Happier Days Down Under

With the Ashes lost before England’s rearguard at Sydney, fingers are already beginning to point. A slavish devotion to the white ball game is one of many contributory factors. But it might be cathartic to look back and remember happier times on tour in Australia. It hasn’t all been bad…

In all honesty Brisbane hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for England. They have a notoriously poor record at the Gabba, having only won two test matches at the ground since the end of the Second World War. The best result was a 7 wicket victory obtained twice in 1978 and 1986. The former was secured as part of a 5-1 series win; however, both sides were affected by the absence of players lost to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. Victory in 1986 had a much stronger glow of satisfaction as England later retained the Ashes with a 2-1 series win. They got off to a flier in the first test and compiled a gorgeous first innings total of 456. Bill Athey, Mike Gatting and David Gower all scored half centuries. But  inevitably it was Ian Botham who starred with a sparkling 138. Never one to hang about Beefy scored thirteen fours and four sixes off 174 balls.

Australia was bowled out for 248 in their first innings as Graham Dilley took an excellent 5 for 68.  The follow on was duly enforced, but Geoff Marsh was the only batsman who showed any real resistance with a solid 110. However, he ran out of partners as England clinically turned the screw. Greg Richie was the only other batsman to put in a real shift sharing a partnership of 113 with Marsh. A meagre second innings of 282 left England requiring 75 for victory. They lost three wickets but it was a sweet victory for England set up by the mercurial Ian Botham; adding fuel to the legend that he was only truly motivated when facing the Australians.

The Adelaide Oval is one of the oldest test venues in Australia having hosted its first match in 1884. England won that first rubber by 8 wickets; and by an innings and 230 runs in 1892. But the most notable recent victory came in December 2010 as England battled to retain the Ashes. The first test at Brisbane ended in a draw with almost 1,400 runs scored over five days. Alastair Cook scored an unbeaten 235 while Australia’s Michael Hussey hit 195. Both batsmen would emerge as top scorers in the series. The context was set as Australia won the toss and opted to bat. They were pegged back to 245 with some tidy bowling, particularly from Jimmy Anderson who took 4 for 51.

It paved the way for England to run riot with the bat as they nonchalantly declared on 620 for 5. Surprisingly, the only failure with the bat was captain Andrew Strauss who was bowled for a single. But Alastair Cook weighed in with 148 and Kevin Pietersen hit a monstrous 227 which included 34 boundaries. Australia needed 375 to make England bat again and initially made steady progress. They edged onto 238 for 4 as Michael Clarke was dismissed for 80. Michael Hussey and Marcus North were now at the crease; but could the Aussies run the clock down and eke out a draw?

The tourists lost Stuart Broad to an abdominal injury but they would not be denied. Graeme Swann mopped up any lingering resistance with a sterling 5 for 91. It was a magnificently controlled and disciplined performance as England won by an innings and 71 runs. They also struck a massive physiological blow going one up with three tests to play. All the pressure was now squarely on the shoulders of the Australians. A 3-1 series win for England had never felt better.

© David Morton

The very first test match was played at Melbourne in March 1877. Australia won the inaugural test by 45 runs; England squared the series with a 4 wicket victory a fortnight later. There have been some absolute humdingers over the years at MCG; two narrow England victories are worth a mention just for nuisance value.

In 1982, the Aussies were defeated by just 3 runs in the fourth test. England were trailing in the series 2-0 and desparate for a break. Only 3 runs separated the teams after the first innings. England knocked a modest 294 in their second innings with Graeme Fowler top scoring on 65. This left the Aussies with a modest 292 for victory. A stubborn middle order made a game of it; but England clinched the win thanks to a brutally fast 6 for 77 from Norman Cowans. In 1998, a similarly low scoring match produced a thrilling climax. The tourists set Australia an under nourished total of 175 to win. But England all-rounder Dean Headley returned excellent figures of 6 for 60 to secure a 12 run victory. Both results had a bittersweet quality as England lost both series in 1982/83 and 1998/99 but at least the Aussies didn’t have it all their own way.

