Australia was one of the weaker sides in cricket when Kim Hughes stepped down as the captain amidst heavy controversy- with the players revolting against him. It was a very chaotic time for the Australian cricket administration as well as the team, the top stars who held the team together had gone in one go- it included the likes of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and the colourful and stable keeper Rodney Marsh. this had happenned a few years after the Packer controversy had shaken them up and a whole new breed of cricketers were forced to face the music at international arena as a result of the fiasco. Nonetheless, as calmness and peace returned to the side, it got with it a whole new set of issues.
A young captain in Kim Hughes was asked to withdraw as his team performed miserably and the senior players could not bear him and as a result there was this void to be filled. the administrators in this era had a very dicey situation to face, viz. to go to a new captain and rebuild the side at a time when Australia was facing it’s lowest ebb for a long time and the scenario was to turn even darker for the next few years, or to try and hold on to the bits and pieces of the falling legacy the Chappell brothers had created.
While all this happened, Allan Border ( or A.B.) cemented his position in the side and looked the most stable amongst all the players, whether it was playing spin with great feet movement on square turners or showing grit when the chips were down-A.B. showed what was to be the mantra for rebuilding the fallen legacy. the authorities showed faith in him and backed him. The former Australian captain Bob Simpson was made the head coach of this struggling unit and from then it was up to the duo and primarily A.B. to steer them.A.B. was not the most gifted of the players, nor was he very pleasing to the eye, but he was disciplined and gritty, which covered up his lack of talent.
The mantra was simple and straight A.B and Bob Simpson decided to do it the hard way….old fashioned hardwork, keeping it simple and straight(KISS rule) and concentrating on fundamentals rather than targeting the bigger picture way too soon.
While he took the reign as the captain, another controversy struck…..seven of the drafted players of this new side signed up to tour the banned South Africa as a part of the rebels under the outcasted Kim Hughes, as a result Australia lost the Ashes in 1985 in England and their trans Tasmanian rivals New Zealand also managed to beat them riding on brilliance shown by Sir Richard Hadlee. Ordinary performances in the World Championship Cricket tournament down under and escaping defeat at the hands of the touring Indians added to the misery.
All this did not flutter any faith that the administration had shown in him and things eventually started turning around, not briskly though. Australia on a tour to India in 1986/87 were supposed to struggle hard on turning tracks, where they managed to outshine Indians, but could not win and the tour would be best remembered for the tied Chennai test. It was a series that instilled self belief only temporarily as they lost to England in another Ashes series in 1987, however it was not in the best interest of the team to drop A.B as a captain as there was no one as good as him in the struggling unit.
Their unexpected victory after beating the favorites Pakistan in the Semi finals and arch rivals England in the finals of the 1987 Reliance world cup ensured that some pride and faith was restored in the unit and there was this aura of self belief and work culture developing too. Younger players like Steven Waugh and Dean Jones started to make their mark while the bowling looked stable with the likes of Merv Hughes and Craig McDermott doing their bit with Bruce Reed also emerging onto the scene.While they did lose to the West Indies in 1988/89, the performances were getting better.
Recalling the 1989 Ashes,Border once said”I made a personal choice to have a harder edge as captain, be more stand-offish towards them [the English] … It was a hard thing to do and they all got the shits, but it was all part and parcel of what I wanted to achieve”…..contrary to his earlier friendly approach towards England and his friends in David Gower and Mike Gatting.
When the Australians toured England for the Ashes in 1989 it was dubbed as the weakest Australian side ever to tour England, but the Australians won the Ashes and the young players contributed heavily. As time went by the inconsistencies started disappearing and the most important thing was the emergence of young and talented players like the Waugh brothers, Mark Taylor and the likes of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath a little later. The loss in the 1992 world cup was a major jolt as it was held in Australasia, but there were enough signs that showed that the foundations were sowed and the seeds for a bright future had been sown.
through this period Allan Border was dubbed as captain grumpy due to his approach towards the game and his team. he did not tolerate any loose performances and wanted nothing less than a 100% from his players. This was indeed the blueprint that the entire Australian domestic setup also adopted and Australia went on to dominate the cricketing empire a few years after Border retired with the highest number of runs under his belt at 11,174.
Later on these basics or fundamentals proved to be the difference between Australia and the rest of the world as it became the hardest team to beat, a team that usually snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and believed in crushing the opposition. the Australian juggernaut that crushed teams post 1999 cricket world cup owed more to Allan Border and his reconstruction methods than anything else.
As Mike Coward famously said about Border”[… He] committed the greater part of a long and distinguished career to re-establishing the credibility and image of Australian cricket. A self-effacing man of simple tastes and pleasures, Border served at the most tempestuous time in cricket history, and came to represent the indomitable spirit of the Australian game. As it grappled with two schisms, the first over World Series Cricket, the second over the provocative actions of the mercenaries in South Africa, it was debilitated and destabilised as never before and cried out for a figure of Bradmanesque dimensions to return it to its rightful and influential position on the world stage […. Border] was able to expunge many of the prejudices and preconceptions amongst his team-mates about playing cricket in the Third World [which] was another of the outstanding legacies of his captaincy”.
An Allan Border medal ws initiated soon after his retirement to honour the outstanding performers in Australian cricket, both from past and present…..speaks volumes about his stature in Australia.