Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ashes- Boxing Day Test Match -Australia V England 1982

From the memories of Radio Commentary
Ashes Boxing Day Test - 25 years Ago
This 1982 Ashes test, the fourth in the series, remains unparalleled in recent memory, in the way both teams ran each other close in both innings and for its dramatic finish

Later this month, India will begin their quest for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the MCG, with the Boxing Day test match (on December 26) being the first of the four tests.

Every year, The Boxing Day Test Match is one of the highlights of Australia’s cricket season and attracts the biggest crowd of the summer. Recent reports suggest that ticket sales for the Australia-India first test haven’t been all that bright.

This month’s story on cricket tales takes a look(from my Radio Australia memories) at the Boxing Day Test of 1982.

Australia (with non packer players) had lost the previous home ashes (1978-79) series 5-1 ( The 1981 Ashes in England seemed to be going the Aussie way until a rejuvenated Botham (after relinquishing the captaincy) came and spoilt the party. Australia was thus staring at the possibility of a hat trick of Ashes losses.

Same look England squad
Several of the previous Ashes winning England team were part of this tour. Bob Willis was now the captain (While 1981 is referred to as the Botham’s Ashes, RGD Willis had played a key role in that series including in that Headingly Test), Botham had blossomed into a dominant force in world cricket, David Gower was at the peak of his prowess and Derek Randall, who had impressed one and all with his batting and flashy fielding in the 1978-79 Ashes, was still around.

Graeme Fowler (Indians would best remember him for his double hundred at Chepauk, Madras in the 1984-85 series), who is now a well known TMS expert on the BBC, was trying to establish himself on the international scene.

Geoff Miller, who had made a big impression in 78-79 Ashes in Australia, was back here as the lead spinner of the series.

England had found a new hero from South Africa, Allan Lamb, and a lot was expected from him (While on the topic of South African import, Australia too had one…Kepler Wessels was in his debut series. And for a while, that decade, he played a critical role for Australia at the top of the order).

It was a strong all round English team that seemed ready to take on the challenge of the Aussies.

The Aussie team, on the other hand, wore a different look from the previous Ashes. Greg Chappell was back as the captain having not figured in the previous 2 losses. The dashing David Hookes was back to taunt the Englishmen (remember his 5 successive fours of Tony Grieg in the late 70s). As mentioned above, Australia found an import that proved most beneficial to them through the 1980s. Kepler Wessels, who had played for Queensland(South Africa was under Apartheid ban)in the Sheffield Shield, made his Test debut in this series with a match winning century and was to remain an integral part of the team.

Allan Border and Kim Hughes were really the only batsmen who were part of both the 78-79 and 1981 losses.

A weakened Aussie Bowling
The attack was spearheaded by Thommo and a young Geoff Lawson (now the Pakistan coach). Alderman had a freak accident in the first test on his home ground and didn’t feature again. Lillee too played just the one test in the series. Rodney Hogg, who had a phenomenal debut series in 1978-79, was around but not the same force as before.

Through the late 70s and the 80s, Australia struggled on the spin bowling front - Jim Higgs, Peter Sleep and Bob Holland had all played at different points of time but none really created a lasting impression. The one who had reasonable success during the early 1980s was Bruce Yardley, who was the spinner in this series.

Hence it was rather a shaky bowling line up for the Aussies.

The Boxing Day Test Match of 1982-Cliff Hanger
25 years ago, the 1982 Boxing Day test (the 4th test in the series) attracted a huge crowd with Australians gunning to regain the Ashes. England came into this test 2-0 down, after back to back defeats at the Gabba and the Adelaide Oval. They had to win at the MCG to give themselves a chance of retaining the Ashes.

During the first three tests, the English batting had remained inconsistent. Gower, Fowler, Randall and Lamb had all run up big scores in one test or other but did not combine together well. Willis and Botham had led the bowling attack well but batters had let them down.

For the Australians, Chappell was in fine form and Wessels had had a sensational debut. David Hookes showed flashes of his brilliance. A fiery Lawson more than made up for Lillee’s absence. Thomson had a point to prove - that he was still a force to reckon with. And a force he was in this series (he not only contributed with the ball, but with the bat as well as seen below).

Coming into this test, the pressure was on England to go for the win (a draw was enough for Australia to regain the Ashes). And what a match it turned out to be. As seen often, close and dramatic matches are typically the ones where big totals are not posted by either of the teams.

