'The worst England tour ever'

Thirty years ago England were battered, bruised, broken and blackwashed in the Caribbean

Colin Benjamin |

England were dismissed for 200 or under in eight of their ten Test innings on the 1985-86 tour

England were dismissed for 200 or under in eight of their ten Test innings on the 1985-86 tour © Getty Images

Playing England in a World Cup certainly brings out the best in West Indies' players, as was demonstrated dramatically by Carlos Brathwaite recently in arguably the most dramatic end to a sports final since Manchester United's 1999 Champions League win over Bayern Munich. Further back, Collis King in the 1979 World Cup, and Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw in the 2004 Champions Trophy, rose to the occasion with match-defining efforts that led West Indies to victory.

However April 2016 marks another, somewhat forgotten, West Indies triumph over England. Thirty years ago David Gower's side was hammered in a 5-0 "blackwash" in the Caribbean.

During West Indies' dominance from 1976 to 1995, they clean-swept series only twice - against England in both instances - compared to the 14 times Australia's teams managed it between 1995 and 2007.

England, meanwhile, have suffered many horrific tours in their history. Four Ashes drubbings down under, in 2013-14, 2006-07, 1958-59 and 1920-21, and a whitewash in India in 1992-93 stand out. Rob Steen, a journalist, cricket historian and University of Brighton sports journalism lecturer, says the 1985-86 defeat was easily the worst.

"This was the worst England tour ever. In '86, England didn't score a century - they did in all the other Ashes series and [in] India - and nobody averaged 40. They did win one of the ODIs, but that was a lone high note. In ten Test innings they were dismissed for 200 or fewer eight times, barely topping 300 the other times. Not that the bowlers were any better: West Indies lost just five second-innings wickets in the entire series."

Patrick Patterson bowled some of his fastest spells ever in this series

Patrick Patterson bowled some of his fastest spells ever in this series © Getty Images

Going into the series, England were actually optimistic, having just won the Ashes 3-1 at home and 2-1 in India the previous winter.

"I don't think 'debacle' is the best word," Steen said about the West Indies tour. "There was no shame whatsoever in losing to such opponents - but 'slaughter' will do, symbolised by poor Gatt's Macca-ed nose."

Gower said it was a series he does his best not to revisit.

"Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, both on and off the field. West Indies were admittedly outstanding, but we let ourselves down badly. Those players, Gooch, in particular, with links to South African rebel tours, found themselves under pressure and thus found it hard to focus fully on the job. My great mate and ally, Ian Botham, was not at his best. Others lacked or lost confidence and, to be honest, so did I, in my captaincy. With a lot of disgruntled supporters and press in hot pursuit, there was indeed little to enjoy."

The first significant moment of the tour occurred in the first ODI, at Sabina Park, when Mike Gatting had his nose broken by Malcom Marshall.

Mike Gatting is led off the field at Sabina Park after having his nose broken by a bouncer from Malcolm Marshall

Mike Gatting is led off the field at Sabina Park after having his nose broken by a bouncer from Malcolm Marshall © Getty Images

"Sheer horror!" said former West Indies offspinner Roger Harper, who played all four ODIs and two Tests of the series. "I was horrified for Mike Gatting.

"If I remember correctly, I was the one who picked up the ball and saw the bone stuck in it. Then I went to look at Gatting's face and saw a big hole in the bridge of his nose where the bone came from."

"When I realised that a piece of Mike Gatting's nose had lodged in the ball, I feared that he had sustained a more serious head injury than what was apparent," said Jeff Dujon, who kept wicket in four Tests of the series. "Joel Garner looked as if he was going to be physically ill as he removed it from the ball. Not in a joking manner, I remember turning to someone and asking, 'Shouldn't we give it back?'"

"I was going in next to bat, there was no television coverage, so I wasn't sure right away what was going on," said former England batsman Allan Lamb. "Ian Botham, who wasn't playing that game, alerted me from the sideline that a piece of his [Gatting's] bone was broken.

