Three-part documentary Allan Border: My Story premiers on Fox Cricket after day two of the Boxing Day Test on December 27.
Forty years ago, as a tight Ashes battle headed towards the MCG, Allan Border was certain he was nearing Australia’s exit door.
After a red-hot opening three years in the baggy green, the left-hander’s Test career had stalled following the 1981-82 summer.
That year saw Australia tour New Zealand and Pakistan before hosting an Ashes — and Border had struggled at every turn.
Prior to that year’s Boxing Day Test, the then-27-year-old had averaged just 20.25 from 14 innings with a top score of 55 not out. Nine times he had been dismissed for less than 10 runs.
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“I had played poorly in the lead-up Test matches and I was on the cusp of being left out of the side,” remembers Border in an upcoming three-part documentary, to be aired on Fox Cricket from December 27. “In my mind I was very close. I was just struggling with my form.
“I wasn’t far away from getting the chop, that’s for sure.”
Like all batsmen out of form, Border was looking everywhere for a solution, and deemed that his tools might’ve been part of the problem.
“I was breaking the handle and not happy with the bat — and that tends to happen when you’re not in good form. You blame the bat,” Border says.
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Sitting in the other changerooms was his legendary contemporary, Ian Botham, who Border shared a friendly relationship with.
Despite the sometimes spiteful nature of the Ashes rivalry, Border spoke openly with Botham about his bat difficulties, while the Englishman lent a hand in return.
“I said, ‘how you going mate?’ And he said, ‘I can’t get on with the bat. It doesn’t work for me’,” Botham recalls.
“And I said, ‘well look, try this one because I don’t like it, it’s a bit too bottom-heavy for me.
“He took it and had a hit in the nets with and I said, ‘keep it’.”
Border was pleased enough, peeling off the stickers from his own blade to put them on Botham’s, which he had now claimed — in the middle of a live Ashes series, no less.
‘MIGHT AS WELL HAVE A BEER’
Any turn in fortunes, however, was not readily evident as Border was bowled by Botham for two in the first innings.
Australia was leading the series 2-0 after three Tests and could almost touch the urn, which the nation hadn’t done since last winning it in 1975. But there was a feeling that the tide in the series could be turning with England setting Australia a difficult target of 292 to win the Test, and series.
A loss would give England the chance of retaining the urn for a fourth-straight series at the SCG the following week.
Australia appeared to be making reasonably light work of the chase, but suddenly collapsed on day four, going from 3-171 to 9-218. Border was left at the crease with No.11 Jeff Thomson.
With Border and Thomson needing to put on 73 runs for the 10th wicket to save the Test, it was only a matter of time before England won.
For context, Australia’s biggest 10th-wicket partnership in a fourth innings at the time was 66, posted by Lindsay Kline and Ken Mackay against the West Indies in 1961.
A number of the Australians still in the dressing room had already seen enough.
“When Thomo had to get up and come out, Rod Marsh and a few others — I’m not sure what other guys went — they said, ‘I’m not going to sit here and watch us bloody lose a Test match’,” Border says. “So they go downstairs.
“They’re saying, ‘we’re sitting here and we’ve got nothing better to do. We might as well have a beer’. So they’re having a few beers while we’re still out there batting.”
There wasn’t much belief in the Australian dressing rooms, but there was some left in the middle with Border playing himself into form with Botham’s willow.
Thomson was a genuine No.11 who averaged about 12 with the bat, but Border wasn’t willing to throw in the towel.
“So I’m talking to Thommo and saying, 'just hang in there mate, you never know. Just play nice and straight. Nothing extravagant’,” Border says. “And he’s going, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah mate. We’re in.’
“It freed me up for some reason. I started to be a lot more aggressive in my mindset, and it just sort of started to work.”
‘THEY WERE GETTING MOLLY THE MONK’
Border and Thomson slowly started ticking off the runs, and made it to stumps with Australia at 9-255, needing another 37 runs to win.
It had been a gallant effort, but Border and Thomson’s teammates still weren’t convinced that the duo could pull it off.
“I remember we got to the ground and we didn’t even do a warm up. We thought Thommo would last three or four balls and that’d be it,” Kim Hughes remembers.
Nonetheless, Marsh and co, being a superstitious bunch, weren’t willing to leave anything to chance.
As such, everyone had to resume the positions they were in the day before when Border and Thomson began frustrating England’s bowlers.
“Of course they get sent downstairs,” Border says. “So they go down and think ‘we were sitting here yesterday and having a beer.’
“So 11 o’clock comes around and they’re having beers downstairs while we’re out in the middle trying to get these last 30-odd runs.”
“The blokes downstairs were getting Molly the Monk (drunk),” Hughes adds.
While it’s unlikely that 11am beers in the changerooms had anything to do with it, Border continued to pull Australia closer to a one-wicket win with Thomson holding on for dear life at the other end.
Border says that it wasn’t until Australia needed less than 10 runs to win that he let his mind wander towards thoughts of victory.
And then, just three runs shy of one of Test cricket’s greatest wins, it happened.
“That deadly loosener of mine. That little floaty away-swinger, Thomo couldn’t help himself,” Botham says.
The England all-rounder hung out a rather innocuous delivery outside off-stump which Thomson needlessly chased after.
He edged it to second slip, who dropped a sitter, but was saved at first slip by Geoff Miller, who collected the crumbs.
‘STILL HAVE NIGHTMARES’
Border was left stranded on 62 from 165 balls, while the partnership had come to an end on 70 runs — which remains Australia’s second-best 10th-wicket partnership in the fourth innings of a Test.
“To this day I sort of have nightmares about it,” Border says. “Just sadness really. I think about getting two or three more extra runs.
“Thomo was really dirty on himself. We never really — all the times I’ve been with Thomo since, we never really talked about that partnership.
“Probably just don’t want to. We had to live it.”
Hughes said that Border was “absolutely devastated”, but Thomson was the one left beating himself up.
Years later, Thomson said: “I couldn’t talk about it for years … It was one of the all-time low moments in my life.
“I looked up at the board and we needed only four to win. I thought I would get a single, so (Border) could hit the winning runs.”
If there was a positive to come out of the loss, however, it was the return of Border, who had made his highest Test score in 10 matches.
The score would spark his resurgence — he made 89 and 83 in Sydney as Australia clinched the series with a draw, while he averaged 62.66 from the following five years, which included 13 of his 27 career Test tons.
And to think it all started with a surprise gift from the old enemy.
“Botham copped a huge fine from his teammates over nearly costing the Test match by giving me one of his spare bats,” Border says.
“I don’t know whether it was psychological or whatnot but I enjoyed using one of his bats.”
He jokingly adds: “I had a bit more luck, like he used to.”