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Ashes 1989 - The Worst Aussie Team Ever (Part One)

  • Ashes 1989 - The Worst Aussie Team Ever (Part One)

This is a new series where I focus on tours from days gone by.  Some will be England on tour, others will be teams coming here.  They’ll be long pieces split into several parts, with the aim of being able to look back and see how a tour develops.  These are mainly times unlikely to be seen again where teams spend a long time in another country playing endless games, day after day.  So I hope you can stick with it and find a tour you particularly remember and enjoyed.


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They were hailed as the worst Australian side to land on these shores as they arrived in spring 1989.  England had regained The Ashes in 1985 and then retained them in 1986/87 when they themselves had been labelled as a team which “can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field”.

It was the English press which made this assertion about the touring side lead by Allan Border and containing a number of players who’d never played in England before.  He mixed things up with some seasoned campaigners and hit upon an ideal recipe for success.

The 1980’s had been tough for Australian cricket.  Having lost The Ashes in 1981 they coaxed Greg Chappell back to regain them in 1982/83 but then he retired, along with Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh.  Losing players of such stature at the same time rocked the side and they struggled to find suitable replacements.  They then lost players to a rebel tour to South Africa in 1985.  That side was captained by former skipper, Kim Hughes, who had resigned in time for Chappell to lead them to Ashes success in 1982/83.  Also included were Rodney Hogg, Carl Rackemann, John Dyson, Steve Rixon, Graham Yallop and Terry Alderman.  Hogg, Dyson and Yallop were clearly at the tailend of their careers, but Alderman, Rixon and Rackemann were thought to have more to offer Test cricket.


After defeat to England in Australia in 1986-87 the Aussies won a tight series at home to New Zealand twelve months later, 1-0 when Craig McDermott took 17 wkts in the three match series.  They then beat Sri Lanka in a solitary Test and drew with England in the Bicentenary Test.  The following year they’d narrowly lost in Pakistan against the spin of Abdul Qadir and Iqbal Qasim.  When the West Indies visited, Australia made a better fist of things than they had in many of their previous series, losing 1-3, winning at Sydney when Allan Border took 11 wkts in the match on a real Bunsen.  In between all that, of course, Australia had gone to India and won the World Cup for the first time and so Border had started to assemble a team of real fighters.

Border was determined this series would be different from the last time they came to England.  In 1985 he was often seen sharing jokes with Ian Botham and David Gower [pic] but he learned this hadn’t helped his own team at all.  So he vowed to be completely grumpy throughout the tour and all England got out of his for the whole series was ‘heads’.  In fact at one stage in one of the tests he refused to allow Robin Smith to have a drink whilst he was batting.  “No you f****** can’t. What do you think this is – a f****** tea party?”  Clearly, no more Mr Nice Guy from Border who came to be known as Captain Grumpy.

Border had received criticism from some ex-players for his convivial approach during the 1985 series and vowed never to repeat this mistake.  Dean Jones also pointed to a more recent incident when he highlighted their defeat to West Indies in 1988-89.  “We got beaten by the West Indies in the Boxing Day Test.  They smashed us up and embarrassed us and we made a pact afterwards it would never happen again.”


In these days of short tours where teams turn up for the first Test of a series undercooked, and with maybe one or two warm-up games, this tour is definitely from another time.  Their first match was 5th May and the final game was 6th September, a full four months.  In that time they played 35 matches in both forms (these were the days before Twenty20 had even been thought of).  To our present way of thinking the schedule appears punishing.

Of the 125 days the tour was on, they played cricket on 90 days.  Of those, Boon and Marsh played 78 days of cricket with Waugh playing 77.  There were two separate periods where they played 12 consecutive days of cricket, where Dean Jones played on every day of the first one and Geoff Marsh did the same during the second period.

What also seems remarkable, given the rigours of a six test series was that Australia only used twelve players in those six matches.  Greg Campbell was dropped after the first game, replaced by Trevor Hohns and Australia were then unchanged for the four matches after.

They played six tests and fourteen First-Class matches, which lasted three days.  They also played fifteen one-day matches, most of them 55-overs-a-side games. 

Here is a day-by-day account of the tour.


League Cricket Conference v Australians, Sandwell Park, West Bromwich, 5th May 1989

The touring party landed in late April having become the first Australian touring side to fly business class to England.  Allegedly this was Border’s attempt to send a message the Aussies meant business.  As they touched down at Heathrow Merv Hughes proudly announced to the waiting press the Australians had brought up their first half-century of the tour.  David Boon had beaten Rod Marsh’s record by downing 52 beers on the flight over. 

