“Allan Robert Border accepted Australia’s charge when they had touched rock bottom. He pulled the team out from there with high spirits and determination and took them to new heights”.
The man made his way into the Australian cricket team during a crisis. He was handed the captaincy when the Australian team was in a fix. In fact, there was a mess where he stayed throughout his career. He would go on to become the best batsman of his generation as Australians would consider him the second best since their legend Sir Don Bradman. They said his cricketing dictionary was dominated by three particular shots that scored him most of his runs in his 15-year-old career. He was not a natural leader, not even a matured man when he was given the captaincy. But, he strove through the time of trouble to transform a raw Australian side into a ruthless bunch that won more than they lost.
Call him Allan Robert Border or AB or Allan, it’s just a name for that rock-strong cricketer who scripted Australian cricket history all over again with his sweat, blood and a broken finger. He was the epitome of Australian cricket and there have been very few adjectives to describe him. When he made 123 not out at Old Trafford, batting throughout with a broken finger, early in his career, those were the glimpses of Australian cricket’s future, which awaited only positives.
Border first came to notice in the 1970s as a person who could drive you insane at the same time you would want him on your side because he had the abilities to win matches single-handedly.
In 1977, billionaire Kerry Packer had been offended by the Australian Cricket Board’s (ACB) refusal to grant him the broadcast rights. Instead, he signed around 50 of the world’s best cricketers to lucrative contracts and decided to conduct his own World Series Cricket (WSC). The cricket in the country was divided into two – the national team and the Australia XI in the WSC. A year later, in one of the darkest Australian summers, Border made his first appearance in the Baggy Green. It was the 1978-79 Ashes when Border made his Australian debut against Mike Brearley’s England at home.
Amidst the crisis because of the Kerry Packer’s series, the hosts were already without a lot of players and there were no surprises when they had gone 0-2 down. Border’s first Test was the Melbourne Test which Australia won. Although, he did not make his presence felt instantly as he was dismissed for 29 and a duck in the two innings. He played the subsequent Sydney Test too before he was dropped for one and then never missed a Test. He was not among the lucky ones as his debut was nowhere close to being memorable.
“Within the dressing room, people were looking over their shoulders all the time wondering, you know, when they were going to get the knife,” Border, once said in an interview.
He was never counted among the stylish left-handers but he had an aura of his own when he played that cover drive shot. He knew his strengths and well capitalised on them; he was strong off his hips and targeted the square of the wicket most of the times. As long as he played, he was considered the best player of the spin. He even once said that, had it faced Shane Warne, he would go attacking after him. Such was his consistency that he averaged 50 even when he failed to score a hundred for four years from 1988.
In the home series against West Indies in 1984-85, Border was appointed Australia’s captain following a tearful resignation from his predecessor Kim Hughes. Not only Australia lost five Tests in a row but also they had suddenly cut down to almost a new team following retirements and the South Africa rebel tour. The retirements lost Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Greg Chappell, Mallett and Walters, whereas the rebel tour of South Africa too took away a lot of players. So, when Border was given the captain’s armband, he lost his first Test as captain but ensured his side escaped from a haunting dark history.
One-Test old captain, Border, was on the verge of leading a side that could become the first Australian side, in a century, to lose seven Tests on a trot. The only Australian side to lose seven Tests in a row failed against England from 1885-88. Thankfully, Border’s side drew the fourth Test to West Indies in Melbourne and avoided losing seven consecutive Tests. However, from there on, Border’s first series win came only three years later. The abrupt change from being ‘one of the boys’ in the team to in charge did not reflect the fruitful results immediately.
“There are expectations placed on a captain and it is a lot harder than people think. You tend to ride every ball bowled and get mentally exhausted far quicker. I was initially uncomfortable. The circumstances were a bit unsavoury – a little like the other week – the captain resigns and you are handed the job. I always got a good response from the players but it was not until the 1989 Ashes tour that I got to grips with it. Until then we had minimal success, mainly the World Cup in 1987”.
In the mid-1980s, Australia went on a hunt for a full-time coach and found Bob Simpson for the role. The 62-Test former Australian cricketer eventually struck a great bond with Border and the duo together re-moulded the Australian cricket team. The World Cup was won, the Ashes returned and a golden era began that never saw the word defeat in their books. The players like David Boon, Mark and Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Mark Taylor and Michael Slater soon joined Border’s army one after the another and cricket in the island once again brightened like never.
The characteristic that made Border exceptional among the players of any generation was his longevity. He played 144 consecutive Tests – that was two years of his life – and he made 18 Test tours. He was never ducked out because of family, health or form. He had been to the sub-continent more than any other overseas cricketer. During his time, he played in more Tests, made more runs, more catches to his name, more hundreds and everything in him was had been better than anyone in the game at that time. But, even then, he never went after the records.
When the game across the globe was changing, Border was Australia’s constant. He captained 93 consecutive games in a decade; clinched 32 wins to 22 losses. In that time, England had eight skippers, India six, New Zealand seven, Pakistan six, the West Indies five, Sri Lanka four and the readmitted South Africa two. None of Border’s successor have come close to his 93 Tests as captain. In fact, South Africa’s Graeme Smith is the only captain above Border with more number of Tests as captain (109).
By the time Border retired, he had several records to his name. In 1994, he was 38, he had played 156 Tests, averaging 50 an innings and compiled 11,174 runs – more than any cricketer in history. (Today, he stands 10th on the overall Test runs’ table.) He averaged more as a captain than a regular player. Out of his 27 Test tons, 15 came as a captain as he scored 6,623 runs in that tenure out of his total 11,174 runs.
Nine of his 10 fingers and thumbs were broken at some time, a couple of them several times too. The Australian team had become like a limb to him. An ESPN Cricinfo interview showed that his answers of likes and dislikes still remained same, even after 24 years after his retirement. He might not be there in cricket anymore, but, cricket certainly has lived in him. Even now.
“Likes? “Being part of the Australian cricket team.”
Biggest disappointment? “Losing Third Test at Headingley, 1981.”
Greatest moment? “Regaining Ashes, 1982-83.”
In Border’s final year in Australian colours, a popular Australian troubadour, Doug Parkinson, directed a sentimental ballad, “Where Would We Be Without AB?”
Border: “Just fine, thanks.”
Legends move on, but their legacy leaves a void behind that is almost impossible to fill. Border handed Mark Taylor an Australian team and culture that would go on to re-write history books in cricket’s coming years. Whereas Border was concerned, he continued to grace Australian cricket. He helped Queensland lift their maiden Sheffield Shield Trophy in the 1994-95 season. He then took up an assignment with Australia A as their coach. He served as Australia’s selector from 1998 to 2005. Border once again became a selector in 2006 only to step down four months later due to his growing business commitments.
In a nutshell, Allan Robert Border accepted Australia’s charge when they had touched rock bottom. He pulled the team out from there with high spirits and determination and took them to new heights. To celebrate Border’s career, the Australian cricketer of the year receives the Allan Border medal.