Cricket: Gatting's England go from zero to hero

Cricket: Gatting's England go from zero to hero

22nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Before Mike Gatting's men began the defence of the Ashes in 1986, English cricket reporter Martin Johnson observed they had only three major problems.

London - Before Mike Gatting's men began the defence of the Ashes in 1986, English cricket reporter Martin Johnson observed they had only three major problems.

"They can't bat, they can't bowl and they can't field."

Yet that team was to end up winning the Ashes in Australia - something no England side has done since -- as well as both the one-day competitions they took part in on that tour.

But Johnson's comment was not absurdly far-fetched when it was made.

For unlike Andrew Strauss's current England side, who have enjoyed an impressive start to their tour of Australia, the 1986 team were lacklustre in the warm-up fixtures which began with a five-wicket loss to Queensland.

So how did they turn it around?

Importantly, England all-rounder Ian Botham, who always seemed to reserve his best performances for Australia, had arguably his last great series.

Ever since he single-handedly changed the course of the 1981 Ashes, Australians had learned to be wary of Botham and their worst fears were realised in the first Test at Brisbane where he made a barnstorming 138.


 Australia, Sydney : (L to R) Australian cricketers Simon Katich, Brad Haddin, Doug Bollinger, Shane Watson, captain Ricky Ponting, Nathan Haurtiz and vice-captain Michael Clarke speak to the media during the official Australian Ashes team announcement in Sydney on 15 November 2010

Fast bowler Graham Dilley took five wickets in Australia's first innings, off-spinner John Emburey five in the second, and England were on their way to a seven-wicket win.

Botham had been banned briefly in 1986 for taking recreational drugs and there were concerns about how Gatting would handle him.

"I just said to him if you look after our young guys in the first month, when it comes to the Test matches you just do what you need to prepare," Gatting told the BBC.

Botham's almost mesmeric effect on that generation of Australian cricketers was never better demonstrated than in England's series-clinching victory in the fourth Test at Melbourne.

Bowling at half-pace and with an intercostal injury that would have sidelined most other players, Botham still managed to take five for 41.

"He was very, very good," Gatting said of Botham. "Even when he was half-fit, he bowled some absolute dross at Melbourne and still got a five-for.

"He had a huge hold over the Australians and he loved beating them."

And, in an example of the good fortune that follows successful sides, fast bowler Gladstone Small -- who'd only come into the side for the Melbourne Test after Dilley was injured -- took five for 48.

Every so often an England batsman has an outstanding tour of Australia and in 1986/87 that man was Chris Broad.


 Australia, Perth : England test cricket captain Andrew Strauss signs autographs on arrival at the Perth International Airport

The opener, and father of current England paceman Stuart, became only the third English batsman after Jack Hobbs and Wally Hammond to score three consecutive Ashes hundreds after tons at Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Meanwhile fellow left-hander David Gower averaged nearly 58 in a series that included 136 in the second Test in Perth.

That match saw Jack Richards, the reserve wicketkeeper when the tour started, make 133 batting at No 7 in only his second Test.

"We couldn't get any runs (at the start of the tour), so much so that Bruce French, who was probably our best wicketkeeper at the time, I had to leave him out because Jack Richards was capable of getting more runs," Gatting recalled.

The two victories in a series England eventually won 2-1 were the only wins Gatting recorded as a Test captain.

But those successes have given the former middle-order batsman a place in cricket history he values highly.

"It's a lovely feeling, there's not too many England captains that have won a series in Australia."

But Gatting believes Strauss, a fellow Middlesex man, could be one of them.

"Without doubt we have our best chance for a long time, but the team must perform to the peak of their ability," he told the Sun.

"We've always been capable of beating the best, but now there is a lot more consistency in the side."

Julian Guyer / AFP / Expatica

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