The tour began at the unusual setting of West Bromwich as they lined up against a League Cricket Conference XI which included Simon O’Donnell.  O’Donnell had been in the Aussie squad last time they toured England and had been part of the side which won the World Cup in India in 1987.  He was alongside future Test players South African Brian McMillan and West Indian Ezra Moseley as well as Arthula Samarasekera, who had been in the Sri Lankan Test side at Lord’s in 1988.

Border sat out the match, putting Geoff Marsh in charge.  He won the toss, elected to bat and then rattled off a hundred.  A 55 over game saw the Australians post a competitive 326-3.  Marsh was out for 101 off 146 balls but it was Dean Jones who stole the show.  After Mark Taylor (23) went with 65 on the board, Jones put on 234 with Marsh for the 2nd wicket.  His first 50 came off 55 balls with the second 50 off just 18.  He then hit his third 50 off just 17.  Jones was eventually out for 170 off 101 balls, having hit 11 sixes and 16 fours.  The League Conference side got off to a dreadful start as John Foster was caught behind by Ian Healy off Merv Hughes in the third over for a duck.  Samarasekera was then clean bowled by Greg Campbell also without scoring.  Soon after Hughes also bowled the skipper, Bryan Knowles for 7 and the LCC were now 9-3.

They mounted a bit of a fight-back before Steve Waugh picked up a wicket and then caught McMillan off the bowling of Rackemann.  55-5 off 24.1 overs and things looked bleak.  In the end they crawled to 161-5 off their 55 overs and the Aussies had won by 165 runs.  Although only really three players got much of a bat, the bowlers had a good workout.  Trevor Hohns was particularly tight with 11-3-18-0.

Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk’s XI v Australians, Arundel Castle, Arundel, 7th May 1989

Two days later they travelled down to the picturesque ground at Arundel to meet the Duchess of Norfolk’s Invitation XI.  The side was captained by David Gower who had just been re-instated as England captain.  Gower was in charge when England regained the Ashes in 1985, making way for Mike Gatting who retained them down under in 1987-88.  Gatting had lost his authority after some lurid details about a barmaid and with England in turmoil they had used four different captains in 1988 against West Indies.  Gower was one of six Leicestershire players in the Invitation XI which included Peter Willey, Les Taylor and Jonathan Agnew.

Border was in charge for this game and although he lost the toss, Gower did the gracious thing and give the crowd the opportunity to see a full innings from the tourists.  David Boon replaced Marsh as opener and like Marsh he hit a hundred before retiring with a slight leg strain on 114.  Taylor had been trapped LBW by Agnew for just 3 but Tom Moody came in and put on 148 with Boon before he fell for 72, having hit 4 sixes.  Border himself got amongst the runs with 66 off 48 balls, followed by Steve Waugh who hit a quick 44 off 29 balls.  Australia ended their innings on 314-6 from 50 overs, which was a formidable score in those days.

Peter Willey and Sussex keeper, Martin Speight opened with a partnership of 88 before Tim May had Willey caught by Boon for 39.  Speight reached his half-century (55) before he became the first of two wickets to fall to Hughes within five runs.  Gower was Hughes’ second victim when he was LBW for 9.  Much like the first game of the tour, Australia just squeezed their opponents who could only muster 194-5.  Hughes had begun the tour well with 2 wickets in each game, but Alderman and Lawson had yet to open their account.

Sussex v Australians, County Ground, Hove, 9th May 1989

They didn’t have far to travel for their third one-day game of the tour when they met Sussex at Hove two days later.  Marsh was again in charge and called correctly at the toss and elected to bat.  Tony Pigott, who had played one test for England on their ill-fated tour of New Zealand in 1983 when he was called up as replacement whilst on honeymoon, bowled the first over and immediately had Mark Taylor caught behind by Peter Moores off the first ball.  He then repeated the feat soon after to Mike Veletta for 2.  Pigott then got one to rise and hit Jones on the cheekbone and the Victorian retired hurt.  When Marsh was run-out for a duck, the tourists were faltering on 44-3.