Inevitably, certain tours down under stand out more than others and matches at the MCG are no exception. Again, the Ashes tour of 1986/87 looms large as England retained the Ashes with two days to spare in December 1986. Ian Botham was in devastating form as he returned figures of 5 for 41 and Chris Broad scored 112. But for the sheer margin of victory the Melbourne test of 2010/11 must take the plaudits. England dominated from the start as they put Australia into bat.

The tourists had the luxury of replacing leading wicket taker Stephen Finn, who they felt was leaking runs. His replacement, Tim Bresnan, took 2 for 25 as Australia crumbled to 98 all out in the first innings. England’s run machine purred into action and posted a hefty 520 with Jonathan Trott unbeaten on 168. Australia were dispatched with relative ease as they only reached 258. Bresnan justified his selection with a useful 4 for 50. The Ashes were retained with one test left to play. I took an extra helping of smugness as Ricky Ponting was fined 40% of his match fee for arguing with the umpires’ decision: oh how we laughed.

Sydney has been a test venue since 1882 and has seen Ashes combatants largely go neck and neck. England have recorded 22 victories against Australia’s 27 with 7 draws. The tourists posted wins by an innings in 1901, 1936 and 1966. More recently England cruised to a 225 run victory in 2003. The Ashes were already lost as they were 4-0 down and might be seen as a dead rubber. Nevertheless, some pride was restored as Michael Vaughn scored 183 and Mark Butcher hit 124. Something the current England team might care to bear in mind. 

But, like a magnet attention turns yet again to the final test of the 2010/11 series. It was a victory roll for England but the execution was faultless. Much like the previous test Australia were bowled out cheaply and allowed England to build an unassailable lead. England compiled 644; their highest score of the series which included 3 individual centuries. Australia scored 281 in their second knock but could not prevent a defeat of an innings and 83 runs. It must be questioned when England will reach such heights again?

Perth didn’t take its bow as a test venue until 1970, and England have a dismal record at the WACA with only one victory in 1978. Mike Brearley captained the tourists in a series undermined by Kerry Packer’s machinations with World Series Cricket. One should never be ungrateful as England won by 166 runs; but the game was only distinguished by a century from David Gower. The Bellerive Oval in Hobart only became a test venue in 1989 and England are yet to play there. The final Ashes test for 2021/22, of course, will be played at Hobart on 14-18 January.

When a series is resolved by the third test there is a sense of anti-climax as the outcome is already known. Yet there are still important lessons to be gleaned and salvaging some respect does no harm. Any victory should be celebrated in the present, and we live in hope with glasses that are half full.

Brian Penn


  • I agree – it is good to recall the better days rather than wallow in the misery of defeat. The fact of the matter is that Aus were better prepared than us in all departments – actual practice, technically and psychologically. Weakness in one area would make things difficult. In all three? We had no chance
    Peter Drake
    teacher Hexham

  • The one thing you can’t take away from this series is that the spirit of this side is clearly still a determined one not to be humiliated further. That’s no easy thing to keep that going when you’re on the the other side of the world facing mounting criticism and a team you know is better than you in every respect. It doesn’t matter what venue you’re playing at if that’s not there.
    We have the seam bowlers, given the conditions, to test their batsmen, but as was said before the series started we have not shown a consistent ability to make a decent 1st innings total and get our foot in the door from the off. When you’re coming from behind all the time it’s difficult to put yourself in a wining position, wherever you’re playing.
    Good to see Crawley coming good but this is offset by the failure of Hamid, after a promising domestic season, looking increasingly out of his depth. This means the recall of Burns, who’s had a pretty miserable tour so far, looks the only option and so a good start, especially with Malan out of touch, looks unlikely. This in turn means Root coming to the wicket early, something he’s not comfortable with. Billings is certainly an option in the lower middle order to offset the repeated failure of the ‘undroppable’ Buttler. Though with Foakes available you wonder why Buttler is playing atall. More bits and pieces nonsense.

  • Ok but really they lost 7 overs to rain and could not bowl their quicks for the last few overs, and probably should have declared 30 minutes earlier. Aside from the crushing of England which is probably the worst in the history of the Ashes, it was a good finish and showed why Tests are always the best format on a slow burner like the last day here. But I see nothing really to celebrate in the context of the series which has been below abysmal. And if anyone says “positives” again…..

