The Botham Report
An division of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF
Copyright © Mannez Promotions Ltd 1997
First published in hardback in 1997 by CollinsWillow
Photographs supplied by Allsport, Patrick Eagar and David Munden
The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks
HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication
Source ISBN: 9780002187718
Ebook Edition © JANUARY 2017 ISBN: 9780007582044 Version: 2017-01-18
To my long-suffering family: Kathy, Liam, Sarah, Becky, and the equally long-suffering supporters of English cricket
‘English cricket is in crisis, of that there is no doubt’
On Saturday 28 December 1996, the third day of England’s second Test against Zimbabwe in Harare, English cricket celebrated a bittersweet tenth anniversary.
It was ten years to the day when, on the 1986–87 tour of Australia, under captain Mike Gatting, England last won the Ashes; ten years to the day when England’s descent to the bottom rung of international cricket began.
I remember the moment we achieved what Englishmen regard as the ultimate cricketing goal as though it was yesterday. One-nil up in the series with two matches to play, we arrived at Melbourne for the Christmas Test, confident that we would achieve the result that would give us the series. Our confidence was not misplaced. We won in three days and we were that good. Gladstone Small and I both took five wickets to dismiss the Australians for fewer than 150, then Chris Broad hit a century to set up victory by an innings. How sweet a moment it was when Merv Hughes swung a delivery from Phil Edmonds, our left-arm spinner, into Gladstone’s hands on the square leg boundary to bring the match to an end and signal the start of our celebrations.
Ten years later, on that fateful day in Harare, England were being bowled out by a team representing a country that wasn’t even playing Test cricket when we last won the Ashes, dismissed for 156 in less than a full day’s play. It was one of the most pathetic batting performances I’ve seen from an England team, but the fact that the overwhelming public reaction to it was one of resignation rather than shock underlined just how far English cricket had fallen during a decade in the doldrums.
Then Zimbabwe’s young fighters completed England’s indignity by winning the two final one-day games of the three-match series to secure a 3–0 whitewash.
David Lloyd, the England coach, on his first senior overseas tour, had already suffered ridicule back home for his comments after the tied first Test in Bulawayo, when, after a fracas with an official of the Zimbabwean Cricket Union he claimed, ‘We murdered them. We hammered them. They know it, and we know it.’ The team had also earned a reputation, unfair or not, for surliness.
For the armchair critics back home, England’s final one-day defeat by 131 runs was meat and drink. Conservative MP Terry Dicks tucked in with the greatest relish. He said, ‘I think the tour should be abandoned now. They should not be allowed to go out to the sun in New Zealand. They should be brought home in disgrace.’ Now really gorging himself, he carried on, ‘I would sack the management and half the team. I have never been so ashamed to be English.’ Another Tory MP, Bill Cash, said English cricket had reached a new low. ‘We have got to shake the whole thing up and produce some new talent,’ he said. It wasn’t just the rent-a-quote politicians who climbed into England. The former England captain Brian Close, my mentor as a young player at Somerset and a man whose opinions on cricket are usually direct and to the point said simply, ‘The players want their arses kicking.’
Despite occasional upturns in form and the undoubted enthusiasm of new coach Lloyd, the underlying theme running through England’s performances during 1996 was that as a cricketing nation we were going nowhere fast. The statistics said it all: nine Test matches were played in the twelve-month period, one against South Africa, three against India, three against Pakistan and two against Zimbabwe. England managed one solitary victory, the first Test of the summer against India at Edgbaston. They lost three, the first against South Africa to surrender the five-Test series, two to Pakistan in the 2–0 defeat in the second half of the summer, and drew the other five matches – two against India, one against Pakistan and, most unforgivably in the eyes of politicians, players and punters alike, two Test matches in Zimbabwe.
In one-day international cricket, they did reach the quarter-finals of the 1996 World Cup – but after losing to every Test playing nation, and only because they managed to defeat Holland and the United Arab Emirates. In total, of the twenty-one matches completed, England won just six, losing fifteen. In all international cricket they played thirty-one matches, won seven, and lost eighteen. Whichever way you care to look at it, that record simply wasn’t good enough. Certainly the sponsors of England’s Test team, Tetley Bitter, thought so as well.
When in the autumn of 1996 Tetley announced that their sponsorship would finish at the end of the 1997 Ashes series, they insisted it was because of ‘changes in the brewing industry and changes in marketing strategy’. Those changes may well have had something to do with it. But it was the lack of change in the fortunes of the England team which persuaded them to make their decision.
Tetley had been sponsoring England’s Test cricketers for four years. In September 1994 they announced a renewal of the sponsorship, which was intended to last until the end of the summer of 1999, during which they had intended to try and capitalise on the global exposure created by the Cricket World Cup being played in England.
But when Tetley informed the Test and County Cricket Board they would be exercising their contractual right to opt out of the deal two years early, it was a wake-up call that could be heard the length and breadth of the country. For the key element in their decision was their dissatisfaction with the continued lack of success at the top level. They simply didn’t want to be associated with a losing team anymore.
When Tetley took up the sponsorship in 1992, they struck gold. Immediately after putting the Tetley logo on their shirts, England won their first Test series for eighteen months. Their 2–0 success on the 1992 tour to New Zealand was their first Test series victory away from home since England retained the Ashes in 1986–87. Following that, Graham Gooch’s side finished runners-up to Pakistan in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Tetley were rubbing their hands together in satisfaction at the success of their marketing ploy.
From that high point, however, England’s record went from bad to worse. They lost eight of their next twelve series, beating only India and New Zealand and when that sequence culminated in 2–0 defeat by Pakistan in the summer of 1996, not surprisingly Tetley decided the time had come to stop backing a losing horse. It wasn’t just the way the team played that persuaded Tetley to turn off the tap; the sponsors were also unhappy with the way England looked and the way they behaved. Market research had told them that although brand awareness had increased during the sponsorship with more people learning about their product, they were not necessarily drinking it – not even when England’s latest abject performance drove them screaming to the bar.
By the time England played the final two one-day internationals in Zimbabwe in 1996, they had been joined by Lord MacLaurin, the new chairman of the English Cricket Board, and Tim Lamb, the chief executive. Perhaps for the future benefit of English cricket, it was as well they were there to watch England’s surrender.
Tim Lamb spoke for himself and his boss when, on England’s return from the second leg of the tour to New Zealand, at the annual general meeting of The Council of Cricket Societies, he said: ‘The England team’s performances over recent years have been extremely disappointing, and I think the way in which the England team have conducted themselves recently is also disappointing.
‘Ian MacLaurin and I were absolutely horrified by what we saw in Zimbabwe. We were very very disturbed by some of the things we came across.
‘We thought David Lloyd’s comments in Bulawayo were completely inappropriate. We were not happy with the way the England team presented themselves. We understand their demeanour was fairly negative and not particularly attractive.
‘I think the way they presented themselves in terms of their dress left a lot to be desired. That was a factor in Tetley Bitter not renewing their sponsorship. Things improved in New Zealand, but there is a long way to go.’ A long way to go? Tim Lamb can say that again.
England did improve in New Zealand. It was almost impossible for them not to do so. But no one was getting carried away by the 2–0 score in the Test series, nor the 2–2 draw in the one-day international matches against New Zealand, who were, without doubt, one of the poorest international sides I’ve ever seen.
Mike Atherton’s team could and should have won the series 3–0. The fact is, however, that the resilience of Danny Morrison and Nathan Astle in the first Test in Auckland and New Zealand’s improved bowling in the third Test in Christchurch meant that without the captain’s batting in that final Test, England may well have finished the Test series having drawn 1 –1. Against a team comfortably the worst-rated in world cricket, that would have been a disaster. As Atherton explained after the series was over, had England not won that three-Test series in New Zealand, he would have resigned, and rightly so.
I say that not because I think Atherton was a poor captain or an unworthy leader. He’s an exceptional player and his batting performances have dug England out of holes of their own creation more often than he, or they, would care to recall. No one who witnessed his magnificent 185 not out to save the second Test against South Africa at the Wanderers Ground in Johannesburg will ever have reason to doubt Atherton’s commitment, determination, professionalism and sheer batting skill, nor his courage. But there comes a time in the career of a captain when no matter what he does, what plan he puts into operation, what words he imparts to his team, nothing works.
Having said that, Atherton has been on a hiding to nothing ever since he took over the captaincy from Graham Gooch in 1993. So was Gooch before him, so was David Gower before him, so was Mike Gatting before him. The reason? – the lack of world class talent produced by a domestic system that belongs in ancient history.
And I believe that fact was borne out by events during the summer of 1997. After starting in such breathtaking style, winning the Texaco Trophy series and the first Ashes Test England were finally exposed and outclassed against the unofficial world champions. Their efforts were laudable and brave and all the rest, but in the end they were just not good enough to win. By the time the Ashes were surrendered Atherton was looking and playing as though he had had a gutful.
In the end, after having reached a decision to quit, Atherton was persuaded to carry on by the selectors against his better judgement. Victory in the final Test at The Oval and the prospect of better things in the Caribbean would have been his motivation – fear over the alternative choices would have been in the minds of the selectors. And when he returned from the 1998 winter tour attached to a scoreline that read West Indies 3 England 1, the man who established a record for the highest number of Tests as captain – 52 – had finally decided enough was enough. And this time the selectors left it at that.
The new enthusiasm originally injected into proceedings by MacLaurin and Lamb at the start of the summer of 1997 had had an immediate affect. Glory be, England thrashed Australia in the Texaco Trophy series and then won handsomely in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston. ‘Crisis, what crisis?’ came the cry from the counties once more.
As England slumped to yet another Test series defeat at the hands of Brian Lara’s eminently beatable Windies, then the sense of well-being surrounding Adam Holliaoke’s one-day wonder in the Champions Cup in Sharjah was unceremoniously burst by their defeat in the one-day series thereafter. The crisis was still there staring in the face of blind men.
There are those who will react to the question ‘What’s wrong with English cricket’ by saying ‘nothing’. They will claim that fortunes in Test cricket are cyclical, and things will come right if we just wait long enough and leave them well enough alone. That is dangerous nonsense. I am not the only one who believes that either. Just ask MacLaurin.
MacLaurin, to whom the counties turned at the end of 1996 as Chairman of the TCCB, soon to become the England and Wales Cricket Board, is the man who turned Tesco from a family-run business making £12 million worth of profits in 1976 into Britain’s premier food retailer with a profit of £750 million for the financial year to April 1997. In 1976, by now managing director of the company he’d joined as a trainee in 1959, he took on and won a boardroom battle that changed the course of British retailing history. His principal opponent was no Tom, Dick or Harry, but Sir Jack Cohen, the chairman of Tesco, the business he had co-founded in 1926. And the bone of contention just happened to be the brainchild of Cohen and the cornerstone of Tesco’s success for many years, Green Shield Stamps.
MacLaurin had done his homework and discovered that the stamps had become an unwanted anachronism. As he said, ‘Stamps had been an integral part of Tesco’s success, but it was very apparent to me visiting the stores, that the customers didn’t want them anymore. They were costing us, Tesco’s, £20 million per year to produce, and the customers were handing them back.’ Certain that he was right and that the company needed to shed its ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ image and be repositioned upmarket, MacLaurin would not be shaken off. It took five bitter recounts for him to win the boardroom vote 5–4 and earn the right to pursue his plans to transform the company.
He said, ‘Before I attempted to turn Tesco around and into a world class act, people told me I was crazy. They said it simply couldn’t be done. I heard the same things about taking on English cricket. But there is an awful lot to be done.
‘I don’t want to criticise what has gone on in the past, but we cannot shy away from the fact that England’s Test team have not been in the top echelon of international cricket for some time.
‘There are those who persist in claiming that success in cricket is cyclical, that if you wait long enough it’ll all come right of its own accord. I simply don’t believe that is true.
‘You wouldn’t last very long in my business if you just said “everything is cyclical”. Just imagine if you went to the shareholders and told them, ‘I’m terribly sorry that we’ve lost all this money this year, but I’m sure if you hang on and keep investing your cash, perhaps in a few years time we might make a profit.’ We have to be realistic. If nothing is done to turn things round, the most pessimistic scenario is that the game will wither on the vine.’ MacLaurin has a clear view of the alternative to decisive action. It goes like this: ‘If we continue to do badly at international level and end up getting beaten by the Isle of Dogs, people will simply not pay to come and watch, and neither will the television companies whose money along with Test match receipts subsidises the first-class game. Then the counties will be in dire financial straits and the kids will ask, ‘what was cricket?’
When MacLaurin and Lamb set about preparing their blueprint for the future structure of English cricket the illusion of progress created by England’s victory in the 1997 Texaco Trophy series against Australia then the win in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston enabled the more reactionary county chairmen to stick their heads back in the sand and say: “I told you so.”
Mindful of this MacLaurin and Lamb knew they had little or no chance of pushing through their preferred option for change – two divisions and promotion and relegation. Instead they fudged the issue, concocted a totally baffling alternative known as the three conference system and when that was laughed out of court, the barely-believable compromise of the radical status quo. Do me a very large favour.
Under this scheme the top eight sides in the 1998 county championship will go forward to play a one-day tournament known as the Super Cup in 1999. Quite what relevance such a competition will have to the business of making England better at Test cricket is anybody’s guess.
There are moves afoot to blow this out of the water. The Professional Cricketers Association came out heavily in favour of two divisions towards the end of the 1997 season. At their meeting on May 11, 1998 they warned that should their voice be ignored again steps might be taken to coerce certain clubs into seeing the error of their ways. Whisper them, but the words ‘strike action’ have been heard. To those who fear for the future of their own clubs should this scheme be implemented I say: shouldn’t the players be allowed to decide?
For those among the county chairmen who don’t believe things are as black as they are being painted, just consider these facts. Since retaining the Ashes in 1986–87 and prior to the start of the summer series of 1998 against South Africa and Sri Lanka, England had not won a full five-or six-Test series against anyone. Between the start of the 1987 home series against Pakistan and the final Test of the 1998 winter tour to West Indies, England played 113 Tests and won 23 of them. Out of eighteen series against the top-rated cricketing nations, Australia, Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa, they failed to win one, drew four (two versus West Indies in 1991 and 1995, one against South Africa in 1994 and a drawn one-off Test against Australia in 1988) and lost fifteen (five out of six versus Australia, four out of four against Pakistan, four out of six against West Indies and one out of two against South Africa).
They did win eight series, four against New Zealand, two each against India and Sri Lanka. In the period concerned they failed to win a Test series against Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, West Indies and later Zimbabwe, and both single Test match victories against the Aussies had come after the Ashes had already been decided in their favour. That record put them near the bottom of the unofficial ratings of world cricket, an assessment underlined when Benson & Hedges, the sponsors of the 50-over domestic one day competition, brought out their annual yearbook at the end of the 1997 season, and named their Benson & Hedges Cricket Year World XI. For the second year in succession not one place was filled by an Englishman. Their XI for 1997 was Saeed Anwar, Pakistan; Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka; Brian Lara, West Indies; Sachin Tendulkar, India; Aravinda de Silva, Sri Lanka; Steve Waugh, Australia; Ian Healy, Australia; Shane Warne, Australia; Curtly Ambrose, West Indies; Allan Donald, South Africa and Glenn McGrath, Australia. In that team there was no place for Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Mohammed Azharuddin, Anil Kumble, Courtney Walsh or Aamir Sohail.
