Gladstone Small: The pacer from Barbados who helped England retain the 1986-87 Ashes

Gladstone Small © Getty Images

Gladstone Small, born on October 18, 1961, played 17 Tests and 53 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for England. Born in Barbados, he moved to the United Kingdom when he was 14. Small had a few moments at the highest level, the most famous being the Boxing Day Test in 1986. Nishad Pai Vaidya profiles Small’s cricketing journey.

Gladstone Small was an English cricketer of Bajan birth who played 17 Tests and 53 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for his adopted country. He was born on October 18, 1961, in Barbados. A medium pacer for England in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, Small arrived in the country aged 14 and qualified to play cricket for them. People said he doesn’t have a neck, but that was because of the Klippel-Feil Syndrome. And, people also thought he couldn’t play cricket. How wrong were they!

Small first played for the Warwickshire Second XI at the age of 17 in 1979. He then made his First-Class debut for the DH Robin’s XI for their tour to Australia in 1980. It was the same year he qualified for the Warwickshire main team and made his county debut in May against Hampshire. He took two for 29 in his maiden outing. Small continued to be a crucial part for Warwickshire over the years and delivered with good performances every season.

The 1986 season was to change it for Small as he took 77 wickets at 23.12 in 25 First-Class games. In August that year, he made his Test debut against New Zealand at Nottingham. It was a game that saw New Zealand beat England by eight wickets, but Small proved his worth by taking three wickets in the first innings and one in the second. Among his three victims in the first innings, were John Wright and Jeff Crowe. Small also played the next Test at The Oval and made the cut for the Ashes tour Down Under for 1986-87.

Gladstone Small: The pacer from Barbados who helped England retain the 1986-87 Ashes

Gladstone Small (above) bagged five-wicket hauls in the fourth and fifth Ashes Tests in the 1986-87 series. Along with Ian Botham, Small destroyed any chance of an Australian comeback in the fourth Test at MCG, when they were 0-1 down © Getty Images

Small did not play the first three Tests and was then picked for the Boxing Day game. In partnership with Ian Botham, he destroyed Australia as they were bowled out for 141. Small accounted for majority of the top order during his spell of five for 48 while Botham picked five for 41. As England were pushing for an innings victory, he chipped in with two more in the second innings as they won the game. It was a performance that shot him to limelight. In the next Test at Sydney as well, he took five for 75 in the first innings to rattle the middle-order. But that wasn’t enough as Australia sealed a 55-run victory thanks to Peter Sleep’s five-for. Nevertheless, the urn was in the bag and Small was one of the stars to emerge from that tour.

The interesting thing is that Small played well against the West Indies side when he got the opportunities. In 1988, during the Lord’s Test, he took four for 64 to bowl them out for 209. Despite the good performances in Australia, his appearances for them were few and far in between in the next two years. In ODIs, he was more of a regular and was a part of the England squad for the 1987 World Cup. Against West Indies in an ODI in 1988, he recorded his best figures of four for 31, which won England the game as they restricted the tourists for 217.

Majority of Small’s Tests came in the year 1990. On his first tour to West Indies that year, he made a significant impact in England’s victory at Jamaica. In combination with Devon Malcolm, West Indies were bowled out for 240 in the second innings, which left England with only 41 to win. Small took four for 58 and his wickets included Carlisle Best and Carl Hooper. His other most significant performance came in a losing cause on the tour. He took eight for 183 (match figures) in the fourth Test at Barbados, his hometown, but could not prevent the rampaging West Indian batsmen from setting up a victory.

When England toured Australia in 1990-91, with great memories of the 1986-87 tour and with an eye on revenge after the defeat in 1989, Small was included in the side. However, he had a difficult tour as he picked only nine wickets in four Tests. His Test career ended there. A year down the line, he was called up for the 1992 World Cup where England reached the final. His best performance came when England bowled Pakistan out for 74 in a league game. In 10 tight overs, Small conceded only 29 runs and took two wickets. He also played the rain-affected semi-final against South Africa, but wasn’t picked for the final, which England eventually lost.

Small played only one more ODI against Pakistan in the summer of 1992. He wasn’t exactly a fast bowler but ran in with energy and had a quick arm action. He was known for his character and that is what kept him going.

After his international days, Small played for Warwickshire until 1999 and then moved away from the game. Post retirement, Small has made his name as a speaker and has also featured in a few television shows. Apart from that, he has made his appearances for the England Masters in beach cricket and other games.

Gladstone Small’s career bowling figures:

Tests 17 55 34.01 5/48 8/183 2
ODIs 53 58 33.48 4/31 4/31 0
First-Class 315 852 28.62 7/15 NA 29
List A 390 460 26.47 5/18 5/18 5

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)