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One crazy summer: Why selections of Australian cricket team in 1979-80 still impossible to work out

I’d like to look back on a summer of cricket that doesn’t seem to get a lot of love. It’s also one about which I have nil memory, yet which also loomed very large over my cricketing (well, cricket-watching) childhood – the Australian season of 1979-80.

The “not a lot of love” factor seems to come from the fact the summer was associated with so much bitterness. Most of this was caused by two years of World Series Cricket-induced trauma – the Australian Cricket Board still stinging at the players’ “betrayal”, the friendships destroyed, the players sucked up and discarded, the strut of Channel Nine, the huffiness at the concept of (gasp) money entering cricket.

Most accounts of 1979-80 emphasise all the aggro that went on: Ian Chappell getting suspended and abusing umpires, crowds heckling Mike Brearley, Dennis Lillee chucking his aluminium bat, England refusing to play for the Ashes, the jam packed schedule, players whingeing about being unable to get back in the national/state sides because of their associations during World Series Cricket, English journos whingeing about boozy Australian crowds, the South Africans who’d had a rare taste of international cricket and hated being booted out again, the slightly odd ODI uniforms, the traditionalists who loathed to adoption of Channel Nine innovations, the ABC and its allies upset at losing out to Channel Nine, etc, etc.

There was also a lot of bitterness at the wild and wacky selection policies around the Australian side. You look back at the scorecards (the main way I explore cricket history) and it seems like the Australian team pretty much changed every game. I was always confused as to why this happened, so I decided to read some contemporary newspaper reports from the time and see if there were any explanations.

This article isn’t meant to be an exhaustive account of that summer, that would take a whole book. All it does is explore Australian selections. But I know some of the weirdos who visit this site (like me) will enjoy it and find it useful.

Anyway, first I need to set the scene …

It’s the summer of 1979-80. World Series Cricket was over, but also it wasn’t, because Kerry Packer and co had won the ratings war and television rights, and were keen to keep many their innovations and up yours Australian Cricket Board: lots of one day cricket, day-night cricket under lights, coloured clothing, a triangular competition involving two touring international teams against whom Australia would play three Tests each (with the West Indies and England coming out as opposed to the West Indies XI and World XI). England agreed but insisted on two key conditions: that the Ashes weren’t at stake and they wouldn’t wear coloured clothing (hence the odd ODI outfits). This caused a lot of whoo-ing and haa-ing at the time but money is money and it was all sorted.

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The Australian World Series Cricket team was littered with superstars, most of whom were expected to resume their place in the official Test line-up – Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson (with an asterisk over Ian Chappell, whom they weren’t sure would retire or not). They also had younger players who had done very well during World Series Cricket and were favourites to take prime position in the reunited side – David Hookes, Bruce Laird, Ray Bright, Len Pascoe. Others fell into the “well who knows” category, like Trevor Chappell, Martin Kent, Rob Langer, Gary Gilmour, Rick McCosker, Kerry O’Keeffe, Doug Walters, Ross Edwards (who’d retired but come back because of World Series Cricket), Ashley Mallet (ditto), Wayne Prior, Ian Davis, Max Walker, and… well pretty much everyone who signed to play World Series Cricket except maybe Dennis Yagmitch.

They all had their moments but they weren’t sure things – indeed, Australia’s batting had been so wonky during World Series Cricket they imported Kepler Wessels to give it some backbone, and offered contracts to establishment stars Peter Toohey and Graeme Wood. (If Greg Chappell hadn’t have toured with WSC Australia in the West Indies in 1979, they could have lost 4-0 instead of drawing 1-1).

The establishment Australian XI had generally done less well over the past two years, losing to the West Indies, England and India, but it had produced some of its own stars – Rodney Hogg, Kim Hughes, Allan Border, and to a lesser extent Geoff Dymock, Graham Yallop, Wood, Peter Toohey, Alan Hurst, Kevin Wright, Jim Higgs, Bruce Yardley and Jim Higgs. There was also a swag of youngsters who had had their moments at test level and might yet again – names like John Dyson, Gary Cosier, Craig Serjeant, Andrew Hilditch, Rick Darling, Dav Whatmore, Wayne Clark, David Ogilvie and Peter Sleep and….