Tim Zoehrer (11) and Trevor Hohns (6) failed to add much to the score and they were already five wickets down when the hundred came up.  Sussex continued to take wickets regularly as Tim May (9) and Greg Campbell (2) could reach double figures.  Both wickets fell to Tony Dodemaide.  Melbourne-born, Dodemaide had played eight tests up to the previous December but 1-180 in Perth against West Indies put paid to his place in the side and McDermott and Alderman returned.  At 128-8 Jones returned to resume his innings and put on 22 with Waugh who’d passed his half-century by then, but with 150 on the board, Andy Clarke trapped him LBW.  Soon after Andy Babbington had Waugh caught by Sussex skipper, Paul Parker for 86 and the innings came to an end for a paltry, 154.  All the Sussex bowlers had taken wickets and the Hove crowd was confident they could knock the runs off.

They got a shock when Carl Rackemann had opener, Allan Green, caught by Mark Veletta without scoring, but experienced professionals, David Smith and Paul Parker got the home side up and running.  The pair had three England caps between them but had been around the county game for long enough not to panic.  Smith was trapped in front by Waugh for 22 but Parker went on to add a further 53 with Alan Wells.  When Rackemann had Parker LBW for 48 Sussex were 93-3 with still half the overs in hand.  The Aussies fought back, with Parker’s wicket being four to fall for just 21 runs as both Wells brothers and Ian Gould came and went.  This left Dodemaide and Pigott to see the home side through to a famous win with an unbroken partnership of 44 for the 7th wicket.

Their first real opposition on the tour and they’d been beaten.  The media were quick to make much of it too. 


MCC v Australians, Lord’s, 11th May 1989

Two days later they were at Lord’s for another 55-over match, this time against a strong MCC side, captained by Mike Gatting.  Gatting was one of Middlesex players in the team along with, Angus Fraser, John Carr, Paul Downton and Mark Ramprakash.  Fraser and Ramprakash were yet to make their international debuts, but Gatting and Downton had played parts in previous Ashes wins over the Australians.  Richard Ellison, who’d terrorised the Aussies in 1985, Vic Marks who was part of the 1982 tourists down under, and Chris Cowdrey, one of four England captains used the previous summer, were also in the line-up.  Three Lancastrians made up the eleven, Neil Fairbrother, Mike Watkinson and Gehan Mendis.

Border was back in charge as the old dependable partnership of Boon and Marsh opened the innings for the first time on the tour.  It was the fourth different opening pairing in their four matches and was by far the most successful.  The pair put on 277 for the first wicket before Boon was caught by Ellison off Cowdrey for 166.  It was his second century of the tour and he was the more belligerent, hitting 19 fours and 3 sixes.  Marsh then went for 102 to the same bowler as 300 approached.  For some reason Merv Hughes was sent in at number four but lasted just 7 balls before Cowdrey grabbed his third wicket and then Tom Moody became Cowdrey’s 4th wicket as the innings closed on 309-4.  It was a much improved performance from Hove and now the bowlers had something to defend.

MCC began well with Mendis and Carr putting on 43 for the first wicket before Alderman picked up his first wicket of the tour, trapping Carr LBW for 23.  Gatting joined Mendis and the pair put on 98 before Mendis fell to Campbell for 52.  Campbell then bowled Fairbrother next ball but couldn’t convert to a hat-trick as 141-1 became 145-4.  Gatting was eventually caught by May off Hughes for 86 off 85 balls and it signalled the end for the MCC as they went from 180-4 to 208 all out.  Steve Waugh picked up three wickets as all the bowlers were on target, and the 101 run victory was exactly what they needed after their experience at Hove.

Worcestershire v Australians, New Road, Worcester, 13-14 May 1989

The tourists then travelled down to New Road, Worcester as they faced their first First-Class fixture since they landed in the country.  Observers were wondering whether this could be close to the line-up for the First Test, but if the selectors had planned it, the batting performance, having won the toss, probably made the selectors think again.  All out inside 31 overs wasn’t what was expected.  Worcestershire were the reigning County Champions and presented stiff opposition.  Captained by Ian Botham, they included Neal Radford, Richard Illingworth, Phil Newport, Steve Rhodes and Graeme Hick.  Newport, who’d made his test debut against Sri Lanka the previous summer, took 6-43 with Radford taking 3-32.  Only Marsh and Healy reached double-figures as Steve Waugh went first ball.  Alderman struck early but at 66-1 the home side looked well placed.  Waugh then took the wickets of Hick and D’Oliveira and Hughes followed up with having Tim Curtis caught behind for 46 and they were now 68-4.  Botham then entered the fray and thumped 39 off 48 including 7 fours.  Worcestershire only managed a slender lead as they were all out for 146, with Alderman taking 4-33 and Lawson 3-50.

