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PUBLISHED: 13:54 17 December 2010

The Toughest Tour by Huw Turbervill

The Toughest Tour by Huw Turbervill

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Book Review: The Toughest Tour by Huw Turbervill

WITH England making such a good start to their Ashes campaign in Australia, it has been a good time to swot up on previous trips Down Under.

My own earliest Ashes memory is of the 1985 home series, when Richard Ellison swung the ball to good effect, David Gower scored a double century at Edgbaston and Graham Gooch fell four runs short of another at The Oval.

I can remember watching the matches with my granddad as Australia’s wicket-keeper Wayne Phillips was also caught out in bizarre fashion, when a full-blooded cut shot hit captain Gower on the ankle at silly mid-off and looped up into the grateful hands of Allan Lamb.

Mike Gatting led a successful defence of the urn in 1987 and Turbervill’s book highlights how the squad had been ridiculed by members of their own media before battle commenced.

“There are only three things wrong with this England team – they can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field,” wrote Martin Johnson, of the Independent.

England duly went and won the first Test on their way to a 2-1 series success and John Emburey reveals how “we went out and had T-shirts printed with “Can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field” on them to get back at Johnson.

Five subsequent trips to Australia had all ended in Ashes defeat, with the most recent producing an embarrassing 5-0 reverse – the first whitewash since 1921 – for Andrew Flintoff, preferred to current leader Andrew Strauss as skipper at the time.

Turbervill, a handy batsman himself, writes with undoubted passion for the sport and a fairly handy XI could be picked from those leading men with whom he spoke to tell his enthralling story. How about: Bailey, Broad, Butcher, Hussain, Bell, Close, Bedser, Illingworth, Fraser, Headley, Tyson and Small?

Recollections of the early post-war tours were particularly interesting. Before widespread air travel, these would last eight months and there are tales of Shakespeare-quoting bowlers, near-death experiences, controversies, marriage breakdowns and how the Duke of Norfolk acted as team manager in the 1960s!

The story of Dennis Lillee’s aluminium bat ‘project’ and the garage packed full of unsold units was particularly amusing, but disharmony among England ranks and selection struggles in more recent times paint a disappointing picture.

All in all, despite only four wins in 17 trips to Australia, there is plenty for lovers of English cricket to enjoy in this book and for those looking for some last-minute gift ideas for Christmas, it would provide a suitable backdrop to what hopefully turns out to be a successful winter for our current cricketing heroes.

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