"The Whole Thing Was A Mess"

Ashes 1989 – Aussie dominance begins. It was the series that changed everything and this year’s Ashes has some uncanny echoes. From TWC’s popular Eyewitness feature, relive that year through the eyes of the people that were there.

Pictures by Adrian Murrell

The Ashes had remained on England’s mantelpiece for most of the 1980s. When the Australians arrived in 1989 for the last series of the decade, few people here thought that they’d be taking the urn home with them. The Australians had different ideas.

Mark Taylor (Australia batsman): I’d not played much Test cricket. I didn’t know how good England would be, but I did notice that as we left Australia some bookmakers had put us at 4-1 outsiders to win the series. I thought that was a bit strange.

Angus Fraser (England bowler): There were quite a few new faces in this Australian side and I think some of the newspapers had written them off before they’d got on the pitch. None of us knew how good they’d become.

Robin Smith (England batsman): We had a side with a lot of experienced players in – Botham, Lamb, Gower, Gooch. Now, I wouldn’t say that we were complacent, but were probably confident of retaining the Ashes.

Ian Healy (Australia wicketkeeper): This may sound strange but actually, some of those players were our heroes, we looked up to them all. Of course on the pitch you sort of had to disrespect them.

Australia were tired of being beaten. So was their coach, Bob Simpson.

Simpson: I’d taken on the job in 1986. Before then, I’d watched the side on the tour of New Zealand. There were some pretty terrible things going on. There were guys who couldn’t pick up and throw off the correct foot in the field. Blokes running blind when batting. Basic stuff that you would expect schoolboys to get right. A lot needed doing. By the time we came to England we were at least facing in the right direction.

The first Test was at Headingley where Australia hadn’t won since 1964. The groundsman reckoned it was probably a good pitch to bat on. David Gower won the toss and England did get to bat – but not until the third day. By then, Australia had made 601 for 7 declared. Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh both scored their first Test hundreds. When Waugh passed Taylor’s 136, he made the fact known to his mate.

Taylor: I remember it well. A little ‘gotcha’ to the balcony. He did the same back in ’85 when we both made centuries for New South Wales against South Australia. That time he wouldn’t let the skipper declare until he’d got more than me. So what I do is remind Stephen that he took more Tests to get his first hundred than I did.

Australia’s first innings put the game beyond England – although a draw was still possible.

Healy: At lunch on the last day, we were cock-a-hoop because we knew we couldn’t lose. I think at that stage, that was the limit of our expectations. Then it all changed.

Graham Gooch (England batsman): It looked like it was going to be a draw and then we lost six wickets between lunch and tea. It was very disappointing because the first Test of the series, even if you don’t win it, you want to give a good performance. We let it slip.

The home side were 1-0 down.

Healy: Suddenly I realised the Ashes was a really, really big deal. You could see it in the faces of our older players. Hohns, Alderman, Lawson. We can win this series, we thought.

The second Test was at Lord’s, where England again saw a Test slipping away from them. The Queen, who was to meet the players, had to come early in case the game ended. The significant day was Saturday, where another fine innings from Steve Waugh put Australia on top. Angus Fraser was England’s 12th man.

Fraser: It was a pretty dispirited dressing room when I got into it. I remember being given all my kit – a great moment. I got my shirts, sweaters and cap. Then I was told I wasn’t playing. I had to give it all back and go and play for Middlesex.

That meant Fraser missed a memorable event after play. Leaving a pack of angry reporters in mid-quote, David Gower ended the Saturday post-match news conference early, to go to the theatre.

Gooch: That was David. Sometimes very calm and cool, sometimes a very sharp temper if he thought people were being foolish.

Smith: He said “I’ve got some friends waiting in a taxi”. In fact it was myself and my wife. It was the opening of Evita, I think …

Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, in fact. At the Prince Edward Theatre.

“Suddenly I realised the Ashes was a really, really, big deal”
Smith: Oh yeah. Wasn’t Elaine Page in it? Anyway. David got into the cab a little bit flustered and he said: “Oh, they were just carrying on and I got fed up and frustrated.” But there’s no malice in David. When we’re under pressure, we all do and say things we regret.

The England captain did say sorry afterwards. Then made up for it in the best way by scoring a century of his own. But England still lost to go 2-0 down. Then at Edgbaston, it rained a lot. Angus Fraser got to keep his jumper this time.

