As the Ashes has waned and holidays have dawned, I have found myself watching more youtube highlights. I have gravitated to the 1979-80 summer, the “peace” season after the split by World Series Cricket ended in Packer’s Tilsit Peace. Joel Garner cleaning up Greg Chappell, that sort of thing.
It was peak cricket interest for me, I was 12 when WSC broke and almost 15 when the band got back together. Playing at school, on weekends and in the street. Old enough to work holiday jobs in the Tandy warehouse and spend the money on Marella Jubes to share with John Emburey on the fence during the lulls in the day-nighters.
I was strong establishment in the first season, a Craig Serjeant, Thommo and Wayne Clark man. The strong WA presence in the team for the Windies in 1977-78 warmed my heart, and I remember cheering Serjeant and Wood on as they got us home in the 3rd Test.
By the second season, the dreary nature of the Ashes, outside of Hoggy’s excellence and anger, made me flirt a bit with WSC. I liked “Big” Garth Le Roux and Imran. Watching Viv and Barry bat together was something else. The Australians other than GS Chappell and Lillee weren’t really much chop. Still, my priority was the Test team, the Kim Hughes thing was starting (Serjeant having a major loss of form), and the Pakistan games were riveting. The World Cup came and went with Porter a new star. We got sod all news reports about the India tour later that year but I perused the scorecards regularly and noted how consistent Hughes was.
When the peace was announced, I had mixed feelings. But I vowed to gobble it all up.
Sitting here now, I think there’s a few “truths” that underpin the narrative about these times:
- Australia were full of stars and they all went to WSC
- Australia was weak during WSC
- Australia was strong after WSC because the WSC players were available.
These are all contestable. For instance, not long after the glory of 74-75 and 75-76, we were mediocre in the following season against Pakistan. Squibbed the fight in Adelaide and got destroyed in Sydney. Let England score 400+ in the 4th dig of the Centenary Test. Contrived to choose Davis, Serjeant, Hookes, Cosier, Hughes and Robinson in batting slots for an Ashes, with Pascoe and Malone uncapped and O’Keeffe and Bright the spinners. If Thommo wasn’t injured, Lillee was. Post Redpath/Stackpole/Sheahan/Chappells/Walters, we had churned through Francis, Davis, Woodcock, two Edwards, Turner, and Yallop, none of who were picked for the 77 squad.
If you look at the WSC list, there were a few categories:
- Bonafide stars – Chappell, Lillee, Marsh (Thommo)
- Solid test players – Hookes, Walker, Walters, McCosker, Pascoe
- Old guys having a payday – Chappelli, Redpath, Edwards, Mallett, McKenzie, Watson
- Uncapped guys with potential – Laird, Prior, Kent, Langer (Wessels)
- B-graders – Gilmour, O’Keefe, Bright, Davis, Malone, Robinson
- C-graders who were “in the club” – Trevor Chappell, Dennis Yagmich
For what it’s worth, the 77-79 Test team did better than is remembered. They won a tight series against a full strength India 3-2. They met the full might of the Windies on awful wickets, but recovered to shade the second sub-series against non-WSC players. They were closer to England than 5-1 suggests, being in position to win at least 4 matches but collapsing as an inexperienced lineup with poor captaincy and revolving door selection, a rubbish tail and some dodgy umpiring demands. They then should have beaten full-strength Pakistan 2-0, and were very honourable in a 2-0 loss from 6 against India – we would take that today!
But this story is about the third point, it’s about the selection of a combined team in 79-80. Because, as with some of the decisions today, it’s hard to see how and why decisions were made. But it’s also clear that some WSC guys were backed in – and didn’t cut it.
To get started with a benchmark, here are three teams:
Last test team before WSC: Serjeant, McCosker, G Chappell, Hughes, Hookes, Walters, Marsh, Bright, Walker, Malone, Thomson
Last test team before 1979-80 season: Hilditch, Yallop, Border, Hughes, Whatmore, Darling, Sleep, Wright, Dymock, Hogg, Higgs
Last Supertest team: McCosker, Laird, Kent, G Chappell, I Chappell, Hookes, Marsh, Bright, Lillee, Thomson, Pascoe
Two mini-series of 3 tests against each of England and the West Indies was announced. These tests would be interwined, a unique situation. And inter-intertwining would be a plethora of limited overs matches.
Christian Ryan in his Golden Boy masterpiece reports that none of the experts asked to pick their combined squads had reigning Australian test captain, Kim Hughes, in them – despite coming off almost 600 runs at 59 in India. This was the mood… the WSC heroes were going to come back and take up what was rightfully theirs.
With all bans lifted, the WSC players were free to play grade and Shield. The Shield started while the India tour was on, so some guys got a headstart.
The first test – West Indies v Australia, Brisbane
Laird, McCosker, Border, G Chappell, Hughes, Hookes, Marsh, Bright, Lillee, Hogg, Thomson
This was a reasonable compromise between the two squads to kick off the summer. Laird had a ton against NSW. McCosker however had no big scores but had some handy runs in the French Fries Cup. This team had played a one-dayer against the Windies, Hughes and Chappell getting us home, me on the Hill in full Cornetto-devouring mode.
In the test, Hughes and Chappell batted big in the second innings to secure an honourable draw. Laird with 92 and 75 laid the foundation however.
