If there was to be a contest to decide England's most embarrassing Test match defeat of the 1980s, unfortunately there are quite a number of candidates to choose from. Of the 105 tests played in that decade, England lost 39 matches (37.1% if my calculations are correct). Some of these losses were inevitable from day one - the vast majority of tests against the West Indies immediately spring to mind - others so unnecessary and completely avoidable - Headingley 1989 bringing pain to my fingers as I type - but some were just downright shameful. The type of performance that makes you wonder why you spend so long worrying about such nonsense, filling you with anger, frustration, and a temporary desire never to put yourself through the misery of it again. With England currently touring New Zealand, one particular defeat jumped to the front of the queue whilst I considered pitching the concept of England's top 50 worst Test defeats to Channel Four. Step forward Christchurch 1984; your place in the hall of shame of English cricketing disasters is assured.
The tour, which would eventually develop into a mess, had actually begun reasonably well. Under Bob Willis' captaincy, England had remained unbeaten in their warm-up matches, and enjoyed the upper hand in the first test at Wellington, until a combination of Martin Crowe, Jeremy Coney, and Lance Cairns frustrated the tourists, as the match petered out into a draw. The run-up to the test series had been blighted by bad weather, allowing England only nine days of practice before the international cricket commenced, a concern at the time for the English management in an era when visiting countries put a lot of emphasis on tour matches and acclimatisation. The tour was not without moments of friction already though. England's manager Alan Smith was very unhappy that vital net practice time had been lost prior to the first test, after the local ground staff had failed to cover the pitches, and Willis and Richard Hadlee became embroiled in a bouncer war, after Hadlee had taken offence at Willis' targetting of Ewen Chatfield during New Zealand's first innings. During the match, Willis had at least reached a notable landmark, moving past Fred Trueman's record of 307 test wickets for England. But as far as the good news went on the 83/84 tour to New Zealand, here's where the story ends. Things were about to go downhill fast, starting with humiliation at Christchurch.
As often happens with nightmare tours, injuries started to become an issue prior to the second test. Ian Botham was nursing a slight tear at the top of his hamstring, along with a tendon problem at the back of his knee, but would be declared fit before the test began. Bob Taylor, England's 42-year-old wicketkeeper, had a groin strain, which nearly led to an SOS being sent to South Africa for Paul Downton's services. However, it was the bowling department which was hit the hardest, Willis not helping England's cause by hitting Neil Foster's toe in the nets, cracking it in the process, and ruling the Essex paceman out of the Christchurch match. Graham Dilley, Foster's likely replacement, would also miss out due to a thigh injury, leading to a desperate call being sent out to Sussex's Tony Pigott who just happened to be playing club cricket in Palmerston-North for Wellington. For Pigott it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, or not so if you consider what was to follow. To complicate matters, Pigott had to cancel his wedding that was scheduled for the Monday of the test: "Yes, I was going to marry Nikki next Monday, but she was quite happy to postpone the ceremony if it meant I had the chance of playing cricket for England," said Pigott. Very understanding of his fiancee, and quite kind of England too, firstly to give Pigott his chance, and secondly to try and get the match over in time so that he could of stuck to his original wedding date all along.
The pitch at Christchurch had raised suspicions before the start of the test. Two Shell Trophy matches had both finished in just two days playing time earlier in the season, and such was the concern for the Lancaster Park strip, that McLean Park in Napier was at one stage put on standby in case Christchurch was deemed as an unsuitable pitch for test cricket. Even on the supposed seamers paradise, England did at one stage consider going with three pacemen and a spinner (Nick Cook or Vic Marks), Willis initially stating that he wanted variety in his attack, and that it was all well and good the West Indies following the four fast bowlers route, but that they were in a uniquely strong position to do so. Willis and England would relent however, as soon as the pitch was given a closer inspection, hence the last minute call for Pigott, but interestingly the home side did include a spin option, recalling Stephen Boock after a four year absence from the test arena.
Richard Hadlee's comments regarding the Christchurch square pre-test would turn out to be as accurate as his bowling: "I think there'll be a result...and a lot will depend on the toss." And so it would prove. On winning the toss, New Zealand skipper Geoff Howarth had no hesitation in batting first on a pitch that was hardly likely to get any better. Understandably, openers Bruce Edgar and John Wright found the situation heavy going in the first hour, although some of the bowling served up by Botham was a little off radar at times. Wright survived two leading edges, before it was Pigott who struck first with just his seventh ball in test cricket, ending Edgar's painful stay of one run in 50 minutes. Two wickets in eight deliveries from Norman Cowans then put England back on top, as the departures of Wright and Howarth left the hosts wobbling on 53/3. When Botham removed Martin Crowe in the last over before lunch to leave New Zealand on 87/4, England could be reasonably happy with the first session.
What followed was less than encouraging though. Vital knocks from Jeff Crowe, Jeremy Coney and Ian Smith (47, 41 and 32 respectively) were a mere sideshow to the fireworks emanating from Richard Hadlee's bat. His 99 from just 81 balls included an over in which he hit Botham for four fours, and in five Pigott overs that disappeared for 45 runs, 40 came from Hadlee alone. The seventh wicket stand of 78 between Hadlee and Smith took just 45 minutes, not so much wrestling the initiative from England, more condemning them to their ultimate fate. From 137/5, New Zealand recovered to 307 all out (scored at 4.25 an over), and on a pitch already displaying variable bounce, things went from bad to worse for England when Graeme Fowler was bowled by Boock, as England closed day one on 7/1. Alas for England fans, the Daily Mirror's Peter Laker pointed out the trouble in waiting for the visitors: "...but with rain in the offing, New Zealand's total looks a real handful."