Fraser: It was a ridiculously muggy day but I was so proud and didn’t take it off the whole time. I was sweating buckets at the end. The other thing I remember is the pre-Test dinner. David wasn’t happy with the wine, so he ordered a different bottle and said, “Anyone like a glass?” “That’d be nice,” I said. Half an hour later he came up and went: “That’ll be 40 pounds please.” My jaw dropped. I knew I was on a decent wage, but I wasn’t used to paying 40 quid for a glass of wine.

Fortunately for Fraser his coach Micky Stewart took pity on him. Soon, the young seamer paid him back in kind. He did something that no one else had managed in the series and got Steve Waugh out.

Fraser: My first Test wicket. Nipped back through the gate.

Up to that ball, Waugh below had made 393 undefeated runs in four Test innings.

Healy: Like a few others, Stephen hadn’t known this confidence before. But as the tour went on I have very strong memories of him sitting like a king on every balcony that summer. He padded up once and then said to me: “Gee Heals, I feel great.”

The third match was drawn. For England, the situation was desperate but not hopeless. There were three matches left. Trouble was, England couldn’t keep a settled team. Nineteen players had already been used. Then at Old Trafford, things got much worse.

Fraser: You have these visions of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and Churchillian speeches before you go out to play but there are a lot of blokes there for whom it’s not a novelty. World-weary even. When the five-minute bell went, David Gower said: “Right lads, that’s the Worker”, and that was about it.

Smith: The atmosphere changed and guys were having secret meetings and I wondered what it was all about. I thought we should have been focusing on the Ashes. Of course, they were planning to take a side to South Africa.

Gooch: I knew something was going on.

It was less ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, more Rand of Hope and Glory.

Fraser: There are several dressing rooms at Old Trafford and they’d chucked me and Mike Atherton, who was 12th man, in this little back room. It became the conference room for John Emburey and the others. I was nervously watching us bat on TV and blokes kept popping in and out to discuss whether or not they were going to go to South Africa.

Simpson: Well, players weren’t paid so well in those days, and we’d had troubles of our own over South Africa, but as far as England were concerned it was just another distraction that they didn’t need.

Taylor: It all added to how demoralised they were. South Africa. New players every Test. We talked about it a lot. All these outside influences certainly took their toll.

There was a first Test century waiting for Robin Smith in this match, and a maiden first-class century for Jack Russell. But with their minds elsewhere, England, yet again, played badly. Even the mid-series return of Ian Botham could not raise spirits. His dismissal for a duck in the first innings summed up England’s troubles. When David Boon swept Nick Cook on the last day, the Ashes were on their way to Australia.

Taylor: It was a massive night. Wild scenes in the dressing room.

Fraser: We had communal showers for both sides. The Aussies were singing ‘Under the Southern Cross’ and I had to see it all, wishing I was in their bloody dressing room, not ours. They seemed a close-knit side who enjoyed each others’ success yet we were a pretty disparate lot.

Taylor: We had a county game at Nottingham the next day. I went to bed about 4am. Geoff Marsh was the skipper and when he tossed, there were about three blokes in the dressing room who could stand up. If we’d had to bowl, I think we’d have had to forfeit the game.

For Graham Gooch, enough was enough. Australia’s opening bowler Terry Alderman seemed to be able to dismiss him at will. The England batsman asked not to be picked for the fifth Test at Trent Bridge.

Gooch: I just didn’t think I was batting well. Terry Alderman got me with a few lbws and my game deteriorated. I thought I wasn’t doing the team justice, you know?

Healy: Terry was a delight to keep to. You always knew where it was coming. He had this crafty sense of variation too. But in fact he didn’t swing it away too much. I remember Dean Jones saying once that Terry didn’t swing a single ball away on that tour. He bowled good corridor, outside off stump and then brought one back. That was all. He had extreme control.

Gooch: It’s a myth to say that he swung the ball away and got wickets. His danger ball was a bit more of an effort ball, one that nipped back. I was getting too far to the off side and playing across the line too much. It wasn’t a memorable time for me, but having said that, I thank Terry Alderman a lot. He exposed a technical fault in my game, I put it right and the rest is history.