Nor was there a place for any of the England side that played against Australia in the final Test of that summer series of 1997: Mike Atherton, Mark Butcher, Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Mark Ramprakash, Adam Hollioake, Andy Caddick, Peter Martin, Phil Tufnell and Devon Malcolm.
And nor, if the XI had been selected at the end of England’s series in West Indies would have the selectors been unduly taxed by the claims of Dean Headley, Jack Russell, and despite his excellent series, Angus Fraser. In other words, not one of the best eleven players that England could produce to contest a Test match in 1996 or 1997 was considered good enough to represent a World XI.
In fact, throughout the 1990s so far, only four England players have been picked for the Benson & Hedges teams.
Further evidence that, in terms of international standing England players are just not good enough came with the publication of the 1997 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. One of the most keenly-awaited features included in the cricketers’ bible is the annual nomination of their ‘Five Cricketers of the Year’. Their selection for 1996 was Sanath Jayasuriya, the man who turned ‘pinch-hitting’ into a new cricketing art form during Sri Lanka’s astonishing World Cup victory; Saeed Anwar, the Pakistan Test opener; Phil Simmons, the West Indies Test all-rounder who inspired his adopted county Leicestershire to the Championship; Mushtaq Ahmed, the Pakistan and Somerset leg-spinner; and Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian master. Sadly, England players were conspicuous by their absence.
According to Matthew Engel, the editor of Wisden: ‘The 1996 cricket season in England was in some respects the most depressing in memory.
‘The consistent failure of the England team is the biggest single cause of the crisis, but it is not the crisis itself. The blunt fact is that cricket in the UK has become unattractive to the overwhelming majority of the population.’
The statistics do not lie. England’s ten-year record shows that we cannot compete against the best Test playing nations in the world. When we win, we win against New Zealand and India. But we’re quite capable of losing to anyone.
English cricket is in crisis, of that there is no doubt. Not only are England’s performances on the field in international and Test cricket simply not good enough, but the county clubs are living in a fool’s paradise if they believe that they can exist through county cricket alone. During 1996, of the eighteen county cricket clubs, eleven received more than half their income from the Test and County Cricket Board from Test match receipts and television revenue. In the case of Derbyshire and Glamorgan, the figure they received was seventy per cent.
The counties depend for their survival on the England team performing properly, performing well and winning. If they continue to languish near the foot of the table of international cricket rankings, then it’s not only sponsors like Tetley who will switch off.
The new England and Wales Cricket Board was able to broker a deal with Vodafone, to fill the gap caused by Tetley’s withdrawal, but no one inside the Board was in any doubt that it was only the presence of MacLaurin at the head of the game that encouraged Vodafone, of which he was a non-executive director, that English cricket was worth the gamble. Nor should they be under any illusions that unless things change substantially for the better, this may be the last big-money payday of its kind.
By the start of the 1998 summer season no sponsors had been announced not only for the new national league and Super Cup tournaments in 1999, but also for the experimental triangular one-day tournament with South Africa and Sri Lanka for that very season. And perhaps most damagingly no sponsor to replace Texaco, the company who had poured vast sums into one-day internationals since 1984.
If the results of England’s national team do not start to improve hugely and quickly, it is not merely the sponsors who will start to switch off.
Indeed whether or not the ECB succeeds in its bid to have Test cricket de-listed and put on the open market, when the Sky TV contract worth £60m is up for renewal, unless English cricket proves that it is serious about wanting to take the professional support seriously and take it forward with real and innovative change, I can imagine the following conversation taking place between the man chosen to replace MacLaurin after he has walked out in despair at the intransigence of the counties.
ECB man to Sky negotiator: ‘Would you mind awfully if we had that £60 million again, please?’
Sky negotiator to ECB man: ‘Sixty million for that? You must be joking. Come back when you’ve got something to sell.’
And then the game will be bankrupt.
I intend to trace how England’s fortunes have dipped over the past ten years since that excellent victory under Mike Gatting’s captaincy was achieved in 1986–87. I will highlight the mistakes, the arrogance, and the misjudgements that have plagued English cricket over the past ten years. I will discuss how counties have done a great disservice to the English national game by putting their needs ahead of the requirements of the Test side at most, if not all times. I will discuss the short-sightedness of those in charge of the English game in the past ten years of hurt. And I will suggest measures which I believe can be put in place immediately so that the job of rebuilding English cricket can start in earnest.
‘From the moment when England secured the Ashes back in 1987, it took ten years to persuade the men in charge of our game that change had to come. Ten years of complacency. Ten years of waste. Ten years of hurt.’
Winning the 1986–87 series against Australia down under should have created a platform from which England could seek to dominate world cricket for a decade.
Instead it might just have been the worst thing I and my colleagues could have done for the game in this country because the successes we achieved under Mike Gatting’s captaincy merely served to paper over the cracks.
The feeling created by our performances down under, that everything in the English garden was rosy, turned out to be an illusion. Complacency was allowed to set in and complacency is death.
Australia reacted to their defeat by setting out long-term, clearly-defined goals to revive their fortunes at international level. They had lost to the Poms just once too often for comfort, realised a plan needed to be devised and stuck to it. Their rise to the status of unofficial world champions demonstrates just how well they put their strategy into practice.
We, on the other, hand proceeded as usual merely to look from one Test match and one Test series to the next.
Indeed, it was not until Mike Atherton was appointed captain to succeed Graham Gooch in 1993 that any kind of long-term selection strategy came into play. Atherton was appointed with a mandate for change, carte blanche to pick young players for the 1993–94 tour to West Indies and let them develop individually and as a team, no matter what short-term setbacks they might suffer. How long did the plan last? Three Test matches. In came Raymond Illingworth as Chairman of Selectors and, over the next two seasons, back came Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting and John Emburey as players. There’s long-term strategy for you.
From the moment England secured the Ashes back in 1987, it took ten years to persuade the men in charge of our game that change had to come. Ten years of complacency. Ten years of waste. Ten years of hurt.
When I review the performances of the England team during the decade in question one thing is immediately obvious, namely the apparently huge difference in the level of the talent available to England as opposed to that emerging elsewhere.
To the naked eye, the difference in quality is startling. While a steady stream of competent batsmen and the occasional high-class act like Mike Atherton have emerged, England have failed to produce one consistent world-class Test bowler, pace, swing, seam or spin, for a decade. When you look around world cricket the difference between the top cricketing nations and England in this respect tells it own story.
Just ponder this list of world-class Test match winners operating during the period in question – Shane Warne, Merv Hughes, Terry Alderman, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald and Anil Kumble – and compare them with the best England have had to offer.
But great players are made as well as born. It is clear that, for too long, England players have reached Test level in spite of our domestic system rather than because of it. Thank goodness Lord MacLaurin understands that success is not merely cyclical and that change is absolutely fundamental for the future well-being of cricket in this country. In Raising the Standard, his plan to take English cricket back to the world summit, all those measures he is seeking to implement below first-class level demonstrate his clear sightedness and vision and, given a late change of mood among the most reactionary clubs, at the time of writing the possibility existed that he might even be given a mandate for real change.
But my reflections on England’s struggles in the period 1987–1997 also concern the mistakes, the short-sightedness, the selfishness and the plain incompetence of those individuals who, despite all the constraints placed on them by the shortcomings of the county game, could and should have made a difference.
‘It was all a total fiasco. From Ashes winners eighteen months earlier England ended the summer of 1988 as the laughing stock of world cricket.’
It had started so brightly. Mike Gatting’s success in leading England to victory on the 1986–87 tour down under represented a tremendous personal achievement. Written off as ‘can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field’ no-hopers during the warm-up matches, we stuffed those words down the throats of our critics once the serious business started and won the Test series 2–1. There is no doubt that Gatting’s captaincy was a major factor in the transformation.
Emphatically a player’s captain, Gatt understood right from the start that if you treat cricketers like adults, giving them enough leeway when appropriate and a few hard words when necessary, you are far more likely to gain their confidence and get the best out of them rather than by simply attempting to impose your will on them. Even when early results tended to suggest otherwise, he knew that there was no cause for alarm and certainly no need to panic, and he was comfortable with the knowledge that, in terms of preparation, most senior Test players know what is best for them and don’t need telling. Our results, winning the Ashes and the World Series competition, spoke for themselves.
Yet within little over a year after we returned from that wonderful tour, Gatting had been sacked and the England team thrown into turmoil. A year and a bit later he made the decision to turn his back on the England team by signing up for the 1989–90 ‘rebel’ tour to South Africa. The story of how Gatt fell from grace underlines the confusion and lack of leadership from the top that dogged our national summer game for the best part of a decade.
Ever since Ted Dexter led the first England party to tour Pakistan in 1961–62, there had been rumblings of discontent over the standards and motives of the home umpires. England won the first Test ever played between the two countries in Pakistan, but from that initial success until the present day, we have never won there again. Prior to England’s 1987 tour, no player or official had ever spoken out publicly on the subject, but a succession of England touring parties had considered this more than mere coincidence.
The build-up to the eruption that occurred at Faisalabad in the second Test of that 1987 tour had started during Pakistan’s visit to England to play five Tests during the previous summer.
The trouble began even before a ball was bowled, when the Pakistan team, through their manager Haseeb Ahsan, officially objected to the TCCB over the presence on the Test umpiring panel of Ken Palmer and David Constant. Constant had been in the bad books of the Pakistan captain Imran Khan ever since their previous visit to England in 1982, when Imran believed he made a poor decision in the deciding Test of a three-match series at Headingley that he was convinced cost his side the match.
I happened to be batting at the time the incident occurred. After having bowled Pakistan out for 275, we were heavily in the mire at 77 for four with Imran himself bowling beautifully in conjunction with their leg-spin wizard Abdul Qadir. I decided that the best form of defence was attack and took on Qadir and my approach paid off as I made 57 out of a stand of 69 with David Gower in just over an hour. My efforts to break free of the Pakistan stranglehold were frustrating for Imran and his players, and their mood was not helped when Qadir felt certain he had found the edge of Gower’s bat for a catch behind when he had made only seven. Had Gower gone then, Pakistan might well have seen off the tail and gone on to force victory. But Constant turned down huge appeals, Gower survived to make 74 and drag us to 256. I then took five wickets in their second innings of 199 and, set 219 to win, we got there by the narrow margin of three wickets, thanks in no small measure to the forty-two extras contributed by the Pakistan attack.
From where I was standing I honestly was not certain whether Gower had hit the ball or not, and neither, I am sure, could Constant have been. If he made a mistake, it was a genuine error, the kind that all umpires make because they are human. Imran saw it differently, as evidence, in effect, that he and his side were cheated by biased umpiring. Afterwards Imran hit out at Constant, claiming the decision had cost his side the match, and he carried those thoughts with him for the next five years.
What really riled Imran in 1987 was that although the TCCB had agreed to a request by the Indians, in that same summer of 1982, to have Constant taken off the list for their three-Test series with England, when the Pakistan management made the same request now they flatly refused on the grounds of prejudice. To a certain extent I can understand Imran’s feelings. Although it may have been feeble of the Board to bow to India’s wishes in 1982, not to comply with the Pakistan request was at best inconsistent and illogical and at worst bound to inflame any perceived sense of injustice they may have harboured.
The news of what had happened was leaked during the second Test at Lord’s, in which Constant was standing and he stood again in the final match at The Oval. Both times Haseeb Ahsan publicly criticised Constant over his umpiring and at one stage described him as ‘a disgraceful person’.
But this was by no means the only spark of controversy in a series that left everyone with a nasty taste in the mouth. Off the field there was trouble at Edgbaston during the third one-day international when some idiots, fuelled by booze and racial prejudice, fought with Pakistani youths on the terraces. Then in the first Test at Old Trafford, a rain-ruined match going nowhere, Pakistan managed to bowl 11 overs in an hour after tea on the second day. When Micky Stewart, the manager, commented on this, Imran reacted by saying: ‘We get slagged off and called cheats and I object to that.’ Then came the incidents at Headingley that some might say seemed to support the description Imran objected to. Both involved the Pakistan wicket-keeper Salim Yousuf.
After bowling us out for 136 in our first innings, Pakistan made 353 in reply. Chris Broad, whose batting in Australia the previous winter was a huge feature in our success, played at Imran’s second delivery and the ball brushed his left hand after he had removed it from the bat handle. The laws state that the hand has to be in contact with the bat for a catch to be given. Without the benefit of television replays the appeal from the bowler was probably made in good faith, but what made the dismissal so unsatisfactory from England’s point of view was that replays of the catch itself clearly showed that the ball bounced fractionally before arriving in Yousuf’s gloves. Still, no one was too put out at this stage. Sometimes keepers and slip fielders genuinely do not know whether or not the ball has arrived on the bounce and, when considering whether a guy has attempted to deliberately pull a fast one, most players will give the fielder or keeper the benefit of the doubt. There was no doubt at all, however, over Yousuf’s actions some time later. I edged a short delivery and instantly and instinctively looked around to follow the flight of the ball. I could see quite clearly that Yousuf dropped the ball, scooped it up again after it had hit the ground, then claimed the catch. I’m not proud of what I said to him, but it was a knee-jerk reaction in the heat of the moment. I called him, to his face, a cheat, although there might also have been a couple of adjectives thrown in for good measure. The umpire Ken Palmer intervened and had his say and I fully expected Imran to admonish his player for such a blatant offence which, after all, reflected no credit on him as captain. Nothing was forthcoming from Imran, although he did claim later that he would have reprimanded Yousuf had I not sworn at him!
All in all we were more than happy when the series was brought to a close, though disappointed with the 1–0 defeat, and in hindsight it would have been better all around had there been a cooling-off period of a few seasons before we met up again.
That was not to be, as almost immediately after the 1987 World Cup, in which we finished runners-up to Australia, Gatting led his men to Pakistan for a three-Test series, to be followed after Christmas by the Bicentennial Test with Australia and then a further three Tests in New Zealand.
And here is where Gatting and England were badly let down by the Test and County Cricket Board and most particularly by its chairman Raman Subba Row and chief executive A C Smith. It didn’t take a genius to work out that there were likely to be repercussions over what had happened that summer. To me, the fact that the Board did not see fit to try and prevent trouble before it started smacks of complacency.
Instead they dispatched the players with little more than a cheery wave and let them walk into a political minefield unprepared and unprotected, and when the explosions began they made a ridiculous hash of clearing up the mess. It was obvious that Pakistan were desperate to win, more so than usual because of their third successive defeat in a World Cup semi-final, this time to Australia and most importantly this time in Lahore, and by the time Gatting and company arrived rumours were rife that Haseeb Ahsan, by now a Board member and the chairman of the selectors, was intent on orchestrating revenge for having his request to remove Constant and Palmer ignored by the TCCB.
