When asked when was my highlight of watching Australian cricket, I invariably answer “the 1989 Ashes”. This might surprise younger people, especially those born after this momentous occasion, not knowing the significance of this series win. While others might nominate the 1999 World Cup victory, the first of four in a row, the triumph of Allan Border’s men in the 1987 World Cup or even the 1995 victory in the Caribbean, but for me it’s the 1989 Ashes win all the way.
As a youngster growing up, my earliest experiences of watching the Australian cricket team was of them invariably and consistently showing how terrible they were. This was a side that lost to India and New Zealand on a regular basis, sure we might beat the Windies in a dead rubber now and again but we struggled to beat anyone in matches that mattered.
New Zealand came to Australia in November 1985 and beat Australia by an innings at the Gabba! At our fortress, against lowly New Zealand, we lost by an innings! That’s how bad we were. It wasn’t that New Zealand were particularly good either – they were losing to just about everyone too, just not Australia. Sir Richard Hadlee took 9/52, including the first eight wickets to fall, before number nine Geoff Lawson got out to spinner Vaughan Brown. It would prove to be the only wicket Brown took in his two Test career to deny Hadlee a rare 10 wicket innings.
We would have lost to India too, except that India had this policy of “don’t lose” that saw them draw just about every Test. In 1986 Australia and India in 1986 played out the second draw in Test cricket history but it took Australia to declare twice to end up at this almost contrived result.
Rebel Tours and Retirments take a toll
There were reasons for it, of course. The mass retirements of our best players, including three in the same Test match, didn’t help matters, a devastating blow after the World Series wars of the late 1970’s. Rebel tours to South Africa in 1985 and 1986 then left the team just about on its knees. As a result, the annual limited overs World Series Cup often drew greater attention than the longer form of the game as the Test team struggled to compete.
With class players like Ian Botham at their disposal, and regarded as one of the best teams in the world, England posed a difficult prospect for Allan Border’s team. In 1987, England had retain The Ashes 2-1 in Australia, their only loss in the dead rubber fifth Test, and even then by just 55 runs.
So we headed to England in 1989 expecting to lose. Allan Border was going to put up a fight but that was about it. Dismissive of the tourists chances, the English media laughed at Australia’s side, declaring them to be the worst that Australia had ever sent to England. The worst.
The worst ever Australian team?
The funny thing was that it was a fair assessment. Allan Border was Australia’s best player, but after that there wasn’t much else to get excited about. David Boon was okay “by Australian standards” but he was more well-known for the amount of beers he drank than for his batting. Dean Jones had had his moments, but was more well-known for his ODI exploits. Then their was the ‘failed all-rounder’ Steve Waugh, without a century after 29 Tests and dismissed as beneath Test level by the English press.
But there was some hope. New South Wales opening batsman Mark Taylor, retained his place in the team after his debut earlier in the year against the West Indies. The returning Terry Alderman, after his Rebel Tour ban, also loomed as a vital addition to the Australian pace attack. The question still remained whether Border, Taylor and Alderman would be enough to make Australia competitive?
It wasn’t much of a question, to be honest and not one that worried England too much. The Ashes holders more concerned about how big the margins would be or if there were going to be any draws. The general consensus was that a 4-0 win in the six Test series was probably a fair prediction, with perhaps two or three of them by an innings. That was how confident England were. Not only was their first 11 amazing, but so was their second. In fact, they boasted that they could send 30 players and every one of them would be better than anyone playing for Australia.
The series begins.
The first Test began predictably enough. Geoff Marsh and Mark Taylor’s 44 run opening stand got Australia off to a half-decent start before Marsh and new number three David Boon fell in quick succession. Allan Border with 66 showed his usual resistance but his dismissal left Australia looking shaky with Dean Jones, in his new position of number five, and Taylor at the crease.