Below: Alderman gets Tim Curtis at Old Trafford

That was all to come. With or without Gooch, England were still wretched. Allan Border’s Australians were without remorse. This time they put on 329 for the first wicket.

Fraser: I remember them being so hard on the field. And there wasn’t a great deal of socialising. I think they’d been undone by Botham in the past. He was their best mate in the evening, then he’d tear into them on the pitch, swear at them and get them out. I think Border wanted to put a stop to all that.

Simpson: Allan was determined, patriotic and he hated losing. That made a big difference. We worked well together.

“It’s difficult to believe that England will ever get so lowly again”
Smith: All series the sledging was like nothing I had known. At Nottingham I was batting and through etiquette, I asked Border if I could have a glass of water and he walked straight up, looked me in the eye and said: “No mate. What do you think this is, an effing picnic?” At Lord’s I left my crease wanting to pat down the wicket. I looked around and asked Allan if it was OK. This time he came up and said: “You little c***. We’re not trying to run you out, we’re trying to f***ing knock you out.”

Blimey. That was tough.

Taylor: I remember running down the track and getting stumped in this game. Mind you, I had got a double-century. The first person in the dressing room was AB and he said, “Well batted, but are you tired?” and I said, “No, not really”. “Why did you give it away then?” I said that I was trying to do something a bit different and hit the ball over cover. Allan told me that I’d missed a great opportunity to get a triple century. That’s how much winning meant to him. He wanted all of us to drive England into the dust, whatever the circumstances. I’d never played that bloody shot before and I never played it again.

This time, England lost by an innings and 180 runs – their heaviest home defeat to Australia. And even the draw in the final Test at The Oval almost became a fifth Aussie victory. “An autumnal gloom descended on Kennington SE11 like a symbolic final curtain to close yet another English summer of despair and emphatic failure,” brooded Wisden.

Smith: You might say it had all been going well until we lost the first Test match at Headingley.

Taylor: This series shaped the next decade for us. No doubt. We knew then we could compete overseas. In England the new players found their feet. We had belief. From then on the only objective was to beat the best – the West Indies.

Fraser: No matter where England go again, it’s difficult to believe that they’ll ever get so lowly again. The whole thing was a total mess. The summer started with everybody taking the mickey out of the Aussies, yet within a couple of months English cricket seemed in turmoil and Australia were embarking on a wonderful new era.

The scores

1st Test June 8-10, 12-13, Headingley Aus 601-7 dec (MA Taylor 136, DM Jones 79, AR Border 66, SR Waugh 177*, MG Hughes 71) and 230-3 dec (Taylor 60, Border 60*); †Eng 430 (KJ Barnett 80, AJ Lamb 125, RA Smith 66; TM Alderman 5-107) and 191 (GA Gooch 68; Alderman 5-44). Aus won by 210 runs.

2nd Test June 22-24, 26-27, Lord’s †Eng 286 (Gooch 60, DI Gower 57, RC Russell 64*; MG Hughes 4-71) and 359 (Gower 106, Smith 96; Alderman 6-128); Aus 528 (Taylor 62, Boon 94, Waugh 152*, GF Lawson 74; JE Emburey 4-88) and 119-4 (Boon 58*). Aus won by 6 wickets.

3rd Test July 6-8, 10-11, Edgbaston †Aus 424 (Jones 157; ARC Fraser 4-63) and 158-2 (Taylor 51); Eng 242. Match drawn.

4th Test July 27-29, 31, Aug 1, Old Trafford †Eng 260 (Smith 143; Lawson 6-72) and 264 (Russell 128*, Emburey 64; Alderman 5-66); Aus 447 (Taylor 85,
Border 80, Jones 69, Waugh 92) and 81-1. Aus won by 9 wickets.

5th Test August 10-12, 14, Trent Bridge †Aus 602-6 dec (Taylor 219, GR Marsh 138, Boon 73, Border 65*); Eng 255 (Smith 101, Alderman 5-69) and 167. Aus won by an inns and 180 runs.

6th Test August 24-26, 28-29, The Oval †Aus 468 (Taylor 71, Border 76, Jones 122; DR Pringle 4 for 70) and 219-4 dec (Border 51*, Jones 50); Eng 285 (Gower 79, GC Small 59; Alderman 5-66) and 143-5 (Smith 77*). Match drawn.

Australia won series 4-0.

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