“Deprived of the batsman who had been far the most impressive in application, technique and temperament, and accorded inadequate practice facilities on a tour of increasingly murmuring hostility from politicians and demonstrators, England entered the first Test Match with unease. The victories over India and Australia seemed far distant, and the Indian medium pacers and the Australian bowlers of average county standard were recalled with the nostalgia of blue remembered hills. Certainly the present reality of Patterson, Marshall, Garner and Holding offered darker mountains and threatening storm.” B&H Cricket Year – 5th Edition – First Test Match – Jamaica
Sabina Park. Even as a kid it sounded like a proper test venue, in much the same way that the WACA does, and Eden Gardens doesn’t (it sounds like a bloody flower show venue). Once the televising of overseas tests became the norm, then seeing what Sabina Park actually had to offer was a reaffirmation of those thoughts. Especially when you saw the pitch, rolled so much that it actually looked, at the start of a test, like a gymnasium floor, all polished and smooth. And bloody quick. Now, of course, it’s like all the rest. A bloody pudding.
But Jamaica would be where the test series started, and for some reason the Sabina/Caribbean tour experience seemed new to me. I don’t believe the 1980-1 series was on the radio, and I might be wrong, but I don’t really recall it and in any case, first year of secondary school was a bit of a mare that I try to erase. This test serues I do recall a bit more. It started on a school night, and as we were driving home we stopped at the shops. Mum left the keys in the car so we could listen to the radio as Gooch and Robinson got us off to an unexpectedly solid start. England had won the toss and batted.
There then followed what we’d all become used to. A procession of wickets. Robinson went for 6 and it was 32 for 1. Gower played a bit more fluently but went for 16. David Smith, making his test debut, went for 1. Two of the three falling to the new tyro, the man with pace truly like fire, Patrick Patterson. Doing homework, eating dinner, watching TV, I dipped in and out. Gooch and Lamb appeared to effect a recovery, but it was small in scale and Gooch went for 51. The innings fell away. Lamb made 49, no-one else made a thing. 159 all out. Patterson 4 for 30, Marshall 2 for 30. Garner was relatively expensive, with 2 for 58 in 14.3. Big Bird at 4 an over? Standards had slipped.
Three players made half-centuries for the hosts, Greenidge top-scoring with 58, Gomes with 56 and Dujon 54. Greg Thomas took the first scalp of the innings on his debut, taking Haynes. But his appearance miffed the B&H yearbook writer, who believed the omission of Neil Foster was “as cruel as it was incomprehensible”. The Essex Mafia were as strong then as they are now! Carlisle Best, making his debut too, began his test career hooking Ian Botham for 6. It would be a turbulent tour for Beefy. The star of the show had been Richard Ellison, fresh off his amazing end to the 1985 summer. He took 5 for 78, four of them LBW, and including Richards and Greenidge. However, with the WIndies, from my standpoint then, unless GG or IVA were spanking the runs (and RR to follow) I wasn’t that interested. Their bowling made them, their batting fed off them. The lead of 148 was imposing – in truth, in modern cricket that lead would look like 400 with that attack, on that pitch, and with that skill.
England made 152.
The Yearbook mentions a lead of “manageable proportions”. Looking back at that now, even with the gift of hindsight, that looks very optimistic. Marshall, Garner and Patterson took three each. Robinson and Smith added ducks to their paltry first innings totals. Peter Willey made 71, in some part justifying his place, in others showing the hopelessness of it all. Promoted up to number 4, he showed why he was picked. But it was never going to be enough.
“Four of the best fast bowlers that the game has seen bowled at the top of their pace on a wicket which gave them assistance, and they were unfettered by any consideration for Law 42. Nothing should detract from the West Indian superiority, nor from their greatness of their fast bowlers, but this was cricket without subtlety and if one had only little sympathy for English batsmen of uncertain technique, one had great concern for the future of the game at international level.” B&H Yearbook
I’m not sure if this Bill Woodfull-esque or a reverse make them grovel. Bloody hell, it seemed pious and not a little unsporting. We were getting humped by a much better side in their own backyard. An all-time great team. And they knew it, both that team and the writers of the time. It was bellyaching.
