By Martin Johnson
It’s not unknown for a team to change captains in the course of a five-Test series, but if the men who skippered England during the summer of 1988 were thinking of commemorating the event with a 30th anniversary dinner this year, they’d need more than just the one taxi to get them to the restaurant.
My own memories of it began in a hotel breakfast room in Swansea, on the morning of a Benson & Hedges Cup quarter final. Across the table, the Daily Express correspondent Colin Bateman was reading a report of the final day of the first Test against the West Indies on the back page of The Sun, which meant that the front page was pointing in my direction. The sight of which led to Bateman howling in protest when my involuntary choke led to him being pebbledashed with a sudden spray of half-digested cornflake.
“ENGLAND STARS IN HOTEL SEX ROMP” was the front page headline, or something similar, and we were just getting to grips with the newspaper’s exclusive about the nocturnal goings-on at the Rothley Court hotel in Leicestershire, when into the room strode the team manager Micky Stewart.
“Morning chaps,” said Micky, his geniality well-merited after a creditable England draw at Trent Bridge, but his cheery disposition failed to survive his first sip of orange juice. “Have you read The Sun this morning Micky?” we inquired. “The Sun?” he replied. “You must be joking. I never read The Sun.” At which point, having advised him that a brief glance at what was clearly not his favourite newspaper might for once be in order, Colin plonked the offending tabloid onto his table.
What followed was a long period of Micky giving a passable impersonation of a goldfish removed from its bowl, before finally coming out with something along the lines of (but nothing like as polite) as “well, blow me down”.
Understandably enough, he never did hang around to fulfil his assignment as official B&H man of the match adjudicator, returning instead to Lord’s for the emergency meeting which ended with Mike Gatting’s reign as England captain being terminated. His successor, ironically enough, receiving the news after being summoned while playing in a benefit match for Gatting, was John Emburey, who was duly paraded before the Press before the next Test at Lord’s. “Do you think the captaincy will affect your form?” someone asked. “Well,” said Emburey, whose figures from Trent Bridge had not been hugely flattering, “according to you lot, it can’t get any worse than it already is.”
Unusually, Graham Gooch was announced as his vice captain, an appointment only made on winter tours. Stewart also announced that a curfew was being imposed, although true to his style of addressing the Press with a grim determination to say as little as possible – like a captured wartime soldier confining his answers to name, rank and serial number – he declined to reveal precisely what time. It might have been 10pm, or it might have been 3am.
Gatting, removed from high office for what the authorities described as conduct “damaging to the image of the England cricket team”, withdrew from the Lord’s Test altogether, although after England’s 134-run defeat Gatting was back for the next match at Old Trafford. An even bigger thrashing, by an innings and 156 runs.
In 1988 all Tests began on a Thursday, and all Sundays were rest days, and at the traditional Saturday night Press conference Emburey was asked a traditional Saturday night Press conference question. “How can we save it from here,” Emburey, sense of humour still intact, pointed to a pavilion window being battered by a familiar Manchester downpour, and said: “You’re looking at it.”
However, the rain saved neither England nor Emburey, the latter replaced for the fourth Test at Headingley by Chris Cowdrey, of Kent, another captain who would quickly need to draw upon a dry sense of humour which first manifested itself on England’s 1984-85 tour to India. Cowdrey was bowling when the then captain, David Gower, shouted out: “Would you like Gatt a bit wider at slip?” To which Cowdrey replied: “No thanks. If Gatt got any wider he’d probably burst.”
Cowdrey happened to be the godson of chairman of selectors Peter May, an eccentric character, whose connection to the real world was occasional at best. Asked at the start of the series about Derek Pringle’s selection May replied: “Well, I’m told he’s been hitting over the top this summer.” At which an incredulous colleague turned to me and declared that the thought of Pring hitting Malcolm Marshall back over his head was a difficult image to conjure up.
Cowdrey was rumoured to have been second choice to Gooch, before the latter was ruled out by declining to make himself available for the winter tour to India. Whatever, Cowdrey was out for 0 (Marshall) and 5 (Walsh) at Headingley (West Indies won by 10 wickets) and was then ruled out of the final Test at the Oval when he was hit on the foot whilst batting – as England players did in those days – for his county.
And this time the selectors did turn to Gooch, whose change of mind about being available to tour that winter ironically led to there being no tour to be available for. India objected to Gooch’s South African connections as captain on the so-called Breweries Tour in 1982, and it was called off.
Gooch was captain No.4 in five Tests that summer, and at the Oval he duly presided over defeat No.4, this time by eight wickets. Although when the end actually came, captain No.5 was at the helm – Pringle taking over for the final day and a half after Gooch dislocated his finger dropping a slip catch.
As for Cowdrey, his phone never rang again, despite godfather May announcing, when he was originally appointed: “We believe that Christopher’s style of leadership
is now what’s required.”
But the really hard done-by captain was Emburey. Let’s face it. For a man who managed to keep the job for two consecutive games, not to qualify for an engraved gold watch – or some other long service award – was the most shameful episode of the entire summer.