Jack Russell: 1989 - the last time the Aussies were written off... they smashed us
Loss was so tough to take, as the wicketkeeper Jack Russell tells Richard Edwards
Tuesday 09 July 2013
The last time England had a chance of securing a hat-trick of Ashes series victories Boris Becker was men's singles champion at Wimbledon and the Berlin Wall was still standing.
It was the summer of 1989 and then, as now, the tourists had been widely written off. By the time the final Test at The Oval had ended, however, it was England who had crumbled and Australia who were about to embark on a 16-year Ashes winning streak.
Only two Englishmen – of the 29 players used by England's chaotic management regime – played in all six Tests. One was the captain, David Gower, who was rendered helpless by the no-nonsense, win-at-all-costs approach introduced by his rival and great friend Allan Border. The other was Jack Russell who, with English cricket's revolving selection door operating at unprecedented speed, knew one slip-up could be his last.
"It was chaos, you just had no idea who you would be playing with in the following Test match," he says. "If you had a couple of bad games you were history, you were gone for ever. I had only played one Test before [the previous summer against Sri Lanka] but I'm convinced that if I hadn't scored runs in the second Test at Lord's I would never have played for England again."
The Aussies came into that series as World Champions in the one-day arena, but as a side struggling to re-establish themselves as a force in Test cricket. England had thumped them on home soil in 1985 and again Down Under 18 months later.
The side that touched down at Heathrow was packed full of youthful promise and hardened campaigners more accustomed to defeat than victory. Many of them had played in county cricket before and were well known to the England players. Not that you would have known it when the series began at Headingley in early June.
"They didn't speak to us until they had won the Ashes," says Russell. "My old mate Terry Alderman, who I had played with at Gloucestershire the season before, said hello to me walking down the steps at Lord's. But he said it under his breath, he couldn't let anyone hear he was talking to me. They were that disciplined.
"Normally after a Test you would go into their changing room for a beer but that didn't happen until they had sewn up the series at Old Trafford. Then they invited us to join their party."
There was little celebrating going on in England's dressing room. Despite the best efforts of Russell and Robin Smith – who scored 553 runs in the series – Gower's men were comfortably second best as the likes of Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh found their feet. Both men would form part of a new tough Australian side that would become one of the finest Test teams in history.
Taylor scored 839 runs that summer, while Waugh averaged 126, despite going into the series on the back of a run of 26 Tests without a century.
Watching these feats from behind the stumps, Russell became resigned to one of the most exhausting summers of his career.
"It got to the stage that if Australia won the toss and batted then I would be behind the stumps from Thursday morning until Football Focus started on Saturday lunchtime," says Russell.
"It was pretty hard to take, if I'm honest. Before the series we were all under a lot of pressure because the Aussies had really been written off, a bit like now.
"Taylor and Waugh were just incredible in that series. The batting line-up before the series looked a bit shakier than normal despite Allan Border being there.
"It was still a far better batting line-up than the one they've got now, but they showed in 1989 that if you blink first then they'll take you to the cleaners."
England finally surrendered the Ashes in Manchester on a sun-baked August afternoon. The defeat came as a number of England players announced their intention to take part in a rebel tour to South Africa that winter.
That decision, coupled with the loss of the famous old urn to Border's men left a sour taste in Russell's mouth, even though he scored his first Test century in a second-innings rearguard. "In the background all the negotiations were going on [for] the rebel tour and I felt really sick about that, I was disgusted. I felt betrayed," says Russell.
"At the time we were trying to fight for our country – no wonder we didn't win the series. That hundred should have been the highlight of my career but I was just sat in the Old Trafford changing room feeling completely empty.
"Losing the Ashes was so tough to take. When we did finally win them back in 2005 I felt a real sense of release. The monkey was off my back."
That summer was the first time since 1934 that Australia had regained the Ashes in England. Now, 24 years on, Alastair Cook and Andy Flower will be out to make sure history does not repeat itself.
1989 Ashes series scorecards
First Test, 8-13 June (Headingley)
Aus win by 210 runs: Aus 601-7d (S R Waugh 177*) and 230-3d; England 430 (T M Alderman 5-107) and 191
Second Test, 22-27 June (Lord's)
Aus win by six wickets: Eng 286 and 359 (D I Gower 106, T M Alderman 6/128); Aus 528 (S R Waugh 152*) and 119-4
Third Test, 6-11 July (Birmingham)
Match drawn: Aus 424 (D M Jones 157) and 158-2; Eng 242
Fourth Test, 27 July-1 Aug (Old Trafford)
Aus win by nine wickets: Eng 260 (R A Smith 143) and 264 (R C Russell 128); Aus 447 and 81-1
Fifth Test, 10-14 Aug (Trent Bridge)
Aus win by an innings and 180 runs: Aus 602-6d (MA Taylor 219); England 255 and 167 (f/o)
Sixth Test, 24-29 Aug (The Oval)
Match drawn: Australia 468 (D M Jones 122) and 219-4d; England 285 and 143-5
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