Small's Melbourne memories

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Mike Gatting & Gladstone Small

Gladstone Small toasts victory in the fourth Ashes Test of 1986-87 at the MCG, where he returned figures of 5-48 in the first innings

Gladstone Small had to wait for his opportunity to impress in the 1986-87 Ashes.

With only two Test caps to his name prior to the tour, the Warwickshire seamer was seen as back-up to the likes of Ian Botham and Graham Dilley and was unsurprisingly left out of the team for the first three Tests as England established a 1-0 lead in the series.

However, when Dilley was ruled out of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG with a knee injury, Small was given a chance to shine and wasted no time in writing his name into Ashes folklore.

He and Botham picked up five wickets apiece as Australia were dismissed for just 141 on the opening day and the tourists went on to record a comprehensive innings victory - Small catching Merv Hughes in the deep to finish the game - that ensured they reclaimed the famous little urn with a game to spare.

“The memories are still very vivid,” Small told ecb.co.uk.

“Graham failed a fitness Test on the morning of the match - Boxing Day morning - and Gatt (England captain Mike Gatting) gave me the news just as he was going out to toss the coin, so I didn’t have much time to get nervous.

“I’d had a good night’s sleep the night before and you have got to prepare as though you might get a game, so I couldn’t go crazy in Melbourne.

“I had quite a few mates that were telling me ‘come on Smally, let’s go and have a few beers on Christmas night’ which I thankfully turned down.

“So when I did get the shout from Gatt I was really comfortable and I was in a good place to perform.

“There were obviously nerves, playing in the cauldron of the MCG. Gatt has always had a sense of humour and he sent me down to the boundary at fine-leg for the first over, in front of the infamous Bay 13. They were one of the rowdiest, noisiest bunch you could ever come across, so that was a baptism of fire.

“Thankfully I had witnessed that environment at close quarters, because on the previous Ashes tour to Australia in 1982-83, I was playing club cricket in Melbourne and I was a stand-by for the England team.

“Whenever they came to Melbourne I had to go and practice and train with them. So I had witnessed at close hand the tension of an Ashes Test match, the crowd, the noise of the MCG, the hysteria that surrounded it and that sort of thing.

“The only way you can get the Australian spectators on your side is to perform and once I started getting wickets they soon shut up.”

Gladstone Small & England

Small had played only two Tests for England prior to his Ashes bow. Here he celebrates his first wicket in the longest form of the game, that of New Zealand's John Wright at Trent Bridge

Although he had not managed to break into the Test team prior to Melbourne, Small featured in the majority of the other first-class games that took place.

He claimed a total of 33 wickets during the tour - more than any other England bowler - and believes he benefited hugely from being able to play regular competitive cricket.

“I was very much a rookie so I had to bide my time and thankfully back then we were out there for a long time, around 12 weeks, and had a lot of games between the Test matches,” he explained.

“We played all of the first-class sides over there and a combination of other games so that gave you a chance to perform, keep your chin up and that is important.

“You don’t want to be carrying the drinks around and doing the duties - it gave you a chance to play.

“I think I was the leading wicket-taker in the whole tour - the Tests and the other matches as well - so I’d had a good series with the ball, my confidence was high and I was just waiting to get a game.”

Following his impressive display at the MCG, Small retained his place in the side for the final Test at Sydney, where he once again claimed five first-innings wickets.

England were to eventually succumb to a 55-run defeat - their final wicket falling with just one over of play remaining - but the result did little to dampen the squad’s joy.

Small added: “It was just sensational - a great 12 weeks. We really bonded and gelled and Gatt was a superb leader and captain.

“The Sydney Test was the only Test we lost, so it took a little bit of the gloss off it, but we were Ashes winners, I’m sure (current England skipper Andrew) Strauss and the rest of the guys would take a 2-1 victory if it was offered!

“It was an enormously successful tour (England also emerged victorious in the two limited-overs competitions they participated in) and we had a lot of fun along the way as well.”

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