In the little play that the persistent drizzle allowed on day two, England laid the foundations for the shower of a performance that would follow. Hadlee continued his dream match, removing Tavare, Gower and Randall to reduce England to 10/4, and although Lamb and Botham put on a relatively massive 31 runs - shamefully this would turn out to be England's second highest partnership of the match - both would depart in quick succession, as England limped to 41/6. Lance Cairns' second wicket of the day - Bob Taylor for just 2 - left England closing day two on a frankly appalling 53/7. Pigott who walked from the field with Mike Gatting at stumps, must have wondered what he had let himself in for. Admittedly the home side had favourable bowling conditions in which to operate, but 53/7 was still a woeful effort.
Somehow England managed to out-rubbish their day two showing, on a third day so embarrassing that the very word nadir must have been created for such an occasion. Cairns soon saw off Pigott, and when Chatfield polished off the innings by dismissing Willis and Cowans, England had been bowled out for just 82, facing the ignominy of being asked to follow-on for the first time in test matches against New Zealand. But still the hits kept on coming.
The start of England's second innings was a painful mirror image of the first; Tavare and Gower again victims of Hadlee, with Boock repeating his success against Fowler. Gatting, who had managed to top score first time round with a whopping 19 not out, succumbed to Boock for an eight-ball duck, and just a ball later Botham was back in the pavilion, his golden duck reducing England to 31/5, which soon became 33/6 as Chatfield got in on the act too, removing Lamb for the second time in the match. Randall and Taylor then gave England a brief respite, their partnership of 39, and Randall's eventual score of 25, both setting less than boastful highs for the tourists in this sorry tale. Taylor's run out, caused by a slip after he had set off for a quick single, opened the way for Hadlee to wrap things up, his final three wickets taking his match total to 8/44 which, combined with his priceless 99 in New Zealand's only innings, made the awarding of the man of the match award about as easy as the home team had found bowling to England's batsmen.
Bob Willis did not mince his words when it came to discussing the pitch and the England display, calling the wicket "a disgraceful pitch" and describing the New Zealand innings as "certainly the worst bowling performance I have ever seen in a test match." Opposition skipper Howarth admitted that the wicket wasn't particularly great, but pointed the finger firmly at England and their mental state for the result: "England psyched themselves out of it and that was the big difference between the two sides." Certainly England's complaints about the pitch, and the strongly-worded report that they threatened to send to the New Zealand Cricket Council, did have a whiff of sour grapes about it. The plain facts were that England bowled poorly, allowing Hadlee to score more on his own than they amassed in either innings, and their batting displays lacked technique and application in trying conditions. Rather than apportioning blame, England should have taken a long look inwardly. Luckily the press pack were able to dish out a few home truths.
"I do not believe that England can ever have played as pathetically as they did in their humiliating defeat by New Zealand here yesterday," noted the Daily Express' Pat Gibson, adding that the England performance was spineless. The Daily Mirror's headline 'WHAT A DISGRACE' emblazoned on their back page summed up the general feeling of the nation, as we were treated to a whole host of facts that really did not improve the mood; the defeat was England's first ever innings defeat to New Zealand; it was the first time England had failed to score 100 in both innings since 1894/95, and only the third time in their history that this had happened; most damning of all was the realisation that the test had seen England score just 175 runs, lose twenty wickets, in just six hours twenty minutes batting time, and in only 101.2 overs. "Discount the rain and the whole farce had consumed less than two days," wrote Rob Steen in David Gower: A Man Out of Time. Quite.
The aftermath of the aftermath was just as scruffy and chaotic as England's Christchurch experience. The last test was drawn, thus giving New Zealand their first test series win over England, and the tour simply spiralled out of control (although England did manage to win the one day series). Allegations thrown at the England players during the 83/84 trip resulted in it being forever known as the 'sex, drugs and rock and roll' tour, as newspaper editors searched desperately for reasons behind England's demise (and the extra newspaper sales helped of course). What went on during that tour will probably mostly stay there, but Botham and Lamb have both since admitted in their autobiographies that they smoked pot during the tour, although they weren't stupid enough to have done this in the dressing room, as some of the stories would have us believe. Yet both players were cleared of their supposed sexual conquests with a couple of women in their hotel room, and it is debatable as to how rock and roll a Pretenders concert is (which the players attended one night amidst more drugs allegations). The tour was far from perfect, and it was quite clear that in this case the drugs did not work, but just as the England players had appeared to be searching for excuses through the Christchurch pitch, so too did the assembled British media through other reasons. Which was a major disservice to an underrated New Zealand side that contained world class stars in Martin Crowe and Hadlee, and other players who would drain every last drop of ability from their bodies in order to compete.
England's Christchurch debacle was quite fitting in the year 1984, for they had found their very own entry of a test match worthy to be consigned to Room 101. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world, and even though this was just before I discovered the beautiful sport of cricket, as an English fan I would quite happily see this match join salt and vinegar crisps, wasps, and dogs muck in Orwell's hellhole. At the time, people were walking the streets with 'Frankie Says Relax' t-shirts on, but it is doubtful as to whether any English cricket fans would have heeded this message. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, was more like it.