    I hope they don’t play a shattered Hameed and a shell shocked Burns at Hobart. No point. Open with Lawrence and Bairstow and play Pope and Billings if we must (best wicket keeper is sitting on his backside in the UK), if we must. It’s all rather irrelevant. Oh and please don’t flog Stokes into the ground like they ruined Archer.

  • “both sides were affected by the absence of players lost to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.”

    Er yes – but nowhere near equally. The England Packer players were Greig, Knott, Woolmer, Snow, Amiss and Underwood. Of those only Knott and Underwood were certs for selection by 1978 with Woolmer a maybe. Australia lost both Chappells (although Ian was aging by then), Marsh, Lillee and Thomson plus a lot of more marginal players. Australia would have been a much stronger side (albeit still with weaknesses in the openers and spin bowling) while England had strong cover for the missing players in Bob Taylor and John Emburey (indeed strong enough that Phil Edmonds only played one Test). When both sides had their Packer players back the following year Australia won 3-0.

    • Not sure that’s a fair assessment. Woolmer and Greig were both pretty much England certs in 1978, and in 1977 the Aussies had already been without Lillee and Iain Chappell. I think the Packer impact was more even than you imply,

  • My two favourite England performances in Australia since I started watching in 1975 weren’t victories:

    1) The heroic defeat in the Centenary Test – England had only one warm-up game to adjust after five Tests in India; bowling Australia out cheaply first dig backed up by some great catches (by Knott, Greig and Brearley); the second innings’ fightback; the feeling that they’d only been beaten by an all-time great in Dennis Lillee; above all, of course, Derek Randall.
    2) The heroic draw at the SCH in 1990/91 – England were 2-0 down but the series was still alive; they conceded 500+ in the first innings; one of Gower’s best Test centuries (although his century in Perth on the preceeding tour was probably his very best Down Under); the Tufnell-induced collapsed; the brave stab veterans Gooch and Gower made at an impossible target.

    I rate these higher than England’s wins because Australia weren’t a shambles in these matches and there was no dead rubber syndrome. My favourite victory, if I had to pick one, would be the Fourth Test in 1978/79. England were 2-1 up so the series was still live; they conceded a first innings’ deficit of 140 and had lost Boycott for a duck; Derek Randall made his other big century in Australia, a more attritional innings in intense heat; the lesson – since lost – of the value of keeping the opposition in the field for a long time. Although Australia were weakened, their side still contained Wood, Yallop, Kim Hughes, Border, Hogg, Hurst and Higgs all of whom played when Australia were at full strength and who ended up with at least decent Test records. Match highlights appeared on Youtube not long ago.

  • England’s greatest ever performance in Australia must be the First Test on the 1928/29 tour. It’s hard to know what was more impressive – the sheer sadism of setting Australia over 700 to win or that England with a 400 lead on first innings crawled to the declaration at under 3rpo. The final victory margin of 675 runs is a record that’s unlikely ever to be broken and is over 100 runs ahead of second place. Some bloke called Bradman was making his debut and their side also included big names like Woodfull, Ponsford, Oldfield, Grimmett and Gregory. It was a classic example of a team in transition with the bowlers at the tail end of their careers and the batsmen yet to establish themselves.

    A close second would be the First Test in 1903/04 when R.E. ‘Tip’ Foster made 287 on debut, the highest score in Australia by a visiting batsman until, topically enough, Ross Taylor’s 290. Wilfred Rhodes bowled Australia out despite a big Victor Trumper century and England scored their 190 to win despite being 80/4 at one stage. Tragically, both Foster and Trumper wouldn’t live to be 40 and another player in that match ‘Tibby’ Cotter died at Gallipoli. Again that Australian team included some big names with in addition to Trumper Clem Hill, Reg Duff, Monty Noble and Warwick Armstrong playing.

    In third place, I’d rank the Fifth Test at the MCG in 1894/95. The series was 2-2 and the match fairly even on first innings. Tom Richardson (another who died young) bowled Australia out in a mammoth spell of fast bowling and the tough run chase of just under 300 was pulled off after two early wickets by a big partnership between anchor Albert Ward and dasher Jack Brown.