Predictions were that Australia would get to 250 from their position of 3/174, that the others would crumble. Some said perhaps 300. 350 would be the most they could hope for. After all, nobody else could bat. Somehow, though, Mark Taylor realised all of his promise and scored his first half-century, then his first century, as he and Jones added 99 runs, and suddenly Australia were 4/273 and a big score was possible.
When Steve Waugh’s average of 29 flashed onto the scoreboard to accompany his arrival at the crease, there wouldn’t have been too many high expectations for the 24-year-old. Despite only being in the early stages of his career, many fans thought he had already received too many chances. He’s be lucky to make it to double figures, many of them thought.
As he would do time and time again across his storied career, Waugh proved his doubters wrong. He would combine with Dean Jones for a 138-run stand that took the game away from England before posting his first Test century, 177 not out. His innings allowing Australia to declare for an incredible 7/601.
It was a total that left England shell-shocked. A total that left Australians shell-shocked. Nobody had suggested such a huge score in the first innings of the first test in England. We had lost 2-1 to England in Australia just two years prior. We weren’t supposed to be able to do it. Then England smiled. Two days had already been lost, and a draw was on the cards. England would get 600 of their own runs, draw the match, and then win the rest of the tests in the series. No problems.
Terry Alderman had other ideas though taking the wicket of Graham Gooch for 13 to open the door for the Australians. Broad, Barnett and Lamb stabilised the innings helping England reach 3/195, a better position than Australia at the fall of their third wicket and with better batting to come. Alderman would take regular wickets though and not even the likes of Robin Smith and David Gower could stop the rot. In the wake of Alderman’s carnage, England barely managed to avoid the follow on conceding a 171 run deficit on the first innings.
It was not all bad news for the hosts though. With 300 overs already bowled and the game deep into day four with neither side having batted twice a draw was well and truly on the cards. The Australians would need to take some chances if they were to set up victory but Allan Border had a reputation for settling for a draw rather than risk defeat. Things would be fine. This was going to be a draw.
Playing with a not before seen sense of dare and confidence, the Australian batsman set up a declaration at 3/230 leaving England 402 to win in just over 70 overs.
Against a weak bowling attack, England fancied their chances. After all, they had managed 430 in the first innings when all went wrong, so surely could get 402 in the last. The pitch hadn’t deteriorated and they were only up against lowly Merv Hughes and Geoff Lawson, with Terry Alderman the only real threat, but the ageing paceman had surely just fluked a good effort in the first innings and wouldn’t repeat it. Greg Campbell was there too, but he wasn’t even first class level, or so the English thought.
The chase started poorly though with Chris Broad LBW to Alderman for seven. Despite this England remained confident, they just needed to regroup and they’d be fine and if the chase went badly they could just block it out for a draw. There was nothing to worry about.
But the wickets kept falling, and as the innings progressed even a draw looked unlikely, a win falling out of the picture early on. Terry Alderman ran through the English batting line up to claim a second 5wi and 10 wickets for the match. On the back of his heroics, Australia won by 210 runs.
The result left England shell-shocked. This Australian team wasn’t good enough to beat them at all let alone in the first Test of the series. Steve Waugh was a no-hoper, he wasn’t a player capable of scoring 177no against them. Terry Alderman and Mark Taylor were good enough to cause them headaches but not to lead the tourists to victory. It was all too much. Everything had gone right for Australia and nothing for England.
England try again.
Mike Gatting came back for the second Test, as England made a swathe of changes. Ian Botham was still suffering from an injury and was unavailable. They just had to hold off until he could come back. Australia brought in the 40-year-old Trevor Hohns for his first Test, replacing Greg Campbell, as Australia went for inexperienced spin ahead of inexperienced pace. England were going to win.
England won the toss and batted and that, they were sure, would be enough. After all, batting first makes a big difference to who will win.