Tit for tat ensued when the Pakistan board ignored England’s protests over the appointment of the controversial umpire Shakeel Khan to stand in the first Test in Lahore and it did not take long for their dissatisfaction to boil over. England were convinced that several decisions had gone against them in the first innings; then at the start of the second Chris Broad decided to take matters into his own hands. Given out caught at the wicket by Shakeel Khan, Broad simply refused to walk and told all and sundry why. ‘I didn’t hit it,’ he said. ‘You can like it or lump it, I’m not going. I didn’t hit it and I’m not out.’ In fact, more than a minute elapsed before Broad was eventually persuaded by his batting partner Graham Gooch that no matter how unfair he thought the decision, it wasn’t going to be overturned.
That was bad enough, but after the game things really got out of hand. Quite clearly Broad’s actions were unpardonable and worth at least a heavy fine. But Peter Lush, the tour manager, driven no doubt by a sense of loyalty to his players, totally misread the situation. Instead of fining Broad he issued what he called a stern reprimand, then appeared tacitly to support the player’s actions by criticising the umpiring and calling for neutral officials. All of which gave Gatting the green light to stir things up even more after the match had ended in an Abdul Qadir-inspired defeat. ‘We knew what to expect,’ said Gatt, ‘but never imagined it would be so blatant. They were desperate to win, but if I was them I wouldn’t be very happy about the way they did it.’
When the players arrived at the Montgomery Biscuit Factory at Sahiwal to play a three-day match against the Punjab Chief Minister’s XI the mood darkened. Several of the players had nights they will never forget, however hard they try – wrapped from head to toe in clothes in order to keep the bat-sized mosquitoes at bay, they sweated and sweltered and never got a moment’s kip. And by the end of the experience the entire party were convinced that they were the victims of plain sabotage. Instead of laughing at their situation, they got more and more stroppy, to such a point that the slightest provocation was bound to lead to an explosion.
It came three deliveries from the end of play on the second day of the second Test in Faisalabad and involved Gatting and the umpire Shakoor Rana – a man whose reputation for upsetting visiting teams was established when Jeremy Coney, the New Zealand captain led his team from the field during the Karachi Test in 1984–85 in protest at his decisions – and the fall-out eventually led to Gatting’s removal from the position of England captain.
Gatting was first accused by Shakoor of moving a fielder without letting the batsman know, an allegation flatly denied by Gatting himself. According to Gatting and several fielders close to the incident, Shakoor then called the England captain a cheat and swore at him repeatedly. Gatting, fuelled by all the real and perceived injustices that he felt he and his side had had to put up with, swore back. While this made for gripping television, the behaviour of both men was wholly out of order.
By the following morning, the seriousness of the row became obvious when Shakoor refused to take the field unless and until he received a full apology from Gatting. Gatting, I understand, would have been happy to do so as long as Shakoor also apologised and plans were underway for a joint statement to be issued, until, wound up, it is believed, by the Pakistan captain Javed Miandad, who had taken over following Imran’s first official retirement, Shakoor changed his mind. Gatting would not apologise unilaterally so, with the two sides stuck in stalemate, a whole day’s play was lost.
When it became clear that the umpire would not allow the game to continue the England management and those at Lord’s had two options. The first was to bend over backwards and bow to whatever demands Shakoor imposed on them, even to the point of forcing Gatting to apologise against his will.
Coincidentally, the next day, the rest day in the match, was also the occasion of the TCCB winter meeting at Lord’s. Finally, understanding that the efforts of Lush to talk with high ranking Pakistan Board officials had come to nought, they issued the following statement:
‘It was unanimously agreed that the current Test match in Faisalabad should restart today after the rest day. The Board manager in Pakistan, Peter Lush, was advised of this decision and asked to take whatever action was necessary to implement it. In reaching their decision the members of the Board recognised the extremely difficult circumstances of the tour and the inevitable frustration for the players arising from those circumstances, but they believe it to be in the long-term interests of the game as a whole for the match to be completed. The Board will be issuing a statement on the tour when it is finished, but in the meantime the chairman and chief executive will be going to Karachi for the final Test next week.’
Peter Lush read the following statement:
‘The Test and County Cricket Board has instructed me as manager of the England team to do everything possible to ensure that this Test match continues today and that we honour our obligations to complete this tour of Pakistan. We have tried to resolve amicably the differences between Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana following their heated exchange of words which took place on the second day. We all hoped this could have been achieved in private and with a handshake. Umpire Shakoor Rana has stated that he would continue to officiate in this match if he received a written apology from Mike Gatting. The umpire has made it clear he will not apologise for the remarks he made to the England captain. In the wider interests of the game Mike Gatting has been instructed by the Board to write an apology to Shakoor Rana and this he has now done.’
Dear Shakoor Rana,
I apologise for the bad language used during the 2nd day of the Test match at Fisalabad [sic].
Mike Gatting 11 Dec 1987]
The players had agreed to refuse to carry on if Gatt was forced to apologise but in the end settled for a strong statement of their own, expressing full support for Gatt and their anger at the Board for forcing him to act against his will.
The second option, which the Board did not take but to my mind should have done, was to tell the players to pack their bags and prepare to come home, while informing the Pakistan Board that unless they put a stop to all this nonsense by instructing Shakoor to issue his apology, they would call off the remainder of the tour.
Once back in England the Board should quietly have reminded Gatting of his responsibilities and told him that any further breaches of discipline from him and his players would result in the ultimate sanction of suspension.
The fact that they chose the former rather than the latter option displayed fatal weakness from the men at the top. Their subsequent award of £1,000 to each player as a ‘hardship bonus’ was just a joke. In Australia and New Zealand the players’ behaviour failed to improve. Broad and Graham Dilley were both fined for on-field incidents; on-field dissent often led by Gatting and then later supported by team manager Micky Stewart gave the squad a reputation for surliness they surely deserved.
From that moment Gatting was dead in the water as captain. Had the selectors made a clean break then England would have been able to approach the 1988 summer series against the West Indies as a fresh start. Gatting himself would have been able to re-focus his thoughts on maintaining his position as the best batsman in the side and the players would have understood the price of poor discipline. Instead, although the Board issued a directive to the selectors to take into account a player’s behaviour as well as his form, Peter May, the chairman of selectors, re-appointed Gatting without a second thought. Such muddled thinking invited disaster.
And then came Rothley Court. Gatting’s critics had waited eagerly for the slightest opportunity to pile in and, while England were achieving a creditable draw against Viv Richards’ side in the first Test at Nottingham his behaviour at the team’s hotel gave it to them with knobs on.
The day after the Trent Bridge Test had ended two national tabloids ran stories of a ‘sex orgy’ at Rothley Court involving unnamed players. The next day Gatting was named as one of them and by the afternoon of 9 June he was sacked. Gatting admitted to the selectors that he had invited a woman to his room for a birthday drink but denied any impropriety. The selectors said they accepted Gatting’s version of events, then sacked him anyway. The saga then rumbled on when the Board fined Gatt £5,000 for publishing a chapter on the events of the Pakistan tour in his autobiography Leading From the Front because of the contractual obligation not to comment on recent tours.
In between times the captaincy issue took on the nature of a game of pass the parcel. John Emburey was appointed for the second and third Tests, although increasingly unsure of his place. Chris Cowdrey, on the strength of Kent’s performances in the Championship, was then given the job when in spite of the fact that while a lovely bloke he resembled a Test match cricketer in name only. Finally, after Cowdrey had been ruled out of the final Test through injury, the selectors turned to Graham Gooch. Twenty-three players were used during the summer series. England lost 4–0. It was all a total fiasco. From Ashes winners eighteen months earlier England ended the summer of 1988 as the laughing stock of world cricket.
There was more, much more, to come, starting with the cancellation of England’s 1988 winter tour to India.
‘His [Dexter’s] habit of opening his mouth and walking straight into it had ensured that a man once considered merely an eccentric was developing a reputation for being dangerously out of touch.’
Under the captaincy of Graham Gooch England had made a better fist of things in the final Test of the 1988 summer series with West Indies. They still lost, by eight wickets, but at least England played as though they were a team rather than the disorganised rabble that had been on show previously, and they finally brought to an end a run of eighteen Test matches without success when they beat Sri Lanka in a one-off Test at Lord’s.
On purely cricketing grounds Peter May, the retiring chairman of selectors, must have been relieved to be able to appoint Gooch to lead the winter tour party to India. But that feeling turned to dismay once again almost immediately. From the moment Gooch was appointed speculation was rife that the Indian government, hard-liners on the issue of sporting links with South Africa’s apartheid regime, would object to Gooch’s presence. And when, two days after the squad was announced on 7 September, the Indian government announced that no player ‘having or likely to have sporting links with South Africa’ would be granted a visa, the cancellation of the tour was only a matter of time.
In their defence the Board pleaded that there had been no objection to Gooch as a member of England’s World Cup party the previous year, but the powers that be must have known that the Indian government had stretched a point so as not to cause problems.
In fact, earlier in the summer Gooch had already decided not to tour India with England in 1988 but to take up the offer from Robin Jackman, the former England bowler and now the Western Province coach, to spend the winter over there in South Africa. But when he was sounded out by Doug Insole of the TCCB and asked if he was prepared to travel to India as captain of the side, Gooch said yes.
Once again the Board had allowed their lack of foresight to make them look just plain daft. Why had they not foreseen the question of the blacklist? And if they had, was it not plain arrogance that led them to believe they could sweet-talk the Indian government if things got difficult?
Finally, after two seasons of complete shambles, the Test and County Cricket Board decided to take swift and decisive action over the future course of the running of the England cricket team and its public image.
Towards the end of the year it was decided that, in future, the England team should be the responsibility of an England committee, and the next step was to decide who should lead it. To that end the county chairmen entrusted this task to a two-man working party comprising A C Smith, the chief executive, and Raman Subba Row, the chairman. Subba Row, the man who had sanctioned the £1,000 hardship bonus to Gatting’s 1987 Pakistan tour party, now had another brainwave. He reasoned that England needed a strong figurehead in charge, someone whose reputation as a cricketer would leave no room for criticism, and a man with the kind of charisma and public persona that would send off the right signals in the world of cricket. So far so good. The problem was his choice: ‘Lord’ Ted Dexter.
The next the county chairmen heard of developments was at the winter Board meeting at Lord’s in January 1989. They had gone there to discuss the Board’s position with regard to overtures being made to England cricketers by Ali Bacher, the leading figure in South African cricket and later to become the head of the Unified Cricket Board.
Rumours had been circulating regarding a ‘rebel tour’ set up by Bacher and the chairmen discussed how the situation should be handled when push came to shove. At the end of the meeting Subba Row threw in, almost casually: ‘By the way, gentlemen, I think we may have settled on the man we are looking for to chair the England committee. Ted Dexter.’
Chris Middleton, the controversial chairman of Derbyshire who, four years later, orchestrated the moves to oust Dexter, takes up the story. ‘I knew very little about Dexter apart from the fact that he had been a marvellous Test batsman for England, but at the time we as county chairmen were happy to hear that one suggestion had at last been put forward. We were told by Subba Row that this had to be kept secret and that we should tell no one, and we all agreed. I didn’t even tell my wife.
‘Nothing more was said or heard on the subject for a couple of months. Then, one evening in late March, I was at home watching television and saw Raman Subba Row, his wife Anne and Ted and Susan Dexter dressed up for an evening out and heard Dexter announce that he had been appointed the new chairman of the England committee, the new chairman of selectors.’
Dexter had been installed, all right, but with absolutely no reference to the county chairmen. And the decision of Subba Row and Smith to present them with a fait accompli caused severe consternation. Many chairmen felt that Subba Row had overstepped the bounds of his authority and they never forgave him for it. They had thought that any firm proposal by the working party would be ratified by them before being allowed to take place. No such procedure took place. And that was not the only surprise in store.
The England committee was to comprise Dexter as chairman, Micky Stewart, the England coach, and the captain, whoever that may be.
And in a further move unbeknown to the chairmen at the time, Subba Row also decreed that the committee was to be joined and influenced by another figure, namely the chairman of the TCCB cricket committee, Ossie Wheatley, who was to have the veto over the committee’s appointment of England captain.
Subba Row believed the Board needed this safeguard on the England selection panel because of what had happened the previous winter. Such an unholy mess had persuaded him that a man with a broader view of the whole picture should be included in the selection process.
But by effectively taking one of the primary functions of the England committee, namely the final say over the selection of the captain, out of their hands, Subba Row merely undermined their authority over the process. The potential for confusion was enormous.
And so it came to pass when Dexter was called upon to make his first decision as the new chairman of selectors – the choice of England captain. Three names were mentioned: David Gower, Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch. Dexter interviewed Gower and Gatting but not Gooch and it became clear quite quickly that the Essex man was never in the frame. Presumably he didn’t fit into Dexter’s idea of the required new style of leadership. Not surprising really as in his previous role as newspaper pundit Dexter had written in the Sunday Mirror that Gooch’s captaincy at The Oval Test against West Indies in 1988 had the effect on him of a ‘slap in the face with a wet fish.’
Gooch had offered the perfectly reasonable assertion that ‘a team is only as good as the players. Nobody can turn a bad team into a good one.’
Dexter thought better. This was his responese: ‘No wonder the England team is in such a sorry state if that is the general atmosphere in the dressing room … A captain must make his men feel that everything is possible. The Gooch approach means that the West Indies were inevitably going to win at The Oval and that he was resigned to that result before the game began. Translate his theories on to the battlefield and there would never be a victory against the odds. David would never have killed Goliath because it wasn’t worth a try.’
Steady on, Ted.
The full story of how Gower was chosen ahead of Gatting, and for that matter Gooch as well, did not come out until it was made public by the England committee at the end of the disastrous Ashes campaign of 1989, presumably in order to deflect some criticism away from the selectors over what had happened that summer.
According to the story it was Gatting rather than Gower who had been the first choice of Dexter and Stewart. Indeed, prior to the appointment the rumour-mill had gone into overdrive predicting that the Middlesex man had the job in the bag. Enter Ossie Wheatley.
Wheatley was a former captain and chairman of Glamorgan and a contemporary of Dexter’s at Cambridge. But ninety-nine per cent of county cricketers would not have known him had they fallen over him. Wheatley, it was said, had decided that the time was not yet right for Gatting to be reinstated because of the events that had happened during his previous term of office. Wheatley was ostensibly mainly concerned with Gatting’s public row with the Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana in the Faisalabad Test on the 1987–88 tour and other examples of poor behaviour.
It was never said publicly, however, but most of us were convinced that it wasn’t only the behaviour of Gatting and his team during that winter that led to Wheatley employing his veto. Quite clearly, according to the story, the business involving Gatting and the barmaid at Rothley Court in the early part of the summer of 1988 had had a large bearing on Wheatley’s decision.
Wheatley informed Dexter and Stewart that Gatting should not be considered and the new England committee turned instead to David Gower.
Not a great way for Dexter’s ‘Brave New World’ to begin. And as the summer progressed many commentators were crying out for a return to the cowardly old one.
The explanation that Dexter had originally wanted Gatting ahead of Gower has always puzzled me. I never thought of Gatting as Dexter’s type of captain. Clearly Micky Stewart would have wanted Gatt, as he was the captain on Stewart’s and England’s successful expedition to Australia in 1986–87. He was also captain when England reached the final of the 1987 World Cup. Stewart and Gatting were very similar in their approach to the game and got on well. On the other hand, Gower, all elegance, grace and style was much more Dexter’s cup of tea. Perhaps Graeme Wright, then the editor of the Wisden Almanack, writing his notes in the 1989 edition, came closer to the truth than anyone thought at the time. He wrote, ‘As much a surprise as the veto was the discovery that Dexter should have wanted Gatting as captain in the first place.