Slowest Test Batsman
In the first half of that decade, England found a batsmen who possibly would rank as one of the most boring in test history. Chris Tavare, with Kent then and later Somerset, would, that decade, play some of the dourest innings’ in tests (closest may be a Shoaib Mohammed, but at least he had a solid technique).

However, it was Tavare’s innings of 89 on Boxing Day, that was the highlight of Day 1along with the strokeful 80 of Allan Lamb on what was yet another poor batting display by England.

Norman Cowans’ wickets in successive balls including Chappell’s for a first ball duck brought England back into the match on day 2. David Hookes scored a typically dashing half century to help Australia close in on England. However, a late order collapse meant only 3 runs separated the teams after the first innings, with Australia getting the psychological advantage of the lead.

English Collapse on Day 3
Having fought back well with the ball to be on level terms after the first innings, England collapsed on day 3. David Gower failed again and England seemed to be out of the match (and the series) at 6/160. For a while, Botham brought back memories of 1981 with a dashing knock and threatened to repeat the ‘comeback’ effort. However, with his dismissal at 200, England was still in big trouble.

41 year old Bob Taylor does it again
4 years earlier, in the 1978-79 Ashes, Bob Taylor, had played a crucial 2nd innings knock in the Adelaide test (5th test in the series) to get England back from almost a similar situation. England had led by 5 runs on first innings then but had collapsed to 150/6 in the 2nd innings, before Taylor played a gutsy knock, along with Geoff Miller, to take England past 350 - England won that match.

(In between, Taylor had also played a gritty knock in Bombay in the Golden Jubilee-Botham’s Test in 1980).

This time, Taylor combined with Derek Pringle (almost half his age), to pull England out of the dumps to give respectability to its 2nd innings. From 200/7, the two helped England post a score of 294, leaving Australia to score 292 to win.

England discovers a fast bowler for the future
On the 4th day, England was to find an unlikely hero. While the Englishmen were looking for a big effort from Willis and Botham, it was a young, bustling 21 year old from Jamaica who ripped through the Aussie top and middle order on day 4 to leave Australia reeling. Aussies had no answer to Norman Cowans’ pace and despite another typically dashing 60 from David Hookes, Australia collapsed on the 4th afternoon.

That afternoon, it looked like Cowans would have a long career with England. However, it turned out to be a one off performance and he faded away quickly without much glory. Cowans’ burst that day left Australia at 218/9, on the 4th evening, needing another 70+ when Jeff Thomson joined an out of form Allan Border. Border had not scored a fifty yet in the series.

Final Session on Day 4
Given this, it did seem to be only a matter of time before England wrapped up the test and reduce the series lead to 2-1, but it was not to be. Through that session, England adopted the strategy of giving away a single to the out of form Border to try and get last man Thommo out.

Border had done very little of note in the series until the evening session on day 4. And yet, quite shockingly, he was allowed to get back into form thanks to a strategy that several captains seem to follow when a top order batsman is batting alongside a tail ender. With every passing minute that evening, the tension mounted and Thomson and Border were gaining in confidence.

They had added 40 runs that evening and saw through till stumps with Australia requiring a further 35 on the final morning.

A Tense Final Morning
And the same story continued through the first hour on the final morning. Border reached his first fifty of the series and Thomson was sticking around along with AB. The final wicket pair seemed to be taking Australia to an unlikely win at the MCG and thus a series win and the Ashes.

But this Boxing Day Test Match was destined to be an all time great Ashes test. And we were to witness(hear) one final twist to the proceedings.

A dramatic Catch by Geoff Miller to end the Test Match
With just a boundary required to win, Thomson edged Botham to Tavare (quite a safe slipper), who let it slip and the ball popped out. In a reflex action, Geoff Miller went behind Tavare to grab the rebound to give England a dramatic 3 run win and get them back in the series. Border and Thomson had almost pulled it off for Australia but the remarkable Miller catch saved the blushes for England.

The 4th evening and 5th morning had provided great excitement, especially to listen to it live on the radio, in those non- TV days.

25 years hence, the Miller effort still remains a catchy photograph - going behind Tavare to give England victory. We have several great Ashes battles since this Boxing Day Test match of 1982 (including some exciting finishes in 2005), but this Ashes test remains unparalleled in recent memory in the way the two teams ran each other close in both innings and ranks as an all time great Boxing Day Clash.

The scores: England 284 and 294 Australia 287 and 288.

(England could only draw the fifth test at the SCG and thus Australia regained the Ashes)

Commentators: Alan McGilvary, Jim Maxwell and Denis Compty, Expert- Norman O’Neil

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