Anyway there were a lot of players around in 1979-80 who had international experience.

To give some idea, here’s the World Series Cricket Eleven and the Australian Eleven in their last Tests in 1979 (against the West Indies and India respectively):

WSC Australia XI
1. Rick McCosker
2. Bruce Laird
3. Martin Kent
4. Greg Chappell
5. Ian Chappell (c)
6. David Hookes
7. Rod Marsh (wk)
8. Ray Bright
9. Dennis Lillee
10. Jeff Thomson
11. Len Pascoe

Official Australian XI
1. Andrew Hilditch
2. Graham Yallop
3. Allan Border
4. Kim Hughes (c)
5. Dav Whatmore
6. Rick Darling
7. Peter Sleep
8. Kevin Wright (wk)
9. Geoff Dymock
10. Rod Hogg
11. Jim Higgs

The situation was complicated by the fact that the official Australian team was touring India when the Sheffield Shield started in 1979-80 and missed the first two rounds.

The selection panel over the summer was Phil Ridings, Sam Loxton, Alan Davidson, Ray Lindwall and the Australian captain. This meant that when it came to picking the team for the first Test, Kim Hughes was a selector, as he was captain of the official Australian side. When Greg Chappell was appointed captain, he took over from Hughes.

Anyway, here are the key dates of the summer:

14 Oct 1979 – Ian Chappell – who had decided to play for another season – puts forward his list of “certainties” and “probables” for the Australian team. This list is inevitably biased towards WSC but is interesting. Chappell had six certainties (Laird, Greg Chappell, Marsh, Bright, Lillee, Thommo) and nine probables (Wood, Darling, Ian Chappell, Border, Hookes, Hughes, Yallop, Pascoe, Hogg). He also felt “possibles” could include Kent, Walker, Hurst, Mallett, Malone, Gilmour and Dymock. Oh and he also spoke well of Hilditch and Higgs.

So, yep – a lot of players available.

(Spoilers: Hurst had his career ended early due to injury. 1979-80 would be the last first class season for Gilmour, Ogilvie and O’Keeffe. Kent and Yardley would have dreadful summers but come back strongly in 1980-81. Former Test players like Clark, Paul Hibbert, Cosier, Tony Mann, Moss and Serjeant would never seriously threaten for national honours after World Series Cricket. Rixon, Hilditch and Sleep would come back to national colours, but years later.)

21 Oct 1979 – the state selectors announce their teams for the first Shield match of the summer. The most interesting was NSW who had an embarrassment of riches post-WSC, including new imports Ross Edwards (who like Ian Chappell had delayed his retirement for one last season) and Trevor Chappell. The NSW team for the first game ended up including only four players from the previous summer – David Johnston, David Hourn, Rixon and Peter Toohey. The other seven were WSC players – Trevor Chappell, McCosker, Walters, O’Keeffe, Gilmour, Pascoe. Dyson, who had played Tests in 1977-78, was made 12th man, which annoyed him. Graeme Beard (non WSC) and Ian Davis (WSC) were overlooked, which annoyed them. And remember, NSW players like Hilditch and Geoff Lawson were still in India with the official side. (Oh and Tony Greig, Graeme Watson, Mike Gatting and Bill Athey were all playing grade cricket in Sydney that summer!)

Highlights of selection in other states: Rob Langer (WSC) and Wood (establishment) missed selection for WA, that’s how strong they were (former test bowler Sam Gannon never played first class cricket again but he did go on to become a millionaire in business). In Queensland, Thomson was appointed vice captain over Cosier.

And a bunch of foreigners were playing in the Shield too: Wessels (South Africa) for Queensland, Ken McEwen (South Africa) for WA, Jeff Crowe (NZ) for South Australia, and Richard Hadlee (NZ) for Tasmania.