‘In the three weeks before the new committee met to choose the captain, Gower was generally thought to be Dexter’s favourite for the job; he was the one the new chairman singled out for mention. However, no decision was made at that meeting, which was said to have contained “detailed discussion”. Five days elapsed before Gower was accorded a press conference at which Dexter announced that he was “the committee’s choice” to captain England for the series.
‘There was just a hint that he might not have been everyone’s choice.
‘The trouble, when things are kept secret, is that people start to look around for explanations other than the authorised version. I have always been one for conspiracy theories. For example if Dexter wanted Gower, and knew that his number two, Stewart, wanted Gatting, the veto could not have been more in Dexter’s favour. It gave him the captain he wanted and prevented an initial disagreement with Stewart. The existence of the veto was known from the outset to the four men on the committee, and Dexter looked the sort who was at home walking the corridors of power. Of course it is equally possible that, sometime in March, Stewart persuaded Dexter that Gatting was the man for the job.’
As Wright suggests, it is equally possible that Dexter enlisted the help of Wheatley, his old Cambridge colleague, to do his dirty work for him.
Whatever the truth, all this was to remain secret, particularly to Gower, until the end of the summer, although the curly-haired one did get an inkling that all might not be well at the press conference to announce his appointment. Micky Stewart sat there quietly, with thunder in his face, barely uttering a word. Then when Dexter was asked whether the decision to appoint him had been unanimous, he answered somewhat mysteriously, ‘After a long discussion, David was the committee’s choice.’
At first the Gower-Dexter dream ticket did engender a certain amount of optimism and hope. And at that stage Allan Border’s Australians offered little cause for alarm for the forthcoming 1989 summer Ashes series. Although the tourists made hay against the Duchess of Norfolk’s XI in the traditional curtain raiser to the international season at Arundel, then against MCC at Lord’s, they lost against Sussex in a one-day match and then lost their opening first-class match of the tour to Worcestershire by three wickets. They then got into their stride against Middlesex and Yorkshire, winning both matches easily, but with a Texaco trophy shared 1–1 and one game tied, the stage was set for a close and competitive Test series.
It turned out to be anything but.
England were not helped that summer by an extraordinary catalogue of injuries to key players, myself included, and the distractions caused by the recruitment of the South African rebel tourists. But the selectors did not help their cause by making the extraordinary decision to ditch Chris Broad after only two Test matches. Broad, who had scored four hundreds against Australia in the last five Tests including three during the 1986–87 Ashes series at the end of which he was named the Man of the Series and International Cricketer of the Year, was certain to be Graham Gooch’s opening partner for the first Test at Headingley but, although he performed adequately there he was out on his ear by the time England contested the third match at Edgbaston. As he later signed up for the South African rebel tour, the second Test at Lord’s was the last time he played for England.
By then, however, with Australia 2–0 up after two Tests, it was obvious that Border’s team was a vastly different proposition to the one we had faced in 1986–87. Player for player there didn’t seem to be all that much difference between the two squads. The greatest single factor in their supremacy, however, was an almost obsessive hunger for success brought to the Australian side by their captain.
It became clear quickly that Border and his coach Bobby Simpson had left nothing to chance in their preparation for this series. They had been on the wrong end of hammerings in 1985 and 1986–87 and they had spent the intervening two years developing a side full of players whose commitment and dedication to the cause was unquestioned. Furthermore, Border himself had undergone a transformation of character and approach.
Border had made himself unpopular with some of his team-mates by insisting that their wives would not be able to join them in the team hotels at any stage on tour, and each player was made fully aware of what was required on and off the field. Border himself set the tone for how he wanted his team to play and it was an inspiration to them.
I was not the only one of the England players who had forged a reasonably close friendship with AB over the years and it was his approach to me that led to my decision to sign up for his state Queensland during the winter of 1988. Throughout the 1985 summer series in England Border had been a frequent and welcome visitor to the England dressing room at the close of play, so often, in fact that his closeness to myself, Gower and Allan Lamb caused some ill-feeling inside the Aussie camp – fraternising with the enemy and all that nonsense.
After the 1986–87 series ended in another England victory Border was again criticised for what the Aussies back home perceived as an over-friendly relationship with the old enemy. The criticism stung this intensely patriotic Australian and this time round he had made a definite decision to become Captain Grumpy of a collection of players prepared to snarl, sledge and play dirty if necessary. His approach was not necessarily one I would have adopted, but the results spoke for themselves.
While Gower was displaying all the politeness and good manners that Dexter had wanted his team to show, Border just got on with the job of stuffing the Poms. Robin Smith, the Hampshire batsman who had come into the side the previous summer against the West Indies, was clearly shocked by Border’s ruthlessness on the field. It was not just the sledging he encouraged from bowlers like Merv Hughes and Geoff Lawson but the fact that Border went out of his way to be positively unpleasant to Smith and all the other batsmen at all times. No one minds a spot of sledging or winding up the opposition, but in my book they went too far and AB took them there.
Smith recounts the tale when, during a particularly hot and tense period of play during one of the Test matches, more out of courtesy than anything else he asked Border if it would be okay for our twelfth man to bring on a glass of water for him. Border’s reply shocked Smith. ‘What do you think this is, a f * * *ing tea party? No, you can’t have a glass of water. You can f* * *ing wait like all the rest of us.’
When Gower quizzed his opposite number over the change in approach, Border told him, ‘David, the last time we came here I was a nice guy who came last. I’ve been through all sorts of downs with my team, but this time I thought we had a bloody good chance to win and I was prepared to be as ruthless as it takes to stuff you. I didn’t mind upsetting anyone, my own team-mates included, as long as we got the right result.’
In the face of such open hostility England needed to be at the top of their game. Planning and preparation and tactics needed to be spot on and the players all needed to be focused and pulling for each other. Above all we needed clear leadership and direction from the top.
What we got, from the first Test at Headingley to the last at The Oval was none of the above and the result was chaos.
At Headingley we were treated to the first example of Dexter’s knack of making eccentric decisions when it really mattered. Quite apart from leaving out off-spinner John Emburey thus sending England into the match with an all-seam attack, Dexter persuaded Gower that if he won the toss he should send Australia in to bat first. The decision to field first was apparently based on Dexter’s belief that an approaching build-up of cloud might allow movement through the air. No cloud came but there was movement through the air all right, generally from the middle of the bat to the boundary.
Furthermore, the decision to bat first came from the fact that while watching the weather forecast on breakfast television on the first morning of the match, Dexter had apparently seen enough to convince him that the match was going to turn out to be a rain-shortened three and a half day contest. In the event, of course, not a drop fell. England won the toss, put Australia in and on a belting batting track watched them score 601 for seven declared on their way to victory by 210 runs.
The tone was set for the series. And by the end of the third day of the second Test at Lord’s the Ashes were as good as in Australia’s hands. At that point, England, with Gooch, Broad and Barnett gone, needed another 184 runs to avoid an innings defeat. At the press conference afterwards Gower snapped when, after a question from former England colleague Phil Edmonds who suggested that Gower had put every single one of his bowlers on from the wrong end, the England captain stood up and hurriedly announced he had a taxi waiting. Gower got a flea in his ear from Ted, followed by the notorious chairman’s vote of confidence, but although he went out and scored a quite brilliant hundred on the Monday it was not enough to save the day. The series was only a third of the way through, but Gower realised the game was more or less up.
By the time I returned to the side after injury for the third Test at Edgbaston I could see there were problems inside the camp. Gower and Stewart were clearly rubbing each other up the wrong way, when, that is, they were bothering to speak to each other at all, Ted seemed to be in a world of his own and too many of the players appeared to have the upcoming announcement of the South African rebel tour on their minds to concentrate on the job in hand. While the Australians were all pulling in one direction, we were pulling ourselves apart.
Speculation had been rife all summer. And throughout that Old Trafford Test the dressing room resembled the headquarters of MI5. Whispered discussions over who had signed up and who hadn’t and sudden silences dropping like a guillotine whenever a player not party to the skullduggery happened to enter the room – looking back on all the goings-on, the situation was absurd. I found it sad that England players did not have enough on their plate concerning themselves with events on the pitch. I’ve never known an atmosphere like it and if anyone needed any proof that some of the England players cared less about playing for their country than their Australian counterparts, this was it.
On the final morning of the fourth Test at Old Trafford the tension lifted when the party of sixteen players who had signed up on the rebel tour to South Africa that winter was finally announced, but I believe all the uncertainty created by the recruiting could easily have been avoided had Dexter and Stewart taken hold of events from the start.
What was inexcusable was that, as well as Gatting, who had already told Micky Stewart he would not be available for the winter tour to West Indies, presumably because he was going to be playing cricket elsewhere, the identities of several of those being targeted by the South Africans had been known to Stewart and Dexter for some time. Gower was convinced that they had an awful lot of information which they did not pass on to him. He could have done with it, if only to decide in his own mind who he was going to persevere with during the summer series. There was little point him playing some of the guys who were not going to be around for much longer and three of the players named in the South African squad were involved in that fourth Test – Tim Robinson, John Emburey and Neil Foster. A fourth, Graham Dilley, had been selected to play but was unfit on the first morning, and five of the others in that sixteen-man party – Gatting, Chris Broad, Paul Jarvis, Phil DeFreitas, and Kim Barnett – had already played in the earlier Tests of 1989. The TCCB had been aware of what was going on and had asked players who were in line for selection for the winter tour to West Indies to indicate whether they would be available or not. Dexter and Stewart had known for some time the names of many of those who had signed up, yet they never uttered a word to the captain or even attempted to keep him in the picture.
Indeed, when Dexter handed Gower a sheet of paper with the names of the rebels on the first morning of the Old Trafford match, the captain was more flabbergasted by the fact that his chairman already knew the names in advance of their release by the South African organisers than at their identities. How long had Dexter known? And why didn’t he let Gower know as soon as he found out?
When Gower found out just how much had been kept from him he was understandably bitter that the two men had not deemed it necessary to take him into their confidence. He pointed out that had he known everything that the chairman and manager had known there is no way he would have agreed to certain aspects of team selection, particularly the recall of Robinson, who was included for his first Test of the series in the full knowledge of Dexter and Stewart that it would be his last match for England.
Dexter himself later claimed that he had wanted to take decisive action, that he had wanted to put the players on long-term winter contracts to reduce the likelihood that they would make themselves available for the South African expedition. And after this bitter lesson the TCCB allowed him to go ahead with that plan. But there is no doubt in my mind that he should have let Gower know what was going on. Keeping quiet was unfair on Gower as he was always going to be the one who carried the can for England’s poor performances on the field (as he later did, when Dexter and Stewart shoved it in his hands).
Perhaps Gower should have made more strenuous efforts to find out himself. But most of the time he probably had other things on his mind – most obviously trying to get England to play like an international cricket side.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the end of the affair was that it overshadowed totally the contribution made by Jack Russell in that Test match, displaying fighting qualities sadly lacking in others and managing to concentrate on the task in hand of giving his all for the team when all around was a confused shambles.
Russell batted for 5 hours 51 minutes to make his maiden Test hundred of 128 not out, and in any other circumstances his example would have been an inspiration to his team-mates. Selected for the first Test at Headingley, he was given a torrid time by the Australian fast bowlers Merv Hughes and Geoff Lawson; so much so, in fact, that many commentators suggested he did not have the technique or the guts to play against short fast-pitched bowling. He noted the criticisms and, prior to the second Test at Lord’s, decided to do something about it. The day before the match he spent hours in the nets sharpening his reflexes against groundstaff bowlers chucking orange practice balls at him, and the hard work paid off when he made 64 in England’s first innings there.
Very much in the mould of my old mentor Ken Barrington, Russell had red white and blue coursing through his veins. It meant absolutely everything to him to play for England. As it did for the Middlesex bowler Angus Fraser, who made his debut at Edgbaston, and while Robin Smith was not born in England, the native South African showed more pluck for the fight than many of his English colleagues. Yet all their efforts were obscured by the controversy surrounding players who decided to turn their back on England. Smith made another 100 in the fifth Test at Trent Bridge but it was to no avail as Australia won by an innings and 180 runs and although England improved to draw the last Test at The Oval, it was widely expected Gower would resign the captaincy.
All through the series the mood had fluctuated between despair and disbelief. Injury after injury meant that England were never able to pick their side from the squad originally selected. And the farce reached a spectacular climax at The Oval when England went into the final Test with a seam bowler, Alan Igglesden of Kent, who Stewart helpfully described as ‘England’s 17th choice’.
According to Gower, ‘We replaced Moxon and Curtis with Hussain and Stevenson, but no sooner was the team released, than the usual business of people dropping out started up all over again. Malcolm’s back went, Fraser did his knee, and DeFreitas, called in as a replacement having reversed his original decision to go to South Africa, pulled a hamstring. We replaced DeFreitas with Greg Thomas, who said, “Sorry, I’m DeFreitas’s replacement for South Africa”. Norman Cowans and Riccardo Ellcock were both contacted at Middlesex and both reported unfit, and Glamorgan’s Steve Watkin was described as too jiggered to stand up for five days. I’m not sure whether I laughed or cried. We eventually ended up with two bowling places still to be filled the day before the game, and to add to the confusion, Ted, Micky and myself all came up with two different names. Eventually, through a combination of phone calls, and me handing over the final pick to Micky out of sheer exasperation, we settled on Derek Pringle and Alan Igglesden of Kent. This brought us up to 31 players for the series, and if there had been any plans for an end of term dinner, we would probably have had to cancel for the lack of a big enough restaurant. Morale, as you might have expected, was not exactly sky high.’
Dexter’s brave new world had come crashing down around him. Perpetrator of a catastrophic misreading of conditions at Headingley, his policy of keeping Gower in the dark over the defections was equally misguided. And his habit of opening his mouth and walking straight into it had ensured that a man once considered merely an eccentric was developing a reputation for being dangerously out-of-touch.
After Devon Malcolm had made his debut in the fifth Test at Trent Bridge, Ted Dexter, having been asked for any plus points he could think of from the match, answered by saying, ‘Who could forget Malcolm Devon?’ Then, at the final press conference after the match Ted set the seal on an unhappy summer by insisting, ‘I’m not aware of any errors we might have made.’ The first of these Johnstonesque bloomers in dealing with the media were only a hint of things to come.
Gower was resigned to losing the captaincy at the end of that summer series. In fact, he had thought very seriously about chucking the job in himself. In the end he never got the chance to, because Dexter sacked him anyway. But neither he nor I was prepared for what happened next.
Micky Stewart had been discussing with me all summer long my availability for the winter tour to West Indies. I had been approached by the rebel agents who told me they were prepared to break the bank to sign me up. I was not keen to go, but the money on offer was staggering, so I decided to call their bluff by asking for £500,000 for a three-year deal, knowing full well that was way above what the others were getting and confident that they would not be able to come up with the goods. Furthermore in my heart of hearts I wanted to tour the West Indies. They were the one country against whom I still felt I had something to prove. And I told Micky very early on in the piece that I was more than ready to try. In fact we had already discussed plans for the winter strategy and Micky left me in no doubt that he wanted me there.
