Terry Alderman © Getty Images
Terry Alderman © Getty Images

Terry Alderman, born June 12, 1956, was an Aussie master of the English conditions. With 83 wickets in 12 Tests played in England, he remains one of the enduring Ashes heroes of history. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the man who was once engaged in a rugby-style tackle during a Test match.

“The first ball from Alderman flew down the leg side on a fullish length. For a medium-pace bowler Alderman had a long run-up, which gave the batsman too much time to think. At delivery he had a disconcerting grin and this combination added to my inevitable nerves, (which) meant I moved too soon at my second ball. It was straight and full, and as I had to play around my front pad, I missed it — I looked up to see the tall, sombre figure of Nigel Plews raise his finger and that was that. I was on my way back to the pavilion, joining the likes of Hutton and Gooch, who had also recorded ducks on their debuts.”

This was how Michael Atherton described the first innings of his Test career in his excellent autobiography Opening Up. However, Alderman’s success was due to much more than the long run up and perplexing grin. The smile was eternally etched on his face as long as he played the game — and his run up and speed remained honest, toiling and medium paced all through. It was only when the focus shifted to the seaming tracks of England that venom was added to his deliveries in incredibly generous proportions.

Neither was the confusion limited to the debutant Atherton. The Lancashire man was in the side in place of the formidable and enormously experienced Graham Gooch. The seasoned opener had asked the selectors to leave him out of the Test team after he had spent most of the summer trying to figure outthe mysteries of Alderman’s seamers, swingers and cutters.In all Alderman got Gooch 7 times. Whenever he bowled in England, this medium pacer from Perth became virtually unplayable.

A lopsided career

Of Alderman’s 170 wickets in 41 Tests, 83 were captured in England at 19.33 apiece. Only Jim Laker and Malcolm Marshall have taken more at a better average in the Old Country.

In 1981, a series otherwise remembered as Ian Botham’s Ashes, the young medium-pacer made his debut and went on to scalp 42 wickets in the 6 Tests. Returning to England eight years later, he captured 41 more in another 6 matches as Australia routed England 4-0.

Mainly due to his exploits in England, he has gone down as an Ashes hero, with 100 wickets in 17 Test matches at 21.17. Among all the bowlers who have played after the First World War, only Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee have captured more Ashes wickets with a better record.

Yet, Alderman’s career away from English shores was spent as his run-up suggested — in honest toil with medium-pace and medium returns. Even when the same English opponents made their way to the land Down Under, and played in Alderman’s own backyard, his haul turned a less remarkable 17 wickets at 30.11.

Yes, Alderman was perennially linked to the Ashes. It was during one of the less remarkable Ashes Tests, perhaps frustrated by the lack of usual success, that he flew after an intruding spectator and brought him down with a rugby tackle. That incident at Perth proved costly to his shoulder and derailed his career for a while.

The first Ashes

A smiling destroyer with the cricket ball graces us rarely, especially when we talk of fast bowlers among the rough and rugged cricketers churned out by Australia. It was remarkable too that he shared the new ball with Dennis Lillee — a feat carried out with path-breaking hostility and intimidation by the likes of Jeff Thomson and Len Pascoe. However, here was a primary school teacher who ran in with the bright new cherry and took wickets with an engaging smile. Later, when asked about his incredible success, he characteristically attributed much of it to Dennis Lillee at the other end and the rest to the vagaries of the English pitches.

Headingley onwards, the summer was indeed the annus mirabilis of Ian Botham. Yet, the initiative had been seized at Nottingham by the visitors, and young Alderman had been the one with the firmest grip on the proceedings. His first wicket could not have been a better one, as Geoff Boycott perished to one of the many diligent deliveries he kept right up and moved deceptively away. He took 4 in the first innings, including Ian Botham clean bowled, as England fell away for 185. And when Australia replied with 179, he returned to share the wickets with Lillee, equally and with as much aplomb, complementing the senior man’s menace with his smiling presence. England were blown away for 125 and Australia went one up in the series.

Lillee had contributed to his 9 wickets in ways other than just forming one-half of a hunting pair. Alderman had come to England relying on swing, with a chest-on delivery after a rather lazy run up. It was at the Edgbaston nets that Lillee asked his young partner to bowl off a longer run. Alderman tried to hit the seam and soon the Australian batsmen found him unplayable in the nets.

In the Tests, he not only made the ball talk after making it regularly land on the seam, he also bowled faster than he had ever done in Australia. Standing at six foot two and half inches, he went through long spells bowling into the wind — as is the lot of a bowling partner of someone like Lillee. Yet, it was a challenge he relished. As he modestly put it, “When you’re bowling at the other end to Dennis, you’ve got to have a better chance of getting wickets … But you have to look at the series as a whole and admit that the wickets did help.”

