February 18, 1986. Malcolm Marshall’s nasty lifter struck Mike Gatting squarely on the nose before dropping on to the stumps. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the ghastly injury which took the fight out of England even as the series was getting under way.
It was yet another tale of merciless blackwash as England toured West Indies in the spring of 1986. So dazed were they that by the time the series came to an end, the English players were collecting stumps as souvenirs of the huge losses. Losing to the West Indies, and that too in the most comprehensive routs, had become a habit.
The Test series ended in a 0-5 rout. But, pushing the Englishmen to the brink of disaster and despair was the first One-Day International (ODI) at Kingston that took place before the Tests got under way.
A batting side with rudimentary preparation was inserted on a grassy Sabina Park wicket as the lethal combination of Joel Garner, Pat Patterson, Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh eyed their prey. Indeed, if Malcolm Marshall was slotted to bowl second change, it must have been a bowling attack from hell.
Garner started out, often unplayable and continuously at the batsman’s throat or his toes — seldom providing anything in between. Patterson, distinctly faster than the rest of that stupendous pace attack, charged in to have the batsmen hopping between prayers. Tim Robinson was bowled off Patterson for a fourth-ball duck. Captain David Gower also did not trouble the scorers, edging his fourth ball to the slips. England was reduced to 10 for two.
Where exactly did he hit you?
Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting got some sort of a slow, painstaking partnership going when the opening bowlers were given a break and Walsh and Marshall ran in. Short, skiddy and exceedingly quick, Marshall was in his element. He always enjoyed bowling to the Englishmen. In the summer of 1984, he had taken 24 wickets in the 5-0 Blackwash meted out in England — in spite of missing the Manchester Test with an injured left hand. In the third Test at Leeds, he took seven for 53 while bowling with his left hand in a cast.
Now, with England on 47 for two, captain Viv Richards wanted him to deliver the ‘perfume ball’ — one that passed close enough to the batsman’s face for him to smell the leather. And Marshall delivered it to perfection. It lifted nastily and smashed into Mike Gatting’s nose as the stocky batsman attempted a hook. And to add insult to injury, the ball dropped on to the stumps, bowling him off his disarranged sniffer.
When the ball was returned to the bowler, a skeletal fragment of Mike Gatting was still embedded in it. Marshall found a piece of bone lodged in the leather.
As the batsman staggered back, Allan Lamb self-confessedly quivered in his shoes as he came in. The little fight that had been left in the English side left them. Marshall removed the remainder of the batting — Gooch, Lamb and Peter Willey to finish with four for 23. England could manage just 145. West Indies won by six wickets after Larry Gomes and Richie Richardson had carelessly thrown their wickets away when four runs from the target.
Gatting, in the meantime, was flown home for treatment. His face, puffy and swollen, did bear striking resemblance to a red-cheeked panda. At Heathrow, with sinister black-eyes and two rather large pieces of plaster taped across his nose, he was asked by a confused journalist, “Where exactly did he hit you?”
In an act of unquestionable bravado, Gatting was back in the Caribbean within a few weeks. While there were well-deserved news reports about his courage, some excellent cartoons captured the moment as well. One depicted an immigration official at the airport, not being able to recognise Gatting from the photograph in his passport due to his modified nasal structure.
However, after all the hype, he suffered a broken thumb on the eve of the third Test match and could not play till the fifth and final Test at St. John’s, Antigua. Now, a second cartoon appeared, showing Gatting with head bandaged and arm in sling, facing the bowler with the bat held with his teeth, voicing the fervent hope that his dentures were insured!
At Antigua, he walked out to bat with his helmet reinforced with grills that ran across his face. He managed to last an hour to score 15 in the first innings, seeing off some hostile round the wicket bouncers from Marshall before snicking one from Garner. The second innings was even less successful as he struggled for 37 minutes for a solitary run. This time it was Michael Holding who ended his misery by bowling him, thankfully without the help of any of his body parts. His contributions did not really help the English cause, as they slumped to their fifth defeat in the Tests — by a margin of 240 runs.
(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