Dexter, apparently, had other ideas. Making a mockery of his earlier unflattering description of Gooch, Dexter decided that the ‘wet fish’ should lead the side in the West Indies. Neither David nor myself had cause to fear that this would have a negative impact on our chances of touring. Although Gower had been told by Dexter and Stewart at the end of the meeting when Gower was relieved of the captaincy that they believed a change of direction was necessary, he had no reason to believe he would not be taking the journey with them. And I was looking forward to doing all I could to help a new team develop.
But in a decision which smacked of dictatorship from the top rather than a partnership between the management committee and the captain, Gooch was instructed by Dexter that neither Gower nor myself were to be considered for the tour. Later I got the impression that Gooch might not have wanted me anyway. But I was convinced that Stewart had done. Why else would he have spent most of the summer trying to persuade me to make myself available?
What bothered me was that the subject was not open to discussion. Dexter had made his mind up, and that was that.
As far as Gower was concerned, losing his place in the team was something that had simply not occurred to him as a possibility. He accepted that the decision to replace him as captain was probably correct. In fact he had intended to resign before being sacked but there was no question in anyone’s mind that Gower was worth his place in the side.
No question in anyone’s mind, that is, except the minds of those who mattered.
‘The problem as I saw it was that he [Gooch] didn’t understand that one man’s meat was another man’s poison.’
Graham Gooch’s period as captain of the England side was not without its successes. Indeed on that first winter trip to the West Indies in 1989–90 they were unlucky to lose the series 2–1 to Viv Richards’ side. Against all the odds England produced a wonderful performance to win the first Test at Sabina Park, Jamaica, and had the rain not fallen to wash out their hopes of victory in the third Test in Trinidad, they would have taken a 2–0 lead and earned at least a share of the series. In fact, victory at Port of Spain might have been decisive. Several of the players who had made West Indies such a great force in international cricket over the previous decade were coming towards the end of their careers. Gordon Greenidge and Malcolm Marshall were under particular pressure. And in certain quarters it was even being suggested that Richards would also have to make way for younger blood.
Had England won in Trinidad it is almost certain that big changes would have been made and I doubt whether West Indies would then have been able to turn things round in the way that they did, winning the last two Test matches at Barbados and Antigua to take the series. Even then England were only denied a share of the spoils by a magnificent spell of bowling from Curtly Ambrose in the fourth Test at Bridgetown.
England also had success in the 1990 summer series against India and New Zealand, winning both series against reasonable opposition by a single Test. Our 2–2 draw with the West Indies at home in 1991 which I had the pleasure of securing with the winning hit in the final Test at The Oval, the 2–0 victory over New Zealand on the winter tour of 1991–92 in New Zealand, and the second place we achieved in the 1992 World Cup were all positive results.
There was plenty to admire in the way Gooch went about things on a personal level. His ability to lead from the front was unquestioned. And his hundreds in the 1991 series against the West Indies may well have proved the difference between a successful and unsuccessful summer. I also marvelled at the fact that Gooch’s batting seemed to get better with age. He had made the positive decision to try and prolong his career by getting himself as physically fit as he possibly could, and his intensive training routines worked well for him. No one could doubt his determination and commitment, not to mention his skill with the bat.
The problem as I saw it was that he didn’t understand that one man’s meat was another man’s poison. And this led to a tension in the relationship between him and David Gower that was not only contrary to the best interests of the side, but which I believe ultimately cost him the respect of the cricketing public as well as the England captaincy.
Gooch’s methods encapsulated a more scientific approach to preparation for tours, namely, rigorous fitness assessments at the Football Association’s National Human Performance Centre at Lilleshall and programmes devised by the assessor John Brewer, designed to make England’s players as fit at the end of a day’s play as they would be at the start.
Gooch felt that these programmes would not only make the players physically stronger, they would also encourage them to be mentally tougher. But the issue was confused by the re-entry to Test cricket of David Gower during that summer of 1990 and later, by my return to the side at the end of the summer of 1991 prior to the World Cup trip.
When Gower was recalled for the first Test against India in 1990 after an absence of seven Test matches, he was very much on trial for his place on the 1990–91 tour to Australia. He did nothing out of the ordinary in the first two matches at Lord’s and Old Trafford but he lit up the third match at The Oval with a sublime 157 not out in the second innings, and prepared to pack his bags.
Gooch and Gower were England’s top run-makers on that unsuccessful 1990–91 Australia tour, but that apart they had very little in common throughout.
Having achieved a measure of success in the West Indies a year previously with his new fitness methods, Gooch was understandably keen to implement them for this particular trip as well. And when Gower turned up at Lilleshall for the pre-tour fitness assessments he came face to face for the first time with Gooch’s fitness guru, a certain Colin Tomlin.
Tomlin had worked with Kent and Essex on an unofficial basis, and had a reputation for pushing players to their physical limits. He certainly did in Gower’s case on this first occasion. For the workload he imposed on Gower left the laid-back one laid-out.
To my mind, having picked Gower for that winter tour to Australia, Gooch should have left it up to him to decide how he was going to go about things. Instead of relying on Gower to make sure he didn’t let his immense talent down, Gooch tried to mould him into his idea of a ‘team man’. But he totally misread the situation. One of David’s terrific strengths is that he has always been an individualist. There is no way you could harness him and his talent by trying to boss him about. But that is exactly what Gooch and Stewart tried to do on that Australian tour. And on occasions they ended up treating Gower like a naughty schoolboy.
It had all been so different from the approach taken by Mike Gatting, Gooch’s predecessor, on the 1986–87 tour to Australia. Then Gatt had allowed the senior players a certain amount of latitude. He wasn’t concerned with what we got up to off the field and he certainly wasn’t interested in having the whole team run around the outfield incessantly or spend hours and hours in meaningless fielding practice. Gower knew what was right for him. He didn’t need Gatting, and certainly not Gooch, telling him how to run his life, or prepare for his cricket. What you saw is what you got with David and trying to alter his basic approach to the game was bound to end in disaster. In fact, Gower outbatted everyone on that tour with the possible exception of Gooch himself; his hundred in the second Test at Melbourne enabled England to make 352 and take a first innings lead. But the second innings collapse from 103 for one to 150 all out meant England got what they deserved, a beating by eight wickets. And his wonderful 123 at Sydney followed by some excellent bowling from Phil Tufnell and Eddie Hemmings put England in with a chance of actually winning that third Test.
Gower was doing the business at that stage but Gooch just couldn’t leave well alone. Gower’s refusal to turn himself into a robot for Gooch’s pleasure and convenience left Gooch bewildered and angry. Backed up by Stewart, whose ambivalence toward Gower had turned into open and mutual animosity during the 1989 summer, Gooch made his displeasure at Gower’s lack of co-operation quite obvious to public and players alike. And when Gower tried to lighten the mood in the now infamous ‘Tiger Moth’ incident at Carrara during the match between England and Queensland, Gooch and Stewart quite rightly saw it as a massive two fingered salute to them.
Gower and his England colleague John Morris, who had made 132 in England’s first innings, hired a pair of 1938 Tiger Moths and to greet a century by Robin Smith they persuaded the pilots to buzz the ground at low altitude. They were both fined £1,000. According to Wisden, ‘For all their dereliction of duty in leaving without permission a game in which they were playing, it was a harsh penalty for an essentially light hearted prank, reflecting all too accurately the joyless nature of the tour.’ Sadly Gooch, Stewart and tour manager Peter Lush suffered a collective sense of humour failure and it cannot be coincidence that Morris never played for England again.
The fact that Biggles and his mate had returned to the airfield after close of play and happily posed for photographs had not helped their cause, nor was Lush best pleased to realise that he had unwittingly lent Gower the money to hire the Tiger Moth in the first place. But such heavy-handedness was always only going to exacerbate the problem, raising Gower’s resistance to what he saw as a far too regimented approach to the tour.
When the series ended in defeat at Perth, Gooch made no attempt to hide his dissatisfaction at Gower’s contribution. He indicated that he was far from happy with the performances of some of his colleagues, and that many of them had a lot to reproach themselves for in terms of attitude, commitment and effort. In his book Captaincy, Gooch reflected: ‘David Gower represents my biggest failure of man management since I’ve been England captain. I struggled to get through to him. I must bear a lot of responsibility for that, because I’ve always wanted us to be on the same wavelength ever since I became England captain. We are, after all, in the entertainment business and David Gower has been a fabulous entertainer since he first played for England. When you consider the free way he bats, his record at Test level is marvellous – all those beautiful centuries … an average way over 40 (and a good deal better than mine). Who wouldn’t want a guy like that in the side? Yet on that Australian tour, I had more meetings with the management about David than anyone else and I’m sad to say that I felt more at ease with him out of the England team in 1991. I was very keen to have him in Australian because of his class and experience and no one was happier than I was when his big hundred at the Oval against the Indians justified his inclusion … I still have total respect for him as a player. Yet we don’t see eye to eye on what I expect from a senior player. I need a lot more from him than just seeing his immense talent flower on occasions in a Test match … To me his lethargic attitude can rub off on some of the others, those who admired and respected him.’
Gower put his side of things in his autobiography: ‘There were elements of truth in my feeling uncomfortable with the way the team was now being run, but in broad terms I was willing to fit in with almost anything to carry on playing Test cricket. I certainly felt under pressure when the tour party gathered at the initial fitness training, partly because I had not managed to drag myself onto the roads five times a day, and would not quite be up to the sort of gruelling routines I knew they had in mind, and partly because I felt that the hierarchy would be fascinated to see how I performed there. I didn’t do too badly, without looking the picture of happiness throughout it all, and the gentleman appointed to put us through our paces did manage to get a certain amount of vomit from me on the football field. I blew up at him more than once, although this again could have been perceived wrongly in that I’ve always needed a certain amount of anger to drive me on through hard physical exercise. The mission down under did not get off to the best of starts, either in terms of performance or team morale. You can defend the work ethic in terms of what you put in, you tend to get out, and Graham is the best example I’ve ever played with who would leave nothing to chance, either physically or technically. It does not suit everyone, however, and there was a lot of early niggling about the way we were preparing. Days off appeared to be out of the question, and a non-playing day seemed to follow a regimented pattern; down to the training ground, a longish session of physical fitness training, followed by nets, middle practice, and back to the hotel some time in mid-afternoon. Where the build-up was going wrong was the management’s attitude of telling everyone what to do. The more you relieve people of individual responsibility, the more master-slave the relationship becomes and the more resentment creeps in. The thing was being run like a puppet show. No one expects to be handed a questionnaire to fill in every morning. What would you like to do today? How do you want your eggs done? What time would you like a net, sir? I’m not saying that at all. There has to be a basic team discipline, and indeed conformity. But each touring side develops an atmosphere. Get the emphasis right, and it will be a good one; get it wrong, and it won’t.’
There had to be some common ground, and Gower was worth making the extra effort for, but I simply don’t believe Gooch did enough. Instead, he hid behind the parade-ground mentality that he and Micky Stewart had developed, and battered away at Gower until even after it became obvious it was a pointless and futile exercise.
What also did not help team morale was Gooch’s insistence on referring back to the team spirit that he had engendered in the West Indies the previous winter. More than one player told me how much those who had not been in the Caribbean resented being told by those who had, how much better things had been there. This was the ‘in my day’ syndrome being taken to a ridiculous degree. After all the ‘in my day’ in question was less than 365 days previously. I believe Gooch became obsessed with the Gower situation and he allowed it to cloud his judgement in many issues. To him, there seemed to be a right way of doing things and a wrong way and nothing in-between. He was right, Gower was wrong and that was that.
Even when Gooch tried to have it out with Gower when the squad moved on to New Zealand for a series of one day internationals after the Ashes series was over, the tenor of their conversation was very much along the lines of how Gower had failed to give Gooch what he wanted. Gower couldn’t really accept what he was hearing. After all he had given his captain two Test hundreds, as well as highest score in England’s first Test match in Brisbane, 61 out of a paltry first innings of 194 and 27 out of an even more paltry 114 in the second.
Gooch was not helped on that tour by an injury to himself which meant he missed the first Test at the Gabba where defeat set the tone for the series. But I believe he would surely have had better success had he understood and accepted from the start that Gower was not going to be bossed around by him and that rather than trying to impose his will on the left-handed batsman, he should accept him for what he was, and just let him play.
It’s quite extraordinary to think now that Gower’s record of 407 Test runs in five matches at an average of 45.22 including those two hundreds counted for nothing when Gooch started to consider his plans for the following summer series against the West Indies in 1991.
To my mind one explanation for Gooch’s treatment of Gower lay in the captain’s close relationship with a certain Geoffrey Boycott. Boycott had grown closer and closer to Gooch over the years. When Boycs shouted, Gooch jumped and he was grateful to the Yorshireman for his help in fine-tuning his batting technique. But their closeness extended to a distrust of Gower. Some observers believe that the real reason behind Boycott’s negative attitude to Gower was that he feared for the safety of his Test batting record.
In fact, following England’s return from Australia, Gower didn’t play Test cricket again for more than a year, when he made his belated comeback at Old Trafford in July 1992, making his 115th Test appearance, passing Colin Cowdrey’s England record, and then overhauling Boycott’s record England aggregate of 8,114 Test runs with an exquisite cover drive to the boundary, a fitting shot to make him England’s most prolific run scorer.
Gower made his comeback almost exactly eighteen months after that ill-fated Tiger Moth expedition. An awful lot of time in the wilderness and an awful waste of time. By that stage I had made my own return to the international arena, and had seen at first hand precisely the kind of things Gower was up against.
My dealings with the Gooch/Stewart regime left me about as impressed as Gower had been. Having been omitted from the party for the previous two winter tours and with no immediate prospects of a change of heart, I had decided to make my own arrangements for the winter of 1991–92, and this included a season of pantomime. I hadn’t been one of those placed on a year’s contract to secure my exclusive playing services and there had been no concrete commitment by the England selectors that I would be recalled, so I decided I had to be open to commercial offers for the sake of myself and my family rather than wait until September to see if I’d be picked for the tour.
Although I made a return to the Test side for the final match of the series against the West Indies at The Oval it was not until after the end of that match that Gooch indicated he wanted me on board for the 1992 World Cup the following February. Gooch said he wanted me in New Zealand for at least a part of the first section of England’s winter plans, and after negotiations BBC television agreed to reschedule recording dates for a series of A Question of Sport programmes which would allow me to make it out there in time.
It was not envisaged that I would take part in the Test series against New Zealand although I eventually did as a result of injuries, but I needed no encouragement to get myself fit for the tournament. To give Gooch and Micky Stewart their due, we had at least come up with a plan for our World Cup strategy, something that was sadly lacking in 1996, namely, that I should be used in what later became known as the ‘pinch-hitter’ role. And Gooch and Micky, were sensible enough to give me a certain amount of leeway when it came to getting myself fit for the job in hand. But there’s no doubt in my mind that England lost the World Cup that year because we simply ran out of steam.
