Mike Gatting’s England had been written off by many ahead of the first Test on the 1986-87 Ashes tour.
Following a string of disappointing displays in their warm-up matches, not to mention a run of eight defeats in 11 winless Tests, the tourists were subjected to heavy criticism from the press, with Martin Johnson famously declaring: “There are only three things wrong with the English team – they can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field.”
England went on to answer their doubters in the best possible fashion, claiming a surprise victory in the first Test at Brisbane and going on to retain the Ashes with a game to spare.
Their triumph remains fresh in the memory of Gatting, who pinpoints an inspirational rallying cry from Ian Botham prior to the opening Test as a key moment.
“There were a lot of distractions going on before we even got into the first Test match,” Gatting explained to ecb.co.uk. “We had three girls turn up from one of our national newspapers, who were very keen to get one or two of the boys in the bed!
“I suppose we were slightly lucky in the fact that we had some warm-up games, because after our tour I think there were less and less and by the time we were halfway through our first Test I think people had lost the Ashes by then.
“When we saw this ‘can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field’ it might have possibly described the way we started the trip, which wasn’t very well, but that was to change.
“A very interesting point was when ‘Beefy’ [Botham] said something just before the beginning of the Test.
“He got up and said ‘look boys, we haven’t played very well in the warm-up matches, but that was practice. Tomorrow we start and we’re going to believe. We go out there as 11 of us versus 11 of them, and I think we are better than them and I think we can win this’.
“That was strange from ‘Beefy’ because he wasn’t generally as philosophical as that at team meetings and I think it had quite an effect on some of the younger players and some of the guys who were a bit worried.”
Botham went on to play a crucial role in England’s victory, cracking 138 from 174 balls in an imposing first-innings total of 456.
Australia could only muster 248 in reply, with Graham Dilley picking up five wickets, and they subsequently crumbled to a seven-wicket defeat.
“As the days went on, you could see a little bit of confidence and a little bit of belief,” Gatting added.
“We were on top, ‘Beefy’ was always there goading everybody on and picking up the ball and charging in and being very confident himself.
“The fielding was good, the catching was good and as that match went on to its conclusion and actually winning it you could see the huge change from day one, when obviously everyone was apprehensive and a bit nervous.
“You could just see a little bit of confidence going in and strangely enough the only one who probably wasn’t like that was David Gower.
“After we won the match and had a couple of days off I said ‘how are you feeling Dave?’ and he said ‘don’t worry, I’m going to my favourite ground’ and didn’t say any more than that. The next Test match was at Perth and you wondered what he was going to do.”
Gower was to answer his captain’s question in sensational fashion with a wonderful century at the WACA, one of three in England’s first innings.
Chris Broad and Jack Richards also reached three figures and, although Australia eventually salvaged a draw, Gatting’s men had proved their critics wrong again with another powerful display.
They would head to Adelaide for the third Test in confident mood, with the famous little urn very much within their reach.