But England couldn’t manage the 601 that Australia managed in the first test, nor even the 422 that they had managed themselves. There was nothing particular about it: they just couldn’t do it. They struggled along to 286 with Robert “Jack” Russell, the wicket keeper, left stranded on a manful 64 not out. Many of the others had got out cheaply, Gatting and Emburey for ducks, Gatting out first ball.
The shock was when Australia came out to bat, and it was like a different pitch, as Mark Taylor did well again, then so did Jones, and Border, and, for the second time in a row, so did Steve Waugh. Even still, Australia lost six wickets before they passed England’s score, so surely were going to have a narrow lead. But then Waugh added 66 with number eight Merv Hughes, 50 more with number nine Trevor Hohns, and then an unbelievable 130 with number 10 Geoff Lawson, enough to sink English hearts.
Australia passed 500 before Terry Alderman was out cheaply, but by the time he was out, Australia had amassed an incredible 242 runs on the first innings. Steve Waugh, for the second time, had scored an unbeaten century, this time 152 not out, to go with the 177 not out from the first Test. Incredibly, despite averaging 29 without a century to his name before the series began, he now had two Test centuries from consecutive matches.
England did better in the second innings, David Gower’s 106 ably supported by Robin Smith’s 96, as they managed 359 runs and made Australia bat again. With Australia set a tricky 118 for victory optimistic English fans might have remembered their famous come from behind Ian Botham led victory in 1981.
These feint hopes grew stronger when England reduced Australia to 4/67 with Boon and Waugh the only recognised batsman remaining with 51 runs remaining. A soon to be familiar sinking feeling came over England with Waugh at the crease. The New South Welshman never looked like getting out and Australia did not lose another wicket to win by six and take two-nil lead in the series with four Tests to play.
England were in shock, much worse than after the first Test shock defeat. It was now improbable that England could draw the Ashes, let alone win it. 2-2 was the best that they could hope for from there. Steve Waugh was English public enemy number one; Terry Alderman a close second.
Botham returns for the Third Test.
The third Test saw the triumphant return of England’s talisman, the great Ian Botham, but it came without the fanfare he deserved. Instead it came accompanied by a swathe of changes. Tim Curtis and Chris Tavare recalled to the team with England looking a chance of finding out if there best 30 players were all Test level.
The good news is that Steve Waugh got out, and he didn’t manage a century, or even a half century, getting out for a mediocre 43. Better was that England didn’t lose, as rain forced the game to peter out to a boring draw. The problem was that Australia still managed 424 and England managed just 242, and, had rain not intervened, Australia would surely have won very easily.
Even still, it wasn’t a loss, and the two sides went to the fourth Test with the Ashes still on the line. England just had to win the last three Tests and they would win 3-2. With England having won in 1987, a draw was enough to retain the Ashes. 2-2 was enough. Unfortunately for England, 2-2 looked a long way away with the Aussies leading 2-0.
The fourth Test saw even more changes for England, as Chris Tavare was dumped after one Test in favour of Tim Robinson, returning to the side to play his 29th Test. Australia continued unchanged, after just the one change all series, that of Greg Campbell, who was replaced by Trevor Hohns.
England batted first but it was a disaster, with a stream of single-figured scores wrapped around a manful fight by Robin Smith, who scored 143 of England’s 260, as stars Gooch, Gower and Botham all failed. Australia, in reply, managed 447, though at least Steve Waugh was out (tick) and didn’t get a century (tick), but 92 was more than enough, as Australia took a lead of 187 runs, with four half centuries.
The second innings for England was much like the first, with failure upon failure, the only difference being that it was Jack Russell who scored the unbeaten century, 128 not out to be precise, as opposed to Robin Smith from the first innings. John Emburey managed 64 batting at number 8, but 264 was never enough, as Australia had just 78 runs to win.
The Urn Returned.
Even the most optimistic English fans knew that Australia would win it, as the target was too low, but it still hurt that Australia won, especially that it was won as easily as it was, by 9 wickets. The newfound hero Mark Taylor there at the end with new number 3 David Boon, who before the series had been opening the innings. There were no hard feelings between the two as they scored the winnings runs and Australia won the Ashes back on English soil.
