1986-87 was the pinnacle - Emburey
John Emburey’s memories of England’s triumphant 1986-87 Ashes tour are remarkably clear. They are also hugely instructive.
As the leading wicket-taker on that trip and a key component in what remains the last England side to win Down Under, his words carry considerable weight.
In casting his mind back to that famous series, Emburey not only provides England fans of a certain vintage with a rare opportunity to reminisce, but also delivers timely advice to the crop of players currently trying to emulate him.
He took 18 wickets with his off-spin in the 2-1 series win, including 5-80 to set up the all-important victory in the first Test at Brisbane.
Graham Dilley, Phil Edmonds and Gladstone Small also shone with the ball, while Chris Broad, David Gower and captain Mike Gatting made significant contributions with the bat.
However, nearly a quarter of a century on, Emburey points to a less tangible reason for the team’s success.
“The good thing was that everyone got on well with each other,” he told ecb.co.uk. “The camaraderie was great, the mickey-taking on the field and off the field, and there were no cliques.
“If you enjoy yourself off the field you’ll enjoy yourself on it - it takes the pressure off you as well. The England players are under a huge amount of pressure and it is important they enjoy themselves.
“I am a big believer that you should enjoy yourself off the field - with good restaurants, good food, going out, even a few drinks.”
Some of the photos from the 1986-87 tour - the Christmas fancy dress party in particular - suggest England had no problem in that respect, as one might suspect for a team containing the likes of Ian Botham, Allan Lamb, Gower and Edmonds.
“We had a few characters in our side,” admits Emburey, in mischievously understated fashion.
“David was the chief entertainments officer and was a bit of a socialite - he was good at getting people to go out for dinner and things.
“Both was Both - he just did his own thing. There was Lamby as well, and Phil Edmonds. We had a few players who knew how to have a good time.
“It’s not all hunky-dorey when you’re away touring for so long, and it can get a bit fractious. But it helps enormously if you all get on most of the time.”
Emburey draws on the experience of three tours of Australia, the first of which came in 1978-79 when the Ashes were not at stake, as he assesses the challenges facing the present squad.
Chief among them are the notoriously partisan crowds crammed into grounds that, by and large, dwarf those found in England.
“The crowds in Australia are much bigger than in England,” Emburey added. “In Melbourne you’ll get at least 80,000 people and in Sydney more than 40,000.
“You know the Australians are going to play well in their own back yard, and you know the fans are more in your face. That is a little bit of one-upmanship on their part - the crowd is like their 12th man.
“It can wear you down, and I remember Mike Brearley, who was captain on the 78-79 tour, changing fielders on the boundary to give them a break from the crowd, we got that much stick.
“But the current England team have got a lot of belief and they back themselves. In the end, playing in Australia is not that different to any other game.”
The hostility he and his colleagues experienced made England’s 1986-87 success all the sweeter for Emburey, who bowled more overs than any other player on that tour (315) and returned career-best figures of 7-78 in the final Test, a dead rubber at Sydney.
Although Emburey was last man out as Australia clinched a consolation win with an over remaining in the game - “one of the most disappointing moments of my career” - the euphoria of that tour would never be surpassed.
“My fondest memories of touring with England are of 86-87," he revealed. "I was vice-captain and a senior player, and with everything that went on - winning the Test series and the two one-day series - it was hugely enjoyable.
“We didn’t have cricket on the television when I was younger, but it was always reported on the news and in the newspapers.
“When you grow up as a young cricketer, you want to play in the Ashes - it’s the biggest tour there is.
“In terms of success, that 86-87 series capped everything.”