England held the Ashes for the most part of the 1980s before tamely surrendering them in the summer of 1989. It wasn’t a very successful decade for English cricket, but it was eventful.
A funny incident saw Geoffrey Boycott playing golf in a posh Calcutta club, while his England teammates were in the field at Eden Gardens. Boycott was promptly sent home on the next available flight and never played for England again.
There were rebel tours, two humiliating clean sweeps against the Windies in the middle of the decade, the summer of four captains in 1988, and the Ashes of 1989 a year later.
And the decade ended with rumours of more rebel tours.
Very few England players performed consistently in the 1980s. Still, in this two-part article, I have formed the strongest England Test XI for the decade.
In the first part, I will pick the top six in the batting line-up.
Graham Gooch reached his peak as a batman in 1990, approaching his 37th birthday. He had already lost most of his hair on his head by that time. In three successive innings against the Indians in the summer of 1990, he scored 333, 123 and 126. Earlier, he had scored 154 against the Kiwis.
His ’80s record was okay without being brilliant. A player who often seemed more comfortable against genuine pace than against the medium pacers like Terry Alderman, he often reserved his best against the Windies.
He scored 123 at Lord’s against the Windies in 1980 and then added couple of more hundreds in the Caribbean tour in the next year against the fearsome pace attack.
In 1984, he was preparing himself to face the West Indies pace battery again, as there were rumours that the rebels’ ban would be reduced to two years. The rumours were false and he had to wait until the Ashes summer of 1985.
He finished the season on a high, scoring 196 in the final Test at the Oval against a tired-looking Aussie attack. His next Test at Sabina Park in Kingston became an entirely different experience.
On the opening day, England were bowled out for only 159. On an under-prepared wicket, the West Indies bowlers – especially the debutant Patrick Patterson – seemed unplayable to the England batsmen. Wisden described the first day’s play as “cricket’s equivalent to the Somme”.
Gooch top-scored with 51, batting bravely for more than two hours. But he later admitted that he was constantly worried about being seriously hit in the body.
Neither Gooch nor anyone else recovered from the shock and England lost the series 5-0.
Gooch, however, redeemed himself somewhat, scoring over 450 runs in the 1988 series against the Windies at home. In the final Test at the Oval, Gooch made his England captaincy debut.
England achieved mixed results under his captaincy, but at least he made England competitive in Tests against the West Indies – something that was unthinkable in the mid-1980s.
In the recent Ashes battles, the rivalry between Stuart Broad and David Warner has become a prominent aspect. And the English fast bowler has enjoyed a considerable success.
He has one advantage. He had plenty of practice against left-handed openers during his teen days, bowling against his father Chris.
After Andy Lloyd’s Test career ended after half an hour at Edgbaston, Broad Senior replaced him at Lord’s. Broad showed plenty of courage against Marshall and company but didn’t score many runs. He was unceremoniously dropped at the end of the summer.
But he made a triumphant return in the Ashes series of 1986-87, scoring tons in three successive Tests. Add his 139 at SCG in the bicentennial match, and his average in Australia is 78.
All his six hundreds came outside England. His 116 against Abdul Qadir in Faisalabad and 114 against Sir Richard Hadlee in Christchurch were both quality innings.
It’s a pity that Broad never showed his best to the England crowd.
When Gatting was adjudged LBW after padding up to a Malcolm Marshall delivery at Lord’s in 1984, many thought that this would be the end of Gatting’s Test career. Almost seven years after his Test debut, he was yet to score a Test hundred.
But then Chris Tavare irked the England selectors with his slow batting against a weak Sri Lanka attack in the final Test of the summer, and Gatting was picked to bat at the number three position on the India tour. Already a successful captain of Middlesex, he was made David Gower’s deputy.
And everything clicked for Gatting on this tour. After scoring 136 in the opening Test in Bombay, he scored a career-best 207 in Madras in the fourth Test.
With his confidence restored, he was in prolific form for the next three years. During this period he matched the likes of Allan Border, Javed Miandad and Viv Richards in the amount of runs scored. Of course, he was a bit lucky to miss most of the disastrous Windies tour of 1986, after injuring himself in the first ODI.
