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Cricket in the Eighties

In About the Game by Bill Ricquier

Remember the 1980s? Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev, the Berlin Wall, the Falklands, the Pope and his Popemobile, the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and John Lennon, the music of Michael Jackson and Madonna, ripped jeans and big hair? Goodness, it was a long time ago.

And there was some seriously good cricket, some of which had consequences which resonate to this day.

The first Test to be played in the 1980s was between Australia and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground.  It was a curious series, played specifically to mark the end of the rift in world cricket caused by the Australian tycoon Kerry Packer’s ultimately successful attempt to secure the right to televise Australian cricket. On England’s insistence the Ashes were not at stake in the three-match series (Australia were also playing the West Indies). England had beaten Australia five-one just twelve months earlier but the return of Australia’s Packer players, including the Chappell brothers, Dennis Lillee and Doug Walters, made all the difference. Australia won three-nil.  But it was to be a turbulent decade for Australia. It started well enough but after the home series against Pakistan in 1983-84, when Greg Chappell, Lillee and Rod Marsh all retired, the wheels began to come off.  There were three Ashes defeats in the decade (the most famous was in 1981, in which Lillee and Marsh played) and some embarrassing displays at home. A tearful captain, Kim Hughes, paid the price, and a long drawn out rebuilding process started under one of the great men of the Eighties, Allan Border.

The decade was the heyday of what many still regards as the greatest of all cricket teams, the West Indies who dominated the world game from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.  Their decade got off to a strangely low-key start with a series defeat in New Zealand. After that the West Indies never looked like losing a series and they never did. Twice they beat England five-nil, in England in 1984 and in the Caribbean in 1985-86. Dominant from the beginning of the decade to the end were the regally brutal batsman Vivian Richards and the thinking man’s fast bowler, Malcolm Marshall. At the beginning of the decade Marshall was supported by Colin Croft.  And Michael Holding; by the end it was Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. The roll call seemed endless. The opening batsmen were the contrasting Bajans, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. After them came the underrated Trinidadian left-hander Larry Gomes. And then there was the giant, in every sense, Clive Lloyd, whose captaincy made the disparate islanders into the amazing team they became.

Not everybody liked it. The reliance on fast bowling and accompanying slow over rates gave games involving the West Indies a slightly one-dimensional feel. They had no serious spin bowlers themselves and their batsmen occasionally came a cropper against quite ordinary slow bowlers, most notably Border at Sydney in 1988-89.

If West Indies were to be properly challenged, especially in their own back yard, it had to be the very best opposition players who did the challenging. This was never better illustrated than in the home series against Pakistan in 1987-88, which was drawn one-all.  On-the-whole it was a good decade for Pakistan, with spinners Abdul Qadir and Iqbal Qasim making their attack particularly potent.

Imran was one of four players who helped make cricket in the Eighties especially memorable. The other three were Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee. It is truly remarkable that four such gifted all-round cricketers, so similar and yet so different, should have peaked at around the same time. Hadlee was probably the least effective batsman but arguably the most effective bowler. New Zealand are often a more effective unit than their component parts suggest they might be but for a couple of years in the mid-Eighties, Hadlee, aided by Martin Crowe and others made them into a seriously good side, attaining their first series wins against England and Australia.

Botham was one of those players who could just seize a game and shape it into the form he wanted. It is no accident that, notwithstanding the heroics of 2005, it is “Botham’s Ashes” of 1981 that make English cricket supporters of a certain age go all dewy-eyed.

Kapil was more like Botham than the other two, more natural a d instinctive.  It was the fact that he existed at all that astonished people, an attacking fast bowler from India and a pugnacious batsman. We see his heirs competing to open the bowling for India today.

Kapil was in the side when Test cricket had only its second tie, between India and Australia at Madras (Chennai) in 1986-87. Dean Jones made an enervating double century.

The Test cricket club had its first new member for three decades. Sri Lanka played its first Test, against England in Colombo, in 1981-82.

And then there was the elephant in the room. Everyone knew that some of the best cricketers in the world came from South Africa. That country’s sporting isolation lasted throughout the decade. There were a number of consequences. England’s second Test against the West Indies in Georgetown, Guyana, was called off because the Guyanes government’s interpretation of the Gleneagles Agreement made it impossible for them to grant an entry visa to England seamer Robin Jackman, who had played in South Africa.  By 1982 Allan Lamb was playing for England, soon to be followed by Chris and Robin Smith; Kepler Wessels played for Australia. And throughout the decade, starting with Graham Gooch’s team in 1982, rebel sides toured South Africa, arousing rage and consternation in many quarters.

Another issue that caused problems through the decade was umpiring, and the related issue of poor player behaviour.  That series in New Zealand back in 1980, which the West Indies lost, was overshadowed by dreadful behaviour, principally by Croft and Holding, made unhappy by the local umpires. (There were twelve lbw’s in the first Test, a record at the time.) Imran was convinced that English umpires had cost Pakistan the series in 1982 and increased his pleas for neutral officials. The situation reached its nadir in Faisalabad in 1987-88, in the second Test between Pakistan and England. The image of Mike Gatting and Shakkor Rana, scowling and wagging fingers at each other, was genuinely shocking.

First prize in purely cricketing terms, however, must go to the image of Trevor Chappell, on the instructions of brother Greg, bowling underarm to New Zealand’s Brian McKechnie in a one-day international between Australia and New Zealand in 1981.  It was the last ball of the match. New Zealand needed six to tie. Enough said.

One-day cricket was beginning to come of age. There were two World Cups, the first in England in 1983, the second in India and Pakistan in 1987.  The 1983 final has a fair claim to be the most significant game of cricket played in the second half of the twentieth century.  It pitted the mighty West Indies, winners of the first two World Cups (also in England) against India.  India looked doomed against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells until captain Kapil made a breath-taking 173. The final was a low scoring affair.  West Indies were chasing a modest total but came unstuck against India’s attack of modest medium pacers (and Kapil). India won, and India fell in love with one-day cricket. The global game began to change and cricket’s centre of gravity began what became an inevitable shift.

The second final was significant in a different way. It was between England and Australia, each appearing in their second final. England seemed on target before skipper Gatting misjudged a reverse sweep.  But there was something about Border’s Australians. The side was being rebuilt, with character and temperament taking pride of place, exemplified most emphatically by the young all-rounder Steve Waugh. In 1989 Border brought his young charges to England to face David Gower’s battle-scarred veterans. Border’s men were the most unfancied Ashes side for years. They won four-nil.

Meanwhile, in 1989-90 India made an increasingly rare visit to Pakistan. It was a tough ask for visiting batsmen, facing Imran, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. In the first Test at Karachi there was an unfamiliar name in the Indian middle order; S R Tendulkar. He was sixteen.

Bill Ricquier

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