Friday, February 12, 2010
Allan Border- Man behind the resurrection of Australian cricket
AR. Border made his debut in 78/79 against England at Melbourne under the leadership of Yallop. It wasn’t the best of times for Australian cricket as their inspirational captain Ian Chappell had just retired from international cricket and had joined the Packer series. Other senior players like Rodney Marsh, Greg Chappell, Lillee etc followed in Ian Chappell’s footsteps and joined the rebel Packer series. So, Australia used lots of players and had different captains during that period like Yallop, Kim Hughes and even Simpson who came back from retirement to lead the side in a couple of series. Anyway coming back to our great man Border, he didn't have the best of starts to his career though he did make a few decent contributions but was eventually dropped as they recalled Peter Toohey back into the side against England.
He was recalled for the series against Pakistan at home and the tour of India. Border made his first hundred against Pakistan at Melbourne and as expected his first hundred came in a pressure cooker situation. Australia were in all sorts of trouble and the opposition had the likes of Imran Khan who was a tear away quick at that time and the sultan of swing Nawaz but Border stood firm amidst the ruins. Yes, Australia lost the match but that hundred showed glimpses of what Border can do as playing well under pressure became the hallmark of Border's career in the years to come. He also did well when Australia toured India. It isn't easy for a young player to do well in his first series away from home but for Border it didn't matter. At that time there was a change in leadership as Hughes took over the captaincy. It was said that Border had a good relationship with Kim Hughes and was really motivated to perform for his captain.
Border continued to perform well and reached his peak in that epic series against England in 81 which later came to be known as Botham's Ashes. It was a series which would always be remembered for Botham's heroics as especially who can forget his match winning knock at Headinlgley when he turned the game on its head but Border too played some gutsy knocks like that century at Old Trafford when Australia were chasing a target in excess of 500. It was also the time when senior players like Rodney Marsh, Lillee and Greg Chappell who all had left playing for Australia to take part in the Packer series came back and it was said that there was a divide between the senior players and players who had played when those seniors players were involved in the Packer series. It surely didn't help Kim Hughes as the senior players weren’t said to be having a cordial relationship with him. Add to it Greg Chappell opted to play mainly in those games that were played in Australia and was even reinstated as the captain for the home matches with Hughes captaining the side whenever Chappell wasn’t available to play matches for Australia away from home. It doesn't help any team to have two captains for sure.
All these factors didn't worry the tenacious Border though as he continued to make plenty of runs under pressure. He was surely at the peak of his prowess as far as his batting was concerned. Against the great Caribbean team in 82 he was able to score lots of runs. The Caribbean team then had great quick bowlers like Holding, Croft, Garner and Roberts. Few former players and knowledgeable cricket fans that I have met even opine that they haven't seen too many players who have played quick bowling better than Border did in that series. He also played a gutsy knock against the old enemy England at Melbourne and almost took Australia to victory but for Thomson, who actually had given good support to Border throwing his wicket away by chasing a rank long hop from Australia's ultimate nemesis Botham. Pressure can make people surely do funny things!
In 84/85 Australia weren’t just in a transitional phase as senior players like Lillee, Marsh and Greg Chappell retired but because of the reported divide that was there in the dressing room between the senior players and some of the youngsters and the fact that Australia were continually hammered by the great Caribbean team made Kim Hughes to resign from the post of captaincy. Hughes is said to have cried during the press conference and that was a sad chapter for Australian cricket. It also heralded a new era in Australian cricket as Border took up the captaincy and built the team brick by brick.
Actually to start with Border was said to be a reluctant captain as he was apprehensive about captaining a side that was disillusioned and there was no clarity regarding the composition of the side. Luckily for Border he had Simpson as the coach who was appointed to resurrect the fortunes of the side. Simpson gave him confidence and slowly but surely Border became better as a captain.
Simpson’s and Border's first task was to identify a group of players who were mentally tough and give them a decent run in the side. At that time most of the players playing in Sheffield shield had played for Australia in some form of the game which is not the way to build a side! So in came youngsters like McDermott, Boon, Jones, Steve Waugh, Merve Hughes, Healy, O’Donnell, Mathews, Peter Taylor, Ritchie etc. Players not with huge amounts of talent but were mentally tough. The players so selected took their time to establish themselves in the side but Border and Simpson never lost faith in those players and both backed the youngsters to the hilt.