He enjoyed a memorable time as England captain in Australia. Not only did his team win the Ashes, they also won two major ODI events. Although England lost the home series against Pakistan in 1987, he finished the season with a couple of fine hundreds.
Then on a turning track in Faisalabad, he smashed a quick-fire 79 from 81 balls against the Pakistan spinners. It was a great exhibition of batting against quality spin bowling. But then the infamous Shakoor Rana incident later in the Test completely shattered him.
Although his Test career went on until the 1994-95 Ashes series, he was never the same player again after the Rana incident.
As a batsman, he was a great entertainer. As a captain, he was very poor. And here I will concentrate more on his batting.
At his best, he could make batting look easy. Whatever runs he scored, he scored them with consummate ease. I can’t remember any fighting innings from Gower.
He was unpredictable too. In their opening first-class fixture of the disastrous 1986 tour of the Caribbean, the England team were bowled out for 94 by the Windward Islands, probably the weakest of the island teams. Both Gower and Ian Botham were rested for this match, and they were photographed enjoying their time on a yacht with beer cans.
Coming back to cricket, Gower struggled for runs. In the tour match against Jamaica, Courtney Walsh – still a fringe player in the West Indies team – tormented him with the short-pitched stuff. He scored only 16 and nine in the opening Test at Sabina Park.
Yet he overcame these initial setbacks to finish the series with 370 runs in the series. The average of 37 doesn’t look brilliant, but still many experts consider these runs to be more valuable than the 700-odd runs he scored in the previous Ashes summer.
The Ashes tour of 1986-87 followed similar patterns. After struggling initially in the tour matches, he finished the Test series with an average above 57. But then he averaged less than 30 in the home series against Imran Khan’s Pakistan. It was clear that just like Ian Botham, he was past his best.
The Ashes captaincy of 1989 was an unnecessary burden for him.
His Test career ended at the Oval in 1992, when Waqar Younis absolutely shattered his off stump.
There was nothing entertaining about his batting. Elegance wasn’t the word associated with his batting.
He was a hard hitter of the ball, scoring freely square of the wicket on the offside. He was a great improviser, which made him a dangerous and successful ODI batsman.
He was from South Africa. Ironically, he got his chance in 1982 partly due to the absence of the rebels touring South Africa. He made the most of his opportunities, scoring 107 against India at the Oval in only in his third Test.
In the initial years, he scored most of his Test runs in England. Two hundreds in the four-Test series against New Zealand in 1983 was followed by three consecutive hundreds against the West Indies in 1984. Of course, the hundreds against the Windies were for losing causes.
He scored another hundred against the West Indies at Lord’s in 1988, but Malcolm Marshall with ten wickets blew England away.
At least his 132 in Kingston in early 1990 helped England to a nine-wicket win.
Even before Botham’s Ashes, there was Botham’s Test, in Bombay in early 1980.
In February 1980, Bombay – the cricket capital of India – hosted a Test to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the forming of the BCCI. The authorities tried to host the event pretty much the way the Centenary Test was arranged at the MCG. However, in the end, the match failed to live up to its billing.
The Indian team were extremely tired. They had played almost non-stop cricket, starting with the World Cup in the previous June. This was their 17th Test in roughly eight months. England, too, were on their way home after a long tour to Australia.
For the record, England won by ten wickets early on the fourth day. Ian Botham took 13 wickets with the ball and scored 114 from 144 balls. This performance greatly enhanced his reputation as the best all-rounder in the game at the time.
After his Ashes heroics of ’81, it was never possible even for him to reach similar heights. But he was a consistent performer until the middle of the 1984 summer.
He took the winter off and then returned to take 31 wickets in the Ashes victory of 1985. But there was a clear decline in his outputs. In his last Ashes tour of 1986-87, he scored a ton in the opening Test at Gabba, and then took a five-for at the MCG on Boxing Day.
In the final Test of the 1987 summer, he played an uncharacteristic knock against Pakistan at the Oval. His 209-ball 51 not out combined with a Mike Gatting hundred saved the Test for the home side.
Botham was a given a desperate call during the Ashes series of 1989, but at that time he was nothing more than an average county cricketer.