History of course tells us that Johnson was way off the mark. Whether this was down to English brilliance or Australian weaknesses is open to debate, but what is certain is that the hosts were right in the middle of their rebuilding programme that, unfortunately for English fans, would start to bear fruit from 1989 onwards. We didn't know it then of course, but the Aussies consolation win at the end of England's 2-1 Ashes triumph was a sign of things to come. It would take England until 2005 to win the urn again, and another six years after that to win down under. You do have to experience the bad times to appreciate the good, though the Australian dominance in the years to come was taking this adage a little too far.
In 1987 though, my passion for English cricket had mysteriously returned. Amazing what a winning Ashes series can do to a fickle eleven-year-old. To make things that little bit sweeter, England decided to spoil me rotten by winning the two one-day series on the 1986/87 Australian tour. The first trophy was the Benson and Hedges Perth Challenge, a tournament set up as part of the 1987 America's Cup Festival of Sport, contested between Australia, England, West Indies and Pakistan, with England defeating Pakistan by five-wickets in the final. The World Series was the established one-day tournament in Australia, a triangular series involving the West Indies along with the Ashes rivals. Each team played one another four times, with the top two progressing to a best-of-three final. To make matters even more exciting, this was my first exposure to day-night cricket, pyjama uniforms, white balls, black sight screens etc. I couldn't get enough of it.
As you can guess, along the way to the final there were often many twists and turns for each team. England had already lost to Australia by eleven runs, when the teams met again at Sydney on January 22 for a day-night match. For the vast majority of the encounter, it looked as if England were going to suffer their second defeat to their hosts in four days, as chasing Australia's 233/8 (Dirk Wellham 97), England slumped to 202/7, with only three overs of their innings remaining. With eighteen runs needed off of the last over to be bowled by Bruce Reid, the situation looked irrecoverable. Enter Allan Joseph Lamb.
Lambie was already a hero of mine, due to the fact that he played for Northamptonshire, the English county I followed. But surely even this situation was beyond him? He had moved to 59, although this had taken up 97 deliveries, and he hadn't even hit a boundary in his innings. Down the non-striker's end was a young Phil Defreitas, no mug with the bat, but it looked obvious that if England were to pull off a miracle, then Lambie would need to do the majority of the work. Hitting Bruce Reid for eighteen didn't look all that viable an outcome though, as the bean-pole bowler began the over with figures of 9-3-26-1. It truly would take something dramatic to deny Australia.
Any of my family who were unfortunate enough to go on holiday with me in the summer of 1987 will testify that I must have watched the highlights of the next five balls at least fifty times, once the cracking 'On Top Down Under' video had been released. I ended up rewinding and playing Lambie's heroics so many times that I could recite the words of Bill Lawry's excellent commentary perfectly. Indeed, I can still recall most of the output to this day, which probably isn't something I should be all that proud about. I certainly didn't care about sounding like a buffoon in 1987 though, and I'm not totally convinced that I've changed all that much since.
Quite possibly my favourite video ever...
"Hesitation by the batsmen, wild throw by the fieldsman Wellham"
Lamb cracked Reid's first delivery to Dirk Wellham at deep cover. Understandably, Lamb was keen to keep the strike, and after a brief hesitation with Defreitas, two runs were completed. A better throw by Wellham may well have had Defreitas in trouble, although Reid's slight smirk after he collected the wayward throw did not convey any Australian panic at the outcome of the first delivery. Soon the Aussie train would be boarding at panic station central though.
"Lamb's first boundary off 99-deliveries faced, and what a time to hit a four"
Finally Lambie was able to get a ball to the boundary fence, as he flicked Reid through backward square-leg for a much needed four. "That makes it interesting," noted Lawry, and although he wasn't wrong, England still needed twelve from four. Not impossible, but still the odds favoured the Aussies.
"Swung that, that's six. Is that? It's a big hit, it's somewhere over there, I can't see it, it's gone, it's gone for six. A magnificent hit. Well, well, well"
A pivotal moment in the match. Shuffling around in his crease, attempting to put off Reid, Lamb backed away and clubbed a monstrous hit over long-on for six. Elation was visible in the stands, as pockets of English support erupted and began to believe that the impossible was now attainable. As Lamb's ball crossed the fence, the equation was now a very doable six from three. "Australia need a wicket," said a worried Lawry. Too right.
"The worst thing it's done for Australia, is it's got Allan Lamb back on strike"
If the previous ball was crucial, then this delivery was telling come the final reckoning. As with the first delivery, Lamb found Wellham, although this time his timing meant that the ball reached the fielder at a much quicker speed than previously. Just the one run then, and all of a sudden five from two with Lamb off strike, the pendulum had swung back towards the hosts. And then came the moment that probably cost Australia the match, as Wellham's throw was misfielded by Reid allowing England to complete a second, and more importantly keeping Lamb on strike. Reid could be seen clearly on television uttering "He got in my f**king way," indicating that Lamb had impeded his view of the return throw. It is the sort of moment that seems to follow a team around that isn't quite used to winning enough, the ability of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as chaos and worry set in.
"It's four runs, and Lamb pulls off a miraculous victory"
I'm being kind to Lawry in my quote above, as the commentator became completely tongue-tied in trying to sum up just what had gone off out there ('miraculous' morphed into a new word that I hadn't heard of at the time, or since). As Reid came in, Lamb again flicked him through backward square-leg, and as the ball flew towards the boundary and crashed into it, the enormity of Lamb's achievement hit the Aussies squarely in the face. Lamb and Defreitas ran off the square jubilantly. The same could not be said for Allan Border. If ever a picture told a thousand tales, then the expression on Border's face, as he pulled his yellow cap off in frustration, was priceless. Safe to say that some of his players may shortly have had an appointment with Border's hairdryer in the Aussie dressing room.
"And away goes two points for Australia"
As things transpired, Lamb's heroics were vital when you take a look at the final group table. Had England lost that Sydney match, then who knows what might have followed? But for now the papers in England were naturally delighted at the Lamb inspired victory: 'LAMB CHOP!' trumpeted the Daily Mirror; 'Lamb has a grand slam' stated the Daily Express, declaring that England's hopes of winning each competition in Australia were still alive. The hero of the hour was mightily relieved that he'd even had the chance to play for England at all, such was his poor form coming into the match.
Lamb later revealed the secret behind his success: taking back a bat he had lent to Defreitas earlier on in the tour, in a vain hope that it would bring a change in fortunes. "So I reclaimed one of my old bats that I'd given to 'Daffy' Defreitas early in the tour and used a new pair of gloves. That bat is quite a nice stick and I don't think he is going to get it back again after that last over," Lamb told reporters. Fortunately it worked, and although his form did not dramatically improve after this match - scores of 33, 8, 0, 11, 36, 15*, and 35 were hardly awe inspiring - no one would ever forget the impact of Lamb's innings on January 22. It still remains one of my favourite moments in cricket, and without it England's treble dreams may well have disappeared towards the end of that very long tour.
The Australians would get their revenge at Calcutta in November, and with it their recovery, coinciding with the decline in English cricket, would properly begin. Which made watching Lambie's last over a necessity during the many depressing moments that would follow in the barren years of English cricket. Thankfully it is now on YouTube, and I've had great fun watching it again and again over the last week. At least I won't break the Internet by repeatedly going back to it, unlike that old and dusty video tape in my loft.