HOW A CRICKET MATCH CHANGED THE COURSE OF HISTORY
- I've just finished watching the second part of a documentary on
Margaret Thatcher which aired on the A.B.C. tonight. It covered her
11 and a half year reign as Prime Minister from May 1979 until
The ideas she introduced have had an enormous impact not only in
Britain but throughout the world. Social Democratic Parties around
the world accepted and adopted many of her policies. It is often
forgotten now but in the northern summer of 1981, Margaret Thatcher
was the most unpopular Prime Minister in Britain's history, Britain
suffered from record unemployment and was plagued by race riots
particularly in areas such as Toxteth and Brixton. In 1981 it was
generally accepted that the Neo-Liberal Policies introduced by
Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States had been
a spectacular failure and that they would soon be consigned to the
dustbin of history but instead they went on to conquer the world.
How did this happen?
The Australian Cricket Team was touring England at the time
captained by Kim Hughes. By July 1981 England's prospects of
regaining the Ashes looked as bleak as the prospects for Margaret
Thatcher's Government. Australia had won the first test at Trent
Bridge , after having a scare chasing a small total in the last
innings(a portent of things to come), and drawn the second test at
Lords, Ian Botham bagged a 'pair' and was subquently relieved of the
England captaincy(another portent).
Then came the Third Test at Headingley. By the fourth day
Australia were on the verge of going two-nil up. Australia had
forced England to Follow On 227 runs in arrears. England lost her
seventh second innings wicket still 80 runs short of making
Australia bat again. Then came one of the freakiest, spectacular and
brilliant test innings ever seen in Test Cricket. Ian Botham threw
caution to the wind and with the support of the tailenders scored
149 priceless runs and in so doing gave England a lead of 129 runs.
The Botham heroics were spectacular but surely they had just delayed
the inevitable. On the night before the last day England was rocked
by some of the worst rioting in its history even revolution seemed a
possibility. Thatcherism had reached its lowest ebb.
What followed the next day resurrected a nation's spirit and I
believe in no small way helped to resurrect Thatcherism as well. As
an 11 year old I can remember listening on the radio with increasing
dismay as Australian wickets tumbled on a spiteful Headingley pitch.
Australia had reached 1 for 56 and then England Captain Mike
Brearley had Bob Willis change ends, it was a last throw of the
dice. Willis went on to take 8 for 43 and Australia was bundled out
for 111, England had won by 18 runs, no side had ever won a test
match after having been forced to Follow On. Tales have been told
how the fall of each Australian Wicket was relayed to expectant
patrons at railway stations across England.
From that moment on Margaret Thatcher never looked back. A couple
of weeks later Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer and
Australia lost the Fourth Test as well when it failed to chase 150
in the last innings at Edgbaston. But Margaret Thatcher's fortunes
changed that last afternoon at Headingley in July, 1981 and now the
story can be told how a cricket match rescued one of Britain's most
unpopular Prime Ministers and changed the course of history.