What we hadn’t taken into account – the wisdom of hindsight – was the impact of Botham’s strikes on Australians. They were disunited, but it wasn’t obvious when they won the first test and drew at Lord’s, after which Botham resigned as captain.
The rift was between the Australians who had signed for Kerry Packer – Australia’s top cricketers – and those who had “stuck with” the Australian board ie the unwanted goody-goodies by World Series Cricket. . Of this last clique, Kim Hughes was named captain; Greg Chappell, first drummer of the first clique, refused to turn under him.
This Monday afternoon, Botham had opened these cracks. There were so few One-Day Internationals before 1981, Hughes had no knowledge of field goals when Botham went on a rampage; while Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Geoff Lawson didn’t seem to listen to their captain at all. They played shorter and wider, the team’s fault line also widened and the Aussies fell apart.
We were back in our seats for the start of the afternoon session.
Except as Willis hurtled down the slope, limbs flying everywhere, I found it impossible to sit down and continued to pace around the press area, which wasn’t everything. quite behind the arm, but with a thin leg, so when Marsh got a hook at Willis the ball flew towards us before landing in the hands of the late Graham Dilley.
From top to bottom, top to bottom. I remember thinking: will the wait outside the maternity ward be like this? (It turned out to be much easier, personally.) It was extreme glee as each wicket fell, until Australia collapsed to 75 for eight. Now England was expected to win. On which Lillee and Ray Bright counter-attack.
Everyone says it’s less scary to be involved in a close end as a player than as a spectator. Based on Headingley 1981, I would say it’s even more nerve-racking to be a spectator when you have some knowledge of the players and sympathy for them and feel what they’re going through, and yet you can’t nothing to do to help.
English cricketers and journalists were indeed a party then, especially on tour. You drank together after a day of play, which was not good for the players’ bodies but could have been to relieve their stress; and I was the same age as the players. Willis came to my first housewarming party, Brearley to my wedding. It was like that.
Hope was dead and revived, but now the game was back in balance as Bright and Lillee bustled about. As I knew, after studying cricket instead of A levels, only once before in over a hundred years of testing cricket had a team won after following – in Sydney in 1894-5, when Australia was due winning 177 wins and by the end of the fifth day had reached 113 for two.
On Sunday – the day of rest – of the Headingley Test, the English players went to Botham’s for a consolation barbecue. On the fifth night in Sydney, they were hammered, as the game was almost lost and the rain flooded the ground. Hearing that he was fit to play the next day, they had to drag their lead spinner Bobby Peel out of bed and put him in a shower. Peel sobered up in time to exploit the sticky wicket and England to win by 10 points.
After Bright and Lillee beat 35 in just four overs, Brearley had a clear head at Headingley. He told Willis, who had kicked the ball in the batters’ ribs, to throw harder; and with 20 to win he did, and Lillee chipped the ball towards the middle.
Halfway through was Mike Gatting who luckily hadn’t had a big lunch of fish and chips. For a moment he didn’t seem to see the ball – Headingley has dark bottoms – but he dove forward and caught it. Bright was then knocked down by the middle stump by the wild mop, and England won by 18 points. Sydney’s victory had been achieved thanks to the rain, but no such intervention on that occasion, unless they included Willis and Botham in their most inspired as natural phenomena.