By Richard Edwards
England have only ever lost a single series in NZ but while the class of 1983/84 might have flunked their Richard Hadlee-led examinations on the pitch, they certainly made sure they had fun off it.
Although Graeme Fowler, one of the most colourful cricketers to ever don the Three Lions, tells The Cricket Paper that the lurid headlines that followed the side on their antipodean adventure 34 years ago were often wide of the mark.
“Put it this way,” he says. “If there were orgies and drug-fuelled parties then I wasn’t invited.”
Fowler identifies the tour – which ended in an ignominious 1-0 defeat that represented a nadir for England, even in a decade as dismal at the Eighties – as a period when the previously cordial and close relations between the Press and the players reached something approaching breaking point.
There were even accusations of a mole among the cricket writers who protested that the headlines following the players were the doing of those shadowy characters on the news desk rather than those employed to write about events on the field of play.
What’s clear is that England’s appalling display in the second Test of that series in Christchurch went down as one of the worst in the country’s Test history.
There were, though, mitigating factors.
“We had been to Fiji before and were treated beautifully,” says Fowler. “It was a lovely place but it was stinking hot. Then we went to New Zealand and things went downhill pretty quickly.
“We drew the first Test in Wellington but the pitch for the second Test in Christchurch was one of the worst I’ve ever played in, in any form of cricket.
“We had a policy to bowl short at them. They got 300 and then Richard Hadlee pitched it up and we were bowled out for 82 and 93.
“I batted for well over an hour across both innings and scored f*** all in either of them. The pitch was unbelievable and I mean unbelievable. It was literally falling apart. It was diabolical. Atrocious.
“That match in Christchurch completely stuffed us but away from the cricket we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
“The Press dubbed it the ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ tour. Everywhere we played, Elton John was performing and the Press got some fantastic stories.
“It was the first time the Press had really gone into what the players were getting up to off the pitch. Some of the stuff, though, was ridiculous. They were talking about orgies and drugs parties and most of us were thinking, ‘I wish there were, it would have been better than us playing in bloody Christchurch!’.”
The lurid headlines, though, did little to improve the image of an England team that was hardly tearing up trees on the field, despite boasting the talents of David Gower, Ian Botham and Mike Gatting.
Gripes about the pitch also fell on deaf ears as England failed to register 100 in either innings on New Zealand’s South Island.
It was a humiliation that only served to sharpen the knives of those employed to cover the escapades and extra-curricular activities of the England team.
“There was one article, and I still find this unbelievable, that claimed several players were smoking marijuana but that Graeme Fowler was not,” he says. “Why was I named as not smoking it? Why not leave me out entirely?
“After New Zealand, we went to Pakistan and Bob Willis went home with a bad knee, Ian Botham came home with a bad back, Graham Dilley had left the tour with a bad neck.
“When I came back into Heathrow, we were going through customs and an officer took me to one side and started tearing my stuff apart.
“My kit was spread over six tables, he took all my rubbers of my bats and then squeezed all my toothpaste out. He even ripped the lining of the inside of my coffin.
“I asked him what he was looking for and he said that I might have some precious stones. All he was looking for was drugs because he had read what supposedly happened in New Zealand.
“He didn’t find anything obviously, but I was stopped every time I went through Heathrow for the next ten years.”
Fowler ended up hiring a car to drive himself home from London after he was abandoned by his team-mates and the England hierarchy. The fall-out from the tour, though, almost proved far more costly for others.
“After all these stories came out in New Zealand, we went to Pakistan, where the phone-lines were very bad,” he says.
“We had all these lads’ wives and girlfriends saying ‘what’s going on, what have you been up to?’.
“There was a lot of s*** going on. The counties weren’t happy and neither were the sponsors. It was pretty tough for a lot of players going back to England.”
Life could be similarly tough for the current crop if they don’t make up for the debacle in Auckland.
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