Only while Gooch and Robinson batted without undue difficulty in the first hour of the match did England promise to give West Indies a harder fight than in 1984. Of the five West Indian victories in that series in England, two were achieved on the fourth day: at Sabina Park, after two England collapses, they had almost an hour to spare on the third when Haynes and Richardson completed the formality of scoring the 5 runs needed in West Indies’ second innings.
Once again the cause of England’s defeat was their inability to play exceptional fast bowling, much of it short-pitched. Their problems were accentuated by a fast, uneven surface and the presence in the West Indies ranks of Patterson, a 24-year-old Jamaican who, after failing to make much impact in a handful of games for Lancashire in 1985, forced his way into the West Indies team by his performances in the Shell Shield. Described before the Test as the fastest bowler in the Caribbean after Marshall, Patterson left no doubt in the England batsmen’s minds that the order should have been reversed. A heavyweight of 6ft 2in, with a sprinting run and powerful delivery, in England’s second innings he bowled at a pace comparable to that of Jeff Thomson of Australia in his prime. Deprived of the new ball by the prior claims of Marshall and Garner, he none the less took seven for 74 in his first Test and won the match award.
And yes…we were bad losers then…
England went into the game weakened by Gatting’s injury in the one-day international. (He returned home for further treatment after two days’ play.) Lamb was the only other batsman in true form following four games on sub-standard pitches, and the England batsmen were further incommoded by an inadequate sightscreen at the Southern end, which was too low to frame the hands of bowlers more than six feet tall. The Jamaica Cricket Association had been unable to grant England’s request to have it raised, lodged after their problems facing Walsh and Holding in the Jamaica match, because to do so would have obscured the view of an estimated 200 spectators to whom tickets had been sold. All Patterson’s wickets were taken from that end.
The English team licked the wounds of their 10 wicket beating and moved on to the Queen’s Park Oval for a tour match, an ODI and a test.
The writer of the piece in the Yearbook, and I’m assuming it was David Lemmon, must have been pleased to see Neil Foster take 6 for 54 in that match as in reply to a score of 229 made by England, Trinidad and Tobago were skittled for 109. In trying to set up a game due to bad weather early in the fixture, England didn’t pull off a win, but were reminded of the phenomenal depth in the home side’s fast bowling resources. Tony Gray, who played with some merit for Surrey, took 5 for 50 and if he were around in any other era might have picked up a regular berth. In the WIndies he was just another pace bowler.
The second ODI was a slightly different affair. Played on the 4th of March, West Indies were without Jeff Dujon who was replaced by Thelston Payne. For some reason, and I do not know why as I never saw him play, I always liked the thought of Thelston Payne playing for the West Indies. The surname…..the surname. The match was reduced by rain to just 37 overs a side, and the Windies struggled in the on-off conditions. After 28 overs they had 106 for 2. Now in the modern era 117 off 9 overs is still quite a lot – in that era it was almost unprecedented, and you know who, the King himself was the destroyer.
“Botham was brought back to bowl when Richards came in and the West Indian captain greeted his friend with a 4 through mid-wicket. This was a mere prelude,”
82 not out. 39 balls. Botham’s last over going for 23. Game Over.
In West Indies’ innings, Richards was in the form that makes him impossible to bowl to. The length of the ball, and especially its line, were immaterial as he scored his runs out of 117 in nine overs, overtaking Richardson who had a start of 38. The biggest of his 6s was a straight drive off Botham out of the ground, a hit of more than 100 yards.
Now, if there were TV coverage of the England innings existing, I guarantee it would be played in one of those dewey eyed montage talking head way for generations to come. England started by thinking outside the box. They needed over 6 an over, and so sent out Botham. It didn’t work (although Botham would open in ODIs soon enough), and Wilf Slack, out as a replacement for Gatting, came in at three. Together with Gooch he added 89 at over 5 an over, so for once, we were in the game. After one failure (and a glorious Ashes summer) this was enough to threaten Robinson’s place already. Despite Gooch going well, England needed 50 off the last 5 overs and only Smith as a recognised batsman (Downton was outside batting) remaining in with him. Gooch went for it. Smith played the odd shot to keep it going.
