If the 1981 Ashes series was seriously good, and the 1989 version distinctly bad from an English perspective, then I would argue that the 1985 series was far from the ugly relative in comparison. Above all it was the series that made me fall in love with the game, during a summer when I didn't have a care in the world, and I found new heroes in Botham, Ellison and Robinson. So I hope you enjoy some of my favourite memories of the 1985 Ashes, starting with the day cricket found me.
Here's to you, Mr Robinson
Tim Robinson has a lot to answer for. Maybe if I had tuned into an England Test match on any other day in the 1980s then I might not have become so addicted to this fantastic sport, or perhaps cricket was always destined to seep into every pore of my body, but the actions of Nottinghamshire's opener certainly sped up the process. Robinson had enjoyed a fine Indian tour in the winter, and this continued into the summer of '85 as his 175 set the foundations for England's opening Test win at Headingley.
Watching my first day of Test cricket on June 15 1985, I became strangely drawn in by the events on screen. Robinson remained constant throughout, his wavy hair spilling out from underneath his blue helmet, as a fine century in his first match against Australia helped to make this a perfect day for both England and this 9-year-old blogger. And that was it for me; addicted to the fluctuating fortunes of the national cricket team from then until the day I die. I'm sometimes a little unsure if I should thank Mr Robinson or not.
Botham is back
Of course growing up in the 1980s gave me the pleasure of seeing Ian Terrence Botham and all that entailed. In truth I didn't see his best years, but in 1985 he was still undoubtedly box office. Beefy had in fact missed the triumphant tour to India, and there were press rumblings that the great all-rounder may well disrupt the team spirit that had built up on that trip. But an England team without Ian Botham was not an option in 1985, especially as the visitors always brought out the best in him.
I had heard of the exploits of Botham during 1981, so I was high on anticipation when he strode out to the wicket during my first look at Test cricket on that Saturday. Botham did not disappoint, hitting a swashbuckling 60 from 51 balls, as he flayed Geoff Lawson, Simon O'Donnell, and Jeff Thomson (palpably past his sell by date). Test cricket would often be attritional - or dull in other words - during my formative years, yet Botham was different. It may be a cliche to say that he emptied bars and he had the X-Factor, but that was the truth.
England's win was slightly overshadowed by a touch of over exuberance from their supporters as the match concluded at Headingley. Chasing a small target of 123, England had a few anxious moments along the way, but with five wickets remaining and just one run needed the match was almost in the bag. Allan Lamb provided one more heart flutter, his attempted pull shot hanging in the air for what seemed like an eternity as Geoff Lawson tried to get underneath it. It was a difficult chance that Lawson could not take, although it was made much harder by the fact that the fielder was accompanied by a number of English supporters prematurely celebrating taking an early Ashes lead.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of fuss made over the invasion, including David Gower's "mad dogs" comment. To read a bit more about the subject, please take a look at the relevant section of this blog.
Gatting drops a clanger
Even in a struggling team Allan Border was a constant thorn in England's side. Therefore, giving the Australian skipper a second chance in any innings was not a good idea, and so it would prove at Lord's as the visitors squared the series. Mike Gatting was the guilty party, somehow contriving to drop Border on 87 after he initially seemed to have taken the opportunity. Border had started to walk off in the understandable belief that he was out, only to turn back on his heels as he began to realise that something was amiss.
Border clipped a Phil Edmonds delivery into Gatting's midriff, and at first it looked as if England's vice-captain had taken a sharp chance. Yet in appearing to celebrate the catch, Gatting lost control of the ball, and the sight of him and Paul Downton sprawling across the wicket to try and recover the situation led Dickie Bird to believe that the fielder did not have the ball under control. It would prove a costly mistake.
Border went on to make 196 as Australia continued their fine run of performances at Lord's, their four wicket victory levelling the series. But it might have been very different if Gatting had not had his moment of clumsiness. Listening to my dad's reaction as we sat in the car outside a garden centre made me realise that Gatting's error was costly. He hadn't quite dropped the Ashes, but it felt like it at the time.
