When Beefy tamed the Aussies in ’86

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All those filling the Gabba on an over­cast day had to do it seemed was sit and watch Eng­land col­lapse

Be­fore the open­ing Test of the 1986/87 Ashes se­ries in Bris­bane, Eng­land’s crick­eters had trav­elled 5,640 miles – and the odds of them ul­ti­mately emerg­ing vic­to­ri­ous were as lengthy as an itin­er­ary that had seen Mike Gat­ting’s men em­bark on what had al­ready amounted to a grand tour of Aus­tralia.

“It wasn’t as if we were trav­el­ling around and beat­ing ev­ery­one in sight ei­ther,” says Bill Athey, 31 years on. “And ev­ery­where we went we were re­minded of what Martin John­son had fa­mously writ­ten about us be­fore the se­ries had even started.”

John­son, of course, had quipped that there was only three things wrong with this Eng­land side….“they can’t bat, they can’t bowl and they can’t field.”

His non-too-op­ti­mistic as­sess­ment fol­lowed a re­sound­ing loss at the hands of Queens­land and an equally poor dis­play against Western Aus­tralia. Lit­tle won­der that the Aussies were lick­ing their lips at the prospect of adding to the agony of a side that had lost eight of its pre­vi­ous 11 Tests.

The Aussie Press was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quick to sense weak­ness, with the Bris­bane’s Courier Mail greet­ing Eng­land’s to-date hap­less band of trav­el­ling no-marks with the head­line “Poms of course are the worst in the world”, as they touched down from Perth three days be­fore the open­ing Test.

Away from the fo­cus on Eng­land’s in­ad­e­qua­cies, the rest of the at­ten­tion was cen­tred squarely on Aus­tralia’s twin left-arm threat of Bruce Reid and Chris Matthews. Lin­ing up along­side them would be a young tyro fast bowler who would, over the course of the next decade be­come one of the most recog­nis­able crick­eters on the planet. A cer­tain Merv Hughes.

Aus­tralia won the toss and wasted no time in in­sert­ing the tourists. All those fil­ing into the Gabba on an over­cast day had to do, it seemed, was to sit back and wait for the Eng­land bat­ting to col­lapse.

“I don’t think they thought too long about putting us in,” says Athey. “I re­mem­ber it be­ing a pretty dank day, not your av­er­age Queens­land weather. If we had lost some early wick­ets then I think things could have gone pretty badly pretty quickly. But, as it was, the way we played set the tone for the whole se­ries.”

Far from fold­ing, Eng­land’s bats­men oc­cu­pied the crease and grad­u­ally wore down the Aus­tralian bowlers. Athey was just one of the bats­men to find some form, scor­ing 76 as Eng­land built a price­less base for a pre­vi­ously strug­gling mid­dle or­der of Al­lan Lamb, David Gower and Ian Botham.

For Botham, in par­tic­u­lar, it was a hugely sig­nif­i­cant in­nings. Com­ing in a week that had seen his ac­ri­mo­nious de­par­ture from Som­er­set con­firmed, Botham at­tacked the Aussies’ bowl­ing in a man­ner not seen since the fa­bled se­ries of 1981, dur­ing his ram­pag­ing knock of 138.

He took a heavy toll on Hughes who dis­ap­peared for 134 off 36 overs in just his sec­ond Test. Given that he had con­ceded 123 in his first 38 overs as a Test crick­eter against In­dia the pre­vi­ous De­cem­ber in Ade­laide, it was hardly the most aus­pi­cious of open­ings for the mous­ta­chioed Vic­to­rian.

Dur­ing the game, Hughes would tell Botham that he had once coached him as a young­ster on a pre­vi­ous trip Down Un­der. “What ad­vice did I give you?” Botham en­quired. “You told me to give up bowl­ing,” came Hughes’ re­sponse. “Well, I was right, wasn’t I?” chuck­led the Eng­land all-rounder.

For an Aus­tralian crowd that had come to wit­ness a pro­ces­sion, the wheels were com­ing off. And fast. Af­ter Eng­land’s first in­nings ef­fort of 456, the Aussies sub­sided meekly to an apolo­getic 248 as Gra­ham Dil­ley, Phil DeFre­itas and Botham ripped through them. Only a gutsy 56 not out from Greg Matthews stopped their first in­nings deficit from be­ing far more sig­nif­i­cant.