Gatting would later come back to play the final Test, in Antigua.

"Mike is a tough nut," said Gower. "No one would have blamed him if he had stayed at home having had his nose fixed. We were not shocked [that he returned]. We admired him and he showed a lot more spirit than some who had not had noses rearranged!"

Three days after the ODI, the teams met for the first Test, again at Sabina Park, where, at the time, West Indies had been unbeaten since 1958. Along with the Kensington Oval in Barbados, where the team did not lose a Test from 1948 to 1993, Sabina Park was a fortress where West Indies' fast men always enjoyed bowling.

The West Indies squad for the third Test, in Barbados

The West Indies squad for the third Test, in Barbados © Getty Images

"Patrick Patterson [was] bowling very quick in that Test, in fact, the fastest by some way of all the quickies," said Michael Holding, who took 16 wickets in four Tests of the series. "He was signalling his intentions of taking a spot in the line-up permanently as the original four-prong attack was slowly coming apart. Andy [Roberts] had already gone, Colin Croft disqualified himself by touring South Africa with the rebel cricketers, and Joel [Garner] and myself had, at most, two more years to go. Those days, Sabina and Kensington Oval were the two pitches the fast bowlers looked forward to bowling on, and he made a huge impression in that first Test of the series."

Veteran groundsman Charlie Joseph had the pitch prepared with its then-famous mirror-reflecting surface, and a young Patterson took seven wickets in one of the quickest and deadliest displays of fast bowling in Test history.

The Times' John Woodcock said he "never felt it more likely that I would see someone killed on the pitch".

"Patrick Patterson is unquestionably the fastest bowler I ever kept wicket to," said Dujon. "There were times later in his career when he didn't quite achieve his top pace, but his bowling at Sabina Park was, I think, the fastest he ever bowled. What stands out most was the degree to which he was able to get the ball to leave the bat at such pace. This was something I had never seen before - hooping outswingers at well near 100mph!"

Harper was fielding at slip as a substitute when Patterson was bowling. "We were so deep, so far back, that we could almost spit over the boundary behind us," he remembered. "I think that he terrified the daylights out of the Englishmen on that pitch."

Lamb, who scored six of his 14 Test hundreds against West Indies and was a very good player of fast bowling, struggled in that series.

Ian Botham and Viv Richards arrive in London after the series

Ian Botham and Viv Richards arrive in London after the series © PA Photos

"Patterson was frightening that day," Lamb remembered. "You didn't know if one was going to hit, given the uneven pitch and low sightscreen. There was a ball Patterson bowled to me that jumped from a length, hit the shoulder of my bat and went for six."

The sightscreen was definitely a sticking issue for the English. Wisden noted that the Jamaica Cricket Association had been unable to grant England's request to have it raised. The request had been made after their problems facing Walsh and Holding in the Jamaica match. "To have raised the screen would have obscured the view of an estimated 200 spectators to whom tickets had been sold. All Patterson's wickets were taken from that end."

West Indies' team manager and long-time Kingston Cricket Club member, Jackie Hendriks, found the complaints amusing.

"Patterson's bowling was possibly the fastest I've seen a Windies bowler since Roy Gilchrist and Wes hall in their young days, although it was difficult to tell without speed guns. The George Headley [Stand] was built in late '70s, early '80s, and even though visibility was not the best, calls for seating to be evacuated was very funny to me because some of sightscreens when I played in Australia and England in the 1950s and 1960s were comparable."

By the end of the one-sided series, Viv Richards had rubbed the final salt into England's wounds by scoring the then-fastest Test hundred, in the fifth Test, in Antigua.

"It was an awesome display of hitting, which would not have been out of place in a T20 match," said Gower. He was in complete control. I just felt helpless, and the truth is that the Antigua Recreation was not big enough to contain him and his shots. Even the MCG might have been too small!"