Botham versus Whitehead
The pitch at Trent Bridge proved to be the winner, Gower, Graeme Wood, and Greg Ritchie each scoring centuries as the third Test petered out into a draw. Yet there was still time for a bit of drama on the Saturday. Desperately striving to extract some life out of the docile pitch, Ian Botham bowled a fiery new ball spell, coming close to removing both Wood and Ritchie. When Ritchie was caught off a Botham no ball, the frustration of the all rounder was plain to see.
Botham was bubbling, his subsequent spell of short pitched bowling an indication regarding his state of mind. So when umpire Alan Whitehead warned Beefy about the length of his deliveries, it was akin to poking sticks into a bees nest. A further warning for running on the pitch produced the final explosion.
A fuming Botham turned the air blue, although in Don't Tell Kath he admits that his industrial language was not aimed at Whitehead directly. Soon Gower had to get involved, calming down his fast bowler and smoothing things over with the umpire. This period of play made headlines; MPs and journalists were happy to voice their dissenting voices against the actions of Botham, with the TCCB warning Beefy about his future conduct in a hearing. Much ado about nothing perhaps, yet compelling viewing in an otherwise dull Test match.
Gatting makes his mark
Mike Gatting had been through a lot by the time he started to come of age in an England shirt. A full 31 Tests and 54 innings into his career, Gatting finally scored his maiden Test hundred in Bombay, and with the added responsibility of the vice-captaincy role it looked as if he was beginning to establish himself at international level. But incidents and accidents still seemed to follow him about; padding up to Lawson at Lord's, a year after he twice did the same against the West Indies; dropping Border at Lord's; being run out whilst backing up at the bowlers' end at Trent Bridge (Gatting was on 74 at the time).
In 1985 Gatting would not be denied, however, scoring his first Test century at home in the fourth Test at Old Trafford. Rain and a resolute Border hundred in the second innings denied England, yet the massive silver lining on the grey Manchester clouds came in the form of Gatting's 160. The monkey was well and truly off his back, and Gatting's stock was rising. In less than a year he would take over from Gower, although that is a story for another day.
Gower and Robinson fill their boots
England had been unlucky that so much play had been lost at Old Trafford, and as Edgbaston approached they seemed to be in the ascendancy. But more inclement weather saw Australia's first innings of 335 drag on into Saturday, and with further rain predicted it looked very unlikely that England could get the positive result they were desperately seeking for. Runs were needed, preferably in large quantities and at a fast rate. Step forward Tim Robinson and David Gower.
Ably assisted by some woeful Australian bowling, England closed the Saturday on 355/1 from just 87 overs, with Robinson (148) and Gower (215) eventually putting on 331 for the second wicket, as Australia began to disintegrate. Another hundred from Gatting set up a declaration at 595/5, and along the way Ian Botham would give another indication of just how heroic he could be.
Botham bashes the Aussies
Admittedly it may have only been a five ball innings comprising of 18 runs, but even in the 11 minutes Botham was at the crease he managed to grab some of the headlines. At 572/4 England were looking for quick runs to enable a declaration, and Botham was the perfect man for the job. It may not have been a match clincher, yet it was another body blow for an already punch drunk set of tourists.
Botham's first ball from Craig McDermott was hammered back over the bowler's head for a sublime six, commentator Jim Laker barely able to hide his delight and incredulity at the audacity of the all-rounder. "What about that, that is quite incredible," chuckled Laker as the first of Botham's strikes sailed over the boundary. Botham wasn't finished, though, hitting another six, a four, and a "boring" two, on his way to 18 from just 5 balls. Jeff Thompson may have given the crowd a gesture on catching Beefy, but they probably didn't care a jot after the entertainment they had just witnessed.
The leg (and foot) of Lamb
Australia were now on the floor mentally, Richard Ellison bowling superbly to reduce the visitors to 37/5 on the Monday night, his performances in the last two Tests going a long way to regaining the Ashes for England. If you would like to read more about Ellison and my obsession with my latest hero in 1985, then please read here.
For a time it looked as if England would be denied by both the weather - no play possible until 2.30 on the final day - and a stubborn sixth wicket partnership between Greg Ritchie and Wayne Phillips. And then came an incident that caused controversy at the time, and a moment that is probably still debated in Australia to this day. When Phillips cracked a cut off of Edmonds the camera understandably moved towards the boundary in the expectation that the ball would soon be rolling over the rope. Yet the cries of "catch it" and the subsequent adjustment of the camera shot made it clear that this was no ordinary moment in Ashes history.