Two matches after his debut, Botham performed the miracle at Leeds, and England pulled off an incredible heist after following on. Ironically, it was the same innings in which Alderman bagged his first five-for, doing everything to crush England but land the final blow. He did bowl Graham Dilley and get Willis caught to finish with 6 for 135, but England had recovered and the rest of the tale can be found in the much documented history.

In the following Test at Birmingham Alderman struck again, picking up 5 for 42 and 3 for 44, leaving his side just 151 to win. But, it was Botham who hijacked his show once more, picking up 5 wickets for a solitary run in 28 balls, ending the Australian second innings at 121, almost symbolically knocking over Alderman’s stumps to clinch the victory.

At Manchester Alderman persevered, taking 4 in the first innings and 5 in the second, but a second innings hundred continued the Botham saga. Once again Alderman’s lofty feats were eclipsed by the all-rounder’s brilliance as Australia slumped to the third defeat on the trot.

More sedate than spectacular

By the time the Ashes was over, Australia was shaken. Alderman had emerged as a prime bowling hope. It had been quite a journey for the Western Australia paceman who had also turned out in Australian Rules football as an amateur till the end of the 1978 season – and had decided firmly on cricket only after that.  His father William had been a centre half-back for Western Australia and had opened both batting and bowling for the colts team of the state. Alderman had steadily following his footsteps, playing both the sports during his schooldays at Aquinas College in Perth. In 1972-73, he had been chosen in the Australian schoolboys cricket team.

Success was aplenty in the colts matches, and 6 wickets against Victoria at Melbourne in the following season brought him into the focus of important decision makers. Soon, this quickish bowler who came off a short run was included into the Western Australia side. But, the introduction to the big league was accompanied by a cruel strain. In his second over in the Gillette Cup, Ian Chappell blasted 24 runs. And when as an 18-year-old he made his Sheffield Shield debut against New South wales, he captured 5 for 63, but pulled a hamstring rather seriously.

The progress through the ranks was more sedate than spectacular. Alderman was dropped from the state team twice, and it was primarily due to the wings of young hope that he managed to soar again. There was no room for him even in the Australian side reduced by the parallel cricketing universe of Kerry Packer. Disappointment hit him bitterly when he was overlooked for the tour of India under Kim Hughes. However, he slogged on — helped immensely by the fitness regime prescribed by Western Australia team coach Daryl Foster. An off-season routine of golf, squash and running kept him fighting fit. And ultimately 32 Shield wickets in the 1980-81 season secured a ticket to England.

The rugby tackle

Returning to Australia as a rising star, Alderman was quickly brought down to the cruel cricketing earth. There were some quick wickets in the Perth Test, made infamous by the Lillee-Javed Miandad fisticuff. After that the methods that had worked in England refused to bear fruit on the hugely different Australian conditions. Success remained elusive even when he ventured to the neighbouring New Zealand. Finally, one-and-a-half years after the spectacular Ashes series, the Englishmen came down to engage in a Test series in Australia.

They started at Perth, a city in the middle of a heat-wave, the mercury shooting beyond the 100-barrier in the shade.  A Channel Nine advertising campaign had hyped the Ashes, laddering on partisan sentiments, underlining national stereotypes and creating a lot of murmur. One ad showcased several bouncers and hostile fast bowlers. The excitement was buoyed, the heat played its part and a large number of English supporters in the crowd kept the atmosphere on knife’s edge.

The action in the middle was at the other extreme, unbearably tedious and tepid. Chris Tavare batted all day for an unbeaten 66, including a scoreless last hour and a quarter. England crawled to 242 for 4 by the end of the first day. As the temperature soared on the next morning and afternoon, the progress of the English batsmen remained tardy, and the frustrated English crowd grew aggressive.

Alderman was bowling with England 8 down when Bob Willis edged him through the slips to bring up the 400. A group of rather unruly English youths rushed into the ground to celebrate. The bowler, having ended his over, angrily pushed one intruder towards the outfield before making his way to the square-leg. It was then that an inebriated 19-year-old English immigrant named Gary Donnison punched him at the back of his head as he ran past him towards the pavilion. Alderman who had sent down 43 overs for a solitary wicket could not take it anymore. There were no police in the vicinity to round up the assailant, and Alderman charged across and rugby-tackled him to the ground. Unfortunately, he landed heavily on his right shoulder.

