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Memorable bowling performances in the 1980s: Part 1

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Roar Guru
12th June, 2020

In the game of cricket, the batsmen generally get the greater share of the limelight.

The great writers have used plenty of words to describe the cover drive of Victor Trumper or David Gower’s effortless timing.

In contrast, the bowlers rarely get the attention.

Yet, generally, it’s the bowlers who win Test matches. The value of match-winning bowlers can’t be underestimated.

The modern era of Pakistan cricket started in 1977 with the emergence of Imran Khan as a genuine match-winning bowler. New Zealand enjoyed a golden era in the 1980s mainly because of Sir Richard Hadlee. Mike Brearley mainly has to thank his two main bowlers, Bob Willis and Ian Botham, for his brilliant captaincy record.

Here, in this two-part article, I will describe 11 memorable bowling efforts from the 1980s. I have selected one memorable performance each for the years 1980 to 1989 with one exception – in 1981 there is a tie between Bob Willis and Dennis Lillee.

Kapil Dev: 7-56 (second innings) against Pakistan in Madras, 1980
In the early days of Indian cricket history, Madras was something of a lucky venue for the home team. They recorded their first ever Test victory at this venue.

So it was quite fitting that Sunil Gavaskar’s India inflicted a ten-wicket win over the Pakistanis here in early 1980, to ensure the series victory with a match to go. It was their first series victory over their arch rivals for almost three decades.

However, this time the crowd at Chepauk saw something different. They were accustomed to seeing the likes of Vinoo Mankad, Salim Durani or Erapalli Prasanna show their magic of spin. But this time it was the new star in Indian cricket, Kapil Dev, who produced a hostile spell of pace bowling to lead his team to success.


After Pakistan were restricted to 272 all out – Kapil taking 4-90 – the hosts replied with 430. Skipper Gavaskar scored a patient 166. Kapil scored a typically aggressive 84 from 98 balls.

Many Pakistan supporters like me expected them to fight back, but the match was effectively over when Kapil, in a superb spell of new-ball bowling, dismissed Sadiq Mohammad, Mudassar Nazar and Zaheer Abbas to reduce the opposition to 3-33.

Javed Miandad and Wasim Raja produced some resistance, scoring half centuries, but left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi dismissed them. And then Kapil cleaned up the tail to finish with 11 wickets in the match.

Honourable mention: Sir Richard Hadlee, 5-34 and 6-68 in Dunedin against the West Indies.

Bob Willis: 8-43 (second innings) against Australia at Headingley and Dennis Lillee: 7-83 (first innings) against the West Indies at the MCG, 1981
Bob Willis’ 8-43 not only changed the course of the Ashes summer, it resurrected his own Test career. While he was still a steady performer with the cherry, there were pundits who questioned his match-winning ability late in his career.

However, he got the support of recalled captain Mike Brearley, and Brearley brought the best out of Willis in the final afternoon.

But for Willlis’ match-winning spell, Ian Botham’s 149 not out would have been just a fighting hundred for a losing cause.

Former England cricket captain Bob Willis

(PA FILE via AP)


Lillee’s 7-83 came in equally dramatic circumstances. After Kim Hughes’ brilliant hundred gave the home side a fighting chance, Lillee produced a late burst that shocked the best batting line-up in the world.

Viv Richards was bowled by Lillee for two. That was perhaps the big moment of this Boxing Day fixture.

Lillee took ten wickets in the Test as Australia achieved a rare victory against the West Indies in the 1980s.

Honourable mention: Ian Botham, 5-11 (second innings) against Australia at Edgbaston.

Mudassar Nazar: 6-32 (second innings) against England at Lord’s, 1982
Mohsin Khan’s double hundred gave Pakistan a fine start to this Test, and leg spinner Abdul Qadir then took 4-39 to restrict England to 227. The follow-on was enforced, but with frequent rain interventions, the Pakistanis needed quick wickets.

