), M. J. McCague (Kent), D. E. Malcolm (Derbyshire), S. J. Rhodes (Worcestershire), G. P. Thorpe (Surrey), P. C. R. Tufnell (Middlesex), S. D. Udal (Hampshire), C. White (Yorkshire).
McCague, White, Gough, Stewart, Udal and Hick were all forced out of the tour by injury. At various times the party was reinforced by N. H. Fairbrother (Lancashire) - who also withdrew through injury - A. R. C. Fraser (Middlesex) M. C. Ilott (Essex), C. C. Lewis (Nottinghamshire), M. R. Ramprakash (Middlesex) and R. C. Russell (Gloucestershire).
Tour manager: M. J. K. Smith ( Warwickshire). Team manager: K. W. R. Fletcher. Scorer: A. E. Davis (Warwickshire). Physiotherapist: D. G. Roberts (Worcestershire).
Test matches - Played 5: Won 1, Lost 3, Drawn 1.
First-class matches - Played 11: Won 3, Lost 4, Drawn 4.
Wins - Australia, South Australia, Queensland.
Losses - Australia (3), New South Wales.
Draws - Australia, Western Australia, Australian XI, Victoria.
One-day internationals - Played 4: Won 2, Lost 2. Wins - Australia, Zimbabwe. Losses - Australia, Zimbabwe. Note: Matches against Australia A did not have international status. Other non-first-class matches - Played 9: Won 4, Lost 5. Wins - ACB Chairman's XI, Bradman XI, Australian Capital Territory, Australia A. Losses - Western Australia, Prime Minister's XI, Australian Cricket Academy (2), Australia A.
Match reports for
ACB Chairman's XI v England XI at Perth (Lilac Hill), Oct 25, 1994
Western Australia v England XI at Perth, Oct 27, 1994
Western Australia v England XI at Perth, Oct 29-Nov 1, 1994
South Australia v England XI at Adelaide, Nov 4-7, 1994
Prime Minister's XI v England XI at Canberra, Nov 9, 1994
New South Wales v England XI at Newcastle, Nov 12-15, 1994
Australian XI v England XI at Hobart, Nov 18-21, 1994
Bradman XI v England XI at Bowral, Dec 2, 1994
Australian Capital Territory v England XI at Canberra, Dec 4, 1994
Australian Cricket Academy v England XI at Sydney, Dec 9-11, 1994
Australian Cricket Academy v England XI at Sydney, Dec 10, 1994
Australian Cricket Academy v England XI at Sydney, Dec 11, 1994
7th Match: Australia A v England at Melbourne, Dec 13, 1994
Queensland v England XI at Toowoomba, Dec 17-20, 1994
12th Match: Australia A v England at Sydney, Jan 12, 1995
Victoria v England XI at Bendigo, Jan 20-23, 1995