What was low point for the England cricket team in the 1980s? For some it has to be the 4-0 defeat in the 1989 Ashes. For others the 1983-84 “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” tour of New Zealand. And then there is the English summer of 1988. Never mind the second summer of love. To England cricket fans, 1988 will always be the summer of four captains.
Even though the West Indies had drawn their last last four series, seemed to be in a state of transition, and were not quite as intimidating as they had been earlier in the decade, they were still the team to beat. They had not lost a Test series since their 1979-80 tour of New Zealand, were still No 1 in the world and were up against an England team that was in a sorry state.
Mike Gatting’s captaincy regime was hardly a flourishing success, his record standing at P22 W2 D15 L5. The turning point in Gatting’s reign was perhaps that appalling reverse sweep in the 1987 World Cup final. From that day on, it seemed everything he touched turned pear-shaped: a 1-0 Test series defeat in Pakistan; the Shakor Rana affair; a 0-0 stalemate in New Zealand that was as dull as it sounds. The knives were being sharpened in the corridors of Lord’s.
Surprisingly, England started the first Test at Trent Bridge well. Having won the toss, Gatting elected to bat, Graham Gooch and Chris Broad putting together an opening stand of 125. As ever though, the inevitable prospect of a collapse hung over the team and, before you knew it, England had been dismissed for a less than impressive 245, Marshall the chief tormentor with 6/69.
When the West Indies replied with 448, England were staring down the barrel. Although, due to bad weather, the reply did not start until late into the fourth day. Gooch anchored the innings, hitting a superb 146 in 416 minutes. Aided by Gower’s unbeaten 88, England reached 301/3, avoiding defeat against the tourists for the first time since 1981.
Admittedly only 108 overs were possible in England’s second innings but, as every England fan could have told you, that had been plenty in the past. Indeed, it was the first time since that drawn Test in 1981 that England had faced as many overs in a single innings against the West Indies.
But a storm was beginning to brew. Having upset the powers-that-be by releasing his autobiography Leading From The Front, Gatting then gave them the perfect excuse to dismiss him. After tabloid newspapers alleged that Gatting had taken a barmaid to his hotel room in Rothley Court in Leicester, he was dropped as captain.
This is where the fun and games commenced. John Emburey was appointed as his replacement, with Gatting opting to miss the second Test of the series at Lord’s. England started well, reducing the tourists to 54/5. However, a fine partnership between Gus Logie (81) and Jeff Dujon (53) dragged the West Indies up to 209. England responded with 165 (Marshall 6/32), as a Greenidge hundred, and another fine innings from Logie (95 not out) then set England an impossible target of 442. Allan Lamb struck a century, but normal service was resumed in a 134-run victory for the West Indies.
If Lord’s had been encouraging initially for England, then Old Trafford was simply too embarrassing to comprehend. Gatting returned, contributing 0 and 4 in two shambolic England batting displays. First time up, England limped to 135 all out from 60.2 overs. Somehow they managed to outdo this abysmal effort in the second innings.Replying to the West Indies’ 384/7 declared, England imploded, lasting 42.4 overs in their pathetic total of 93 (Marshall 7/22). After just two Tests in charge, the England selectors felt they had seen enough of Emburey as skipper and the circus rolled on.
Just stopping short of donning red noses and big shoes, the selectors took the decision to hand the captaincy to Chris Cowdrey before the fourth Test at Headingley. Although he was doing a good job captaining Kent, the appointment came out of the blue, but chairman of selectors Peter May – coincidentally Cowdrey’s godfather – thought otherwise. Apparently Cowdrey was refused entry to the Headingley car park the day before the Test because the steward on duty didn’t recognise him, which shows how farcical the situation was.
England made seven changes for Headingley. Previous skipper Emburey was axed and debuts were handed to Tim Curtis and Robin Smith. Gatting, the previous captain to the previous captain (keep up at the back) decided that he had had enough of Test cricket, so excluded himself from selection for the rest of the summer.
The West Indies won the toss and, unsurprisingly, decided to insert a fragile England. 69.1 overs later, England had been put out of their misery, scoring a paltry 201. Allan Lamb (64) and debutant Smith (38) had led England to 183/4. But when Lamb retired hurt due to a calf injury, England’s hopes limped off with him.
England did reduce the tourists to 222/8, yet Roger Harper eventually nudged the West Indies up to 275 (Pringle 5/95). At 80/1 England were still in the game, before meekly folding to 138 all out, the 10-wicket defeat handing the West Indies the series with a match to spare.
To add to the mess, Cowdrey picked up a foot injury in a county match, which led to more shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic. Gooch became the latest captain; Gower was dropped after winning his 100th cap at Headingley; Lamb pulled out injured; and debuts were handed to Matthew Maynard and Rob Bailey, meaning England had chosen a whopping 23 players in the series.
Again, England competed for large portions of the fifth Test at the Oval but, when the crunch moments arrived, they were found wanting. From 116/2 in the first innings England limped to 205 all out. To the surprise of everyone, though, England managed to gain a first-innings lead, Neil Foster taking 5/64, as the West Indians could only muster 183.
The hope soon faded. Only the Essex duo of Gooch (84) and nightwatchman Foster (34) showed any resistance, as England failed to capitalise on their rare position of strength, setting the West Indies a target of 225. The tourists strolled to an eight-wicket victory and a 4-0 series win, Greenidge and Haynes rolling back the years with twin 77s. Incredibly, England even had time to add another captain to their ranks, as Derek Pringle took over from Gooch, who had dislocated his finger attempting to take a catch off of a Phil Defreitas no ball. It wasn’t easy being an England cricket fan at the time.
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