83 Days Until the Ashes…
In number 85 of our Ashes 100-1 countdown, Blaise Murphet looked back to 1985 when an Australian team weakened by the desertion of several key players to a rebel tour of South Africa was slain by David Gower’s talented England side.
Back in 1982-83, the shoe was on the other foot, as several England players were serving three year bans for participating in the first of a series of rebel tours to South Africa in the 1980’s. Three years doesn’t seem that long for deserting your country and legitimising the vile Apartheid regime for a few extra rand, but that was the fate of players like Graham Gooch, Geoff Boycott, Wayne Larkins, John Emburey, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood.
Facing an Australian side that included older heroes like Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee (although he only played one test due to injury), Rodney Marsh and Jeff Thomson, as well as younger stars like Allan Border, Kim Hughes, Geoff Lawson and David Hookes, a weakened England were always going to be up against it.
Without Gooch, England rarely got a good start with the bat and only David Gower and Derek Randall scored centuries and those two plus Allan Lamb were the only Englishmen to average over 40 for the series. As usual captain Bob Willis gave his all and took 18 wickets at 27, but none of the other bowlers shined with Ian Botham, the hero of 1981, having a disappointing series with bat and ball.
In contrast, Hughes, Chappell, Hookes, Border and Kepler Wessels all averaged over 40 for Australia with the bat whilst Thomson took 22 wickets at just under 19 and Geoff Lawson had 30 victims at 20 runs apiece.
After a draw at Perth, Australia secured comfortable wins at Brisbane and Adelaide, before an absolute humdinger of a test at Melbourne. In a finish reminiscent of Edgbaston in 2005, Australia looked like finishing some way short of their victory target of 292 when they slipped to 218 for nine. But Border and Thomson had other ideas and slowly but surely they knocked off the runs they needed for victory. By the close of play on the fourth day they only needed 37 for victory.
The pattern continued on the final morning and with just four runs needed, Australia looked set for a famous win. Then Botham induced an edge from Thomson. It should have been a straightforward catch for Chris Tavare, but he fumbled it and the ball spooned into the air behind him where a wide awake Geoff Miller snaffled the chance – see video.
Unfortunately for England, they couldn’t repeat the trick in the final test at Sydney where a win would have enabled them to retain the Ashes. Set a mammoth 460 to win in just over a day, England played out time with nightwatchman Eddie Hemmings scoring 95. The Ashes were back in the hands of Australia and a proportion of the blame lay at the feet of Gooch and the other money-grabbing rebels.
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