x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The '80s generation of English cricket was lost in the Summer of Love

The likes of Graham Dilley were part of Ian Botham's tour de force but failed to shake off the shackles of defeat.

Teammates congratulate Graham Dilley after his six-wicket spell in 1986 ensured a rare victory over Australia in Brisbane but individual feats never went hand-in-hand with collective success for him.
Teammates congratulate Graham Dilley after his six-wicket spell in 1986 ensured a rare victory over Australia in Brisbane but individual feats never went hand-in-hand with collective success for him.

What do you think of when someone mentions cricket in the 1980s? If you are partial to pace and Calypso rhythms, the chances are that you will recall the mighty West Indies.

In this part of the world, folk will remember Kapil Dev and India's improbable World Cup win of 1983, as well as Javed Miandad's last-ball six in Sharjah three years later.

Ask someone English, though, especially a person into their fourth or fifth decade, and you are likely to get just one answer: Ian Botham's Ashes. The summer of 1981 saw a Royal Wedding, a third European Cup for Liverpool and the "Miracle of Headingley".

The wedding did not last.

Liverpool's dominance of European football is a sepia-tinted memory. But every English summer, when ball and bat come together, you will find it hard to escape at least one conversation about what transpired at Leeds in England in July 1981.

This week, people have been talking about it for the saddest possible reason. Every hero needs a sidekick. When Don Quixote tilted at the windmills, he had Sancho Panza by his side. When Botham decided to go on the attack against Australia in what looked like a hopelessly lost cause, he had Graham Roy Dilley at the other end.

Dilley died of cancer last week, aged only 52.

As the Headingley footage played endlessly, you found it hard to associate death with the fresh face and blond curls, with the exuberance and desperation that helped conjure up one of sport's great escape acts.

In these times of unprecedented success, younger English fans will not be able to relate to the despair of those times. The first three and half days at Headingley were in keeping with the performances of a side that tended to veer more to the ridiculous than the sublime.

Coming to Leeds, they had gone 12 Tests without a win. Dilley had bowled so poorly that he knew there was little chance of him playing the next game.

The 56 he made would be one of only two half-centuries he scored in 41 Tests.

The 117-run partnership with Botham gave England a chance, and Bob Willis, the fast bowler, thundering down the slope at the Kirkstall Lane End, did the rest.

England would win at Edgbaston in Birmingham and Old Trafford in Manchester as well, as Kim Hughes and the Australians disintegrated in the face of the Botham tour de force.

But while the all-rounder wrote himself into the game's folklore, Dilley turned up at the County Ground in Derby and The Saffrons in Eastbourne as part of Kent's county-championship campaign.

It would be another five years before he played again in an Ashes Test, taking six for 115 as England won at the Gabba in Brisbane for only the second time in half a century.

Those two Ashes games had a special significance in Dilley's career. In those 41 Tests scattered across a decade, they would be the only occasions when a Test team in which he played tasted victory.

Despite being one of the world's best bowlers during an injury-free period in the mid-1980s, individual excellence never went hand-in-hand with collective success.

Dilley's was not the only career to be blighted by persistent defeat.

Lancashire's Graeme Fowler came into the side in 1982 after Graham Gooch went off to South Africa and was banned. His 21 Tests saw five England wins and 10 defeats. Yet, the haste with which he was discarded is enough to make the head spin.

In his penultimate Test, the man they nicknamed "Foxy" made 201 as England won in Chennai (January 1985). Two weeks later, he made 69 in his final innings at Green Park in Kanpur. He never played for England again.

That series, which began in the shadow cast by Indira Gandhi's assassination, remains the last that England have won in India. Before they turned the tide with victory in New Delhi, they had gone another 13 Tests without success.

It was the worst of times.

Apart from the two Ashes wins that Dilley was part of, and the victory in India, the only other highlight of the decade came in the middle months of 1985. Writing in The Wisden Cricket Monthly nearly two decades later, Tanya Aldred called it The Summer of Love.

"It was the high '80s," she wrote. "[Margaret] Thatcher had defeated the miners. Greed was beginning to be good. Football was too busy choking on its own vomit after Heysel and Bradford to be desirable.

"Boris Becker won Wimbledon aged 17, but people wanted to rally behind something or someone British, someone other than Roger Moore hamming it up in his James Bond swansong A View to a Kill.

"Particularly when they were faced with one of the worst summers in living memory. It would rain, cloud over, and then rain some more. Day after day. Week after week."

England won that year's Ashes series 3-1, despite the magnificent defiance that was Allan Border's batting.

Most remember it for David Gower's stylish batting, three smooth-as-silk hundreds. Botham had 31 wickets. The more prosaic memories are of Tim Robinson's centuries at Headingley and Edgbaston, as the Nottinghamshire opener finished the series with 490 runs at 61.25.

The next summer, four Tests in the Caribbean brought him 72 runs. There would be one more century, against Pakistan the following year, but he never quite recovered from the battering suffered at the hands of a pace attack that David Frith, the cricket historian, said "made a mockery of the game".

Dilley, Fowler and Robinson played 91 Tests between them, for 13 wins. After the Ashes were clinched in Australia in the Boxing Day Test of 1986, England would win only one of their 25 games in the '80s - against Sri Lanka, the minnows of the day.

The three may not have been all-time greats, but it is hard not to wonder how much more they would have achieved if they hadn't been part of the Lost Generation - those forever in Botham's shadow.

 

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