And despite the presence of Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz and Abdul Qadir in the team, Mudassar Nazar – the man with the golden arm for Pakistan – emerged as the bowling hero.

He was struggling with the bat, with scores of 0, 0 and 20 until then in the series. His position in the team looked to be in doubt. But his bowling at Lord’s made him a national hero.

First he quickly ran though the top order, leaving England tottering at 3-9. Half centuries from Ian Botham and Chris Tavare raised hopes of England saving the match. But early on the final day, he produced the big breakthroughs, dismissing Botham and Mike Gatting in quick succession.


He eventually finished with 6-32, and although the England tail added some vital runs, the Pakistanis won the match by ten wickets.

It was their first ever Test win at Lord’s, and only their second against England. England won the series after an exciting finish at Headingley, but the Pakistanis won their first ever series in England in 1987. Mudassar this time contributed handsomely with the bat.

Honourable mention: Imran Khan, 8-40 (second innings) in Karachi against India.

Lance Cairns: 7-74 (first innings) against England at Headingley, 1983
Back in the 1970s, NZ were considered the whipping boys of world cricket. However, in the 1980s they gradually built their team around Sir Richard Hadlee and became a force in world cricket. At Headinlgey in July 1983, they recorded their first ever Test win in England.

Quite remarkably, Hadlee – the champion medium-pacer – didn’t pick up a single wicket in the match. For once, the back-up seamers came to the limelight. I should add that, being the great all-rounder that he was, Hadlee contributed 75 with the bat in the Kiwi first innings.

For Lance Cairns, the third seamer in the Kiwi attack, his time came on the first evening. Geoff Howarth’s decision to put the opposition in seemed silly when England reached 3-175 with Sir Ian Botham looking in ominous touch. While Chris Tavare was accumulating the runs in his own way at one end, Botham was smashing everything. His 33-ball 38 ended when the Kiwi skipper caught him off Cairns.

And this completely changed the course of the match. Jeremy Coney dismissed Tavare, and Cairns ran through the tail to finish with his career-best figures of 7-74. England lost their last seven wickets for 50 runs to be bowled out for 225. Howarth was right to trust his seam attack.

Cairns picked up 3-70 in the second innings to complete a ten-wicket haul. With the bat, Cairns smashed 24 from 21 balls, batting in his usual fashion.


NZ won the match by five wickets. Interestingly, Willis – the England captain – tried a repeat of 1981, taking 5-35 in the second innings, but the Kiwis held their nerve to reach the target of 101.

Cairns was the obvious choice for the man-of-the-match award.

Honourable mention: Andy Roberts, 5-39 (second innings) against India in Kingston.

(Wiki Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Malcolm Marshall 6-37 (second innings) against India in Calcutta and 7-53 (second innings) against England at Headingley, 1984
This year, 1984, was a year of almost total domination of world cricket by the Windies. At one stage they won 11 Tests in a row.

In this scenario it is highly appropriate that a the West Indies bowler is selected. Even then the choice wasn’t easy. There were so many superb displays of hostile fast bowling.

When Marshall left the field with a finger injury after bowling six economical overs on the first morning of the Test, it was expected that he would play no further part in the match. But then he contributed four runs batting at number 11 and helped Larry Gomes complete a fine hundred.

The match was perfectly balanced. Despite Gomes’ hundred, the Windies’ lead was only 32. But then the England batting was blown away by Marshall.


After running thorough the top order on the third evening, he returned to clean up the tail after the rest day. Marshall finished with 7-53 as the West Indies won by eight wickets. The match was over on the fourth afternoon.

With the series over, Marshall took a rest in the fourth match and then returned at the Oval to haunt English batsmen yet again.

Honourable mentions: Geoff Lawson, 8-112 (first innings) for a losing cause against the West Indies at the Adelaide Oval; Michael Holding, 6-21 (first innings) against Australia at the WACA; Malcolm Marshall, 5-35 (first innings) against England at the Oval. Wisden described this as “a brutal display of fast bowling”.