Harper, who was batting with Richards at the time he broke the record, said West Indies' plan for the second innings was to get enough runs as quickly as possible and then put England in again. "Sir Viv absolutely tore into the English attack. No one was spared. He had no doubt that he was going to get a hundred. You could see it in his eyes."

Lamb recalled England's helplessness on the field. "Ian Botham sent me to the deep backward square boundary in a plan to bounce him out. I told him that wasn't going to work. It didn't as balls kept flying over my head."





  • POSTED BY Master on | May 2, 2016, 17:37 GMT

    England had the makings of a decent team in that era but they didn't pick them. That said, they were always going to get stuffed by any four from Marshall, Holding, Garner, Patterson, Walsh, Ambrose, Bishop, Croft, Roberts, Moseley, Clarke, Daniel. It was cricket played as heavy-weight boxing. England should have had two or three from Thomas, Dilley, Cowans, Malcolm, Lawrence as a nuclear deterrent

  • POSTED BY paulma0962217 on | May 2, 2016, 9:53 GMT

    am sorry but the West Indies domination ended well before 1995! sure, that was the year that Australia finally won away in the Caribbean, but they had long since taken over the unofficial #1 spot in test cricket after handing out some fearful hammering's around the world during the previous 5-6 years.

  • POSTED BY David on | April 30, 2016, 17:20 GMT

    The WI were a wonderful, formidable side, but England's complete lack of nous and fight was typical of their team in the mid to late 80s. Although entering sporting middle-age, Botham refused to practise or work at his fitness, and could often be a liability. Gower meanwhile captained the side like an Edwardian amateur, with little feel for tactics and none at all for man-management (his next series in charge would be the dreadful 1989 Ashes). Botham has said the opposition was too good and Gower has always found a way to parcel most of the blame onto others - but these 2 players, world-class on their day, have to accept they played a major part in a very poor performance. Even this great WI weren't in the habit of beating sides 5-0, and they would usually ease off after clinching a series.

  • POSTED BY SRIVATSAN on | April 30, 2016, 15:42 GMT

    Easily a 2000 word article and not a word on the then Frances Edmonds ... tch tch. England were a brave team to compete with the talented and powerful Windies + terrorizing fast bowling from Patterson. Except for Pakistan in the 80's under Imran and the Aussies, no country could have competed in the Windies in the 80s.

  • POSTED BY DINESH on | April 30, 2016, 9:46 GMT

    WI team of 80s are still the greatest team of cricket. During their prime time only once in their own backyard, they struggled against a team. I still remember a team under Imran Khan almost clinched series victory against Greenidge team in 1988 that too in carribean soil 2-0. WI already down 0-1, second test drawn, third test facing defeat. When WI was blinking with 207/8 (target 266) on a fifth day pitch, little unknown Winston Benjanmin smashed fours and sixers and earned an unlikely win. The series drawn 1-1. if not Benjamin, Pakistan would have been the first team in 20 years to secure series victory in carribean soil. Today even though WI team is much depleted, still Pakistan could not secure series victory in WI

  • POSTED BY Mark on | April 30, 2016, 8:19 GMT

    England had a fairly good team in 1985/86. However unfortunately for them, they were up against arguably the greatest cricket team ever to play on a cricket field at any one time in a hundred years. A pretty good England team packed with talented cricketers were beaten 5-0 in the caribbean.

  • POSTED BY sriyad8332467 on | April 30, 2016, 1:20 GMT

    R sridhar from Bangalore (India) never forget the Test Series between India and WI in the way back 1960 and 1965. In one of the tests played in that series Gulabrai Ramchand came back to bat with the bandage on his head as a result of nasty hit on his head by one of the fiery deleveries bowled by a WI speedster earlier of his innings. You all know how the WI speedsters in those days bowling with fire. No headgears were used in those times and the batsmen were plaing with a cap on their heads. Think of Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Malcolm Marshall, Colin croft, Garnar, Andy Roberts etc. Brave Ramchand!