  • So playing your star all-rounder in a dead rubber and with such a bad injury he not only can’t bowl but can’t even throw overarm has worked out well then…

    Who’d have thunk it?

  • Looking back on the series as a whole – and even allowing for poor management, selection and captaincy – it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is a serious death of Test quality batting in the English game. Which is something which cannot be rectified for several years, at least (even with the best will to rectify it, which seems to be lacking). The immediate prospects for English Test cricket look bleak. And this comes at a time when Test cricket itself looks very vulnerable. I would not be astonished if Test matches became (in a few years) occasional, ad hoc; and treated more like a celebration or festival than a real sporting competition. (And that’s assuming that the political-virus-response has not absolutely destroyed – rather than merely crippling – all such sport by that time.)

    • When you look at over 3500 posts and counting on the BBC HYS there is clearly a greater passion amongst cricket supporters for Tests and indeed the County Championship than the hit and giggle. People care, but they are furious with the inept governance of the sport. And how indeed can you have an enquiry into this debacle led by Harrison, Giles and Silverwood? The very people who have caused this disaster. If they had any integrity or shame that should resign immediately and let an Independent enquiry and firm action plan into the whole sorry state of affairs. It’s as bad, in a different way, as the Boris parties.I suppose it can’t get worse (?) ,but Root should step down or be fired as captain immediately. You can’t move on with the old guard hanging around.

  • It was said at the start of this series it would define Joe Root – so let’s not forget that now the series is over and maybe the answer isn’t the one that was wanted.

    Let’s look at Root the batsman in Australia…. there are 20 English top order batsmen who played more than ten Tests in Australia and have better averages than Root’s 35. Five average over 50 – Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Barrington, Hammond and John Edrich. All scored except one (Hussain).

    One very direct comparison with Root this time is Peter May in 1958/59. On both tours England took a hammering; both May and Root batted at No.4; both got no protection from their openers and were usually in early…. May kept his personal performance up and averaged 40+ with a century whereas Root’s average slumped to 32.

    But… but… Root averages 50+ so he must be one of the all-time greats. Well, he’s had the chance to rack some runs against very poor attacks like WI or SL in recent years. In the past either certain teams didn’t have Test status or the better players didn’t tend to tour there (Peter May never toured India for example). I don’t mean this to denigrate Root – more to foster an awareness of some of the greats of the past.

    • I’m not terribly convinced by this argument if it’s meant to show that Root is much poorer in Australia than May.

      It’s true that he’s only 20th on the list of England batters in Australia–albeit worth pointing out that if you take out no. 5s, who I wouldn’t consider to be top order, then he’s 13th and he’s above Gooch, Gower, Hendren and Cowdrey. (Also that he averaged 47 on the 2017 tour, which was only marginally less successful).

      But if you restrict it to matches where the batter was captain, Hussain’s average is a touch lower than Root, Hutton’s is miles lower, and the only regular captains with averages more than two runs above Root’s are Strauss, Dexter, MacLaren and Gooch. That’s not to deny that this tour fell apart in rather the same way that the 2013 one did–but I think you’ve rather over-egged the pudding in your attempt to show how much more wonderful the great old players were. (It’s also worth considering how much more compressed series are these days: the 2021 series was scheduled to be over in barely half the period scheduled for the 1958 series).

      Your point about Root scoring runs off poor attacks is especially thin, I think. You’re underestimating how difficult tours of South Asia are for England batters generally, either in May’s day or Root’s. But also, Root averages over 50 in India, South Africa and away to Pakistan as well as Sri Lanka and WI and at home. May’s figures were bolstered by a wonderful home average and by averaging 67 against New Zealand–and if you’re saying that New Zealand in the 50s were a more daunting proposition for batters than WI or SL, you’re being…extremely generous! (It also ignores the fact that Root failed in his one series against Bangladesh–playing weak teams doesn’t automatically mean that good batters fill their boots). May had a good record in Australia but he only averaged 35 in West Indies and 15 in South Africa. I would have thought the point you’re making holds somewhat true for both of them, but probably more so for May.

      In passing, I’m happy to accept that your post wasn’t meant to denigrate Root–but to my eyes neither the wording nor the construction of it reflects that!


copywriter copywriting