As the pair wrestled on the ground, Alderman’s opening bowling partner Dennis Lillee approached and dragged Donnison away. Soon, another Australian great went up to lend a hand. Allan Border helped the fast bowling legend to pin the miscreant to the ground as they waited for the police to arrive. But, amidst all the excitement — perhaps pleasant relief for the crowd — it was obvious that Alderman had done serious damage to himself.

Donnison was eventually found guilty of assault and was fined $500 and ordered to do 200 hours of community service. However, damages were probably more serious for Alderman. It was a year before he could bowl in a competitive match again. A painstaking rehabilitation process followed, which included swimming a mile a day for eight months.

Years later, Bob Willis reflected: “For a remote and sleepy city, Perth had a surprisingly large hard core of hooligans. However, Terry was stupid to head off in pursuit of that idiot and the injury set back his career a lot.”

Alderman, while confessing that a debilitating injury was one of the worst afflictions to a top notch sportsman, was quite forgiving about Donnison. “I have heard that he has got his act together and is a reborn Christian with a wife and three kids. So some good came out of it, I suppose.”‘

The second Ashes

When he returned to bowl for Australia again, it was in the forbidding islands of West Indies. He managed just 4 wickets in 3 Tests, but did have one memorable moment. At Port-of-Spain, he came in to bat with the side facing certain defeat with a persevering Allan Border at the other end. A confirmed rabbit who boasted an average less than 5 and a highest score of 12 at that point, Alderman batted 95 minutes with Border to save the Test, in the process helping the left-hander get to a most deserved and valuable hundred.

But, with wickets having reduced to a trickle, he was soon dropped from the side and spent four years in wilderness before returning for the second glorious chapter of his career.

This included a three-year ban due to touring South Africa with a rebel Australian team in 1985-86 and 1986-87. It was only in the 1988-89 season that he made it back to the Test side, and it was with a return with a roar.

With Border leading the side to England in 1989, Alderman was selected for the tour. And he started bowling as if nothing had changed in the interim eight years since his debut.

He started with 5 wickets in each innings at Leeds — in a 210 run victory that perhaps erased some memories of the nightmares of 1981. He continued to take wickets by the bushel all summer. At Lord’s 6 second-innings wickets were captured in another victory. Five for 66 followed in the first innings at Manchester in yet another win. Another 5-wicket haul came at Trent Bridge, the match that saw Mike Atherton make a duck on debut. England managed to draw the final Test at The Oval, but Alderman ended the series with 5 for 66 — his sixth 5-wicket return of the series. This time, there was no one to steal his thunder, and he was named the Man of the Series.

Terry Alderman: One of the enduring Ashes heroes of history

Terry Alderman bowling in the 4th Test against England at Edgbaston in August 1981 © Getty Images

The final result

Alderman did play for two more years and enjoyed a fair amount of success in 2 Tests at home against Pakistan. He also had a decent Ashes series in Australia, although without matching his earlier heroics – either with the ball or rugby tackles.

In the end, his 170 wickets at 27.15 underline a successful, if slightly lopsided, career. His collection of runs — 212 with an average of 6.54 — perhaps would not have been able to keep up with his wicket tally had he been included in the side for the 1985 Ashes. It also marks him as an endearing No 11 of genuine ineptitude. In 265 First-Class innings, he crossed 50 just once, and then too barely.

What is surprising is that unlike typical fast bowlers who like to patrol long-leg once their over is done, Alderman was also a fantastic catcher in the slips. The abundance of slip fielders in the Australian team resulted in his seldom fielding close to the wicket after the first Ashes series of 1981, but he did pouch 27 catches in his 41 Tests. He held 190 First-Class catches in all, spending a lot of time taking the offerings for his fellow bowlers for Western Australia, Gloucestershire and Kent.

While Alderman is going to be remembered primarily as an Ashes hero, it should be mentioned that success against England ran in his family. Younger sister Denise Alderman was a top class batswoman for Australia and averaged 41.27 in her 7 Tests, all against England. But, in striking contrast to her brother, she excelled at home, scoring 453 runs in Australia 50.33 with a highest of 121; while her 2 Tests in England brought her just 1 run. Later, Denise married Ross Emerson, the umpire who courted infamy after calling Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing.

After retirement, Alderman remained attached to cricket as a radio commentator. For someone universally acknowledged as pleasant, he did cause some furore during an Ashes series in England.  In the build up to 2005 Ashes, he was colourful in describing the English spin attack: “If any of our batsmen get out to Giles, they should go hang themselves in shame.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be Australia’s first Ashes defeat since Alderman had taken 41 wickets to reclaim the urn in 1989.

(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)