WOOLLOONGABBA woes have bedevilled England for many a year, but there was one magnificent interlude in November 1986.
Berlin’s Take My Breath Away was riding high at the top of the charts back home and England’s cricketers were in breathtaking mode in Brisbane in an opening Ashes success which was as marvellous as it was thoroughly unexpected. It remains their last Test win at the Gabba.
Heading to Brisbane, a venue where they had won in six of their previous ten post-war Tests with England, would only have emboldened the Aussie’s confidence against a touring side palpably struggling with form issues.Leon Wobschall
Some lamentable warm-up form from England, allied to encouragement in their drawn series in India ensured that Allan Border’s Australia, even accounting for the fact they were clearly in rebuilding mode, were the favourites to regain the Ashes.
Heading to Brisbane, a venue where they had won in six of their previous ten post-war Tests with England, would only have emboldened the Aussie’s confidence against a touring side palpably struggling with form issues.
The failures of Wilf Slack meant that selectors had no option but to promote Gloucestershire’s Bill Athey to the top of the order and elsewhere, only Allan Lamb and Ian Botham looked to be in decent nick with the bat, with David Gower dismissed for two ducks in the final warm-up game against Western Australia and others toiling badly too.
With all that in mind, it was perhaps no surprise that Border inserted England in after winning the toss. But he was soon handed plenty of food for thought.
A breakthrough may have seen Chris Broad depart after 35 minutes, but captain Mike Gatting – moved to No 3 after Gower’s failure in Perth – and Middlesbrough-born Athey steadied the ship with England reaching 65-1 at the lunch interval.
Not helped by some wayward bowling from their quicks, Australia lost their way in the afternoon session with Athey and Gatting putting on 101 for the second wicket until the latter was bowled off his pads by Merv Hughes.
When rain and bad light shaved eighty minutes off the final session, England were handily placed at 198-2 – only for a stumble to arrive at the start of day two.
Lamb was dismissed from his first delivery and Athey soon departed for 76 with the score still on 198 before Craig Matthews, fielding at third slip, dropped Gower. It was to prove a fateful moment.
Gower and Botham gradually got to work, with England’s inimitable all-rounder starting to take a liking for Australia’s pace attack and smashing them to all corners of the ground, dominating in a stand of 118.
Matthews may have gone onto dismiss Gower and Jack Richards in quick succession, but Botham clearly had his eye in, while helped by an impressive comrade in Phil DeFreitas with the pair putting on 92 in just over an hour.
Botham’s memorable assault included 22 in the over which took him to his century, with the unfortunate cowed bowler being Hughes with England eventually being dismissed for a commendable 456, with Botham hitting 138.
Needing 257 to avoid the follow-on, Australia, who ended day two at 33-1, looked comfortable enough, only for Graham Dilley to make a key breakthrough on the third morning, with the pinpoint Kent bowler going onto trouble the hosts with his line and length en route to a tidy haul of 5-68.
The key wicket of Border arrived at 159, with the home captain losing patience off the bowling of Phil Edmonds and holing out to cover for seven after being previously tied down by his Middlesex team-mate John Emburey.
Australia fell just short of the follow-on at 248, with Graham Marsh, who hit 56 in their opening knock, again proving the thorn in the second innings.
The West Australian struck a well-crafted 110 to thwart and frustrate England, who did take three wickets with the score at 92 to boost their hopes, only for Marsh and Greg Ritchie to inspire hopes of Australian survival with a fourth-wicket stand worth 113.
But a debatable lbw decision off DeFreitas ended the partnership and Matthews departed shortly before the close of the fourth day with the hosts starting the final day at 243-5, only 35 ahead.
Marsh and Steve Waugh started confidently before the former edged DeFreitas into his stumps, with Australia’s last four wickets falling for just 20 runs as they were dismissed for 282.
In reply, England reached 77-3 without too many alarms and a key marker in a victorious tour had been laid.