Australia continued to get hammered on the field as the old enemy England defeated Australia in their own backyard as again Botham became the nemesis of the Australian team as he took crucial wickets and scored runs. Border looked misfit as the captain of the side though continued to make important contributions as a batsman and the young players couldn't perform. Border's reluctance as a leader at that time could be seen by the fact that he was apprehensive to declare Australia's innings in the famous tied test at Madras as he thought the pitch was flat and the opposition had a very good batting line up but Simpson urged him to declare and he obliged. Border afterwards even said on the last day that he was even thinking whether there was any justice in this world as Australia had declared in both innings yet were on the verge of losing! In the end of course the match ended in a tie.
His first taste of success as a captain came in 1987 when under his leadership Australia won the Reliance world cup. Australia were clearly the underdogs in the completion but they stumped everyone by winning the trophy. Boon and Marsh formed a very good opening partnership and they would serve Australia for a long time to come. Jones was the strokemaker in the middle order and Steve Waugh made an impact too but strangely for his death bowling as he introduced the slower ball concept to world cricket.
Under Border Australia regained the Ashes in 89. One can remember the famous words, can't bat, can't bowl and can't field that was used to describe the Australian team before the series started but that at that time Border is said to have become a tough leader and was even called grumpy. The opposing captain Gower recently on the sky sports website did agree that he found Border a changed man on a cricket field in 89. It was also the series when the older Waugh announced himself as a batsman by making an great hundred at Headingley as he repaid the faith shown in him by Border and Simpson as Australia thumped England, 4-0 and regained the Ashes . During that time the Caribbean team were still the best side and they continued to hammer the Aussies side though no one can forget Border's remarkable achievement of taking 11 wickets at Sydney to help Australia win a match. For a part-time spinner it was a remarkable achievement though the pitch was said to be a turning wicket.
As the 90's dawned Australian cricket seemed to be getting stronger and stronger as they started to find players with flair like Shane Warne and 'Afghan' Mark Waugh. As far as Shane Warne was concerned one can never forget that Border was the one who gave him the chance to bowl at the Lankan batsmen at a crucial time and Warne turned the match on its head by taking key wickets in a magic spell to help Australia win a closely contested game. It is interesting to note that Warne had gone for plenty of runs against India in his debut test as Shastri took him to the cleaners and even in that test against Lanka the little Kalu had taken heavy toll on Warne. It indicates that Border may have had a gut feeling that Warne could do some magic and in the subsequent years to come Warne was able to repeat such feats again and again. He though has to thank Border for showing so much faith in a youngster who was not successful at that time. Australia under Border still couldn't challenge the West indies though they came very near to beating them in 92/93. Going into the game at Adelaide they lead the series 1-0 but lost the game at Adelaide by just one run and were hammered at Perth as Ambrose and Bishop ran amok to destroy Australia. It must have been a heart breaking experience for Border and his team to come so close yet not get their hands on the prestigious Frank Worrell trophy. It was also the time when Border was very close to breaking the world record for the highest run aggregate by any batsman which at that time was held by Gavaskar. His batting prowess had waned a bit still he was able to get the record in New Zealand.
In 1993 he played in his last Ashes series as the side lead by Border was too powerful for an injury ravaged and an unsettled side like England. It was also the series in which Border made a quick fire double hundred at Headingley and of course who can forget that ball bowled by Warne to dismiss Gatting. Both Waughs had a great time as did Slater as the younger players started to blossom under the able leadership of Border
In 1994 he played in his last series against South Africa and in his last game too he did not let the side down as he supported Mark Waugh to help Australia save the final test to make sure that South Africa won’t win the series. A fitting end to a great man's career. He never achieved his dream of beating the West indies side but he along with the help of Simpson resurrected the fortunes of Australian cricket. After retiring from international cricket he helped his state team Queensland to win the Sheffield shield for the first time ever.
So, when we think about how good the Australian team has been in recent times the contribution of Border can’t be forgotten as he took the side from being the also rans to a side which came to be known as a competitive unit and later on the likes of Steve Waugh, Taylor and Ponting were able to reap the benefits of the great man's work.