Gooch’s insistence on nets and physical training that Gower had come across in Australia on the tour of 1990–91 was very much in evidence when England toured New Zealand prior to the World Cup and this perpetual grind took its toll. What is more I don’t recall a single day off in the entire tournament. As soon as the New Zealand series had been completed what we should have done was go off to the Gold coast or some other resort for a week of rest and relaxation in order to repair the minor injuries that had been collected against the Kiwis, recharge the batteries and take our minds off cricket.
Instead we all trolled over to Sydney for a week of nets and mickey-mouse practice matches against each other. By the time the crucial games came at the end of the tournament, although we were the best team on show, we were physically incapable of raising our game and this became obvious in our final defeat by Pakistan at the MCG.
Nevertheless, reaching the World Cup Final was an achievement that should not be underestimated and it was certainly the high point of our performance under Dexter, Stewart and Gooch.
Within a little over a year, however, all three had been replaced. And the common-link in their overthrow was Gower.
England’s summer series against Pakistan in 1992 has passed into history as one of the most acrimonious on record. At the heart of the controversy lay the conviction of myself, Allan Lamb and several other England players, not to mention Micky Stewart, that the Pakistan bowlers Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aqib Javed tampered with the ball throughout. I remain convinced to this day that all three of them cheated by contravening the laws of the game. I refer specifically to the laws of cricket 42.4 and 42.5 governing unfair play.
Law 42.4: Lifting the seam. A player shall not lift the seam of the ball for any reason. Should this be done, the umpire shall change the ball for one of similar condition to that in use prior to the contravention. Law 42.5: Changing the condition of the ball. Any member of the fielding side may polish the ball providing that such polishing wastes no time and that no artificial substance is used. No one shall rub the ball on the ground or use any artificial substance or take any other action to alter the condition of the ball. In the event of the contravention of this law, the umpires, after consultation, shall change the ball for one of similar condition to that in use prior to the contravention. The law does not prevent a member of the fielding side from drying a wet ball, or removing mud from the ball.
In my opinion the actions of Wasim, Waqar, and Aqib Javed were in clear and direct contravention of those laws. Using their fingernails they made such an unholy mess of the ball at times that a ball that had been in use for 40 or 50 overs looked as though a pack of dogs had chewed it. Although most of us in the England dressing room had complained privately about what was going on, the real facts did not start to emerge until the fourth Texaco trophy match against Pakistan at Lord’s.
Lamb was a central figure in the controversy. In the end, by speaking out publicly over what happened, he made himself persona non grata as far as the England selectors and the TCCB were concerned. But it was not until more than a year later when a libel case brought against Lamb by the former Northamptonshire and Pakistan pace bowler Sarfraz Nawaz revealed publicly the real reason why the ball used in that Texaco trophy match had been changed, that Lamb and I were vindicated over the matter. Suffice to say, the acrimony and controversy overshadowed almost everything else that happened during that summer.
It also, at first, obscured the appalling treatment of David Gower by Gooch, Stewart and Ted Dexter.
On England’s return from their winter tour to Australia in 1991 it was clear that Gower no longer figured in Gooch’s long-term plans for England. Gooch stuck to his guns throughout the 1991 home series against West Indies and it was no surprise at all when Gower missed out on selection for the 1991–92 winter tour of New Zealand and the World Cup that followed. Gower just didn’t fit into Gooch’s idea of what was required by a team man, and the captain turned his back on one of the greatest talents the English game has ever seen.
It was not until halfway through the summer of 1992 that Gower was allowed back into the fold. Gooch had seen the way the wind was blowing during the first two Tests of the series. Although England had made 459 for seven declared in the drawn first Test at Edgbaston with fine centuries from Alec Stewart and Robin Smith they had done so on a belter of a pitch and in the absence of Wasim Akram, Pakistan’s most penetrative and dangerous bowler. But by the time England had finished the second Test at Lord’s, and lost by two wickets, it was clear to Gooch that England’s batting was fragile. They managed just 255 in the first innings and 175 in the second and although England might have won had Wasim and Waqar not come together for the match clinching partnership in Pakistan’s second innings, Gooch had seen for himself how devastating the Pakistan attack had become by this stage and he wanted Gower back to help deal with it.
Gooch had kept Gower out of the side for so long on what was basically a matter of principle. It’s funny how principles can become blurred when the need arises. Gower was not complaining. He was delighted to be back, not only to be given the opportunity to overtake Boycott’s record, but also to resurrect a career he believed could continue for at least a couple more years.
Gower needed to be at his very best at Old Trafford. Pakistan had racked up 505 for nine wickets declared in their first innings thanks to a double century from Aamir Sohail and England were 93 for three in reply when Gower strode to the crease. How ironic that he was welcomed there by the man who had kept him out of Test cricket for so long. The Manchester crowd had to wait until the Monday morning of the match to see the prodigal son return with a bat in his hand. And as Wisden reported, ‘What followed was Gower in spades: a squeeze through slips, a superb cover drive, a delightful push through mid wicket, a head high chance to first slip, and finally, only 31 minutes after he arrived at the crease, a cover drive to the boundary, a fitting shot to make him England’s most prolific scorer in his 200th Test innings.’
Gower went on to make 73, helping England to avoid the follow on, and although his effort was overshadowed by more aggro on the field involving the Pakistan acting captain Javed Miandad, the umpire Roy Palmer and Pakistan bowler Aqib Javed, nothing could dampen the delight of the English cricket public at seeing one of their favourite sons back where he belonged.
If Gower’s contribution had been to enable England to avoid defeat at Old Trafford, his batting in the fourth Test at Leeds helped England win by six wickets and square the series. Gooch himself was magnificent in that match. England managed to bowl out Pakistan for only 197, then Gooch withstood everything a typical Headingley seamer’s pitch and one of the most potent attacks in world cricket could produce, making 135 on the same ground as he had produced a majestic 150 to help England beat the West Indies the previous season. The value of his seven-hour innings was put into perspective when, after he was bowled by Mushtaq Ahmed’s last delivery before lunch, nine England batsmen fell for just fifty runs. As had happened so often before, a ball which had hardly deviated became a swinging hand grenade as England plummeted from 270 for one to 320 all out. Waqar Younis took all five of his wickets for 13 runs in just 38 balls, leaving Gower high and dry on 18 not out. More good bowling in Pakistan’s second innings which produced just 221, meant England needed just 99 runs to win the match. And this is where Gower came into his own.
According to Wisden, ‘England’s supposedly simple task turned into a three-hour trial of skill, nerve and self control. Reduced to three front line bowlers by an injury to Aqib, the tourists remembered Imran Khan’s famous entreaty to act like “cornered tigers”. Waqar, Wasim and Mushtaq bowled with magnificent, legitimate hostility, backed by a fierce gale of appeals for this that and the other. Rejection by umpires Palmer and Kitchen brought several displays of theatrical astonishment by fielders, as well as three invasions by Pakistani spectators. The pressure increased when Atherton and Smith both fell to Waqar at 27 but, thanks to Palmer’s unwitting help, Gooch clung on for two hours before he was caught at silly point off Mushtaq, soon to be followed by Stewart. Gower also stayed two hours, making an equally ice cool 31, after Latif’s cap-throwing act failed to convince either umpire he had been caught behind. With some late assistance from Ramprakash, Gower finally inched his way to the target which squared the series.’
By his standards Gower did not have a great match in the deciding Test at The Oval. And he did not paint the prettiest picture when, in England’s second innings, he shouldered arms to a ball that came back off the seam from Waqar Younis and was bowled for one, leaving England 59 for four and still 114 short of avoiding an innings defeat.
Pakistan duly completed the job to win the match by 10 wickets and the series 2–1. Afterwards Micky Stewart added fuel to the fire of the ball-tampering controversy when he announced at a press conference, his last before retiring as manager to be succeeded by Keith Fletcher, that he knew how the Pakistani bowlers managed to swing an old ball more than a new one, but was not prepared to reveal the secret.
The reaction to that was nothing compared to the outrage that followed the announcement that Gower had been omitted from the winter party to tour India. In fact, the row over the absence of Gower, Jack Russell and Ian Salisbury rumbled on for months.
‘It would amaze me if Dexter, even though in overall charge as Chairman of Selectors, ever selected a player off his own bat for England during his period in charge.’
There is no doubt in my mind that Gooch’s decision to leave Gower out of the 1993 winter tour to India and Sri Lanka was the biggest mistake of his career as England captain.
Since Gower’s return to the national side for that fourth Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford he had proved what England had been forced to miss for a year and a half due to Gooch’s intransigence. Now Gooch added the final insult. The junking of Gower and the way it was done were an absolute disgrace.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole affair was how Gower first heard of his fate, not via a phone call from Gooch, the new coach Fletcher, or indeed the Chairman of Selectors Dexter. He read it in a newspaper.
The final Test had been completed on 9 August. The squads for the winter tours were not due to be announced until 7 September. Although the selectors, who by this time comprised Dexter as chairman, Fletcher as coach, and Gooch, did not finalise their plans until 4 September, the day before the NatWest Final between Leicestershire and Northamptonshire at Lord’s, it was clear that Gooch had made his mind up some time in advance. He owed it to Gower to let him know, for he must have understood how his longtime team-mate and sometime friend would be devastated by the news.
Most observers were convinced that Gower would be selected. There was no reason to think otherwise. But as the date for the announcement of the squads approached a rumour started to develop that Gower’s place was not as secure as it might have been. What is more those rumours also suggested that his place in the squad would be taken by, of all people, Mike Gatting.
At first this was dismissed as absurd. But on Sunday 6 September, the day after the NatWest Final, the Mail on Sunday ran a story stating categorically that Gower would not be going to India. Gower read it, held his breath, and hoped the story was wrong. He also waited for a phone call from Gooch or one of the other selectors to clarify the situation.
The call finally came on the following day, Monday 7 September. Sadly for Gower, it confirmed his worst fears. Not surprisingly, Gower went ballistic. And so did the national press. At a press conference to announce the squad, question after question was fired at Fletcher and Dexter and no sensible answer was forthcoming over Gower’s omission. Fletcher tried to fob off the press with some excuse along the lines that Gower’s inclusion alongside that of Gooch himself and Gatting would have meant too many batsmen in the squad in their mid-thirties. This inflamed the public opinion even more.
Gatting, who had signed up for the rebel tourists in 1989, had only recently become available for England again, having had his ban cut in half after South Africa’s re-entry to the Test arena had encouraged a mood of reconciliation. What infuriated many was that Gower, who had refused any inducements to take the krugerrand and run during 1989 and had stayed loyal to England, was being ditched, while Gatting who had so obviously failed to put England first was being welcomed back with open arms to take Gower’s place. Furthermore Gooch had also made room for John Emburey, his oldest and closest friend in the game who, as a member of Geoff Boycott’s original rebel party in 1982, was the only cricketer to sign up for two rebel tours to South Africa.
Critics of the decision also highlighted Gooch’s record in this respect. Between 1978–79 and 1986–87 Gower had gone on nine successive winter tours. The following year he asked for a break, understandably. And since that time he had made no conditions on his availability for England. As Matthew Engel, editor of Wisden commented, ‘The contrast with Gooch – his decision to go to South Africa in 1981–82, his refusal, for family reasons, to tour Australia in 1986–87, his need to have Donald Carr fly out to Antigua in 1986 to persuade him to stay because some politician had criticised him, the fact that he planned to skip the abandoned India tour of 1988–89 until he was offered the captaincy, even his insistence on not going to Sri Lanka [Gooch had said in advance that although he was happy to captain in India, he would not do so in Sri Lanka] – is very stark.’ Gooch, Fletcher and Dexter might have gained a modicum of credit during the episode if only they had come up with a straight answer to the straight question: Why? They failed to do so.
I believe they were embarrassed by the decision because they had no logical or reasonable grounds to make it. And the harder they were pressed, the clearer their only option became. It was to shut up and hope that the noise and fuss would die down. It never did, and for that we must thank a group of dissident members of the MCC. Led by a gentleman named Dennis Oliver, and against the strong opposition of the MCC committee, these MCC ‘rebels’ proposed a vote of no confidence in the England Test selectors over the omission of Gower, Jack Russell and Ian Salisbury. When the members met, the rebels won by 715 to 412 votes on site. However, the postal vote went in favour of the selectors by 6,135 votes to 4,600. Never mind their defeat, the rebels had made their point.
By the end of the winter tour, which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster from England’s and Gooch’s point of view, the decision to omit Gower looked a sick joke. England became the first team ever to lose all their matches in a Test series in India, going down 3–0, each time by a huge margin. Then they lost to Sri Lanka in a Test match for the first time. And the anger that the MCC rebels had so eloquently displayed grew nationwide.
Gooch’s first error of judgement, in my opinion, was to carry on as captain at the end of that summer series against Pakistan. I believe he was reluctant to tour India at all, and this should have been the moment when he called it a day as captain. Instead, the ten-wicket defeat by Pakistan at the final Test at The Oval began a sequence of seven defeats against four different countries which ran up to and included the Lord’s Test against Australia in 1993 which was lost by an innings and 62 runs.
I believe Gooch would have gone, in fact, had Micky Stewart’s replacement as England coach been anyone other than Keith Fletcher, Gooch’s friend and mentor at Essex.
During that summer of 1992 Gooch had made various noises along the lines that he did not fancy touring the subcontinent in 1993, and although his annual procrastinations about touring were legendary, this time it appeared he was serious. Clearly, if he did not tour India in 1992–93, that would be the end of his captaincy. Fletcher had taken some prising away from his county job at Essex, and had negotiated a five-year contract with the Test and County Cricket Board executive committee, the length of which stunned and angered the county chairmen when they became aware of it later on.
Fletcher wanted Gooch alongside him for his first tour abroad as coach and persuaded him to change his mind.
Gooch later admitted that his decision to go was a grave error. On the day the England party arrived in India, it was announced that his marriage to his wife Brenda was over, which set the tone for his trip. On top of the criticism he was receiving back home over Gower’s omission, he was never at ease with himself or physically well, and he batted badly.
Dexter, whose hold over affairs had become increasingly tenuous, did not help much either. After England lost the first Test of that series against India in Calcutta, strangely electing to play only one spinner in an otherwise all-seam attack on a spinner’s wicket, Dexter announced that as a result of the continuing poor health of some of the England players, a study into air pollution levels in Indian cities had been commissioned. To this day we still await the results of that study.
And the offer of what was construed as a feeble excuse for dreadful performances produced predictable results in the national newspapers, one of whom suggested that, in future, any player fortunate enough to be selected for India should acclimatise by revving a car engine in a locked garage.
After the smog, came the prawn. According to Wisden, in the second Test match at Madras, ‘England were well beaten by eleven men and a plate of prawns as India won the match – and with it the series – by an innings and 22 runs. The night before the match Gooch and Gatting had eaten in the Chinese restaurant at the team’s hotel; their meal included an extra plate of prawns. Shortly before the start of play Gooch, complaining of sickness and dizziness, was forced to withdraw from the game. Later, after acting captain Stewart had lost the toss, Gatting and Smith, who had apparently eaten chicken in his room, both left the field feeling ill. There followed considerable debate as to whether the players had ignored the advice they were given about diet.’
