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Opinion

The best Aussie Test XI of the 1980s

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Roar Guru
17th May, 2020
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1272 Reads

Thanks to the ABC radio commentary, I followed the Australian cricket in the 1980s with great interest.

At the beginning of the decade they had a strong team, but it often failed to get the results on the field. There was a lack of unity among the Kerry Packer players and the non-Packer players. The retirement of three greats of the game together started a bleak period in Australian cricket.

Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee

Rod Marsh keeps wicket to Dennis Lillee. The pair both retired in the early ’80s. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Yet this bleak period also saw the emergence of some highly talented cricketers who would serve Australian cricket with great distinction for a long time.

And the Aussies finished the decade on a high, regaining the Ashes in a grand fashion in 1989.

Here, I have formed the Australian Test XI for the 1980s. However, I have taken a liberty or two. I have excluded Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee, classifying them as cricketers belonging to the ’70s. Mark Taylor and Ian Healy were put in the ’90s group.

So, here is my team.

David Boon
One of the best ODI openers of his time, Boon succeeded in both his roles as an opener and as a number three in Test cricket. However, most of his success in the ’80s was as an opening bat.

In fact, he scored his first Test ton in his first innings as an Australian opener. He scored 123 against India in Adelaide in December 1985, and followed this with another hundred in the series at the SCG, defying the Indian spinners on a turning track for almost six hours. He seemed to enjoy facing the Indian spinners, because in the autumn he scored a fine ton at Madras in the famous tied Test.

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He struggled against the out-swingers of Graham Dilley in the Australian summer, but after scoring 143 at the Gabba against NZ and 184 not out against England at the SCG during the 1987-88 season, he didn’t look back.

An injury to Geoff Marsh gave him the chance to open at the WACA in November 1989 against an inexperienced Kiwi attack. And he took this opportunity with both hands, smashing a career-best 200.

Kepler Wessels
He scored almost 2000 runs at an average of over 40 in his three-year spell with the Australian team. While he didn’t achieve the consistency expected of him, scores like 162 at the Gabba against England in his debut match, 141 against Sri Lanka in Kandy, 179 against Pakistan in Adelaide and 173 against the West Indies at the SCG boosted his average a great deal.

The knock against the West Indies in 1984 was his best. It helped Australia end the long unbeaten run of the Windies in Tests.

But then Wessels failed to perform up to expectation in the Ashes tour of 1985 against a mediocre England attack. And he soon left Australian cricket following an altercation with the ACB.

Graham Yallop
The left-hander from Victoria batted in different positions in his 39-match Test career. In fact he batted in four different positions in the Ashes series of 1981. But he batted at number three in his debut Test against the West Indies, and his highest score of 268 came at the MCG against Pakistan in 1983, again batting at three.

Graham Yallop

(S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

He seemed to have a liking for the Pakistan attack. He started the decade scoring 172 at Faisalabad, and in the process he shared a double-century stand with the skipper Greg Chappell (235).

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Then in the home series against Pakistan in 1983-84, three left-handers (Wessels, Wayne Phillips and Yallop) were picked as the top three in a bid to tame the threat of the leggie Abdul Qadir. And the trio did their job admirably.

Yallop started the series with 141 at the WACA and then delighted his home fans with a double hundred at the MCG. He failed to impress in the 1984-85 season and ended his Test career by joining the rebel tour to South Africa.

Allan Border
No need to talk about this inclusion. But there were three interesting things regarding Border that I have noticed.

First, prior to his almost match-wining knock of 62* at the MCG against England, he had struggled for runs for almost a year. Some felt that he was already past his best.

Secondly, although he ended up being a very successful captain in Australian history, initially he was a reluctant captain. He was especially upset after the series loss in NZ in 1986. He felt that the team wasn’t responding to his calls.

And finally, he showed a lot of faith in his inexperienced attack when he set India a target of 348 from 87 overs in Madras in 1986. At the end, the spinners just managed to bail him out.

Allan Border bats

(Photo by Adrian Murrell/Getty Images)

Dean Jones
While I couldn’t find a place for my hero Kim Hughes in this team, at least Jones – who often reminded me of Hughes in his batting style – has made the team at number five. I always felt that five was the right place for him in Test matches. He often struggled against the moving ball while batting at three.

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Also, being a terrific runner between the wickets, he often excelled while batting with the tail-enders. During his 184 not out at the SCG against England in January 1987, he took the Australian score from 7-232 to 343 all out. And then during his career-best 216 in Adelaide against the West Indies in early 1989, he added almost 200 runs together with the tail-enders.

