Ashes 1978-79- A closely fought series but a heavy defeat for Australia
1978-79 was the first Ashes series after the Packer defection. England, captained by Mike Brearley, had in its ranks Gooch, Gower, Randall (in their early years of Test Cricket and eager to make a mark for themselves). Boycott was the one established star in their batting. On the bowling front, England had Willis, Old and Hendrick supported by the two offies, Geoff Miller and John Emburey(recently in the news for the India coach post). Ian Botham was the only all rounder in either team.
Stop Gap Captain
Australian cricket was in turmoil…They had recalled Bob Simpson the previous year for the series against India to take on the Indian Spinners. And he had made a significant contribution. But now it was almost a completely unknown set of players. Later that season, Indians were to have a taste of several of these players on home turf but for now these were completely fresh faces…except for Graham Yallop(even he was under 10 tests old), who like Alvin Kallicharan (WI), was the ‘scape goat’ (stop gap) captain.
There were several players in both teams who had the potential to scale to greater heights but only a few did… Gower, Botham and Willis played significant role in England’s success in the early-mid 1980s. Gooch, Boycott and Emburey went on the rebel tour to South Africa in 1981…and were banned for 3 years…Gooch came back strongly in the late 80s and early 90s including captaining England. English fielding had been raised greatly with the emergence of Gower(he remained a fielder to watch till a weakened shoulder prevented him from throwing in his later days) and Randall.
Phenomenal Debut series for Hogg
The Australian story was a lot more sad. Only Allan Border from this set of players rose from the ‘Ashes’.
Rodney Hogg burst on to the international scene with 41 wickets in his debut series. No bowler had had such a phenomenal debut series. But unfortunately he had to take a back seat with the return of Thommo / Lillee. While he played on till 1985, he never was the same force again.
While Graeme Wood played on till 1985 and while he did make a reasonable contribution in terms of run scoring, he, to many,is remembered for something unusual- ‘The run out’ king - it was this series which started it all.
The elegant Kim Hughes, regarded as a terrific stroke player, was a star performer in the early 80s but had one of the most tearful exits(in the mid 80s) Aussie cricket has ever known. (Like Border, Hughes too scored heavily in India when they toured here end of 1979)
Graham Yallop, who had been thrown into the captaincy, courtesy absence of the star players, was by far Australia’s best batsman in 1978-79. With the return of WSC stars and the emergence of Border and Hughes in the middle order, Yallop faded away, without really making a big mark for himself.
AB’s Debut series
Allan Border was the biggest beneficiary of the Packer defection. This series was a blessing in disguise for him. After a good debut series against England here, he had an excellent series in India in late 1979 scoring over 500 runs including a first test century in Madras and established himself as a permanent member of the middle order even after the return of the Packer players(Chappel, Hookes, Walters).
Captaincy makes a difference
Coming back to this series, in 5 out of the 6 tests, Yallop won the toss. And he had the opportunities, as a captain, in almost every test to capitalize and keep his side in the race…
In the first test at Brisbane, Yallop won the toss and on a green Gabba wicket elected to bat, slumped to 6/26 and never recovered to be bowled out for 160 on Day 1(Had he put England in, the scores may have been reversed).
He corrected himself in the 2nd test by putting England in on the WACA pitch. Hogg rocked the Englishmen with two early wickets and England was on the ropes at 3/40 but were allowed to recover to 300 plus.
Hogg’s 10 wicket haul at the MCG helped pull one back and raised Aussie hopes. A young and inexperienced non packer side had fought well with all its limitations. And this continued into the 4th and 5th tests.
In the fourth test, after bundling out England for 150 on day 1, Australia took a crucial 100 run 1st innings lead that could have been the foundation for squaring the series 2-2. Randall’s magnificent century helped England recover and then the spin twins, Miller and a young Emburey bundled out the Aussies in the 2nd innings.
Aussies still did not lose heart. But the 5th test was possibly the most tragic for them. For yet another time in the series, Yallop put England in and once again his quickies ran through the top order bowling them out for 160 on day 1. Yallop’s inexperience showed on the 3rd afternoon and 4th morning. His poor handling of trumpcard Jim Higgs, the leggie, in the 2nd innings on a turning track allowed England to recover from 6/130 to 360. Another captain and England may have been bundled out for under 200.
Throughout the series, Rodney Hogg helped Australia stay in contention with outstanding piece of fast bowling.
In almost every test, Australia had a chance and the 5-1 scoreline was not a true reflection of the closely fought test matches. Had Mike Brearley been captaining Australia, the result may have completely different.
For an Ashes battle, the 6 test matches series was played in front of almost empty stands.