David Tossell’s thirteenth sports book, replete with a garish, 1980s punk-style pink-and-grey cover, falls open, as most hardbacks do, on a small selection of centrepiece photographs.
After reading the opening few pages, most of us tend to concentrate upon a book’s photography in an attempt to determine whether we will enjoy reading the whole story.
Here, we happen upon Ian Botham, the most dominant English cricketer of the decade, walking off, in silence, following a ‘pair’ at Lord’s; here he is again, on the balcony with Mike Brearley following the ‘miracle of Headingly’. Two examples of West Indian bouncers, particularly Mike Gatting’s squashed, bloodied nose, remind us just how lethal a weapon they once were – oh, and there’s Botham again, en route to a two-month ban after admitting to smoking marijuana. Finally, the accompanying text to another photograph informs us that it’s: “Mike Gatting, England’s first captain of the summer, and Graham Gooch, the fourth,….”
In case you thought disarray was something new to English cricket, it isn’t: matters were just as volatile, careering between incredible highs and disappointing lows throughout the 1980s, a remarkable decade that saw the Ashes won or retained three times, plus two thumping 5-0 series defeats inflicted by the imperious West Indies. For good measure, the author provides a subliminal musical backdrop, naming each chapter after hits that helped define the era.
Tossell makes a valid point when telling the tale of Headingly 1981: though it’s been re-told thousands of times since, the English cricket fan never tires of hearing it again, of being reminded that Australia, with all second innings wickets standing, needed just 130 to go two-up in the series. England were, at that stage, 500/1 to win.
Later in the decade, David Gower would lead his team to an Ashes series victory, an achievement replicated by the indefatigable Mike Gatting, a man later reprimanded for an on-field row with umpire Shakoor Rana – although it was a barmaid’s allegations that would force him to surrender the captaincy.
Tossell’s well-paced narrative resurrects English cricket’s 1980s soap opera: the drug-taking allegations, sex scandals, player walk-outs, abandoned Test matches, rebel tours: today’s cricketing fare appears drab by comparison – and the music definitely hasn’t improved either.