Bygones: Martyn Moxon looks back on the Bicentennial Test in Sydney
IT is ironic in an era in which England have struggled to find a Test match opening partner for Alastair Cook that one of the finest English openers of the 1980s and 90s played just 10 Tests.
Were Yorkshire’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon playing now, it is reasonable to suppose that he would have added to the number of Test caps that he won between 1986 and 1989 in between scoring just under 19,000 first-class runs for Yorkshire at an average of 43.
One of those caps came in the Bicentennial Test against Australia at the Sydney cricket ground – a game that began 30 years ago this month, a distance in time which Moxon bemoans as “scary” when tactfully reminded of the fixture by The Yorkshire Post.
For the record, he scored 40 as England made 425 in their solitary innings, Australia drawing a match that helped to mark the country’s 200th anniversary after being made to follow-on thanks to an unbeaten hundred from David Boon.
Despite the many and varied celebrations that commemorated the 200th birthday, which included a re-enactment of the first British convict ships to arrive at Sydney in 1788, pomp and circumstance around cricket in those days was relatively rare.
Unlike today, when no day of English Test cricket can start without a stirring rendition of Jerusalem, for example, play would simply begin without fuss or fanfare after the proverbial ringing of the five-minute bell.
At the SCG in January,1988, however, the Bicentennial Test was preceded by both sides lining up in front of the pavilion for the national anthems – unusual for the time.
For Moxon, the pageant surrounding the occasion threw him out of sync, distracting him from his usual pre-match routine of concentrated thought before going out to bat.
“I’d never been involved in a game where there’d been a national anthem leading into it,” he remembers, with the match also watched by numerous invited legends of the sport.
“All the other Test matches I played, the bell just rang and out you went. This was the first time I’d experienced anything like it, and it was emotional, I’ll be honest.
“Stood out there in front of the pavilion at Sydney, and the national anthem playing, it kind of threw me a bit initially, and for the first half-an-hour to 45 minutes of my innings it was a real challenge to deal with that emotion.”
Moxon recalls a scratchy start to his innings, with he and fellow opener Chris Broad having little time to compose themselves after the pre-match preamble. Although a hugely proud occasion for the Yorkshireman, and one that he cherishes to this day, he found himself on edge after his focus had been shifted from the bowling attack he was about to face.
In short, Moxon felt rushed, having had insufficient time to calm himself down. The formative throes of his innings were a matter of survival as he battled to find his customary fluency.
“The frustration was that although I hadn’t played as well as I could have done, I managed to get through to lunch and then after lunch I was just starting to find a bit of rhythm and playing quite nicely when I suddenly got out,” he says.
“I missed a full toss from (leg-spinner) Peter Sleep that kind of yorked me in the end as I tried to hit it too square of the wicket.
“The ball kind of dipped on me, and it was a missed opportunity from my point of view. We didn’t get another bat as we made them follow-on, and then they batted out the game thanks to David Boon’s hundred.”
The match was made famous – or rather infamous – by Broad petulantly smashing his bat into his stumps on day two after being bowled for 139 by Steve Waugh.
It was an instinctive act by Broad, who sent a stump flying clean out of the ground in the same sweeping move as playing-on off his body as he tried to withdraw his bat from the ball.
The incident came just two months after Broad stubbornly refused to walk during the Lahore Test on England’s controversial tour to Pakistan in which Mike Gatting had his legendary row with umpire Shakoor Rana.
This time, Broad was fined the maximum £500 by the England management and warned that any future transgression would be severely punished.
The Bicentennial Test, meanwhile, was not part of an Ashes series but a one-off match – to go with a one-off one-day international – as England took a break from touring New Zealand.
The New Zealand leg was a successful one for Moxon, who had warmed up for the Bicentennial fixture with scores of 62, 59 and 46 in the warm-up matches against Wellington and Northern Districts before maintaining his form when the side returned to New Zealand for a three-Test series.
Although he fell for one and 27 in the first Test in Christchurch, Moxon struck an unbeaten 117 against a President’s XI in Dunedin and then made 99 – his highest Test score – in the second Test in Auckland followed by 81 not out in the third match in Wellington.
Moxon’s 99 famously included a delivery that he struck in the middle of the bat only for the umpire to signal leg byes, while he was only denied a century in Wellington when it rained for the final two days, leaving him stranded.
“I potentially could have had back-to-back hundreds but finished with no hundreds in my Test career, unfortunately,” he says.
“When we got back to England, Graham Gooch was available for the summer series and I didn’t start in the Test team that summer, finding myself in-and-out of the side.
“The only time I played more than two Test matches together, in fact, was on that tour to New Zealand when I got the 99 and 81 not out.
“I played my last Test match in 1989, when England used 29 players in the series against Australia, and my peak years were probably from 1990 to 1995, so my best years as a batsman were actually when I didn’t play Test cricket.”
Like many players of his time, Moxon, now 57, suffered from a chop-and-change selection strategy in stark contrast to today, when batsmen are typically given a good run of games to prove their worth.
“Looking back, I probably let it affect me too much,” he admits. “I was probably more worried about not getting dropped than focusing on scoring runs.
“I didn’t play with the confidence and freedom that I did for Yorkshire and was more worried about trying to stay in the team.
“I probably should have been a bit stronger mentally and focused more on getting my runs rather than worrying about what might happen, although that’s easier said than done of course.”