So basically, the Shield was really strong in 1979-80.

26 Oct – the first Sheffield Shield match starts, Queensland vs Victoria – Greg Chappell scores 185 but the press gets more excited by Julien Wiener’s 41 because he does well against Thommo (who took ten wickets in the match).

Other games take place. When NSW play WA, Laird scores 117 and Trevor Chappell 150 so now Trevor Chappell is in the conversation. Phil Carlson takes 7-42 for Queensland against WA but he’s not in the conversation.

Hookes makes 88 for South Australia against Tasmania and he’s in the conversation. The “conversation” seemed very choosy as to who was included.

5 Nov – Twist! Ian Chappell rules himself out of the running as Australian captain but says he’s available for selection in the national side as a player. Also he is reported for swearing at an umpire during a Shield game.

9 Nov – The Australian squad returns from India.

12 Nov – Dymock, star of Australia’s tour of India, misses a Queensland game against England because of a stomach upset. Carl Rackemann came in and took 5-25, which launched Rackemann (though he wouldn’t debut for Australia for another few summers). It was felt Dymock would battle it out against Mick Malone and Walker for the “sensible seamer” role in the Australian side.

12 Nov – Twist again! Ian Chappell is suspended for three weeks for swearing at that umpire. He can’t play for Australia or South Australia until 3 December.

14 Nov – Bob Simpson writes “Never in my experience have I known a series where the selectors have so little to go on” because “there is no common denominator on which to base their selection.”

16 Nov – Peter McFarline, writing in The Age, thought that Australia’s Test team for the first match against the West Indies would be Greg Chappell, Laird, Yallop, Border, Hughes, Hookes, Marsh, Bright, Lillee, Thomson, Mick Malone, and… Julien Wiener. That’s right – Julien Wiener. McFarline felt Wiener, a Victorian opening batter who averaged 30 in first class cricket, was “a definite contender” on the strength of that innings of 41 for Victoria against Queensland. Brian Mossop of the Sydney Morning Herald also liked Wiener.

19 Nov – the Australian selectors announce Australia’s XI for the first test and the first ODI:
1. McCosker
2. Laird
3. Border
4. Greg Chappell (c)
5. Hughes (v-c)
6. Hookes
7. Marsh
8. Bright
9. Lillee
10. Hogg
11. Thommo
12. Dymock

That’s a pretty good side and I think the selectors did a solid job even if McFarline called McCosker “the luckiest batsman in Australia today” (he’d had a poor WSC) and Yallop “the unluckiest cricketer in the country” (he’d batted well against England and India). McFarline added “Wiener’s time is not yet, but it is soon.”

Hughes was made vice-captain, and Greg Chappell captain. This meant Chappell became a selector. It also meant Hughes became Chappell’s heir apparent which was generally seen as a good idea at the time. Greg Chappell’s reluctance to bat at number three meant Allan Border was shoved into that position for much of the summer (this happened periodically during Border’s early international career even though it was obvious he was happier down the order).

27 Nov – 1st ODI of the summer: Australia vs West Indies, SCG. Thommo had a dodgy ankle so was replaced by Pascoe. Dymock was made 12th man, we won that game by five wickets – Border taking 3-36 and Chappell making 74 and Hughes 52. This result gave a false impression of Australia’s ability at ODI cricket.

1 Dec – 1st Test vs West Indies, the Gabba. Thommo comes in for Pascoe, Dymock was 12th man although the match was at his home ground. So we played three pacemen and Ray Bright. This was a drawn game – the West Indies got stuck into the bowlers but our batting held on (Laird 92 and 75, Chappell 74 and 124, Hughes 130, Hookes 43 and 37). Not a bad start. But it was obvious the West Indies were pretty amazing and we would be lucky to hold them to 1-1 like the WSC Australians did.

