Allan Border © Getty Images
Allan Border © Getty Images

On May 25, 1985 Allan Border completed his fourth consecutive First-Class hundred to set off an England tour. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a captain’s valiant run despite his team’s hopeless Ashes campaign.

Allan Border was one of those men who always believed in leading from the front. It was he who had kept the torch of Australian cricket alive in the dark days of mid-1980s, when one retirement after another left him as the only man standing amidst a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced youngsters.

When Border took his men for the Ashes campaign in 1985, no one gave them a realistic chance. Indeed, they went on to lose the Ashes convincingly, but Border emerged from the series with his head held high — and setting an example for his young guns that would be strong enough for them to turn the tides four years hence.

Somerset, Worcestershire and MCC

Border began the series in spectacular fashion. He set the tone with a 65 against The Duchess of Norfolk’s XI at Arundel (where David Boon played against the Australians), and then, in the first First-Class match, he top-scored with 106 against Ian Botham’s Somerset at Taunton, a match that Australia went on to win by 233 runs.

Australia moved on to Worcester for the next tour match. After Worcestershire declared at 303 for 6, Border, coming out at 85 for 3, decided to counterattack, and once again came out as the highest scorer with 135 before he declared the innings closed at 364 for 6, and almost winning the match in the process.

The match against MCC at Lord’s saw Border scoring his third consecutive hundred; after the Australians were reduced to 166 for 5, Border added 125 with Simon O’Donnell, and top-scored yet again — this time with 125. Australia declared at 377 for 6, and the match petered out to a draw.

The Derbyshire match

Despite back-to-back draws, the Australians reached Derby on a high of sorts. Border, bolstered by his hat-trick of hundreds, won the toss and elected to bat. Kim Barnett handed over the new ball to Paul Newman and Roger Finney. The openers, Andrew Hilditch and Graeme Wood, looked at ease till Geoff Miller, the England off-break bowler, had Wood caught by Bruce Roberts for 16. The Australians were 38 for 1.

Dirk Wellham then settled down with Hilditch, and the two batted serenely. Hilditch went past his fifty and look completely at ease before he eventually fell: Bernie Maher, the Derbyshire wicketkeeper, caught Hilditch off Miller to give the off-spinner his second wicket. Hilditch fell for 60, and the tourists were 96 for 2.

Enter Border. As the obdurate Wellham clung to one end, Border used his long stride to launch into the Derbyshire attack. There was not a lot of lateral movement, and Border and Wellham nullified the Derbyshire spinners — Miller and the southpaw Dallas Moir.

The two eventually added 148, and just when Wellham looked all set for a well-deserved hundred, he was caught-behind off Moir for 77. Border reached his hundred, but fell immediately afterwards, caught by the New Zealander John Wright off Moir. Miller immediately struck, trapping Greg Matthews leg-before for 1, and the tourists ended Day One at 278 for 5, with David Boon on 10 and Wayne Phillips on nought.

There was no more play in the match. The teams decided on a 55-over match, which the Australians won without Border having to bat.

The Border saga continues…

The ODIs arrived, and in the first match at Old Trafford, England were bowled out for 219 in 54 overs. Australia were in a trouble of sorts at 52 for 2, but out strode their captain, and his 98-ball 59 (with 4 fours and a six) was not only the top-score for his side, but it also won the match for his side with 5 balls to spare.

England went a step ahead in the second ODI at Edgbaston, scoring 231 for 7. Once again Australia were under pressure at 19 for 2. And once again that man strode out, this time seeing his side through with a 123-ball 85 with 5 fours. Once again he top-scored, and Australia won with an over to spare, and the Texaco Trophy was theirs.

Then, after England took a 1-0 lead in the first Test at Headingley, Border struck back at Lord’s: after Craig McDermott bowled out England for 290, Border walked out at 24 for 2, and took charge immediately. He batted with an uncharacteristic aggression, and by the time Australia were 101 for 4, he was already past his fifty.

He continued to dominate the bowling, eventually falling for a 318-ball 196 with 22 fours — scored out of the 374 scored during his stay at the wicket. Still not done, Border came out to bat with his side on 22 for 3 in the fourth innings, chasing 127. Australia were soon reduced to 65 for 5, but the broad bat got broader, and the great man saw his side through with 6 wickets down, remaining unbeaten on an 89-ball 41 with 6 boundaries.

The series was levelled, but England went on to win the Ashes 3-1. Border top-scored for Australia with 597 runs at 66.33 (he had also scored a match-saving 146* at Old Trafford). The series was lost, but the tone was set. Australia would come back with a vengeance in four years’ time.

Brief scores:

Australia 278 for 5 (Allan Border 100, Dirk Wellham 77, Andrew Hilditch 60; Geoff Miller 3 for 125, Dallas Moir 2 for 67) drew with Derbyshire.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)