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Horror Test tours: From prolonged chaos to Ashes misery

Horror Test tours
by Hal Hainsworth 10 minute read

Hal Hainsworth looked back at some of the most unforgettable horror tours – tales of farcical voyages undertaken by Test playing nations.

First Published in 2013

Okay, so you might think that your opener punching his opposite number in a pub is bad, that sacking your coach a few weeks before the first Test is reckless, or that dropping your spinner for a kid so green he could sell sweetcorn is questionable; you might even think that losing by over 300 runs at your historical fortress is disastrous, but compared to some of the following, Michael Clarke’s problems are frankly peanuts.

Here, then, in no particular order, are a few tours that lowered the bar so far that they stick in the memory for the sheer scope of their failure, the vast scale of their scandals, and the magnificent poverty of their cricket.

Stabbing Pains

West Indies in South Africa, 1998/99

Despite their gradual decline from the most feared team of all time to a side peppered with world-class talents but seriously lacking cohesion, few could have foreseen quite how horrific the West Indies tour to South Africa would turn out to be. It started off badly, quickly got worse, and ended grimly in total humiliation.

Due to a pay dispute (plus ça change) only half the squad arrived in South Africa for the scheduled start of the tour. Remarkably, this half-squad didn’t contain the captain, Brian Lara, or the vice-captain, Carl Hooper, both of whom were in London. When the remaining players did eventually travel from Heathow, the board sacked Lara and Hooper before promptly re-instating them. Soon after, the WICB president Pat Rousseau and his wife were mugged at gunpoint in Soweto. So far, so bad.

The cricket was worse. Lara publicly had a go at bowlers Nixon McLean and Mervyn Dillon after the dire showing in the second Test, and admitted after the fifth that “we are not together as a team.” They were promptly whitewashed 5-0, the batting capitulating on such a regular basis it became a figure of fun.

Horror Moment:

Part of the batting problems was caused by the flakiness of the No.6 position. Normally occupied by Jimmy Adams, it was vacated when he was forced to return home with what Wisden described as a “mysterious” hand injury supposedly caused by – wait for it – an incident with a butter knife on the flight to Johannesburg.

‘For the last 20 years we’ve been very professional; these guys haven’t . . . We’ve just botched the whole thing up.’
– Clive Lloyd

Result: South Africa won the Test series 5-0, only the sixth 5-0 in history.

Pugilism in Perth

Pakistan in Australia, 1981/82

When Pakistan arrived in Australia in 1981 for their three-Test series, they were not happy campers. As Wisden noted, Miandad “did not appear to have the support of the team” and Imran Khan was “not all that happy with the appointment”. Imran also contended that “the tour party was badly selected”, with the failure to pick Abdul Qadir on the bouncy Australian wickets particularly mystifying.

Pakistan started the first Test well, restricting Australia to 180 thanks to some Imran magic, but the following innings will live long in the memory of any Pakistani cricket fan. Imran himself has written that he “shall never forget [their] batting collapse that day”. They were reduced to 26-8, before scratching their way to 62 all out. Dennis Lillee took five wickets for 18. It was carnage. Australia won the second Test easily too, and Pakistan’s consolation victory in the third can barely be considered as such; the Australians and Miandad agreed to dig the pitch up before the match in order to bring the spinners into the game and so make the contest fairer. In the context of such condescension, the victory was little more than a joke.

Horror Moment:

The first Test was notable for more than a batting collapse. In the second innings Miandad set off for a single and was barged by Lillee. When Miandad turned round he raised his bat and went to strike the quick with it. The sight of Miandad, bat raised, hackles up, being separated from Lillee by a desperate umpire has become one of cricket’s most iconic images.

‘The press said we were a second-class cricketing nation and in truth, that was difficult to counter… It was like a nightmare come true’
– Imran Khan

Result: Australia won the series 2-1.

Chaos in the Caribbean

England in West Indies, 1985/86

The absolute granddaddy of all horror tours, England’s trip to the Caribbean was the perfect storm of tabloid scandals, poisonous fallouts and a summary thrashing at the hands of Marshall, Richards and co.

From the moment their form batsman Mike Gatting had his nose broken in the first ODI, England were heading for a hiding. The pictures of Phil Edmonds’ bruised chest following a working over from Patrick Patterson are something to behold, the huge purple morasses discolouring the flesh are enough to make you shudder. England, having arrived on the back of a successful Ashes campaign, were shattered in paradise.

The 5-0 series loss was so comprehensive that it almost overshadowed Gower and Botham’s alleged antics off the field. Yacht trips, illicit substances, nocturnal fraternising, the tabloids had a field day. Botham, on the other hand, was accused of having a Lindy Field day – the former Miss Barbados claiming that they’d got along famously. Strenuously denied by the man himself, it was nevertheless held up as symbolic of all that was wrong with the England team culture, and emblematic of the disastrous tour as a whole.

Horror Moment:

Take your pick: Gatting’s nose, Botham’s scandal, Gower’s yacht trip (taken while England were losing a warm-up game), Gower’s cavorting with a BA stewardess in a hotel pool, Frances ‘wife of Phil’ Edmonds’ tell-all book – here was a tour riddled with disaster at every turn.