During his only Ashes tour in 1989, he scored a couple of massive hundreds at Edgbaston and at the Oval.

Steve Waugh
When I first made my list, Waugh seemed a certain inclusion. After all, he was an Australian skipper and a legend. But a closer look at his Test records in the 1980s cast serious doubts in my mind, and it the end he just made it.

Prior to the Ashes series in 1989, he scored 1099 runs with a poor average of 30. He finished the year with almost 2000 runs and his average had jumped to 44. Three not-out innings greatly helped this improvement: 177 not out at Headingley, his first Test ton, which was 152 not out at Lord’s, and 134 not out against Sri Lanka in Hobart.

There was no doubt that Steve Waugh was extremely lucky to get the number of chances that he did. He seemed a great favourite of the Australian selectors throughout his career. To his great credit, he made most of his opportunities, finishing with almost 11,000 Test runs with an average of 51.

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Wayne Phillips
My rather arbitrary decision to overlook both Rod Marsh and Ian Healy, both legends of Australian cricket, put me in a bit of dilemma regarding my keeper selection. Tim Zoehrer was a highly competent keeper, but his inability to contribute with the bat went against him.

In the end I picked Wayne Phillips from South Australia. While he didn’t always keep wickets for the baggy greens, the fact that he was considered as the first replacement for the great Rod Marsh suggests that the selectors had a high opinion of his keeping abilities.

As a batsman, his average of 32 doesn’t reflect his true abilities. His two Test hundreds – 159 at the WACA against Abdul Qadir and his 120 at Bridgetown against the the West Indies pace battery in 1984 – were demonstrations of high quality batting. Sadly, there was not enough consistency.

He got into the Australian team in 1983-84, as the team was approaching a difficult period. There was an unsettled look about the team from early 1984. This didn’t help his development as an international cricketer.

Geoff Lawson
While Terry Alderman always excelled in English conditions, Lawson generally shone on home pitches. In 1982-83, he played a pivotal part in Australia regaining the Ashes. He took 11 wickets at the Gabba and nine at the Adelaide Oval to set up Australian victories.

Ian Botham plays a hook shot

(Photo by Adrian Murrell/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

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In the next season, he took nine wickets at the SCG to help Australian beat Pakistan. But perhaps he was at his very best during the 1984-85 series against the West Indies. He troubled all the Windies batsmen including Viv Richards with his pace and variations. His 11-wicket haul at the Adelaide Oval earned him the man-of-the-match award despite the Windies winning the match easily.

Persistent injuries meant that he played little cricket for Australia in the second half of the decade, but he did have a successful Ashes tour in 1989 before his retirement.

Bob Holland
Australia tried almost a dozen spinners during the 1980s with little success. Bruce Yardley had a memorable season in 1981-82, but I have picked Bob Holland from NSW for his match-winning potential, especially at the SCG.

During the difficult years, 1985 and 1986, Australia won just three Tests – and Holland was part of all three. His ten-wicket hauls at his favourite SCG helped Australia win against the West Indies and NZ, and he took a five-for in the second innings at Lord’s and Australia won by four wickets.

While he struggled against the quick-footed Indian batsmen at the SCG in January 1986, he was unlucky not to get a recall against the Englishmen later in the year.

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Craig McDermott
The big Queensland quickie made an immediate impression in his debut series against the West Indies in 1984-85. In two Tests he took ten wickets. He bowled with plenty of heart and plenty of fire to take 30 wickets in the Ashes series.

But with Terry Alderman and Rodney Hogg banned and Lawson struggling for fitness, he became Australia’s main strike bowler at the age of 20. Perhaps it was a burden that was a bit too heavy for him as his own form declined for a period. Also, like Lawson, he too was a bit injury prone.

But the success in the 1987 World Cup came as a big boost for him and he ended his career with almost 300 Test wickets.

He didn’t have enough variety in his bowling to be ranked among the greats of the game, but he worked hard on his fitness and always gave 100 per cent. These attributes worked well for him in the Border-Bob Simpson era.

Terry Alderman
In 1981, Alderman had a terrific debut series in England, but the brilliance of Ian Botham denied him more recognition for his efforts.

But he survived a three-year ban to return to England in 1989, and he played a big part in the 4-0 thrashing.

Alderman’s selection here is mainly based on his Ashes performances in England. For Australian conditions, I would prefer both Bruce Reid and Merv Hughes over him.

The 12th man is Greg Matthews, the captain is Allan Border, the coach is Bob Simpson, and the tour guide is Ray Bright.

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