There was still time for another 18 overs in the day and Worcester made the best of it by grabbing another four Aussie wickets.  Marsh went for 0, Taylor for 11, Moody for 9 and then Veletta for 2 as Newport took his tally to 10 wickets for the day.  Australia were 51-4 at the close of play, with a lead of just 7.  Border and Waugh came out in the morning and decided enough was enough.  The two had taken their partnership to 97 before Waugh was LBW to Botham for 63.  Border was either struggling for form or just trying to make sure the match went the full distance, but he finally succumbed for 48 off 149 balls as Newport took his 5th wicket of the innings, just after Radford had bowled Healy.  169-7 saw them just 126 ahead.  Lawson flayed for a bit but Hughes and Hohns soon followed and 205 was never going to be enough.  Radford and Newport had picked up 9 wickets between them again for the second time in the match. 

Worcestershire required just 163 but the openers were both back in the pavilion with 22 on the board as Alderman and Lawson both struck.  Hick then hit a quick-fire 43 but he became Waugh’s second victim after D’Oliveira had fallen.  86-4 was a little nervous for the home side but Botham again enjoyed the opposition and hit 42 off 60 balls and when he was out they only needed 21 to win.  Eventually Worcestershire won by 3 wickets and the reputation which had greeted the tourists was further enhanced.  Alderman was the one success of the match as he picked up 8 wickets but the batting had been disappointing again and there was much work to be done.

Somerset v Australians, County Ground, Taunton, 17-19 May 1989

The itinerary had been set for the tourists to play five First-Class matches before the First Test at Headingley, and after losing the first one Australia moved to Taunton to take on Somerset.  Somerset were much changed from the successful side of the late 70’s-early 80’s and were captained by Chris Tavare, and included Peter Roebuck, Neil Mallender and the prolific South African batsman, Jimmy Cook.  Australia again opened with Marsh and Taylor and this time Taylor found some form.  After scores of 23, 3, 0, 6 and 11 on the tour so far, Taylor fell just three runs short of a ton.  Marsh was first out for 10 before Taylor and Boon put on 110.  In contrast to Taylor, Boon had scored 114, 166 on the tour and followed this with 61 before he was one of three victims for New Zealand-born, Paul Unwin.  Border fell for a duck and Moody, just 17 as the tourists were now 177-4.  Taylor was finally out caught behind by Neil Burns off the bowling of Graham Rose for 97 and had batted for over four hours.  Mike Veletta, who’d played in every game so far on tour but had yet to register a score into double figures, put on 87 with Tim Zoehrer for the 6th wicket.  The two fell within 4 runs of each other and both narrowly missed half-centuries.  Australia ended the day 339-8 as Merv Hughes came in and hit a lusty run-a-ball 21. 

In the morning Border declared and let loose his three fast bowlers, Rackemann, Campbell and Hughes.  Cook was first out as Veletta caught him off Rackemann and then three balls later Bartlett fell in the same over.  When Tavare was also caught by Veletta off Rackemann, the home side was 48-4.  Richard Harden and Peter Roebuck settled things down briefly before Hughes removed Roebuck.  Harden and Burns then put on 60 before the latter was run out for 27.  Harden was eventually out to Tim May who then picked up the wickets of Mallender and Jones and Somerset were bowled out for 140, 199 behind.  May and Rackemann picked up three wickets each, with May’s figures 28-15-48-3 looking especially impressive.  The home side had crawled to their total but when Australia batted again they resumed their rate of almost four-an-over.  Taylor and Marsh put on 119 to strengthen the tourist’s grip on the game before Hughes was again used as a pinch-hitter.  Border declared the innings at 144-3 at the end of the second day and set the home side 344 to win.

Somerset had the whole of day three to try and go for the win or settle for a draw.  Cook and Roebuck made a much better fist of things second time round when Cook was LBW to Hughes for 57.  After Bartlett was gone for 18, Tavare joined Roebuck and the two put on 76 for the third wicket at little more than two runs per over.  Border bowled 25 overs as he sought to try and force a win but in the end Somerset were rather comfortable at 235-3 when the game was closed as a draw.  Peter Roebuck had batted throughout the 94 overs for an unbeaten 100.  The one bright spot for the tourists was the two innings from Taylor who would be pressing for the openers spot at Headingley.

