Triumph of 1986-87 stirs Dilley
“You go out and win us some Test matches.” Mike Gatting’s instructions to Graham Dilley heading into the 1986-87 Ashes could not have been more simple.
The pace bowler wasted little time in delivering for his captain, Gatting, as five first-innings wickets in the opening Test at Brisbane set England on their way to a seven-wicket win.
That victory set the tone for a series which remains etched in the memory of England fans and players alike - increasingly so, it seems, as it remains England’s last successful tour Down Under.
Although Dilley retains a special affection for his first trip to Australia in 1979-80, when he made his Test debut - the Ashes, however, were not at stake - he is not alone in ranking 1986-87 as the ultimate from a touring point of view.
That tour has been forever linked with Martin Johnson’s “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field” line, delivered in the Independent on the eve of the first Test.
True, a warm-up record that read one defeat, one win and one draw hardly inspired confidence, but Dilley could rightly feel hard done by after claiming five wickets at 29 apiece in the two games he played.
His form peaked at the Gabba, where, after Ian Botham blazed 138, Dilley took 5-68 as Australia were forced to follow on
When Wisden reported that Dilley bowled “some of the best spells of his career” on that tour, this was surely at the forefront of their thoughts.
He told ecb.co.uk: “Things didn’t start particularly well because we lost the toss in the first Test and had to bat first, when everyone would have preferred to bowl.
“But Australia didn’t bowl very well and they let us get away. Both played well - he just took it away from them. We got the ball in the right areas more often.
“I was very much the strike bowler on that tour. I always got on well with Gatt, and he said I was going to play in the Test matches but not the tour games between the Tests.
“That was great for my confidence, knowing I was going to be in the side, and he said, ‘You got out and win us some Test matches’.
“After we won that Test, I’ll always remember (coach) Micky Stewart saying, ‘I don’t want anyone coming down to breakfast in the morning without a headache’.”
Dilley’s first-innings figures of 4-79 in the second Test at Adelaide were by some distance the best among the England attack - and particularly impressive given the docile nature of a pitch on which the tourists amassed 592 for eight declared.
That match was drawn, and another high-scoring stalemate followed in Perth, where spinners John Emburey and Phil Edmonds bowled 149 overs in the match.
A knee injury may have kept Dilley out at the MCG, where his replacement Gladstone Small returned 5-48 on the opening day to pave the way for an innings victory which clinched the Ashes, but that barely mattered.
“Not playing at the MCG didn’t take any of the gloss off because it was a collective effort,” Dilley insisted.
“Glad came in and did well, but we were there as a touring party, it was not just the XI on the field.
“It’s important that everyone is in it together because you’ve got something like three months away from home.”
There is perhaps no better example of the spirit in the England camp on that tour than the Christmas fancy dress party which preceded the Melbourne Test.
The pictures of Allan Lamb dressed as the sugar plum fairy, Gatting doing his best Henry XIII impression and Phil DeFreitas in drag serve as colourful reminders of a bygone era. Dilley, for his part, went as David Gower.
The Ashes may have been won by the time England arrived in Sydney, but Dilley is adamant that England’s desire to beat the old enemy was as strong as ever.
Australia denied them that honour in thrilling fashion, completing a 55-run win when Emburey was bowled by Peter Sleep off the last ball of the penultimate over of the game. Dilley was at the other end.
“People say there was nothing riding on that match, that it meant meant everything to us,” he said. “We wanted to win the Ashes 2-0, so we were under a lot of pressure not to lose the game.
“John tried to get a single so he could keep the strike for the last over - I told him he didn’t need to. But it was a great game of cricket.”
Dilley finished the series with 16 wickets at 31.93 - second only to Emburey's tally of 18 - and England capped a marvellous tour by winning both one-day series, the Perth Challenge and the World Series Cup.
He also returned to the Antipodes in 1988 for a one-off Test to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary.
However, there remains no doubt in his mind over where his fondest memories lie.
“1979-80 was special because it was my first tour, I made debut and I was only 20,” Dilley added.
“But I’ve got great memories of 1986-87 - from winning there, the amount we won, the one-day series we won, the way we won.
“In my time the Ashes was the tour you had to go on, so to go there and win was amazing - it was a great feeling.”