England’s depression was only matched by Australia’s elation, as news stories ran the story again and again. The English newspapers who had poked fun of the Australian team were forced to eat their words as Australia declared themselves to be world-beaters. They had beaten England comfortably in their own backyard, doing it triumphantly 3-0 after four tests, and there were still two Tests to go. Two dead rubbers.
Allan Border said at a press conference that the start of the rise of Australian cricket began in their upset win in the 1987 ODI World Cup. A tournament that wasn’t televised in Australia due to an absence in television rights in India at the time. Few in Australia even knew that we’d won the World Cup – an incredible thought compared to how it is treated today – but everyone knew that we’d won the 1989 Ashes.
This was shown live on TV, with people increasingly staying up late to watch it, as it began at about 8pm and continued on into the wee hours of the morning. Many people had sleepless nights as they cheered on their side, and for the first time in about 10 years we felt pride in our side again.
No reprieve for England in Dead Rubbers.
There were two more Tests after that. Australia won the fifth Test by an innings, after scoring 6/602 declared then enforcing the follow-on. Mark Taylor’s 219 an incredible highlight, as he and Geoff Marsh batted out the entire first day without being dismissed. England tried out Martyn Moxon and also a young Mike Atherton, as the merry-go-round of random selections continued. Once again just about everyone failed, and Ian Botham went down with an injury and couldn’t bat in the second innings.
The sixth and final Test was the deadest of dead rubbers, the only excitement being that it was 4-0 and there was a big difference between 5-0 and 4-1. Australia would be happy with it remaining as 4-0 but they did not want it to be 4-1, as then England would have some hope.
And so, when it came time for Australia to set up a declaration, they waited until England could not win, leaving England an impossible 403 to get off just 50 overs. England happily took the draw that was on offer, losing just five wickets before they shook hands and Australia celebrated their 4-0 triumph.
It was a great series not just because Australia won but also because it began so many careers. Mark Taylor, spoken about for so long in hushed whispers since his namesake Peter was picked from grade cricket, proved himself a quality Test match player.
David Boon came into the series with a reputation as a handy opener and left it having made the number three position his own. Dean Jones was known more as a one day player, but here he showed himself more than capable in Tests, even batting as low as number five.
But probably the biggest news was the emergence of Steve Waugh, who scored his first and second centuries, in a row, without being dismissed, and they were big centuries too, 177 and 152.
Others did well too, with Trevor Hohns and Terry Alderman having great series, but they were towards the ends of their careers by then, so it didn’t really help them. Geoff Lawson was similarly towards the end of his career, and Merv Hughes was never quite as good as those who would come after him.
Watching Terry Alderman come in with his nagging line and length and take LBW after LBW was incredible. Seeing Steve Waugh bat like he was invulnerable, like he would never get out no matter what, was incredible. Mark Taylor instantly became the best batsman in the world, as we all wished that the selectors had picked the right Taylor four years prior. It was just perfect.
This was the very embodiment of the Australian spirit. A spirit at the heart of Australian teams since the 1873 tourists defeated an English team led by WG Grace. After Grace’s side had won game after game after game and looked unbeatable, letting the Australians have increasingly better handicaps. But then the Australians beat them, in what many argue should have been declared the first Test.
Australian pride themselves on this. This is what Australia is. Not a side who has three of their best players retire at the same time. Not a side who has their best players go off to play in South Africa. Not a side who has their captain resign in tears. Not a side who abandons Test cricket in favour of World Series Cricket.
The Australian teams rise to to the position of world’s best took another six years with their coronation finally taking place upon defeating the West Indies in the West Indies. These intervening years from 1989’s Ashes to 1995’s Calypso celebrations were some of the most exciting in Australia’s cricket history. This was the start of that journey, as the worst side Australia has ever sent to England won 4-0.