Middlesex v Australians, Lord’s, 20-22 May 1989

Next day the Australians were back at Lord’s for another three day match against Middlesex.  They were up against five players they’d met in the MCC match, Gatting, Carr, Ramprakash, Downton and Fraser, along with West Indian opener, Desmond Haynes and England internationals, John Emburey and Norman Cowans.

Gatting won the toss and decided to bat.  Australia had swapped Alderman and Lawson for Hughes and Campbell with Hohns providing the spin option in place of May.  Alderman soon got into his stride trapping Haynes in front for 13.  Carr was then bowled by Moody for 22 before Gatting and Roland Butcher put on 52 before Rackemann picked up one of his four wickets for the day.  Gatting was eventually out lbw Lawson for 65, but from a position of 142-3 the home side crumbled to 245 all out.  Nineteen year old, Ramprakash, ended 46 not out as he ran out of partners and the tourists had again bowled well.  Taylor and Marsh took them to 37-0 by the close of day one.

The next morning Taylor took his score to 35 before Neil Williams had him caught by Ramprakash and then Boon continued his fine form with Marsh to take them past 100.  Simon Hughes got the wicket of Boon for 20 and then from 111-2 Tom Moody and Marsh batted superbly.  They added 122 for the third wicket before Border declared as Marsh reached his 100, his third ton of the tour.  Middlesex found themselves curiously 12 runs ahead when they batted again but soon found the going tough as Lawson and Alderman removed the openers, with the latter again getting the prize of Haynes.  At the close on day two Middlesex were 157-3 with Gatting again going well.  They were 169 ahead and were looking to push on to set a stiff chase.

But the tourists must have rested well overnight as Lawson bowled Gatting for just the addition of 2 runs.  Gatting had made an impressive 79 and looked to be in good form as he was keen to keep his test place.  Gatting and Ramprakash had put on 81 the night before but then Alderman removed the latter for 33 which precipitated the loss of three wickets for no addition to the score.  Lawson removed Downton and Emburey in successive balls and Middlesex were precariously placed at 177-7.  Lawson picked up his 4th wicket of the morning when he removed Hughes and then Hohns and Rackemann finished things off and they were all out for 227.  Lawson picked up 5-48 as he and Alderman were already in good form.  They’d come out strongly on the final morning and put themselves in with a great chance of their first First-Class win of the tour.

Australia were left needing 240 to win, and they altered the batting line-up to give others a chance for to get some runs under their belt.  Veletta opened with Boon but couldn’t replicate his form from the first innings when Cowans got him for 7.  Border and Boon then put on 146 for the 2nd wicket before Boon was bowled by Fraser for 86.  Healy came in at four but couldn’t progress things much as Fraser got him too.  Border was finally out for 77, also to Fraser who then had Hohns caught behind and the Aussies were 191-5, still needing 49 to win.  Moody came and went but when Marsh joined Taylor they soon managed to knock the runs off and Australia had won by three wickets.

Yorkshire v Australians, Headingley, 23rd May 1989

There was no time to celebrate as they travelled up to Leeds for a one-day match against Yorkshire.  This was their seventh successive day of cricket and with the One-Day International series looming there were places up for grabs.  Yorkshire were managed by Phil Carrick and consisted of players such as Martyn Moxon, Ashley Metcalfe, Richard Blakey, David Byas, David Bairstow and Arnie Sidebottom.  Veletta sat out a match for the first time on the tour as Dean Jones and Steve Waugh came back in, having sat out the First-Class matches.

Border won the toss and elected to bat.  Marsh and Boon opened and put on 66 before Marsh (14) fell to Chris Pickles.  Jones then joined Boon in a partnership of 184 for the 2nd wicket before Boon was bowled Sidebottom for an excellent 172 off 157 balls, including 21 fours and 3 sixes.  Boon’s one-day scores on the tour had been 114, 166, 172.  Jones was unbeaten on 89 as Australia posted a challenging 297-3 from their 55 overs.

In reply, Hughes, Campbell and Rackemann picked up a wicket each to leave the home side 23-3 before Byas and Moxon steadied things.  Moody then picked up two wickets as 86-3 became 105-6 after Moxon was out for 55.  Steve Waugh then came on to take three wickets and Yorkshire were finally all out for 188, with Campbell (8-2-14-1) and Hughes (6-0-11-1) proving especially difficult to score off.  Another win and the Aussies were now in good spirits going into the Texaco Trophy.

Part Two - The three match Texaco Trophy and the build up to the First Test

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