And after defeat there, England became the first side to lose every game of a Test series in India when they went down by an innings and 15 runs in Bombay. By the time England, minus Gooch, had moved on to Sri Lanka, lost the Test match and two one-day internationals there, Dexter had turned his attention to the question of facial hair.
It would be hypocritical of me to join in the criticism of how the players looked on that tour. Sure, it is important for the team to look good on the field, but when it comes to stubble, no one could accuse me of attempting to boost the sales of razor blades.
But by now it was open season for the England team and management. And when a photograph of Bob Bennett, the tour manager, attending a press conference wearing a T-shirt and ill-fitting shorts appeared in the national papers back home, the latest in a long run of unflattering images, it only served to fuel the fire of those who had been so outraged at the original selection for the tour.
Criticism within and without the game had reached such a pitch that on 10 March 1993 while England were going down to their second defeat to Sri Lanka in a limited-over international, and the TCCB was meeting at Lord’s to discuss the England team’s failure, there was widespread speculation that Dexter would be forced to resign.
While the nation waited for an explanation for England’s poor showing, Dexter once again got the mood all wrong. He had declined to give any explanation for Gower’s original omission, and stuck to that line throughout; nobody had been fooled by his attempt to introduce the Calcutta smog into the list of reasons why England failed in the first Test, and now he encouraged his critics to pile in once again with his comments over Gooch’s beard.
‘There is a modern fashion for designer stubble,’ Dexter was quoted as saying, ‘and some people believe it to be very attractive. But it is aggravating to others and we will be looking at the whole question of people’s facial hair.’
He might have said that they would be looking at the whole question of why England had been thrashed 3–0 by India.
There is no doubt that England’s cricketers wilted in the face of the Indian experience. As Wisden reported, ‘In the bar at the team’s hotel on New Year’s Eve, one of the less experienced members of the party was in such distress that he was already longing for home a mere four days into the tour. The communal violence in the wake of the destruction of the temple at Ayodhya had resulted in hundreds of deaths all over India and created an unsettled atmosphere among the squad. Their fears were heightened when the first international match, due to be played in Ahmedabad, was cancelled because the safety of the players could not be guaranteed. As a result of this and crowd disturbances at games that did take place, some of the party simply gave up trying to come to terms with a country that, at the best of times, can be quite overwhelming.’ True, the schedule of matches and the constant travelling demanded was hardly conducive to allowing the players to concentrate on their cricket first and foremost. But without any clear leadership from Fletcher or Gooch the spirit in the squad visibly flagged. England’s players should have been mentally tough enough to deal with everything that was thrown at them, but they clearly weren’t. Gooch, who is not a great fan of touring the subcontinent at the best of times, withdrew further and further into his shell. All the time, nagging away in the back of his mind was the fact that he had been persuaded to carry on as captain for that winter tour against his better judgement. And his air of fatalism spread throughout the party.
The players had also been let down in terms of their technical preparation.
As the tour did not start until the beginning of January, England had had three full months to prepare following the end of the English domestic season. Fletcher had organised regular get-togethers at Lilleshall, but he had totally misread the conditions England would be facing and consequently organised exactly the wrong type of practice for batsmen and bowlers. India had formulated a plan in advance to get the best out of their spinners on wickets designed for them and they carried it out to perfection. The batsmen spent many hours of intensive practice facing the England spinners on artificial surfaces known as spin mats. These took spin but they were also quick and bouncy. The wickets England actually had to play on in India were dry and dusty, taking prodigious spin but with hardly any bounce or pace. Therefore when England’s batsmen lined up against Anil Kumble the leg spinner, Venkatapathy Raju the left-armer, and Rajesh Chauhan the offspinner, the batsmen were bamboozled. All the batsmen had been used to waiting until the last minute before playing the ball off the back foot, and the bowlers got into a rhythm in conditions which bore no resemblance to what they would actually encounter when they faced the real thing. Their technique was all wrong.
This wasn’t Fletcher’s only mistake. After having returned from a spying mission to Johannesburg to watch India play in South Africa, Fletcher delivered his verdict on Kumble saying, ‘He didn’t turn a single ball from leg to off. We will not have much problem with him.’
Kumble finished up taking 21 wickets in a three-match series, Raju took 16 and Chauhan 9, and the Indian spinners took 46 of the 58 England wickets to fall in the series.
It was not an auspicious start for Fletcher in his new role as coach. But as he’d only just taken up the reins, the major criticism following the end of the tour was pointed in the direction of Dexter and Gooch and on England’s return it was only a matter of time before both men had to go.
The lack of a sensible plan for the succession to the England captaincy now took its toll. Gatting’s return to the fold had created speculation that he was now in line to regain the job he had lost five years previously, while Alec Stewart, who had captained the side in Sri Lanka in Gooch’s absence was Gooch’s preferred choice and odds-on favourite, particularly as the outsider in the race, Mike Atherton, had found himself out of favour in India.
England would probably have been thoroughly beaten by Australia in the summer of 1993 anyway, for among their number was a young leg spinner who exploded into the consciousness of England batsmen during that summer and stayed there ever since. Shane Warne set the tone for the series when he produced the ‘Ball from Hell’ to Mike Gatting in that first Test at Old Trafford, a delivery which spun from way outside leg stump and clipped Gatting’s off bail. Gatt wasn’t the only one to be flabbergasted by the amount of turn that Warne had extracted from the pitch and the ball did huge psychological damage for the series ahead.
But by now Dexter and Gooch were both beginning to lose the plot. Fletcher, meanwhile, just seemed out of his depth. As the summer wore on, England’s policy, or lack of it, over Gooch’s position and the actual selection of the side, became more and more muddled. Gooch, who had gone against his instincts in agreeing to captain the side in India, was again persuaded by Dexter and Fletcher to stand as captain at the start of the Ashes series. Once he had made his decision to comply with their request, Gooch had wanted to be appointed for the whole series to send out a message of solidarity and purpose to Allan Border’s Australians.
Should things go badly he did not want speculation over his position to be constantly undermining the team’s efforts and he was not happy when Dexter made the decision to appoint him for three Tests only.
By the second Texaco trophy match at Birmingham it was clear to me that Gooch was losing his way badly. England had lost the first one-day international at Manchester by four runs, but when Robin Smith lit up Edgbaston with his extraordinary innings of 167 not out, the highest score for England in a one-day international and the fifth highest in all, enabling them to reach 277 for five in their 55 overs, Gooch was presented with an obvious opportunity to rekindle confidence and enthusiasm. Australia set about chasing their target in a reasonably sedate manner, and when Mark Waugh and Allan Border came together in a partnership which ultimately proved decisive, Gooch, as fielding captain, looked all too satisfied with a policy of containment. In fact Waugh and Border hardly played a shot in anger, as they collected slowly but surely and reached their target with ease. Ian Chappell describes Gooch’s performance that day as reminding him of a rabbit caught in headlights. England’s all-seam attack looked inadequate and their fielding became ragged. Not only did Australia win by six wickets, they overhauled England large total with two and a half overs to spare.
Gooch found some batting form in the first Test at Manchester making 65 in the first innings and 133 in the second before being given out handled the ball, but defeat there made up Gooch’s mind that as soon as the Ashes were gone he was going too. Perversely however, this was the moment when Dexter decided to accede to Gooch’s original request, and offered to appoint him for the remainder of the series.
Just prior to the second Test at Lord’s, Dexter had a meeting with Gooch and put the proposition to him. Gooch, against his better judgement, agreed, but offered this rider to Dexter: ‘I’ll do it as long as I can begin to motivate the side to be more competitive.’ What happened instead was that, after Australia had won the toss, Taylor and Michael Slater put on 260 for the first wicket. By a quarter to twelve on the third morning of the match Allan Border was able to declare at 632 for four.
England capitulated meekly, bowled out for 205 and 365 with only Mike Atherton who made 80 in the first innings and was run out for 99 in the second, producing a blameless performance, which was to stand him in good stead later when the captaincy issue was finally resolved in his favour.
The Test was lost, by an innings, before tea on the final day – before, indeed, the Queen had arrived for the traditional presentation of the teams. Gooch, who before the second Test at Lord’s had criticised his players for not showing the correct ‘mental fibre’ and had taken on the responsibility of captaining England for the remainder of the series on condition that they perform better than they had done at Old Trafford, searched his soul again and found no reason to continue. Once again, however, he was persuaded out of making that decision by Dexter and Fletcher. And it was at this point that Dexter once again demonstrated that he was clearly out of touch with the public mood. At the press conference after the match Dexter sought to introduce a note of levity into the proceedings. In the circumstances it was exactly what was not was required. The reporters wanted answers to the questions cricket supporters all over the country were asking themselves.
There was a certain amount of residual anger over the Gower saga; he was still out of the frame for selection and yet those who had been picked were proving themselves clearly not up to the job. Mike Gatting, in particular, who many saw as the villain of the piece for being selected ahead of Gower for India, had managed just 4 and 23 in the first Test at Old Trafford and five in the first innings at Lord’s. Although he made 59 in the second, some blamed him for running out Atherton when on 99, and many were now fed up with what they saw as Gooch’s obsession of keeping Gower out of the side.
Dexter’s first offering was feeble enough. When asked how much blame he himself took for all the bad selections Dexter replied, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ The mood inside the room where the press conference was held became more hostile but the longer it went on the more Dexter appeared blithely unconcerned. When asked for some serious observations about why England were underperforming Dexter responded with his idea of a joke. He said, ‘We may be in the wrong sign … Venus may be in the wrong juxtaposition with somewhere else.’
Dexter said afterwards that he had been harpooned and lampooned by the press. It seemed to me that he had given them a target that even they could not miss.
Dexter’s supporters point out, quite rightly, that their man’s heart was in the right place. He was a great batsman for England, and, on occasions an inspirational figure as captain. And he had a theory for every occasion. Some of them may have been quite unintelligible to the majority of his fellow cricketers, but many players who represented England during his tenure at the job of Chairman of Selectors had been grateful to him for a spot of technical advice from time to time. When he took over the job in 1989 he stated that everything in his life had prepared him for that moment. Certainly he saw himself as a crusader and his mission to improve the fortunes of English cricket. He was, by all accounts, tireless in his efforts to improve the game at domestic level. And it is largely down to him that the counties agreed to change from three-day championship cricket to a four-day competition. By the time Dexter set his plan in motion, playing conditions were loaded so much in favour of batsmen, what with flat batting tracks and lowseamed balls for the bowlers to use, that it was almost impossible to achieve a result in a three-day match, assuming good weather throughout, without contrivance. That is not how the game should be played, but it was certainly how the game was being played for a period during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Ted also made a conscious decision throughout his time as chairman to put some distance between himself and the players. Often this had hilarious results. On seeing a young player he didn’t quite recognise bringing his cricket case into the England dressing room at Trent Bridge before a Test match, he paused, looked up and offered his best wishes to the player concerned for the match ahead. Unfortunately for Ted, the young cricketer in question was a member of the Nottinghamshire ground staff.
The whimsical side of his nature became graphically clear to me when on the eve of the third Test against Australia in 1989, he handed out his version of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ to the England players and invited them to sing it in the bath at the top of their voices that evening. It read ‘Onward Gower’s cricketers, striving for a score. With our bats uplifted, We want more and more …’ You get the picture.
But this detachment had negative results. He certainly should have let Gower into his confidence over the identity of those who had signed up for the rebel tour to South Africa in 1989, and if only he had come forward with a credible reason for Gower’s omission from the winter tour party to India in 1992–93, even his sternest critics might have laid off when things went so badly wrong in the subcontinent.
Furthermore, it seemed to me that his grasp over selection had become more and more tenuous. Once it became clear that the team that had lost so narrowly in the World Cup final to Pakistan had needed to be dismantled, it was imperative that Dexter came up with a solid, consistent and forward-thinking selection policy. Instead for the next year or so, England teams were picked along the traditional lines of lottery, hunches and guesswork, characterised mainly by Gooch’s personal preference. Why else would Gatting have returned ahead of Gower for that India series, or John Emburey been included in the first place at the age of 40, or why would Neil Foster, Gooch’s county team-mate at Essex for so long, have been selected for that second Test of the Ashes series in 1993 at Lord’s?
It would amaze me if Dexter, even though in overall charge as Chairman of Selectors, ever selected a player off his own bat for England during his period in charge.
Apart from decreeing that myself and Gower should not be considered for the 1989 West Indies tour, which was a negative deselection rather than a positive selection, I got the impression that he was happy to leave everything in the hands of Gooch and Micky Stewart thereafter.
But what frustrated most observers towards the end of Dexter’s reign was that detachment had turned into aloofness, even arrogance. And that manifested itself strongly in the events that surrounded the end of Gooch’s captaincy.
The story of Gooch’s final days in charge revealed what was, to my mind, Dexter’s greatest failings, an inability to communicate, and poor man management.
Gooch had made it quite clear to Dexter and all concerned that once the Ashes were gone he would resign. Although the third Test at Trent Bridge had produced an improved performance by England, who managed a draw and might even have won had the bowlers managed to capitalise on the work of Graham Thorpe, who made an excellent debut century, and Gooch himself who made 120 in England’s second innings, when the teams moved on to Leeds it was back to the same old story. Australia won the fourth Test by an innings and 148 runs. Now was the time for Gooch to be as good as his word. But Dexter managed to make what was a difficult experience for Gooch a bitter one.
The outcome of the fourth Test at Leeds became clear from very early on. Gooch had gone into the match believing it would be played on a traditional Headingley strip whose lateral movement encouraged the English type of seam bowling. Sadly, for him at least, following bad reports from umpires Ken Palmer and Mervyn Kitchen the year before, Yorkshire, fearful that another pitch scandal would cost them their place on the Test rota, felt obliged to dig up the pitch. The new strip, laid five years previously and used for only one first-class match, was an unknown quantity. Having selected the appropriate squad for a seamers’ paradise, namely one exclusively reliant on seam, Gooch was dismayed when, having left out the off-spinner Peter Such, he lost the toss and watched while Australia built a huge 653 for four declared.
England were not helped when Martin McCague of Kent was forced to pull out of the attack on the second day with an injury later diagnosed as a stress fracture of the back. But in an innings lasting nearly fourteen hours, the Australian batsmen helped themselves. In response, England simply shrank. They made just 200 in their first innings, and although they made a better fist of things in the second, scoring 305, when the final day of the match dawned Gooch realised it was to be his last as England captain.
He telephoned Dexter, who was not present on that final day, and told him of his intention to resign that evening at the press conference after the match. Dexter then tried to persuade Gooch to delay his announcement for a day. Not because of any reasons of PR or that he felt the timing of the announcement would be detrimental. But because he was stuck on the golf course with clients. Gooch tried hard to persuade Dexter to cancel his game of golf. Dexter claimed the engagement was one he simply could not get out of. At this point Gooch, unsure of the effect of making his announcement in Dexter’s absence, telephoned his friend David Norrie, the News of the World cricket correspondent. Gooch explained the situation to Norrie, who told him that if Gooch delayed the announcement he would look ridiculous. He had made clear repeatedly that if England’s performances did not improve he would resign the moment Australia’s grip on the old urn was confirmed. That moment had arrived and Norrie told him that if Gooch left Leeds that night without having resigned, he would be hammered, and rightly so.