Mike Gatting was struck on his nose by a Malcolm Marshall bouncer at Sabina Park, Jamaica

‘It started badly and it didn’t get any better either’
– David Gower

Result: A 5-0 ‘blackwash’ and Botham’s career hanging by a thread.

Benaud’s Brilliance

England in Australia, 1958/59

The England team that left for Australia in 1958 was considered the strongest to ever depart on an Ashes tour. With a bowling line-up of Trueman, Tyson, Statham, Laker and Lock, a world-class all-rounder in Trevor Bailey, a brilliant keeper in Godfrey Evans, and a batting line-up containing Cowdrey, Graveney, Subba Row and Dexter, the team reads like a who’s who of England greats. They had won the last three Ashes series and were fully expected to add to that tally. They lost 4-0.

The Australians, led by their brilliantly innovative captain Richie Benaud, won the first Test in a contest that EW Swanton described as “the dullest and most depressing I have ever watched”. While much of the Australian success in that match and throughout the series was down to Benaud’s galvanising of a seemingly average team, to the eyes of many Englishman, including Swanton, it was in no small part down to biased umpiring and the highly suspect bowling actions of Ian Meckiff, Keith Slater, Jim Burke and Gordon Rorke. On top of this controversy, 12 different England players were injured and unable to play at various points throughout the series. The scale of the drubbing ensures that it ranks as one of the greatest upsets in Test cricket history, and was the biggest margin of defeat in an Ashes series since 1920/21.

Horror Moment:

The tone for the series was set in Australia’s first innings of the first Test when Peter Loader, the England quick, was no-balled 19 times. Some suspected the umpires of a lack of impartiality and following that poor start England never recovered.

‘The events of the Melbourne Test at the New Year would have tested the philosophical detachment of any cricket writer, of any school’
– EW Swanton reacts to the Australian umpiring

Result: 4-0 Australia

Fire in Wellington

West Indies tour of New Zealand, 1979/80
In 1979, the West Indians, having just beaten Australia, were the best side in the world. New Zealand, by contrast, were a weak outfit. There were adverts on New Zealand TV showing Joel Garner declaring that “We’ve beat the Aussies, man, and now we’re gonna beat you.”

The expected thrashing never materialised. In the first Test Richard Hadlee bowled sensationally, taking 11 wickets including seven lbws. Their opponents were none too impressed with the umpiring, and following yet another not out decision, Michael Holding provided cricket with one of its most iconic photographs.

In the second Test, Geoff Howarth, on 68, gloved one behind only for the umpire to fail to uphold the appeal. At tea he was 99*. It was the final straw for the beleaguered West Indians. They initially refused to come out of the dressing room until the umpire was changed and then, when they did, dropped catches deliberately and shepherded the ball to the boundary.

Further bad decisions followed and Colin Croft, all 6ft 6in of him, ran straight into umpire Fred Goodall while coming into bowl. Howarth remembers that “Croft tried to pretend he’d lost his run-up. It was disgraceful. He should have been banned for life.” Later, Goodall was accused of making racist remarks in a speaking engagement; a final sour note to one of the most bitter and ill-spirited series in Test history.

Horror Moment

Croft’s barging of Goodall or Holding’s kicking of the stumps.

‘Would I ever meet Colin Croft again? Not on your nelly.’
– Fred Goodall, New Zealand umpire

Result: New Zealand won 2-0

Ashes to Ashes

England in Australia, 2006/07

This could be it. Surely. This could really be it. England really could win the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 20 years. They had a strong side, they had beaten this Australian team in perhaps the greatest Test series of all time a little over a year before, they had a chance. Surely.

Nope. As the media blackout surrounding ‘06/07 suggests, the England tour to Australia was one of the most humiliating losses the country has ever suffered on a sports field. The Australians, determined to recover both the Ashes and their sense of dominance, were utterly brutal and utterly brilliant. It is, from an Australian point of view, a fantastic redemption story, a tale of one final glorious hurrah, redeeming Australian cricketing pride and putting the whingeing Poms in their place.

For England, it has a very different resonance. The 5-0 whitewashing wasn’t just a loss, it was a humiliation, a return to the bad old days that the promise of the Vaughan era seemed to have dispelled. Yes Vaughan was out, yes they’d lost Trescothick, yes Flintoff wasn’t a natural captain, but ultimately they lost because they weren’t nearly as good as the Warne and McGrath-inspired antipodeans. The most uncomfortable moment in sport is when one realises that no excuses are required: you lost because you just weren’t as good. For a nation of English men and women hoping and expecting confirmation that the tide had turned, that the boot was on the other foot, ‘06/07 will always be the definitive horror tour.

Horror Moment:

Adelaide. A Test so bad it has entered cricket supporters’ lexicon as a byword for an absolute sporting nadir. It was the match that lost the Ashes; England, after their loss in the first match, were dominant for the first three days, at level pegging on the fourth, and endured one of the most horrific day fives in their history. Collapsing to 129 all out from a strong overnight position, Shane Warne’s bowling that day was the stuff nightmares are made of. Australia calmly knocked off the runs for the loss of only four wickets, and English hearts were broken.

‘Biggest disappointment in life? The ‘06/07 Ashes. Wasn’t great was it?’
– Andrew Flintoff

Published in 2013

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