Bygones: Headingley curse strikes again as Gower’s men start road to Ashes glory

England captain David Gower holds a replica of the Ashes trophy and is congratulated by Ian Botham after winning the sixth Test and the 1985 series. 'main Picture: PA
England captain David Gower holds a replica of the Ashes trophy and is congratulated by Ian Botham after winning the sixth Test and the 1985 series. 'main Picture: PA
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A GOLDEN summer reigned on these shores 30 years ago, with the first delicious act played out at Headingley in June, 1985.

England lifted the Ashes after triumphing 3-1 in the six-Test series with the likes of Tim Robinson, Richard Ellison and captain David Gower milking the acclaim, with the tone set in Leeds.

England’s victory in the opener in Yorkshire may have lacked the drama of 1981, but a remarkable contest in its own way ensued with the hosts emerging victorious with 13.2 overs left after chasing a low total – something Australia failed to achieve four years earlier when their target was a cursory 130.

With the ghosts of their 1981 tour still lingering, Australia, under the captaincy of Allan Border and seeking to regroup, started the series on the front foot, producing a polished opening to overcome early life in the pitch to reach 201-2 at Headingley.

But that was the prelude to a collapse with the Baggy Green ultimately bowled out for 331 in their opening innings as the Headingley curse struck again for the Aussies, who succumbed to one of the most infamous defeats in cricketing history at the ground in 1981.

The mainstay of visitors’ scorecard was a South Australian called Andrew Hilditch, whose innings of 119 in 247 minutes helped provide him with his second century in three Tests after being recalled against the West Indies the previous December.

England hit back on a rain-affected second day in Leeds, taking Australia’s last four wickets in just 10 balls, with three falling in four balls to the irrepressible Ian Botham, who narrowly missed a hat-trick when he fired a delivery past the defences of Geoff Lawson.

Gower’s side took control on the Saturday of the Test – which ran from June 13 to 18 – after the tourists were dismissed, with the game notable for the return to action of Graham Gooch, Peter Willey, John Emburey and Paul Allott.

The star of England’s scorecard was Nottinghamshire opener Robinson, who became the 15th England batsman to score a century (175) on his maiden Ashes appearance.

Robinson was given sturdy support by Botham (60) and wicketkeeper Paul Downton (54), with his innings coming from just 271 balls, and Mike Gatting (53) also struck a half-century.

Botham, inevitably, took centre stage with his explosive 60 coming off just 51 balls in a magnificent cameo at the crease and, further down the order, salt was rubbed into the wounds of the Australians after Norman Cowans and Downton put on 49 for the last wicket as England totalled 533.

It was England’s highest total at Headingley.

Australia’s ire was then compounded by losing six wickets before wiping out their first innings deficit of 202.

Once again, Hilditch caught the eye, striking a well-crafted 80, with Wayne Phillips topping the scoring with 91, with the only other noteworthy contribution arriving from Kepler Wessels (64).

Australia’s second innings closed at 324 with England afforded three hours and 20 minutes to chase down their target of 123 with the match having turned into a race against time due to intermittent rain and bad light on the final day.

England, eventually, managed to crawl over the line at 123-5 with Australia, whose attack was led by the coltish duo of Craig McDermott and Simon O’Donnell, in their third and first Tests, respectively, showing commendable spirit.

England’s winning runs were struck by Allan Lamb, although controversy reigned when a number of enthusiastic young spectators raced onto the pitch to distract fielder Lawson, attempting to make a difficult catch.

Gower later described the fans as ‘a pack of mad dogs’ with the scenes slightly tarnishing proceedings in what was mostly a good-natured crowd with the aggregate attendance of 54,018 netting record receipts of £321,250.

The second Test took place at Lord’s, with the Australians squaring the series at the home of cricket, with the revered venue having been infinitely kind to them over the years.

Gower top-scored with 86 in England’s card of 290, with McDermott taking 6-70.

Border then top-scored with a majestic 196, putting on 216 for the fifth wicket with Greg Ritchie as Australia totalled 425, with England subsequently dismissed for 261 – Bob Holland taking 5-68.

Set 127 to win, Australia got over the line, despite looking in trouble at one point at 65-5, with Border (41no) seeing them home by four wickets.

A draw ensued at Trent Bridge, with Gower leading from the front with an elegant 166 in England’s total of 456, with the Australians surpassing those feats on a flat pitch to reach 539 – with Graeme Wood (172) and Ritchie (161) making considerable hay.

Local hero Robinson (77no) helped England to 196-2 as the game petered out into a draw before a rain-affected draw in the fourth Test at Old Trafford.

It was at Edgbaston in the penultimate Test that the series turned in England’s favour.

Put into bat, Australia, after two interrupted days, were bowled out for 335, with Ellison, with his unmistakable mop of curly hair, taking 6-77 on his recall to the England side.

Robinson (148) and Gower (215) then showed their aplomb to take the game – and the series – away from the Australians, adding 331 for the second wicket with Gatting also later reaching three figures as England declared after scoring an imposing 595-5.

More was to come as Ellison took 4-1 in a stunning spell to reduce Australia to 35-5 at the close ahead of the final day.

Rain delayed the start until mid-afternoon and after a controversial catch by Gower, after a shot from Wayne Phillips hit Lamb’s instep at silly point and was caught by the England captain – the tourists capitulated with the hosts winning by an innings and 118 runs.

It was the first time in Ashes history that a side had won a match without losing more than five wickets.

Australia had to win in the final Test at The Oval to square the series and retain the Ashes, but that looked impossible after the first day with Gooch (196) and Gower (157) adding 351 as England ended the opening day on 376-3.

England then fell away to 464 all out, before the Australians were dismissed for 241 with Gower applying the follow-on.

The main resistance came from Border (58), but he could not significantly delay the inevitable.

With all sets sold in advance for a fourth day, for the first time in England, the hosts skittled the Aussies for 129, with Gower taking his series aggregate to 732 runs at 81.3 – passing Denis Compton’s record aggregate for an Ashes series in England.

England’s road to 1985 Ashes triumph...

How the series unfolded:

First Test, June 13-18, Headingley: Australia 331 (AMJ Hilditch 119) & 324 (WB Phillips 91; JE Emburey 5-82); England 533 (RT Robinson 175) and 123-5. England won by five wickets.

Second Test, June 28 to July 2, Lord’s: England 290 (DI Gower 86; CJ McDermott 6-70) & 261 (IT Botham 85; RG Holland 5-68); Australia 425 (AR Border 196, GM Ritchie 94; IT Botham 5-109) & 127-6. Australia won by four wickets.

Third Test, July 11-16, Trent Bridge: England 456 (DI Gower 166; GF Lawson 5-103) & 196-2 (RT Robinson 77no); Australia 539 (GM Wood 172, GM Ritchie 146). Match drawn.

Fourth Test, August 1-6, Old Trafford: Australia 257 & 340-5 (AR Border 146no); England 482-9 dec (MW Gatting 160; CJ McDermott 8-141). Match drawn.

Fifth Test, August 15-20, Edgbaston: Australia 335 (KC Wessels 83; RM Ellison 7-66) & 142; England 595-5 dec (DI Gower 215, RT Robinson 148, MW Gatting 100no). England won by an innings and 118 runs.

Sixth Test, August 29 to September 2: England 464 (GA Gooch 196, DI Gower 157); Australia 241 & 129 (RM Ellison 5-46). England won by an innings and 94 runs.