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On this day exactly two decades ago, Curtly Ambrose produced one of the best spells of fast bowling ever seen to pick up 7 for 1 off 32 deliveries. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the devastating display which won West Indies the series at Perth.
At the end of the match, the Test getting over as early as five minutes before lunch on the third day, Curtly Ambrose drove the 16 members of the West Indian cricket team around the Perth cricket ground on his new Nissan jeep. It was quite apt that the Man of the Series award had been the big vehicle for the big man. Two days earlier he had steered the riveting series in favour of West Indies with one of the most breath-taking spells of fast bowling ever witnessed in the history of the game. His 33 wickets in the series had equalled Clarrie Grimmett and Alan Davidson for the most wickets in a West Indies-Australia series.
The series had evoked memories of the famed 1960-61 epics played between the two sides. The spirit was magnificent and crowds came in huge numbers. Allan Border had built the Australians into a tightly knit unit on their way to becoming the top side of the world. The West Indians were up against a tough home side, and playing for the first time in 18 years without the greats Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall and Jeff Dujon. The games were keenly contested and often gruelling. Richie Richardson led the tourists admirably, with plenty of confidence in his young side.
The Australians had taken the lead after the second Test at Melbourne, and the West Indies had pulled one back with a heart-stopping win at Adelaide, with Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Kenny Benjamin and Ian Bishop holding their nerves to squeeze home by the slimmest possible margin of one run.
The fifth and final Test was therefore a winner take all contest, and the West Indians found themselves without Benjamin and Carl Hooper, both out due to injuries. Andy Cummins made his debut.
Border won the toss and Australia batted on the quick WACA wicket. David Boon struck the ball with a lot of confidence and after the first hour, in spite of the early loss of Justin Langer, the hosts looked quite comfortable.
Steve Waugh gloved one from Bishop down the leg side with a few minutes to go before lunch, but Boon carried on the good work. It was a decent 85 for two when Ambrose returned to the bowling mark after lunch, about to set the history of fast bowling ablaze with pace like fire that still rages in memory.
Pace like fire
Mark Waugh left to delivery pitched to perfection that went to the keeper off the outside edge. It was the ideal length to bowl at Perth with just that additional bounce to unsettle the most noble of forward pushes.
David Boon, who had moved on to an impressive 44, was the next to perish. The ball again bounced from good length and took the shoulder of the bat, and captain Richardson, that most excellent of slip fielders, flung himself forward to grasp the offer.
Border walked out and faced the nastiest of first balls. It cut away from him as he played back, drawing the bat like a magnet, kissing the edge and travelling safely to Junior Murray behind the stumps.
Ian Healy, coming off a pair at Adelaide, somehow survived the hat-trick. But he failed to open his account yet again, pushing at a delivery just outside the off-stump and ending in the eager hands of Brian Lara at first slip.
At 102 for six, Merv Hughes was expected to put his head down and hang in there with the last recognised batsman, Damien Martyn. But, the big fast-medium bowler decided to go over the top. The resulting skier was well held by Keith Arthurton running back from cover. Ambrose had five wickets in the spell for just one run. Hughes was the only man dismissed by Ambrose that day without edging to the keeper or slip.
In his next over, Martyn pushed at another of those probing pacy deliveries outside the off-stump and it flew to second slip. And four balls later, clueless debutant Jo Angel hung his bat to snick to the keeper. Ambrose had taken seven for one from 32 balls. A heady cocktail of pace, movement, skill and venom – and bowled relentlessly at the same teasing length that forced batsmen to come forward and prod helplessly.
What happened next
Australia crashed from 85 for two to 119 all out just before tea. Ambrose finished with seven for 25.
In response Phil Simmons struck 80 and Keith Arthurton made 77, and it was punctuated by a furious 40 ball 47 by Richardson, with seven fours and two sixes.
West Indies were all out for 322, and the 203 run deficit proved too much for the Australians. Boon batted well for the second time in the match, but Bishop generated extreme pace and bowled him for 52. Three balls later he castled Border, presenting the captain his second duck of the match – his first pair in 138 Tests – and reducing the home team to 95 for six. The final margin of victory was an innings and 25 runs. Bishop picked up six for 60 and Ambrose finished with nine wickets, giving him 19 in the back-to-back Test wins.
The two captains were effusive in their praise of the great West Indian fast bowler. Richardson called Ambrose the best fast bowler he had played with – a staggering tribute since the West Indian had made his debut in the days of Marshall, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Joel Garner. Border remarked that he was among the four finest he had played.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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