Pringle column: Different eras, but victory remains so sweet to the victor

By Derek Pringle

Comparisons between eras are often futile but I’m going to do it anyway, highlighting the differences and, where they occur, the similarities between England’s Ashes tour of 1982/3, which I experienced under Bob Willis, and the one Joe Root’s team are undertaking some 35 years later.

Let’s start with the flight. We left London aboard Qantas flight QF2 on October 13, in Business Class, though there were smoking seats, a facility several players availed themselves of. We also drank beer or wine for most of the three legs, London to Bahrain, there to Singapore, and Singapore to Brisbane.

Rod Marsh’s record of 48 cans of Foster’s (David Boon had yet to break it) was not threatened. When we alighted we underwent ten days of training and nets ahead of our first game against Queensland at the Gabba. In the evenings we repaired to General Jackson’s bar beneath our hotel, where happy hour, bizarrely, began at 10pm.

The current England team flew Etihad, also in Business, but would have undertaken just two legs, so a shorter journey overall especially as they flew into Perth which sits on the western edge of Australia, the opposite to Brisbane. No idea how many would have tucked into the booze but they probably have a physiologist with them, reminding them to drink lots of non-alcoholic fluids so as to minimise jet-lag. Of course there was not much inflight entertainment in 1982, so we had an excuse to get pie-eyed.

Continuing the flying theme, Australia being such a big country and all. We made a total of 29 flights in 1982/3, though that included jetting about for the World Series triangular which followed the Tests. Root’s boys will take 14 flights, fewer if they are not involved in the one-day series or T20 triangular in February.

What proved most challenging on flights was  Chris Tavare’s wife, Vanessa. They had just got married, so she came for the entire tour. Not a problem in itself except for one small detail – she had a great fear of flying and had to be sedated before every trip. Even so, every time the plane bobbed or shuddered, which was often, she would emit a blood-curdling scream that would remind us all how vulnerable we were hanging there 28,000 feet in the air.

We were away for 123 days in Australia and, like the current team, we went to New Zealand afterwards, though only for a one-day series. Root’s team, or at least those who play both Test and ODIs, will be in Australia for 95 days. A T20 tournament with New Zealand follows, though still does not get them past 123. Those extra days were not a particular burden as they allowed you to see some of Australia’s interesting bits beyond the major cities. They also gave players recovery time between Tests, something not afforded today’s cricketers.

We had room-mates then, they have single rooms now, at least until the WAGs and families arrive for two weeks over the festive period. There are pros and cons to each. A single room gives you privacy though a good room-mate can help you overcome homesickness as well as any other problems you might be having. Trouble is, a bad roomie, especially a heavy snorer, can leave you contemplating murder. In 1982/3, Ian Botham refused to room with Derek Randall and Eddie Hemmings for that very reason.

The current player gets his wife/partner and family paid for by the England and Wales Cricket Board, at least over the two-week festive period. By contrast, the players on my tour had to pay for all that themselves, which is why so few spouses, girlfriends etc… came out. Allan Lamb’s wife, Lindsay, came for most of that 1982/3 trip, but he spent his entire tour fee on funding her travel and accommodation. Lindsay being a formidable woman, he did not complain too much.

The Xmas tradition back then was to have a fancy dress party, to which the press were invited for morning drinks. Xmas lunch with all the trimmings would follow, as would an earlyish night, the Boxing Day Test being less than 24 hours away. These days, the press are kept at arm’s length while the fancy dress element comes and goes depending on who is in charge. The Boxing Day Test remains put.

A few things which are definitely better for players now in Australia are the improved standard of restaurants, wine and beer, the last having undergone a craft explosion with countess ales, kolschs and stouts popping up in just about every one-horse town. Back in 1982, it was cold, tasteless fizz like Foster’s, XXXX or Victoria Bitter (VB). There was the odd decent wine, though that industry had yet to extend beyond a few choice producers like Penfolds. The restaurants offered variations on meat and two veg, and Doyles (essentially a fish and chip shop with a view in Sydney) was considered high cuisine. The vile beer probably explains why Beefy Botham took to drinking jugs of whisky and ice cream all those years ago. Mind you, even that was difficult in Perth, on a Sunday, where there was nowhere to eat or drink after 7pm, even in the team hotel.

Talking of ultra-talented, aggressive, all-rounders handy with their mitts, we still had one of those in 1982, something today’s team seem to be waiting for in vain, following Ben Stokes’ fisticuffs outside a Bristol nightclub in September. And therein lies a major difference between the times – Australia barely had functioning landlines 35 years ago let alone devices which could combine calls and cameras, and which any idiot can operate. Going out on the town is infinitely more hazardous now.

Yet, that is not the most glaring difference. On our tour, the 16-man playing squad had a manager, an assistant manager, a physiotherapist and a scorer. Today’s 16-strong team has done away with the scorer, but acquired another 15 backroom staff in their place, which I will not list here (you can count them at your leisure). Such thoroughness is, of course, admirable, but it comes at a heck of a price. We also had eight non-international matches to play versus the five today’s team have. But while that is not a great deal more, we did have at least 15 sponsors’ events and dinners to attend, five times more than clogs the itinerary of today’s players.

On the field, the experience, I suspect, remains pretty similar. It will be hot, with whopping great flies buzzing you and Australians everywhere – players, the crowd – giving you both barrels of their verbal grape shot. Bowlers still have to use that crappy Kookaburra ball, while batsmen will still find the bounce and pace of the WACA difficult to cope with.

But one thing that will never change, I suspect, is the deep and sweet satisfaction of beating the Aussies on their home patch. We managed it at the MCG, just, by three runs in 1982/3. Hopefully, Root’s England will experience it more than once this time and retain the Ashes. That really would be a difference between then and now.

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