  • POSTED BY Jonathan on | April 29, 2016, 23:20 GMT

    And of course, possibly the most asinine journalistic question ever:

    "So where exactly did the ball hit you, Mr Gatting?"

  • POSTED BY Shibashis Mukherjee on | April 29, 2016, 21:51 GMT

    Three funny facts:

    1) Roger Harper had the best bowling average in that series, better than all the WI-ian quicks. 2) Patterson's average was 2nd to worse in the series after Harper, Garner, Marshall, Walsh 3) WI's all time highest wicket taker (Walsh) was actually their 5th quick in that squad and only got to play one of the 5 tests. Such was their bowling depth with Marshall, Garner, Holding and Patterson being their first line up (although batting depth, specially middle order was starting to wane at the point).

  • POSTED BY CRIC on | April 29, 2016, 21:19 GMT

    Without question, the greatest sports team ever...in any discipline...and England met them when one of their younger members, Balfour Patrick Patterson, was virtually unplayable. I was lucky enough to see him bowl live when he was young...nobody has ever bowled that quickly...certainly not in the modern age at least...Tony Cozier said he saw Patterson bowl a spell at Trinidad that was "as fast as a man can bowl"

    Patrick Patterson was simply breathtaking to watch...and I told him when I met him...what a spectacle...and a great pleasure...so long as you weren't holding a bat, that is...

    The Golden Days of the Windies quicks...sigh...

  • POSTED BY Simon on | April 29, 2016, 18:59 GMT

    My most vivid memory of that series was during the final test in Antigua when West Indies fans at the grounds sang a calypso for the England captain, some of the words of which were:- "Captain the ship is sinking. Captain the seas are rough." I will never forget the look on Captain Gower's face then. He looked so helpless and lost. I really felt sorry for him.

  • POSTED BY Nathan on | April 29, 2016, 18:43 GMT

    WI fast bowling arsenal was awesome and it was one of the reasons that WI dominated the world of cricket. They made other teams looks novices with such a brutal display of utmost professionalism. @ENTRYHOLEDIA - Patterson did tour India with WI team in 1987/1988 and did make enormous impact with his fast bowling. The second test played in Bombay was a treat to watch when Patterson claimed 5 wickets in the second innings. That test is well remembered for Richards comments on Srikanth batting, which he termed as the best he has seen against WI fast bowling combination.

  • POSTED BY johnthekiwi on | April 29, 2016, 17:35 GMT

    I remember that tour well. I could only see a few highlights on TV at night but thanks to SW radio was able to listen in before school for a couple of hours. I never got to see much of Patterson and when I did I didn't think he was as quick as some of the other speed merchants but I must have missed him at his best. To do what he did against India in India is pretty impressive. @JB633-I think the statistics would make the 2013/14 Ashes team look like world beaters compared to what happened in '86 when England got...umm...86'd.

  • POSTED BY Jon on | April 29, 2016, 16:22 GMT

    This tour was well before my team but it is difficult to envisage any tour that was as bad as the Ashes 2013/4. Never have I seen such a one sided and embarrassing contest.

  • POSTED BY yasas on | April 29, 2016, 16:10 GMT

    FIRE IN BABYLON. The story of West Indies Cricket's golden era. what a team they had.

  • POSTED BY Jacob on | April 29, 2016, 15:48 GMT

    Indeed, Patrick Patterson was frightening quick in his younger days! I have some memories of him touring India in 1987. India was bundled out for 75 odd runs on a seaming wicket and PP took 5 wickets in the first innings.

    What I remember most was the sheer pace that no other bowlers appeared to have. The reaction time for Dujon was quite telling!

    Indian batsmen looked pale and frightened, and this was without a word spoken or puerile theatrics that we see today.

  • POSTED BY saradindu on | April 29, 2016, 15:17 GMT

    Thats called Fast bowling and annihilation of a team ! fortunately India didnt have to face this attack