Here’s Viv Richards carving them up:

5 Dec – After the West Indies Test the Australian selectors announce the ODI and Test teams to play England. McCosker was replaced with Wiener for both sides. It was rough that McCosker was only given the one Test and ODI, especially as he had a good Test record and his first-class stats were far superior to Wiener’s. But Wiener fever was a thing. He had recently scored 57 and 64 in McDonald’s Cup matches – so he basically earned Test selection off the back of one-day form, and that 41 against Queensland. Dymock was dropped from the ODI team mainly to allow him to play for Queensland in Hobart – he hadn’t played a first-class game since his return – so I think this was “rested” rather than “dropped” especially as he kept his place in the Test team. Dymock was replaced in ODI team with Walters who had scored 253 first class runs that summer at 60.75, a welcome return to form for him after a rough World Series Cricket.

5 Dec – Ian Chappell clashes with an umpire again in a SA-England game. This leads to an inquiry headed by Don Bradman.

8 Dec – ODI, Australia vs England, MCG. Thomson (now fit) replaced Pascoe. England win by three wickets, Chappell scoring 92 and Hogg taking 3-26.

9 Dec – ODI, Australia vs West Indies, MCG. West Indies win by 80 runs. Hookes replaces Walters. Richards scored 153 not out.

9 Dec – Australia made changes to the ODI squad right after the loss to the West Indies. Things start to go a little eccentric around the selection table at the time: Walker, Trevor Laughlin and Rick Darling (who’d batted well for South Australia in a tour game against the West Indies) are recalled while Laird and Ray Bright are dropped.

11 Dec – ODI, Australia vs England, SCG. We lose by 72 runs. Darling, Laughlin and Walker played – replacing Laird, Bright and Hogg. In the ODI game Trevor Laughlin scored 74. Hookes was 12th man (Walters played) and aggravated his injury taking a catch during the game. This led to him being ruled out of the Test team on this day. He was replaced not by a player in the ODI side like Rick Darling or Doug Walters but by Peter Toohey, who had played well for establishment Australia in 1977-78, been dropped in 1979, and recently scored a Shield century.

12 Dec – Ian Chappell receives a six-week suspension out of the incident in the South Australia-England game… only it’s a suspended sentence so he is still available for national selection.

14 Dec – 1st Test, Australia vs England, WACA. Oz team – Laird, Wiener, Border, Chappell, Hughes, Toohey, Marsh, Bright, Dymock, Lillee, Thommo, Hogg. Hogg made 12th man. That’s a good team. Maybe they should’ve picked Walters over Toohey, but who would begrudge Toohey a test. (Incidentally, Toohey was commonly described as a “Doug Walters type”).

This was a happier game for Australia, against a very strong English team (a lot of people thought Australian would lose). Border made a century, Hughes 99, Wiener 58, and Dymock took nine wickets including 6-34 in the second dig and promptly became the nation’s sweetheart. (Ian Botham took 11 wickets.) The game is best remembered though for the incident with Lillee and the aluminium bat.

17 Dec – The selectors announce the Australian ODI team to play the the West Indies and England. Laughlin and Walker, the best performers in the last game, are dropped – as are Darling and Walters to make room for Ian Chappell and Geoff Dymock who had been recalled – as had Bruce Laird (Hookes was out for injury).

20 Dec – The Australian selectors name a new team to play the West Indies in the second Test. Thomson was dropped for Hogg but would be back for the Test against England. Jim Higgs – who’d been in excellent Shield form – was recalled. The team: Greg Chappell, Hughes, Wiener, Laird, Border, Toohey, Marsh, Lillee, Hogg, Dymock, Higgs, Bright.

21 Dec – ODI, Australia vs West Indies, SCG. Australia win by 7 runs. Ian Chappell scored 63 off 65 balls winning the man of the match award and now everyone’s going crazy over Ian Chappell again.

26 Dec – ODI, Australia vs England, SCG. England win by 4 wickets. Thommo out for injury. He’s replaced by a recalled Doug Walters (who is made 12th man). Despite Ian Chappell scoring 60 off 50 balls and Hogg taking 4-46 (Geoff Boycott had a terrific summer with the bat) we lose.