First test – England v Australia, Perth
In: Wiener, Toohey, Dymock
Out: McCosker, Hookes, Hogg
Plucked from nowhere, based on a few fifties in the Shield and Cup, was Julian Wiener. An unbelievable selection, he had played neither tests nor WSC the season before. Similarly, Peter Toohey, not even in the top 8 batsmen for the India tour, despite being a great spin player – recalled. Hookes was dropped after scoring 43 and 37, against the actual Fab 4 of Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft.
Kim Hughes played another classic lone hand of 99 to set up a win for Australia, Border consolidating in the second dig and Dymock getting 6. Wiener got a 50 on debut.
Second test – West Indies v Australia – Melbourne
In: Hogg, Higgs
Out: Thomson, Bright
This meant there were now 6 “establishment” players, 4 WSC players and Wildcard Wiener.
We got pumped by 10 wickets, Wiener topscoring in the first, Laird and Hughes getting runs in the second and Lillee, Dymock and Higgs all getting wickets. Hogg got 0-59 off 6. Incredible stuff, Haynes and then Viv taking to him.
Second test – England v Australia, Sydney
I saw every minute of this rain-affected game.
In: McCosker, I Chappell, Pascoe
Out: Laird, Toohey, Hogg. I can’t confirm but presume Laird must have been injured?
Back from the test cricket wilderness came 34 year old Ian Chappell, 4 years after his retirement.
Lillee and Dymock skittled England on a greentop. Then Chappelli topscored with a vital 42 as we crimped a small but vital lead. Gower’s sublime lone hand meant we had a challenging 200+ chase but G Chappell aided by McCosker and then Hughes with 40s made it look pretty easy (the pitch was drying out – good toss to win!)
Third test – West Indies v Australia – Adelaide
In: Laird, Mallett
Out: McCosker, Higgs
Higgs was dropped after getting 1 over on the SCG seamer. Mallett was back, another 34-yr old veteran coming back after premature retirement. He was just an afterthought for WSC apparently, Packer being no fan of his “Straight breakers”. He had been having a purple patch in the Shield, however.
Lillee’s 5 kept us in the series despite Viv and Lloyd going ballistic. We were 3-26 in reply, but Laird with Hughes and Border got us over 200. Dymock got 5 as they set us almost 600, Laird topscored as we were 400 short in a humiliating loss.
Third test – England v Australia – Melbourne
School was back by the time this game was played in early February.
8 WSC players lined up here.
Hughes ran Gooch out for 99, Lillee got 6, then Laird, Chappelli and Border all got 50s to support the skipper’s ton. Lillee made it 11 for the match then the brothers made hay to sweep the English and super-skipper Brearley 3-0 in the series.
One day teams
The following players, all former test players, played ODI’s that summer without getting a test recall: Walters, Darling, Laughlin, Walker, Yallop and Whatmore.
Three tests against Pakistan were scheduled. The squad included Hookes, and a number of players not featuring in the tests… Yallop, and Mick Malone as former test players, and Graeme Beard and Geoff Lawson, a couple of uncapped New South Welshmen (Lawson had toured India as a replacement earlier in the season). Yallop averaged 33 in the Shield without a ton. He did have some success in India the year before however.
From what I recall, Chappelli and Mallett were unavailable. Pascoe may have been injured, or smart enough to fake one, given what was ahead! McCosker was dropped. Peter Toohey, a sublime player of spin, missed out despite averaging 50+ in the Shield and peeling off 3 tons.
Australia lost 1-0 after going behind in the first despite a Hughes special of 85 out of 220 batting at 3. They prepared flat tracks for the final two games and runs flowed for most guys. Our highly variable top 6 lineups were:
Laird, Yallop (!), Hughes, Chappell, Hookes, Border
Wiener, Laird, Hughes, Chappell, Yallop, Border
We broke every cardinal rule by changing the openers nearly every test. (This would continue in 80-1 when Laird would be dropped, then brought back for the tough 81-2 series then dropped again. He and Dyson and Wood and then Wessels played roundabouts, with Wayne Phillips popping up in 83-4 but Wood and Dyson reverting for 84-5, until Digger Hilditch was reborn.)
Bizarrely, despite some solid form, Wiener was then overlooked for the Centenary Test tour – for Wood and Dyson, who had not played a test all summer. Wood originally couldn’t get into the WA squad, and didn’t make a ton all season. But he had admirers, it was rumoured WSC tried to sign him for the second year. Mallett also came back into the squad, and played in the Centenary Test, which was to be his last.
In summary, senior WSC players in Chappelli, McCosker and Mallett all returned to the test team but were gone for good from it within 6 months. There was clearly no interest from them or the selectors in building a team for the future, which would rebound on them the next year in England (when Kent, T Chappell and Wellham joined Hughes, Border, Yallop, Dyson and Wood in one of the weakest and most inexperienced lineups ever to tour.)
Guys like Walker and Malone didn’t play a test after WSC. In fact, of the 26 in the original WSC squad, 13 never played a test afterwards. Of the 13 that did play, only 5 had careers of note after the peace deal – G Chappell, Lillee, Marsh, Laird and Pascoe. Hookes had one good season and Bright a couple of good matches.
Considering WSC was supposed to have improved the games of those who partook, perhaps it’s fair to say it made stars even better. And uncovered a few new ones, in Laird and Wessels. But it did no favours to fringe or older players.
So the story of selection seems one of random choosing between two relatively mediocre squads, with no real reference to form or youth/experience. At times, almost random.