“There was a lot of talk about the bat­ting be­fore that tour but I think a lot of peo­ple had over­looked the qual­ity of the bowl­ing at­tack we had taken out there,” says Athey. “Daffy (DeFre­itas) was only 20 at the time and he was slip­pery. When he and Gra­ham were on form then they were as quick as any­thing the Aussies had. Then we had Both, ob­vi­ously, Glad­stone Small and Fozzy (Neil Foster) and two qual­ity spin­ners in Phil Ed­monds and John Em­bu­rey.

“The only thing we didn’t have was a left-arm quick, which the Aussies have al­ways had plenty of.”

For all the talk of Reid and Matthews, nei­ther had lived up to their billing in the most pres­surised match of their ca­reers. And af­ter fol­low­ing-on, it was the Aussie bats­men who had to work to right a sink­ing ship as the match en­tered its fi­nal phase.

“Never did a side so con­found their crit­ics as Eng­land have so far in the first Test match against Aus­tralia,” wrote John Wood­cock in The Times. “In spite of all the pre-match pro­pa­ganda, Aus­tralia have so far looked no less vul­ner­a­ble

than they did in Eng­land in 1985. Eng­land, on the other hand, have ex­celled them­selves.”

Aus­tralia re­sumed at 2-0 af­ter the oblig­a­tory rest day but there was no let-up from an Eng­land side scent­ing un­likely early blood in a se­ries in which they were sup­posed to be lit­tle more than sac­ri­fi­cial lambs.

A painstak­ing cen­tury from Ge­off Marsh aside, the rest of Aus­tralia’s bat­ting had no an­swer to the ex­cel­lence of Em­bu­rey, who took 5-80 from 42 overs. DeFre­itas con­tin­ued to make an im­pres­sion, tak­ing 3-62 as the Aussies were dis­missed for 282 – a lead of just 74.

“I was out early on in the sec­ond in­nings but Chris Broad bat­ted re­ally well and Gower came in and fin­ished the job pretty swiftly,” says Athey.

For Broad, his 35 not out would act as a pre­cur­sor to a dream Ashes se­ries that would see him score three hun­dreds in suc­ces­sive Tests in Perth, Ade­laide and Mel­bourne. Athey him­self would come within four runs of a first Test cen­tury at the WACA, fall­ing ag­o­nis­ingly for 96 af­ter he and Broad had put on 223.

“I think that se­ries was prob­a­bly the best I ever played for Eng­land,” he says. “I sup­pose we were for­tu­nate in that a lot of our bats­men hit form at just at the right time and we were so solid at the top of the or­der – that gave the mid­dle or­der the op­por­tu­nity to go out there when the ball was al­ready old and the bowlers were get­ting tired. As an open­ing bats­man that’s your job.”

The dif­fer­ence in the mood between the two camps af­ter Eng­land had chalked up their seven-wicket win couldn’t have been starker.

“I haven’t been in a win­ning Test team for some time,” said Gat­ting, who was also cel­e­brat­ing his first Test win as cap­tain. “Peo­ple writ­ing the guys off was just the spur they needed.”

Aus­tralia were con­tem­plat­ing hav­ing to come from be­hind to win an Ashes se­ries for the first time in 50 years. Lit­tle won­der that the mood of the Aussie cap­tain, Al­lan Border, was dark.

“That’s ex­actly how I knew they (Eng­land) could play,” he said. “You ex­perts were sug­gest­ing they couldn’t bat, couldn’t field and couldn’t bowl.”

John­son later said he had used the right line – but had used it to de­scribe the wrong team. Given the woes that fol­lowed Eng­land Down Un­der from 1990 to 2010, he could sim­ply have been look­ing into his crys­tal ball.

Gabba Dabba Do: Ian Botham takes the at­tack to Aus­tralia

Re­sis­tance: Greg Matthews

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

He­roes all: Mike Gat­ting, Ieft, Ian Botham and Phil DeFre­itas, right

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