Dec 29 – 2nd Test, Australia vs West Indies, MCG. Higgs returns to test cricket. The West Indies thumped us by 10 wickets, not helped by Hogg only bowling six overs before he fell injured on day two. Dymock took 4-106, Laird made 69 and Hughes 70. Wiener top scored in Australia’s first innings with 40.

4 Jan – 2nd Test, Australia vs England, SCG. Laird was injured so Rick McCosker was recalled. Australia once again thrive away from the West Indies and one day cricket and win by six wickets, with Dymock taking seven wickets and Lillee six. Australia chased down a second innings total of 219 with the loss of four wickets (Greg Chappell 98, Hughes 47) .

9 Jan – The big news this day is the return of Dav Whatmore, who played for Australia in India and was coming off Shield scores of 88, 70 and 58 … which actually isn’t amazing but I’m guessing the selectors were thinking of Pakistan.

The selectors name an 18 man Australian squad to tour Pakistan (from which 14 players would be chosen): Border, Bright, Chappell G, Dymock, Higgs, Hogg, Hookes, Hughes, Laird, Geoff Lawson, Lillee, Mallett, Malone, Marsh, Richie Robinson (back up keeper), Whatmore, Wiener, Yallop.

So yeah Graham Yallop is back too. He’d started the domestic summer slowly but soon found form.

(Some players made themselves unavailable for selection on the Pakistan because of personal and business reasons – Rick McCosker, Ian Chappell, Jeff Thomson and Len Pascoe)

The selectors also name Australian ODI side to play Sydney. Dav Whatmore and Thommo replace Peter Toohey and Jim Higgs. “These days no one can be sure of being picked at any time,” said Whatmore. All too true!

ODI team – G Chappell, Hughes, Border, I Chappell, Dymock, Lillee, Marsh, McCosker, Pascoe, Thommo, Whatmore, Wiener (12th man to be named).

14 Jan – ODI, Australia vs England, SCG We lost by two wickets in a thrilling game despite Lillee’s 4-12.

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15 Jan – Rodney Hogg pulls out of Pakistan squad and the rest of summer due to injury. Max Walker and Graham Yallop are recalled to ODI side replacing … Jeff Thomson and Allan Border who had been dropped.

Yep, Border was dropped that summer.

Yallop became the 23rd player to be invited to represent his country that season!

So the ODI team to play the West Indies – Greg Chappell, Hughes, Wiener, McCosker, Ian Chappell, Yallop, Marsh, Whatmore, Lillee, Dymock, Walker and Pascoe (12th man to be announced)

17 Jan – Twist! Ian Chappell pulls out of ODI team to play West Indies at the SCG because of a back injury. But he played in a SA v WA Shield game (he really wanted to play the Shield game and was worried if he did the ODI game as well he would stuff his back). Ian Chappell caused a lot of drama this summer! He is replaced by Doug Walters in the ODI team. The side: G Chappell, Hughes, McCosker, Wiener, Yallop, Whatmore, Marsh, Lillee, Dymock, Walker, Pascoe, Walters (12th man to be named).

18 Jan – ODI, Australia vs West Indies, Australia win by 9 runs, SCG – a team that included a recalled Graham Yallop, Dav Whatmore and Walker (Walters is 12th man). Wiener made 50 and McCosker 95 while Yallop scored 11 and Whatmore 2. This summer was mad.

(Again, I think the selectors were trialling players for Pakistan… it’s the only explanation I can think of for all this chopping and changing).

This victory wasn’t enough for Australia to make the ODI finals, held between the West Indies and England.

19 Jan – Allan Border scores 200 in a Shield game for NSW against Qld. This is a crucial innings for Border’s career – it ensures he keeps his Test spot and also leads to him receiving an offer to play for Queensland.

22 Jan – Australian names a 12 man squad for 3rd Test against West Indies – they drop Higgs, recall Ashley Mallett (who’d also had a good Shield season and was a better fielder and batter) and kept Ian Chappell despite his walkout from the last ODI. Laird back in team but they kept McCosker meaning there were three openers in the side which was: Greg Chappell, Hughes, McCosker, Wiener, Laird, Ian Chappell, Border, Marsh, Lillee, Dymock, Mallett, Pascoe.

