1986 – Nightmare At Nottingham – Part 1 of 2

You know I love a good anniversary, and you also know I love my nostalgia. So while Sky make a very decent and informative programme about England in the 90s, which, of course, coincided with Sky covering cricket, some of us have some more than poignant memories of the 1980s, when, at times, England were, truly, awful. You might remember I did a series of pieces on the Blackwash in West Indies in 1986, and yes, I never did quite wrap it up but it does stand another view if you’ve not seen it. August signifies a less heralded low point, but a low point nonetheless. In the early part of that month England took on New Zealand at Trent Bridge in the second test of a three match series. The first, at Lord’s had been a bit of a dull bore, livened up only by Bruce French being sconed, and replaced, for a short while, as keeper by Bob Taylor. The test hardly got going.

The second, though, was a different beast entirely. England had been without Ian Botham all summer after his admission to smoking some Moroccan Woodbines (that’s from Only Fools and Horses) and incurring the wrath of Denis Compton who wanted him banned for life. While Botham was a diminishing force anyway, the England team had not recovered from the annihilation in the Caribbean and had been easily defeated at home by India. David Gower was removed from the captaincy in favour of Mike Gatting, but the first test of the Middlesex man’s leadership regime was an annihilation at Leeds. Gatting made a massive ton at Edgbaston, but it looked like it wasn’t going to be enough until the weather ruined the final day of the third test when it looked more likely that India would win than the home team. Rain may have saved us from another clean sweep.

Bob Taylor

England were in disarray, and yet there was just a blithe assumption that we would beat New Zealand. These were not your pushover Kiwis any more. Richard Hadlee was a brilliant, utterly brilliant bowler – the Jimmy Anderson of his era only, and you might disagree here, much better. Martin Crowe was coming to the fore, not quite the great he would become, but a decent old presence in the middle order. At opener was the sturdy John Wright, doughty, a fighter but bloody good on his day. Ian Smith was the keeper, decent with the gloves, a nuisance with the bat. They had beaten Australia in Australia the previous winter and were simply not to be underestimated, but it felt like we did.

In that first test we gave a debut to Martyn Moxon, a consistent run-scorer at the top of the order for Yorkshire, and a man with a classical technique to match. Moxon had made a decent impression in the Lord’s test, making 74 in his first test innings. One run more than Joe Root made in his first innings in tests! Moxon was opening with Graham Gooch who had made the game safe in the second innings of the test with a score of 183. At three for England was Bill Athey, who at this point had not made an impression in tests, and seemed to be betwixt and between. It wasn’t until the following winter that he got a firm place in the team, and not until the next year he made his only test ton. He seemed made for test cricket, but seemed to be in the team due to a 142 not out he made in the second ODI (which I remember he avoided what looked a plumb LBW when he was near his hundred). At four was David Gower, not in great form, still getting over the captaincy, but still a class player on his day. Shame for England was he wasn’t having many of them.

At five was captain Mike Gatting, He’d made that 180-odd at Edgbaston, but he’d not shown signs of turning the ship around, and with an Ashes winter coming up, panic was beginning to set in. Panic may have been induced by the presence of Derek Pringle at number 6. Now, we’re not fans of Degsy here, but he wasn’t a bad player. I think even Pringle might admit that number six was probably one, and more likely two places too high for him in a batting order. A man who made one test half century shouldn’t be that elevated, and that indicated issues. Number 7 for England was John Emburey, who was a more than useful spinner and handy lower order batsman, and at 8 was his Middlesex spin partner, Phil Edmonds. Both had survived from the previous year’s Ashes series, in their own ways. Note that England had no hesitation in playing two spinners at home in those days. Batting at nine was Glamorgan quickie Greg Thomas, who had an in and out career, which didn’t last too long at the international level. Number 10 was Bruce French, the keeper – and yes kiddywinks, we thought nothing of having a keeper batting at 10! Number 11 was Gladstone Small, the Warwickshire seam bowler, who whenever I saw him play at county level, looked a handy old bowler. But it took him some years to get in the team. He made his debut in this match, joining Thomas, who had made his debut in the Blackwash series, and the military medium of Pringle. Yikes. We had to hope it turned!

The New Zealand team lined up as follows. John Wright opened with Bruce Edgar. That partnership had seemed to be in place for years! Both were doughty players, using that word again, but Wright just had that something extra. In at three was Jeff Crowe, who never seemed to make the scores required of him, but following him at four was his younger brother, the late, great Martin. In the foothills of his career, he’d shown his promise and played some crucial innings. He would become one of their greatest players in the fullness of time. Once the Crowes were out of the way there was Jeremy Coney, the skipper. A redoubtable player, a total annoyance, and a dibbly dobbly bowler of some awkwardness. Coney had a legendary relationship (or lack of) with his gun all rounder, Richard Hadlee, who batted at 7 (compare Hadlee, who made test tons batting 7, and Pringle batting 6 for England). In between Coney and Hadlee was Evan Gray, a spinner/batsman bits and pieces all rounder. Number 8 was John Bracewell, a spin bowler and handy lower order player (not giving much away to the uninitiated here!) and following him at 9 was Ian Smith (let it not be forgotten that in 1984, Smith had made a century against England, and here he was at 9!!!!). The number 10 was Derek Stirling and 11 was Willie Watson, two seam bowlers of honest toil, but limited repute.

