With COVID and everything I figured it was time to do another one of these nerd-intensive-but-not-entirely-irrelevant nostalgia pieces about Test XIs of the past I wish Australian had chosen. This one looks at Australia’s 1982 tour of Pakistan (called 1982-83 but it all happened in 1982).
That tour doesn’t get talked much about in Australia these days. One can understand why – it wasn’t broadcast on TV here and we (well, the national men’s team, and I’m Australian) lost the Test series 3-0, and one-day series 2-0.
In fact Australia failed to win a single game on the entire tour. Maybe only Geoff Lawson, for whom the trip was something of a personal breakthrough, remembers it well. Oh, and Greg Ritchie, who scored a Test century. And connoisseurs of tours where games were called off by riots.
In Pakistan I’m sure it’s a different story. The series was a deserved triumph for cricket in that country, and in particular leg spinner Abdul Qadir, who took 22 wickets over three Tests. I remember when Pakistan came out here in 1983-84 Qadir had such terrifying mystery about him. What did he look like? How did he bowl? What was his secret?
Touring Pakistan seems like such ancient history now but was quite common in the 1980s – we went to Pakistan in 1980, 1982, and 1988. Pakistan came out here quite often too – ’81-82, ’83-84, and ’89-90.
And they were a big deal – not bigger than the West Indies or England but still pretty popular, full of sex symbols (Imran Khan), cult figures (Qasim Umar), pantomime villains (Javed Miandad) and never-ending mystique for Australians (‘did they really debut Test players at 16?’, ‘why were they always feuding?’, ‘why were all their first-class teams named after banks and railways?’).
Pakistan cricket dominated the early comedy stylings of The Twelfth Man. (Sidebar: has The Twelfth Man been cancelled? I’m not sure where he sits these days…)
Anyway, some background to the 1982 tour. Australia had beaten Pakistan 2-1 at home in 1981-82 but knew the going would be tougher over there. That tour in 1980 resulted in a 1-0 defeat, including two bat-heavy draws and one of Dennis Lillee’s worst bowling performances.
And we were terrible tourists at the time. From the 1977 Ashes until the 1989 Ashes Australia only won one overseas Test series, against Sri Lanka.
To make things worse three of Australia’s best players would not be available: Greg Chappell, Len Pascoe and Dennis Lillee. But mind you, Pakistan would be missing Sarfraz Nawaz, one of their best bowlers. And Greg Chappell was still on the selection panel (not that that necessarily was a positive).
Anyway the Australia squad selected was as follows.
1. Kim Hughes (captain)
2. Allan Border (vice-captain)
3. Graeme Wood
4. Bruce Laird
5. John Dyson
6. Greg Ritchie
7. Wayne Phillips (also back-up wicketkeeper)
8. Jeff Thomson
9. Geoff Lawson
10. Ian Callen
11. Terry Alderman
12. Bruce Yardley
13. Peter Sleep
14. Ray Bright
15. Rod Marsh
A lot of ink was spilt on the captaincy issue. Hughes had led Australia to an unsuccessful Ashes campaign in 1981 and there was a strong movement to replace him with Rod Marsh.
Apparently this went right down to the wire in March 1982, just before the squad for Pakistan was selected, but in the end the Australian Cricket Board decided to back Hughes (Christian Ryan’s book Golden Boy is the best source on this). This would turn out to be one of the most disastrous decisions of Australian cricket in the 1980s.
The selection of Hughes, Border, Wood, Laird and Dyson as batsmen was uncontroversial – all had enjoyed strong performances in the Test team. Both Ritchie and Phillips were coming off excellent domestic seasons… but both were very green.
1981-82 was only the second full season for Ritchie and first for Phillips. In hindsight maybe such an inexperienced batting line-up wasn’t ideal, especially considering Greg Chappell’s absence…
David Hookes and Graham Yallop had both enjoyed decent domestic summers and both toured Pakistan before (Hookes without great success admittedly). Phillips could be a back-up keeper, true, but so could John Dyson.
This is no knock on Phillips or Ritchie by the way, I really liked both batsmen growing up, along with Rick Darling, who also had a claim to selection that summer – I just think Hookes and Yallop offered more experience. Yallop in particular was one of the best players of spin in Australia. I would’ve split the difference and taken an extra batsman.
For pacemen, Lawson, Callen and Alderman had all performed excellently over the summer. Jeff Thomson hadn’t but one can understand why he was picked in Lillee’s absence. Fast bowlers, as always, have never been too lacking in Australia. Still, four of them may have been too many in a tour that only went for six weeks on which two spinners were expected to be used in every game.
The spin choices were interesting. Bruce Yardley had an amazing ’81-82 – he was a lock. Ray Bright hadn’t done as well but he’d done okay… and he did really well touring Pakistan in 1980. Neither wound up having a good tour in the end but both were totally understandable selections.
Peter Sleep’s selection was generally held to be a surprise. His Test career had been unexceptional. He had taken 26 wickets that summer at 34, which isn’t bad. Jim Higgs, generally held to be Australia’s best leg spinner at the time, took 29 at 39.
I still think they should’ve taken Higgs… or Bob Holland, who had just clocked 27 first-class wickets at 24 in 1981-82… and over the two previous summers had taken 30 and 25 wickets respectively, so was clearly consistent.
Australia needed bowlers who could win them matches – and Higgs and Holland had far more potential to do that than Sleep. I get that Sleep’s batting would’ve been attractive but selecting spin bowlers for their batting rarely pays off (e.g. Cameron White) and it didn’t in 1982-83. To be fair Sleep went on to have some decent Tests in ’87-88.
As an aside, in 1981-82 John Inverarity took 30 first-class wickets at 21 but sort of came out of nowhere and you can understand why he wasn’t in the discussion. The player journalists around this time were always going on about was a Tasmanian called Stuart Saunders, who had all this promise, but ultimately lacked consistency and ended his career with a first-class bowling average of 57.
So the squad we should’ve taken to Pakistan in 1982?
5. Dyson (back-up keeper)
8. Marsh (captain)
9. Thomson (over Callen because of his experience)
11. Ritchie (I would’ve taken the extra batsman)
15. Holland or Higgs
Would that team have won the series? Not necessarily (Pakistan were really good). But it had a better captain, a stronger batting line-up and a more potent bowling attack.
It wouldn’t have lost 3-0. And appointing Marsh as permanent captain would’ve avoided a hell of a lot of problems down the track.
My takeouts from looking back on this period, for whatever they’re worth.
1. Pick the best captain even if he tends to sulk when not appointed captain in the first place.
2. If you lose experienced players from a team, don’t double down with inexperienced ones to replace them – replace them with other experienced ones.
3. Pick bowlers with a view to them dismissing sides rather than their all-round-package factor.
P.S. Some vision of the tour is here.