Oh and Walker replaced Hogg in the provisional 18 man Pakistan squad

26 Jan – 3rd Test, Australia vs West Indies. Australia lost this game by 408 runs which is, well, a lot.

30 Jan – Australia announce a 14 man squad for a tour of Pakistan starting 7 February. The shiny new toy news was Geoff Lawson who’d bowled well over the summer. The players: G Chappell, Hughes, Wiener, Laird, Border, Yallop, Marsh, Mallett, Bright, Malone, Lawson, Lillee, Dymock, Hookes. Jim Higgs had made himself unavailable which opened the door to Bright, who only took 7 first class wickets that summer at 63.85 but whose main rivals were too old (Tony Mann, Bob Holland), or too young (Graeme Beard, Peter Sleep), or in even worse form (Bruce Yardley). (Bright would have an outstanding tour of Pakistan) Walker, Robinson, and Whatmore were the players left out from the 18 man squad. Whatmore and Robinson never play for Australia again. Walker plays a few ODIs in 1980-81.

1 Feb – 3rd test, Australia vs England, MCG. McCosker and Laird opened, Pascoe the third pacer, Ian Chappell scores 75, Laird 74, eleven wickets for Lillee – an eight wicket victory. We beat England 3-0 in the Tests! But the Ashes aren’t at stake!

11 Feb – Mallett pulls out of Pakistan tour because of a sprained shoulder and was replaced by NSW bits and pieces all-rounder Graeme Beard.

17 Feb – the Australian team leaves for Pakistan.

Kim Hughes

Kim Hughes was a dashing stroke maker for Australia. (Photo by Murrell/Allsport/Getty Images)

The Sheffield Shield still had to be decided. It was a very tight competition that summer with NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia all competitive. Queensland, as so often was the case, fell into a form heap after Christmas. Eventually it came down to South Australia and Victoria.

10 March – SA vs Victoria – Ian Chappell’s last first class match. Despite his 112, Higgs took 6-57 and Victoria won the Shield for the second year in a row.

1 May – Australian team picked to tour England later that year – a short tour, to play the second Centenary Test. More changes: Graeme Wood came in for Wiener, John Dyson came in for Hookes, Jeff Thomson for Mick Malone, Len Pascoe for Geoff Lawson and Ashley Mallett for Graeme Beard. The team: Border, Bright, Chappell, Dymock, Dyson, Hughes, Laird, Lillee, Mallett, Marsh, Pascoe, Thommo, Wood, Yallop.

And I’ll wrap it up there.

So anyway, 1979-80.

A really odd season. So odd.

A lot of horse trading behind the scenes I feel (“I’ll give you one Doug Walters if you give me a Dav Whatmore”).

There was too much chopping and changing. I don’t think players are entitled for life but I do think if you’re picked in a test team you should get at least two tests, and if it’s an ODI side you should get at leat three ODIs.

In ODI cricket we really missed the chance to develop a specialist all rounder in Trevor Laughlin – we could’ve also given Phil Carlson a go.

Still, some fabulous cricket was played. Hughes and Border proved they had “It”, Lillee, Marsh and Greg Chappell were wonderful, Ian Chappell came back and retired on his own terms, the top three first class run scorers over the summer were Greg, Ian and Trevor Chappell which is just too cute, Jim Higgs bowled Victoria to a Sheffield Shield, Julien Wiener leapt to (short lived) fame, Geoff Boycott killed it in the ODI, the West Indies confirmed (after being held to 1-1 by WSSC Australians in their own backyard) were indeed the greatest team in the World.

I’m glad players like Peter Toohey, Rick Darling, Trevor Laughlin and Dav Whatmore got to play in a full strength Australian side even if given far too briefly an opportunity. Most of all I love, love that the best player that summer was a 34 year old medium pacer who had intended to retire years ago – well done, Geoff Dymock.

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