Now with an over or so to go comes my bizarre memory of this match. In those days big boxing match ups were rarely shown live on TV. They were held on midweek nights, and the fight shown the day after on Sportsnight. This game took place on a Tuesday, if memory serves, and Frank Bruno, the up and coming, glass-jawed hero of British heavyweight boxing (I’m being unfair, but most of us loved Frank) had a poster match-up as a final eliminator for the World title. Never mind Bonecrusher had knocked his lights out the year before, Frank got reinvented… That night he was due to fight Gerrie Coetzee at Wembley Arena. The thing was, the fight was due to start on Radio Two at the same time that Gooch was doing his thing in Trinidad. No red-button or digital channels in those days. The ODI was not on Radio 3 and it was a reporter (it might have been Pat Murphy, yes even that long ago, but I’m not sure) doing the commentary from Port of Spain. Nine was needed from the last over. Gooch had passed 100. This is what we’d really missed in his three years away.
First ball, single. Second ball, single. Third ball, four. Gooch pulls one through mid-wicket. 3 to win from three. Fourth ball, single. Fifth ball, Smith on strike, he swings, he missed. It’s a bye as they ran through to the Payne Man. One off the last ball. Patterson bowling. Gooch swings, the ball squirts off his pad, they run, the throw….
England win….the result is announced to the fervent boxing crowd at Wembley Arena. There’s a cheer. We feel good. C’mon Frank. Coetzee was knocked out in the first and many thousands of people bought tickets to watch Bruno get larruped by Tim Witherspoon later that Summer in the early hours of a July morning – or was it June? It seemed to sum up England actually. A brief feel-good, and years of futility.
The Second Test was played a few days later and Wilf Slack made his debut in place of Robinson who was injured. Smith, according to the Yearbook, had struggled with sunstroke in the first test and so Emburey played in his stead. This looked off, given he played in the ODI and the tour match against T&T. Still no Foster.
One of my memories of the pre-series build up was John Emburey saying he was looking forward to playing at Port of Spain because he reckoned the wickets would take spin. I raised my eyebrows at that one. Doubt there’d be much prep to that end for this tour, Ernie? But he wasn’t miles off the mark. He took 5 for 78 in the first innings – West Indies reply to another outstanding team effort of 176 in 44 overs – and two in the second innings as well. Peter Willey never got a bowl. Looks odd in hindsight.
England were asked to bat, which probably sounds like being asked to slice your own arm off, but the Yearbook suggests there was little about the pitch that influenced the decision, just our state of mind. Gooch got smacked by the second ball of the match, scampered two off the third and sent on his way with the 4th. Slack soon followed, also the Maco, and Willey hung around for a bit, before he went with the score on 30. Gower and Lamb then rebuilt the innings.
It’s something that always gets me when people think about David Gower and the West Indies, and I know that crap show with Lee Hurst, Nick Hancock and Rory McGrath had something to do with it, but if you actually look it up, Gower had a pretty decent record in the Caribbean. He wasn’t the waft outside off and casual nick off of repute. That’s just home televised laziness. In nine test, with us usually being thumped, he scored 746 runs at an average of 43.88 in the West Indies. That’s the equivalent, I kid you not, of averaging 60 now. These were wickets with pace, seam movement, in alien conditions against top bloody notch bowling. Sneer at his more lame home record against them, but never over there. Never.