Gooch decided to go ahead with the announcement. In an emotional press conference he explained, ‘It is the best way forward … The team might benefit from fresh ideas, a fresh approach, someone else to look up to.’
Gooch’s departure was inevitable, as this was England’s eighth defeat in their last nine matches. But this was a sad end to his period in charge. Despite largely critical reaction to his treatment of David Gower since he took over the captaincy from him in 1989, Gooch had enjoyed success, notably by leading his team to the final of the World Cup competition in 1992. Had he obeyed his instincts, and not allowed himself to be persuaded by Keith Fletcher to captain the side in India on the following winter, Gooch could have stepped down with good grace and with a creditable record.
This way, due to the prevarication of those in charge, lack of clear thinking and direction from Dexter at the top, Gooch’s reign as captain ended in sour disappointment.
Within a fortnight, Dexter had gone as well, in similarly sad circumstances.
Just before midday on Monday 9 August 1993, the final day of the fifth Test at Edgbaston, an announcement on behalf of the Test and County Cricket Board was made by their media relations officer Ken Lawrence. He delivered a brief statement to the press and broadcasting boxes at the ground, and a few minutes later Jonathan Agnew revealed its contents on BBC Radio’s ‘Test Match Special’.
As he did so, a spontaneous outburst of applause echoed round the ground. The reaction of those listening to the commentary through earpieces told its own story. The resignation of Ted Dexter as Chairman of Selectors was greeted with almost unanimous approval. Six months before his five-year term officially ended, Dexter had decided enough was enough.
The Lord’s spin-doctors soon got to work, claiming that Dexter had intended to resign at the end of the summer anyway, but there is no doubt that he brought forward the timing of his resignation so that he could jump before he was pushed by the county chairmen.
A group of them, led by the Derbyshire chairman Chris Middleton, had become increasingly disgruntled as the summer wore on. Middleton and his supporters believed that the mess over Gower’s omission from the party to tour India, and later his increasingly bizarre public utterances had made the chairman and the Board a laughing stock. Perhaps the final nail in his coffin was the reaction to his botched announcement of Mike Atherton as Gooch’s successor as England captain.
This should have been a straightforward affair. Once Gooch had carried out his intention to resign on the final day of the Headingley Test, the England committee comprising Dexter, Ossie Wheatley, Micky Stewart, Keith Fletcher and A C Smith, took little time in deciding that of the available candidates, Atherton, Mike Gatting and Alec Stewart, the Lancashire batsman was their man.
On the Wednesday of that week a press conference was called at the Hilton Hotel opposite the Lord’s ground where the reporters were informed as to how the decision was made.
‘We were unanimous,’ said Dexter, ‘except for Dad.’
Micky Stewart, whose son Alec had been passed over, was not present at the press conference, but when he was informed of Dexter’s remarks, he went apoplectic.
The former England coach had gone to extraordinary lengths during his time in charge to outlaw the word ‘Dad’ along with the words ‘son’ and ‘nepotism’ inside and outside the England dressing room ever since Alec was first selected for England for the West Indies tour in 1989. He was, quite rightly, livid at the suggestion that his loyalty to his son might have affected his judgement over whether Alec or Atherton should be elevated to the position of England captain.
Dexter later apologised, but the damage had been done. He claimed later that this was an off the cuff, jokey remark intended to demonstrate Micky’s entirely natural loyalty to Alec. Stewart was forced to ring Atherton and explain himself. Atherton took the phone call and Stewart’s explanation in good spirit.
But once again Dexter had opened his mouth and jumped in. And, for some, this for some was the last straw.
Middleton was the instrumental figure in the removal of Dexter. For some time he had been losing patience with Dexter and had taken soundings from his fellow county chairmen. He met, spoke to or telephoned all of them for their views.
According to Middleton: ‘With the possible exception of M J K Smith of Warwickshire, the chairmen were, to a greater or lesser degree, universally hacked off with Dexter. All summer long I heard the same things: he’s out of touch and he makes too many gaffes. I had had first hand knowledge of one in particular. Quite early on in his reign as chairman, he was interviewed on a Midlands radio programme and asked where our next fast bowlers were coming from. He referred to a recent Derbyshire match, saying: “What chance do we have of producing new pace talent when a county like Derbyshire go into a match with an attack comprising a West Indian, a South African and a Dutchman?”
‘It was bad enough that he had given a new nationality to Ole Mortensen from Denmark, but Alan Warner and Simon Base were flabbergasted. The next day I went into the dressing room to discover that the players, who had read Dexter’s comments reprinted in a national newspaper, were going loopy. Our “West Indian”, Warner was born in Birmingham and our “South African” was Base from Maidstone in Kent.
‘Simon was understandably upset. He said: “What chance have I got when the Chairman of the England Selectors thinks I’m a Springbok?”
‘Whenever I spoke to one of my fellow county chairman about Dexter the main complaint was that none of them ever saw him. The general feeling was that he had no interest in county cricket whatsoever. My message to them was that instead of moaning about him we should take action and, if the general consensus was that he should go, we should get rid of him. It seemed clear that he was intending to stay on until the winter tour to West Indies. But with the normal August board meeting coming up I wrote to all the county chairmen suggesting that we had to take the opportunity to remove him there and then.’
Halfway through the Edgbaston Test, Dexter got wind of what was to happen at the Board meeting, made his excuses and left.
Atherton, who was captaining England for the first time, was not the only one who was surprised that Dexter had not informed him of his decision beforehand. Several members of the TCCB’s own executive committee only found out when they heard about it on radio or television or through increasingly frantic telephone calls.
Through their chief executive A C Smith, the Board attempted to put a rather different complexion on affairs. In their statement announcing Dexter’s resignation, they said: ‘Mr Dexter had already informed the Chairman and senior officers of the Board prior to start of the current Test series that he was not seeking re-election after March 1994. Furthermore, Mr Dexter had previously volunteered to finish in the autumn of 1993 to give a new chairman more time to settle in before the next home season. It is this suggestion that the Board has now adopted.’
In fact this was news to almost all the members of the executive committee and quite clearly neither Middleton nor the majority of his county chairmen, if any, had been let in on the secret.
Had they known earlier that Dexter was intending to stand down, it is almost certain that his critics would have allowed him to go quietly and with dignity. By keeping the lid on over his intentions, Dexter and the Board had left themselves exposed. No one should be surprised that they did, however. By now most observers had long since given up attempting to understand the mysteries of Lord Ted and Lord’s.
‘What chiefly annoyed, depressed and irritated me about the Illingworth years was not that one man had the responsibility, but that the man given the responsibility was the wrong man.’
A funny thing happened in March 1997. The English cricket authorities put the responsibility for selecting their Test team in the hands of people who still paid full fare on the buses.
Twelve months on from the leadership contest he would almost certainly have won but was prevented from entering, there were no such problems for David Graveney this time.
Graveney, the overwhelming choice of the counties, was elected unopposed as Chairman of the Selectors only a week or so after England arrived back from their 1996–97 winter tour to Zimbabwe and New Zealand. The ECB management committee then demonstrated how much they’d learned from the Illingworth regime (and those of Ted Dexter and Peter May before him) about appointing selectors who had quit playing the game between twenty and one hundred and twenty years beforehand, by inviting two current players, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, to join Graveney on the selection committee.
Some observers found it strange to say the least that three men who so obviously and publicly turned their back on English cricket when signing up for the rebel tours to South Africa (Graveney had been the manager of Gatting’s 1990 tourists), should now be entrusted with the responsibility of picking England’s Test side. While I can sympathize with those who believe that those who walked away from English cricket in search of the krugerrand may have been welcomed back too quickly and too readily into the mainstream of English cricket, there is no doubt that on purely cricketing grounds, the three men possessed the kind of knowledge and experience of the modern game I consider absolutely vital. The most amazing aspect of all this, of course, is that it took so long for those running English cricket to realise the necessity of having current although senior players involved in the selection of the national side. At the end of a decade during which the ultimate responsibility for the picking of England sides was in the hands of men whose first instinct was to complain that things were not like they were in their day, such a move meant that players now knew that they were to be judged by men who spoke the same language and played the same game.
I still don’t believe this new system is perfect. I would far rather the final responsibility for the selection and discipline of the England side be put in the hands of one man, a ‘supremo’ if you like, adequately paid for being the person who takes the pat-on-the-back when things go right, and the knives in the back when things go wrong. One of the very few things on which I agreed with Illingworth is that the chairman of selectors should be the man in front of whom the buck stops. Apart from the fact that in his case he only adhered to the theory behind this principle rather than the practice of it, what chiefly annoyed, depressed and irritated me about the Illingworth years was not that one man had the responsibility, but that the man given the responsibility was the wrong man.
Ray Illingworth was appointed Chairman of Selectors in March 1994. From that time until the time when he officially retired after presiding over the selection of the England winter tour parties to Zimbabwe and New Zealand in September 1996, Illingworth was just the kind of high-profile chairman the Board had wanted. In fact he was rarely out of the newspapers, either justifying his latest unilateral selection policy or slagging-off players like Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser, Robin Smith, Alec Stewart, and even the captain Mike Atherton. As time passed Illingworth became so voluble in his criticism of them, that the prevailing feeling towards him of many of the England players was that they couldn’t trust him as far as they could throw him.
More than one player told me that Illingworth would often say one thing to their faces and another behind their backs. In the end, most of them couldn’t wait to see his back moving through the exit door.
His battles with the captain Mike Atherton were the constant theme, or some might say running joke of his chairmanship. And even after he had finally disappeared from view at the end of the summer of 1996, he still wouldn’t give it or Atherton a rest. Atherton must have been feeling bad enough at England’s failure to convert obvious supremacy into victory in the first Test of the 1997 winter series in New Zealand at Auckland. He expected to take criticism for the fact that having got the Kiwis on the ropes they couldn’t deliver the knockout blow and he was prepared for it. What he wouldn’t have been ready for (who would?) was direct criticism from the man who was still nominally chairman of selectors.
Cue Raymond, bursting into print in his column in the Daily Express the day after the match had ended in a draw, laying the blame for the shortcomings of England’s attack fairly and squarely at the door of the England captain. He wrote, ‘Mike Atherton must take much of the blame for England’s unbelievable failure to beat New Zealand. His lacklustre, unimaginative captaincy and some awful bowling, lay at the heart of another alarming debacle.
‘It is a sadness to say so,’ continued Illingworth, ‘having worked so closely with Mike over the past few years, but if this carries on, there will be no alternative to replacing him as England captain.’
If such a direct attack carried out in the pages of the national press sounds faintly familiar, it should. Perhaps the most extraordinary episode took place just before and just after England left for their three-month tour of South Africa in the winter of 1995.
A week before the team departed each player received a letter from Tim Lamb, then the Cricket Secretary of the Test and County Cricket Board and number two to Chief Executive A C Smith. It informed the players of Illingworth’s stipulations over what would and would not be acceptable in terms of public comment through the media. Where a simple ‘mind your language’ would have sufficed, the players were issued with something that sounded like a directive from George Orwell’s ‘Thought Police’ It read: ‘I would emphasize to you that from the date of receipt of this letter you must not make or concur or directly or indirectly assist in making any public statement whatsoever regarding the tour or any members of the tour party without the prior consent of the Board’s PR manager Richard Little.
‘Public statement means writing a book, writing for the press, public speaking, broadcasting, or giving an interview of any kind.
‘Ray has stipulated that no player will be permitted to write any national or local newspaper article of any sort, including any diary piece either prior to or during the tour.’
Yet within days the players came up against Illingworth’s habit of enforcing one rule for them and another, completely contradictory one for himself. On the day before Atherton and his men were due to leave for South Africa, the Sun newspaper printed the first of three articles entitled ‘The Boycott and Illingworth Tapes’.
In them, Illingworth revealed confidential information concerning Atherton, including his likes and dislikes among the current England players.
The headline above the first piece read, ‘ATHERTON IS SO STUBBORN, INFLEXIBLE AND NARROW-MINDED’. In it, with remarkable prescience, Illingworth discussed what was later to become a major issue, the action of fast bowler Devon Malcolm. He said to Boycott, ‘The ideal is to get him [Devon Malcolm] to be more consistent without losing his pace.
‘Before The Oval, we had Devon in the nets bowling off a shorter run. He was bowling at Graham Thorpe, and Thorpe said, “Bloody Hell, he was at me all the time.” There wasn’t much difference in pace from normal.
‘I said to Michael Atherton that Devon’s action is much better when he uses that short run. “For goodness sake, try it,” I told Michael. Devon was happy to give it a go. He wasn’t worried about no balls or anything and the West Indies were scoring millions.
‘But he’s stubborn you know, is Michael. He didn’t try it. He can be inflexible.’
On another part of the double-page spread, under the headline ‘IT WAS DAFF-T TO AXE PHILLIP’ Illingworth revealed why Atherton did not want Phillip DeFreitas in his side:
Boycott to Illingworth: ‘What about Phillip DeFreitas? He’s become the invisible man. He was England’s best bowler last year [1994 against South Africa and New Zealand].’
Boycott: ‘He played in the first Test this year and disappeared. He’s not going to South Africa and he’s not in the configuration for the World Cup.’
Illingworth: ‘We’ve had discussions about Phillip and feel he’s better in England than overseas. But he’s not ruled out of the World Cup. DeFreitas has a problem – Mike [Atherton] and him didn’t get on well at Lancashire.’
So there we had it. Atherton didn’t want DeFreitas in the side because he didn’t like him.
The next day’s offering was even more revealing. Under the headline ‘TUFNELL? HE’S SIMPLY TOO MUCH TROUBLE FOR ATHERTON’, Illingworth revealed the reasons why Phil Tufnell, the talented but mercurial left-arm spinner, had been left out of the squad for the tour to South Africa. Readers would have been left in no doubt that Atherton’s decision not to include Tufnell was based on the fact that he didn’t trust him to behave himself on or off the field. Whether this was true or not, what gave Illingworth the right to speak on behalf of his captain over such a sensitive issue? And what effect did that have on future relationships between Atherton and Tufnell? Not surprisingly Tufnell was extremely upset to discover that Atherton felt this way about him; and Atherton was simply stunned that Illingworth should be so indiscreet.
I saw this as blatant undermining of Atherton’s position as captain of the side. And the same message was contained in Illingworth’s words, widely quoted in the national press the day before England departed for South Africa, regarding the picking of teams in South Africa. Illingworth announced that the selection committee, formed by the combined brains of the team and tour managers, captain and vice-captain, would no longer be utilized. He would do the job himself. Having announced that he was going to have full and final say over who played and who did not, Illingworth justified his actions by harking back to what he perceived as Atherton’s selectorial errors during the previous summer. He said, ‘I have been in the game a long time and would back my judgement of players against anyone’s. Against the West Indies last summer there were a couple of times when I felt I was persuaded not to follow my gut reaction. For instance, I wanted to play leg-spinner Ian Salisbury at Old Trafford, and I was not happy using Robin Smith as an opener. I don’t think I will make those mistakes again.’
Конец ознакомительного фрагмента.