Can Alastair Cook end 27 years of pain at the 'Gabbatoir'?
Australia have not lost in Brisbane for a quarter of a century. Richard Edwards speaks to the last England team to storm the fortress
Tuesday 29 October 2013
It's cricket's answer to Galatasaray's Ali Sami Yen stadium, with a journey to The Gabba truly representing a trip to hell for Test sides across the world for the last 25 years.
It was 1988 when Australia's players last trudged away from Brisbane having tasted defeat. Of the 24 Tests played there since, the Aussies have won 17 and drawn seven. Little wonder cricket lovers Down Under refer to the ground as the "Gabbatoir".
A draw last time out aside – Andrew Strauss's men amassed a record second-innings score of 517 for 1 after a first-innings deficit of 221 in November 2010 – England's record at Australia's fortress makes for grim reading.
A 10-wicket defeat in 1990, a loss by 184 runs in 1994 and back-to-back slaughters by a margin of 384 runs and 277 runs in 2002 and 2006 amply illustrate why Australia hope that history will repeat itself in the traditional Ashes curtain-raiser.
You have to go back to November 1986 to find when an England side last tasted victory at a venue which hosted its second Test during the infamous Bodyline series of 1933.
Then Eddie Paynter got off his sick bed to inspire Douglas Jardine's men to a series-sealing win and it took a similarly remarkable revival for the tourists to begin their Ashes defence with a victory 53 years later.
"We were told we couldn't bat, couldn't bowl and couldn't field – and that was our own press," says John Emburey. "The Aussies said we were the worst touring side ever."
The current Australian side will empathise with Emburey. But while Michael Clarke's men did little to disprove the assertion this summer, Mike Gatting's side turned their fortunes around in remarkable fashion after a miserable start to the tour.
"It was very much a new team," says the former Middlesex off-spinner. "We had only won one of our warm-up games and had already lost at The Gabba against Queensland. There was a real siege mentality because of the way we started the tour.
"To a certain extent that brought the players together because there was a great atmosphere in the dressing room. We had some outstanding players in [Ian] Botham, [David] Gower and Lamby [Allan Lamb] at the top of the order. The bowling attack wasn't the strongest but everyone held their hand up at some stage."
The wicketkeeper Jack Richards made his debut in that Brisbane match and his experience shows just how much the Test arena has changed in the last 27 years. "I was called an understudy because Bruce French was England's No 1 at the time," he says. "I think I was picked for the one-day games, but back then you had to pick your one-day side from the 16 in the squad because they didn't have money to pay the air fare."
Contrast that with Liam Plunkett's 16,000-mile trek from Barbados to Perth to play in the final game of England's seven match one-day series against the Aussies in January 2011.
Richards would score a duck in his first Test innings but thanks to Botham's 138 and half-centuries from Bill Athey, Gatting and Gower, England posted a first-innings score of 456 at a ground that is unrecognisable from The Gabba of today.
"It had a raised dog track around the actual playing area," says Emburey. "It wasn't a big ground, not like the big stadium that it is now. There was a nice atmosphere and the people made you feel very welcome."
Back then Australia were a side still striving to rebuild under the leadership of Allan Border and the hard edge which came to typify future Ashes contests had yet to form.
"One of the good things about having Both [Botham] in the side was that the two teams were very social," says Emburey. "After the first Test, the Aussies came into the dressing room with beers, to talk about the cricket and have a laugh and a joke. That is what it was like playing against the Aussies in those days."
Australia lost that Gabba Test by seven wickets, thanks largely to an inspired spell of 5 for 68 from Graham Dilley which forced Australia to follow on and Emburey himself claiming 5 for 80 in the second innings.
"I bowled steadily but they really didn't bat very well," says Emburey. "The pitch didn't really turn but we stuck at it."
As they go in search of their first Brisbane success in a generation, England will need to show similar qualities in three weeks' time.
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