Game on.

The B&H Yearbook, for those of you who don’t remember it, was a more pictorial, more acerbic, record of world cricket, than the Almanack of the time, and their introduction to the review of the second test is a belter…

“In the fortnightly search for a fast bowler, England brought in Gladstone Small for his first Test Match and Greg Thomas for his first Test match in England.”

Jeremy Coney won the toss on a wicket that looked a little greener than the previous years strip. The Trent Bridge test in the 1985 Ashes was a festival of runs, as Gower made a huge hundred for England (166?) and Australia replied with a big total of their own thanks to tons by Wood and Ritchie. This strip, according to Wisden, was not that different, but whereas the previous year’s match had been played in glorious weather for much of the contest, the day, according to B&H was mainly cloudy and very windy.

A sub-plot to this test was whether Graham Gooch would make himself available for the upcoming Ashes tour. Botham had missed the 1984/5 India tour, and while many came home from the West Indies the previous winter, missing tours was seen as a pretty drastic thing. Now, I must confess, although I know Gooch wasn’t there for the Ashes, I never really recalled why. Sidesplittin’ in the comments to a previous post said it was because he had had twins (he thought). B&H describes the decision as “hanging over English cricket like the Sword of Damocles”. Anyhow, Gooch began the test with an assault on Hadlee (18 off 18 balls) before the Kiwi, playing on his home county ground, trapped him LBW. Moxon, after his promising debut, was bowled shortly thereafter for 9 and England were 43 for 2. Bill Athey and David Gower took England to lunch, where the total had reached 102 – a really decent clip in any test, but bloody good in that era. It was described as one of England’s “rare shafts of light of the summer” according to B&H.

Athey was dismissed for 55, with the score on 123, LBW to Watson, having played with “pleasing assurance if not total confidence”. Gower marched serenely on, showing the “effortless grace which makes him the most attractive of batsmen” until offering no shot to a ball from Evan Gray that turned sharply from outside off and been given LBW. 170 for 4 became 174 for 5 when Gatting was bowled through the gate by Hadlee, a dismissal B&H thought had “some sense of inevitability”. “The England captain had played an embarrassing shot” it moaned. Arron might have applauded. Did you write it, sir?

Picture by Adrian Murrell – “enhanced using Snapseed”. I think this is a wonderful snap, just for Richard Hadlee. Evan is giving it the two hands. Smiffy is directing traffic. Wright Jeff Crowe is Saturday Night Fever. Coney looks like he’s in need of the facilities. And then there is Hadlee… Fabulous picture.

After a brief rain delay, Hadlee packed off the Middlesex spinners in one over, both falling to catches that rose sharply and moved away late, and these wickets moved Hadlee into third place in the wicket-takers list behind Lillee and Botham, and completed a 27th five wicket haul, then a record. Pringle, batting at a nose bleeding six, survived a drop before falling to a hook shot. B&H said

“….the failure was more one of confidence than technique. The Essex all-rounder seemed frightened to hit the ball in his old manner.”

As he’s never read the blog, nor is likely to, he won’t comment on that.

England’s innings meandered to the close, finishing 240 for 9. Thomas had played some “spirited shots” before falling to Hadlee. England added another 16 the following morning, with the aid of some dropped catches (B&H lamenting the slip fielding). The previous year 400 played 500, so this instinctively felt short of a decent total.

Thomas opened the bowling and was “fast, but wild” which could have been the summary of his brief career, but he succeeded in making the opening breakthrough, having Bruce Edgar LBW via a fast yorker for 8. Jeff Crowe joined John Wright and solidity was enforced. The pace was dilatory, but it took until the afternoon session to remove John Wiright, who “seemed in total command” and Jeff Crowe, caught behind, both off Gladstone Small to provide the Warwickshire man with the first two of his 55 test victims. Small became a bit of a fan favourite, and I’ll break off this test review to just share a piece of Matthew Engel’s pen picture on Cricinfo…

he was always a whole-hearted tryer, a committed team man and a delightful guy. Australia’s discomfiture was increased by Small’s strange build: seemingly without a neck, he walked around as though he still had a coathanger inside his jacket. He came to England from Barbados just after his 14th birthday, the cut-off date for automatic qualification. However, the combination of his looks and his then-pair of nerdish specs made the Lord’s registration committee think he had no chance of ever playing Test cricket anyway, so they let him through.

Anyway, we interrupt this message to ask, what did he have in common with Derek Randall, Les Taylor, Alastair Cook and Mike Gatting?

Another pic from Adrian Murrell. Small captures his first test wicket, it says being Jeff Crowe, but the piece reckons Wright was his first victim. Quite hard to tell from here. Perhaps one of our New Zealand friends can make the definitive ID?

Back to the test and at 92 for 3 England had got themselves back into the contest. Martin Crowe was joined at the crease by Jeremy Coney, and they set about rebuilding again. Having put on 50 for the 4th wicket, and with both looking untroubled (although Coney had been dropped at slip) “disaster struck in the last over before tea”. Martin Crowe called for what was in the view of B&H an “unwise short single” and Coney hesitated, before perishing. The wicket before tea looked worse when straight after the break Crowe turned Emburey into the hands of Phil Edmonds at backward square leg and New Zealand were 144 for 5, still 112 in arrears. However, the New Zealanders had a more formidable lower order, and it was now their time to shine….