Kim Hughes: When Australia’s Golden Boy had to make a tearful exit
Former Australian captain Kim Hughes © Getty Images
On November 26, 1984, a tearful Kim Hughes announced that he was stepping down as captain of the Australian side. Arunabha Sengupta recounts the incidents that led to the incredible sight of a sobbing Australian captain.
Kim Hughes looked boyish, all through his tenure as captain of the Australian cricket team. His clean-shaven face with the golden locks in mischievous curls on his forehead told the story of innocence which jarred discordantly with several worldly wise men in and around the team that he led. Many of the Ugly Australian brigade, men hard as nails and bristling with facial hair, who thought he was not man enough to be a leader.
His fast bowler Dennis Lillee and vice-captain Rodney Marsh were never close to him, and remained openly antagonistic.
“I just couldn’t get along with Lillee and Marsh at all,” Hughes later recalled. “We were so uneasy with each other. Now we are best mates and meet regularly, but then the chemistry wasn’t good at all.”
And then there was Greg Chappell, who formed a formidable trio with his two great buddies. He relinquished captaincy to Hughes, and took it back sometimes when his business commitments allowed, but was never really convinced that the fair-haired, fun-loving much younger man could carry the team the same way as he and his brother had. When he became the chief selector, Hughes was tolerated, never encouraged.
Ian Chappell was another story. While the selectors and teammates were putting up with Hughes because of the Kerry Packer period which had tainted all but left the golden boy without a mark, the elder Chappell brother went all out finding gaping holes in everything Hughes did as player and captain.
Hughes was no pushover. His courage as he played some of the most thrilling innings against the West Indian pace bowling was there for all to see. In the 1980 Lord’s Centenary Test, he played two innings which will remain etched in the memories of all who watched those five days.
However, by 1983-84, he had had enough. He led his side to the West Indies and had a torrid time. Australia lost 0-3, he managed 213 in 10 innings with a best of 33. Such was the antagonism in the ranks that Rodney Hogg threw a punch at him during some altercation about field setting.
When he returned, the West Indians followed with all their might to play Australia in their backyard. Hughes made 79 runs in his first four innings and Australia lost the first couple of Tests. To add to his woes, the media were vitriolic, and much of it was personal.
Hughes was told by the selectors at the start of the season that he would not see out the series as they did not see him as being a good enough leader. What made it worse was that despite his strong objections he had to carry out interviews with Ian Chappell, before and after matches, and the former captain then went on to slam his every move.
Hughes decided to quit on the fourth day of the second Test at Brisbane. Bob Merriman, the Australian manager, Fred Bennett, the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) chairman, and Greg Chappell, the head of the selectors, came to know of his decision and did little to dissuade him. Only Dave Richards, the Australian Cricket Board chief executive who later headed the International Cricket Council, attempted to talk him out of it. But by then Hughes had made up his mind.
At the post-match press conference on November 26, 1984, Hughes started to read a prepared statement to the media. “The constant speculation, criticism and innuendo by former players and sections of the media have taken their toll. In the interest of the team, Australian cricket and myself, I have informed the ACB of my decision to stand down as Australian captain.”
However, he could not go on with his statement with tears rolling down his cheek and sobs shaking him up. He got up and handed the statement to Merriman and left the room. The manager finished reading the text.
Years later, Hughes recalled: “When I sat there in the press conference I just couldn’t stop myself. It was an emotional thing to do and I don’t regret doing it. There was no media manager as well at that time; you had to fend for yourself.”
Clive Lloyd, the West Indies skipper, was not very sympathetic. “In this job you have to learn to take the good with the bad. Obviously the pressure of the last few years has built up for Kim and he now finds he must get out.”
However, John Woodcock of The Times slammed Ian Chappell “missed no opportunity of finding fault”. He was also critical about the lack of loyalty shown in the “ghosted writings of Rod Marsh, his vice-captain, or Dennis Lillee, his best bowler”.
Hughes indicated that he wanted to carry on as a player. The selectors retained him for two more Tests, but he could only score 0, 2, 0 and 0.
After some discussions with Merriman and Richards, he was: “disillusioned about the politics of Australian cricket … I couldn’t stomach the thought of playing for the ACB because of the way the game was being run.” He got in contact with Ali Bacher and led a side on the rebel tour to South Africa that followed, and never played international cricket again.
“The more you go, the sicker it gets. I am just pleased to be out of it,” Hughes summed it up.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)