Reflection on Modern Australian Test Cricket, Pt. 1: Pain Before the Gain

James MortimerAnalyst IJanuary 8, 2009

They may not be a dead force as some have claimed. We may muse over the best method to restore the greatness; or indeed embrace the changing of the guard and welcome a new hegemony. 


But we must remember one of the greatest sporting reigns of all time. Indeed, we must reflect on a time, as many of us have known no other thing than Australia ruling the cricketing world.


The beginning of the aeon of Australia coincided with the 299th Test cricketer of Australia, a young man called Allan Border. Debuting in 1978 at the MCG against England in the Ashes was a bittersweet moment not only for the lad from Cremorne but for Australia in general. 


It had only been a year earlier that the World Series Cricket breakaway controversies had occurred—which had resulted in many players being banned from Test Cricket. 


It was the ambition of Packer and his underperforming Channel Nine (at the time cricket was televised by the ABC) that would ultimately revolutionize the game as we know it. 


Numerous elite Australian players, including the Chappell brothers, Rod Marsh, and Australia’s two most potent attacking weapons of all time—Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, signed with WSC.


The ACB would eventually be joined by the ECB and ICC in condemning the WSC which would lead to the matches being denied official status, banned from using cricket’s official laws, as well as being shut out of traditional cricket venues.


This would leave the Baggy Green fragile and unprepared for the ensuing 1978-79 Ashes series.


Australia and Border won the Melbourne test after losing in Brisbane and Perth.  However, two more losses would ensure that Australia not only lost the Ashes but that Border would be dropped for the sixth test of the series.


He came back into the team against Pakistan and hit his maiden test century. After his dismissal in the match, Australia collapsed (losing, 7-5) and lost the first test. In the second test in Perth he made a swash buckling 85 and 66 to square the series. Border finished his second test series as the best batsmen of either country, boasting 276 runs at 92.


A poor tour to India followed, where Australia failed to win a match in three months with six tests. The home team containing Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev proved a bridge too far for the Baggy Green bereft of their elite players. 


No Indian player had signed with the WSC breakaway—and as a consequence were full strength.


However, Australia’s first choice players absence due to the WSC gave Border the start he required to his Test Career.  He passed 1,000 test runs in 354 days, the fastest by an Australian, and made more test runs in his first year (1,070) than any other cricketer before him. 


With Border’s rise, and the presence of cricketers such as Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson and Rod Marsh returning from the WSC, Australia competed again, but struggled for a foothold of domination in the cricketing world. The “truce” between Packer and the ACB was formally announced on the May 30, 1979.


They did defeat England 3-0 in the three test series in 1979-80, however, this was part of the settlement of the “ending” of the WSC dispute, as a consequence these matches were technically not official and the Ashes were not at stake. Nevertheless, they could not defeat the Calypso kings, suffering two heavy defeats at home to the West Indies.


A series loss to Pakistan, followed by home series against New Zealand (won) and India (drawn) would precede another Ashes loss in 1981, which was Border’s first contest of the famous urn.


Despite winning the first test at Nottingham, Australia would lose the third, fourth and fifth test and the series. Regardless of a strong Australian team, it would be widely seen as a failure, with only Border coming through with his reputation enhanced—inducing Sir Leonard Hutton to pronounce him the best left hand batsman in the world.


Two drawn series against the West Indies and New Zealand in 1981-82 were followed by a heavy 3-0 series loss in Pakistan which confirmed the Australians as an inferior side away from home.


However, the end of a sound if not spectacular period for Australian cricket was capped by a 2-1 Ashes triumph at home in 1982/83. It would only eventuate to be the single reign for the Australians, a blip in a ten year period of domination for the English.


This would spur them to defeat Sri Lanka at Kandy before accounting for Pakistan in a five test series on Australian soil. It was at this time that Australia lost Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Greg Chappell—the Baggy Greens leading test wicket taker, keeper and run scorer of all time.


Australia then travelled to the West Indies, and without such legends, were spanked 3-0 in the five test series. On the return series in Australia, the premier side in world cricket continued their domination of Australia, winning the first two tests of the three match series. It would be a sequence of defeats that read 10 wickets, innings & 36 runs, 10 wickets, innings & 112 runs and 8 wickets.


It would be in November of 1984 that Australian captain Kim Hughes broke down in tears at the end of the second test—and would resign his captaincy in Brisbane. 


With what some regarded as reluctance; Allan Border accepted the captaincy. Australia would lose the following test—but under Border would regain some face with a draw followed by a strong win in Sydney. 


It was the first time since 1981 that Australia had defeated the West Indies.