The West Indies cricket teams had spread fears among their opponents from 1960s to 1980s. Not so now as they get ready to face the strong Australian side this month.
In their hay day, the Windies had maestros Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Geoff Stollmeyer, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Clive Lloyd, Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine, Vivian Richards, Wes Hall, Roy Gilchrist, Charlie Griffith, Curtly Ambrose and Lance Gibbs – scintillating with their batting and bowling expertise.
Worrell is still considered one of the most dynamic captains in the annals of Test cricket; Sobers the topmost all-rounder; Hall, Gilchrist, Marshall and Ambrose most fearsome quickies, and Ramadhin and Valentine among the trickiest spinners.
However, after they retired, replacements have been hard to find, and the once mighty Windies have remained mostly winless.
But the past maestros have left their legacy. Let us go back 63 years.
The Aus v WI tied Test of December 1960 is remembered as the most spell-binding Test of all time.
The Brisbane Test had marvelous batting, bowling, fielding and umpiring from the opening over to the sublime climax. The tourists rattled up a quick fire 453 runs, thanks to a magnificent 132 by 24-year-old Garry Sobers, 65 runs each by skipper Worrell and Joe Solomon and 60 by Franz Alexander.
The next day belonged to Wes Hall. Batting at No. 10 he hit 50 – clowning all the way! Aussie all-rounder Alan Davidson took 5 for 135. Hall struck with ball too, but he was definitely not clowning – hitting Australian opener Colin McDonald on the ribs. Openers McDonald (57 runs) and Bob Simpson (92) added 84 runs for the opening wicket.
Arrived the swashbuckling Norman O’Neill in the middle. Hall greeted him with a thunderbolt which hit him on the groin. Ouch! Struggling at the start, O’Neill gained confidence and smacked a brilliant 181. Just as the home team appeared on top, passing the Windies total with five wickets in hand, Hall struck, collecting the last five victims for only 36 runs and the lead was restricted to 52 runs.
The Windies made 284 runs in the second innings (Worrell 65, Kanhai 54). Others found Davidson’s swing and accuracy unnerving as he captured 6 for 87. He had excellent match figures of 11 for 222.
Needing 233 runs to win in about 310 minutes, Australia started disastrously losing two wickets for only seven runs as Sobers took a marvelous slip catch to dismiss the master batter Neil Harvey. Hall bowled with fire in his belly and the Aussies were down in the dumps at 6 for 92, staring at defeat.
At tea on the final topsy-turvy day, Australia needed 123 runs in 120 minutes with six of their top batsmen back in the pavilion. The visitors smelt success. Australia could have closed shop and played for a draw, but the dynamic duo of skipper Richie Benaud and Davidson preferred to attack and win.
When a refreshed Hall took the new ball at 205, Australia needed 27 runs to win in 30 minutes with only four lower order batsmen remaining.
“No more bouncers,” Worrell kept warning a tense Hall. Victory appeared in Australia’s pocket, seven runs required in the last six minutes with Davidson and Benaud in command. Just then Davidson got run out after a heroic 80.
Wrote famous Australian journalist Jack Fingleton, “Now it was purple drama over purple drama.” Hall bowled a bouncer to Benaud who swung at it and was caught. It now became 5 runs to win in 6 balls with two tail-enders remaining.
Wally Grout spooned a catch and just as Kanhai was about to catch it, a frenzied Hall charged in and muffed the catch. Stunned silence as 3 runs were needed in 3 balls. Ian Meckiff swung wildly, connected and it looked a sure four but Conrad Hunte came from nowhere, fielded and threw in one action. Two runs were added but Grout was run out.
Now Australia needed only one run to win in two balls as last man Lindsay Kline walked in with that “Why me?” expression on his face. As the batsmen charged off for the single that would give them victory, Solomon threw the ball like greased lightning. It cracked the stumps. Meckiff was run out and the Test ended in a memorable thrilling tie, the first ever in Test history.
Will we see similar drama in the upcoming Aus v WI series?
Here’s the schedule of the Aus v WI 2024 Test series:
First Test at Adelaide, 17 – 21 January 2024.
Second and last Test at Brisbane, 25 – 29 January 2024.
I can imagine former captains Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell watching from up above!
(Buy tickets here.)