Gower and Lamb (who played 79 tests and barely averaged 36, which isn’t a knock on him, but showed how damn tough it was back then – and averaged bang on his career mark in the Caribbean over 9 tests too) effected a more than decent recovery posting a century stand and taking England to 136 for 3. Now the mantra goes these days that you add two wickets to the score to get the true position of the match. With the West Indies, you added 2 runs per wicket remaining to get the true scope. OK, I exaggerate. 4. Four hours after the innings commenced Gower (67) and Lamb (62) were the only players to reach double figures and we were dismissed for 176. Marshall 4, Garner 3, Patterson a very expensive 2 and Walsh, in for Holding, 1. And what a one. Paul Downton. Walsh was outside medium pace bowling. If you are keeping tabs, Downton currently had test scores of 2,3 and 8 and had been picked for his batting. Yeah, I know…
West Indies then did their usual. Solid opening start. Greenidge first to go for 37. Haynes took them past 100, and then 200 with the mighty Richie Richardson (fast on the way to becoming one of my favourite ever players – god, I wanted to play like in. Played more like Robert Robinson). Richie made it to a century and then got out to spin, and he was followed by Haynes. Downton missed a straightforward stumping according to the yearbook, and so proved he was outside glovework, but it didn’t really matter. The West Indies didn’t collapse, Malcolm Marshall made one of those all too frequent lower order 50s the so and sos used to make when you thought you had them, and they almost got to 400. At this point Downton might have been asked what his ambitions for the tour might have been. He could have said “oh, 100 runs, 20 catches and making a little stumping here or there” to which we might have replied “I was hoping you’d say getting a drawn test.”
So, a deficit of over 200 against this lot. But there was to be a little bit of resistance. Slack made a duck to have us 2 for 1, but Gooch and Gower played well, putting on 80. Both were dismissed in their 40s, and both got out by the supposed weak link of the attack. When that weak link is Courtney Walsh, you sort of know you might be in a bit of bother. At 109 for 3, England remained 116 behind with seven wickets in hand, but the surrender wasn’t forthcoming. Another stand of 81 was built between Willey and Lamb, and this little brain was hoping this might be the start of something. Maybe a lead of 150? A chance to put some pressure on. Then logical brain told me to stop being an idiot. The stand went over a fair old time. Bad light ended play on day 3. Rain delayed Day 4. But crash, Lamb went LBW to Walsh for 40, Bang, Willey was bowled by Marshall, and then Wallop, Botham was caught by Thelston Payne, that man again, for 1 off Walsh and the hope died. As if it ever lived. 190 for 3 became 214 for 8. Downton showing he remained outside double figures with 5. Edmonds and Ellison took England past the humiliation of an innings defeat, and Greg Thomas joined the Kent man at the crease.
Things started to happen. Suddenly the bowlers seemed less threatening. The 9 and 11 were becoming entrenched. They could not be moved. The scoreboard wasn’t screaming round, but they weren’t getting out. I remember setting off to the Den to see my lot play Wimbledon and they were still batting. I had a portable radio, yes kids, a portable radio not the effing internet that ruined things, and kept on listening as the partnership passed 50. England reached 300, which wasn’t frequent against the great team. Extras brought up a stunning half century, with no balls and byes making up 47 well made, compact runs, for which Mr Aplomb must have dreamed. The fun had to end, but not before Les on the tannoy at the Old Den gave us updates. Sadly, like England, our night was to end in disappointment as Wimbledon won 1-0 through a Carlton Fairweather goal on their way to the top flight, taking with them one of our best players. No more Fash the Bash. No more Ellison and Thomas.
“….and proceeded to play with a resource and determination that must have shamed some of their colleagues. They added 72 runs, full of fight and energy, and West Indies were left to make 93 to win. It was an easy task but at least England had made the match last into the fifth day.”
The West Indies lost three wickets in reaching their goal, including Gomes for 0. But it was 2-0. There was no getting away from that. All the little bits of fight were just that. Little. Inconsequential. Nothing to worry our pretty little heads about. Take some consolation, but we were being battered. Absolutely battered.
The game was played against a background of demonstrations from a small group of anti-apartheid protesters, but there was no trouble inside the ground and, without being large, the gates were satisfactory. Marshall, who completed 200 wickets in his 42nd Test when he dismissed Downton, won the match award.
With three tests still to come, it didn’t, shall we say, look good. And nor was the off the field stuff….
Part Three to Follow.