Phillips' cut crashed into the boot of Allan Lamb, looping up to a surprised Gower who immediately claimed the catch along with the rest of the England fielders. Umpire David Shepherd, standing in his first Test, did not have a clear view of the key moment, so moved to square leg to discuss the matter with his colleague David Constant. After a brief talk, Shepherd turned back, raised his index finger, and sent an emotional Phillips on his way. It was a crucial decision, and one that went a long way to deciding the destination of the 1985 Ashes.
Australia were reasonably upset over the Phillips dismissal, Border pointing out that any benefit of the doubt should have gone to his batsman. That Australia lost their last five wickets for 29 in a little under an hour highlighted the importance of the Shepherd-Constant chat at square leg, as England subsequently went on to take the Test with 11.5 overs remaining. There could be no disputing that England deserved their 2-1 lead, yet the Phillips wicket left a sour taste in the mouths of the tourists. It was now win or bust for them at the Oval.
Gooch breaks his duck
England's batsmen may have been enjoying themselves in 1985, but the returning South African rebel Graham Gooch was still searching for his first century against Australia as the series drew to a conclusion at the Oval. If Gooch was to achieve his goal then he couldn't have wished for a better pitch than the one prepared for the final Test. Gower won the toss, and England made hay whilst the sun shone on a glorious opening day that effectively clinched the Ashes.
England ended the day on 376/3, Gower scoring 157 and Gooch 179 not out, as Australia wilted in the intense heat. The following day would see Gooch dismissed for 196, and despite an England collapse to 464, Australia's reply of 145/6 emphasised the poor mental condition of the tourists. Saturday was just as glorious, with Gower enforcing the follow-on and reducing Australia to 62/4 in their second innings. Monday would see the delicious conclusion.
Except that I didn't get to witness the Ashes regained as Murray Bennett chipped a return catch to Les Taylor, as England won by an innings and 94 runs. My mum, in all her wisdom, decided that we needed to go shopping for some new school clothes. So after following the team through most of the summer and watching far too much Test cricket, I missed the winning wicket. Still, I can't complain too much after my introduction to the famous Anglo-Australian cricketing contest. After all, it wasn't as if I would have to wait 20 years before seeing another England win in the Ashes in my home country. Oh.
There were plenty of other parts of the summer, cricketing and otherwise, that made 1985 such a memorable time for me. Here, in no particular order, are some of my other highlights.
The old pavilion at Headingley; Soul Limbo; Peter West, Richie Benaud, Tom Graveney, and Jim Laker; the abysmal English weather, which threatened to thwart England at various points; the friendly nature of the contest, including a banterous incident between Border, Gower and Botham as they walked towards the Old Trafford pavilion during a rain break; Andrew Hilditch and his bloody-minded devotion to the hook shot; the quite superb Ashes Regained video, a lovely combination of highlights interspersed with chat between Gower and Benaud at Lord's; watching the first day of the final Test in front of a log fire in Scotland, such was the difference in climate between our holiday location and the Oval; listening to Radio 3 as we travelled anywhere by car throughout the summer; Headingley '81 highlights during rain breaks.
There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart), Into The Groove, and I Got You Babe in the charts; waiting for Why Don't You to finish so that I could get on with something less boring instead; Live Aid; Tim Hudson convincing Ian Botham that he could be a Hollywood star; a quite brilliant NatWest final come the end of the season; Gower with the urn on the balcony at the Oval; me winning the Ashes in my back garden, taking 10/0 as Australia were unable to score the one run they needed to keep the urn (Richard Ellison helpfully bowling a maiden down the other end, enabling me to achieve this marvellous feat); umpire David Shepherd hopping about on a triple Nelson; Dickie Bird being struck by a straight Graham Gooch drive; a 20-year-old Craig McDermott taking 8-141 at Old Trafford (all of the wickets to fall to a bowler in the innings), and 30 wickets in the series; Gower's 732 runs in his marvellous Ashes summer.
I'm off to get my Ashes Regained video converted to a DVD.