On May 1, 1995: Steve Waugh’s double century toppled West Indies from their imposing pedestal, enabled Australia to win the series 2-1 and effected a global cricketing power shift. Karthik Parimal looks back at that knock at what it meant to Steve Waugh and Australia.
For 15 years, West Indies refused to concede a Test-series, crushing every opponent that crossed their paths. Even when they operated at half their potential, they were good enough to plunder any first-rate side. During the early 1990s, they were hardly the force that once sucked hope out of their rivals well before the commencement of a game, but they were yet to give up the throne. The team that was most touted to displace them at the top eventually toured in the summer of 1995, and after Australia won the first Test convincingly at Barbados, cricketer-turned-correspondent Mike Selvey rightly stated that it was “a fiery beginning to the end of an empire.”
The West Indians, not surprisingly, staged a comeback. Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Carl Hooper, with a little support from the rest of the troop, ensured that they were square before the fourth and final Test at Kingston, Jamaica. The crowd, bustling with anticipation, had turned up in large numbers to cheer their side to yet another series-triumph. The players they had castigated after the loss at Barbados had all stepped up a level, and the onus was now on them to deliver the final blow.
West Indies wilt as Richie Richardson shines
Being the skipper, Richie Richardson did a fine job of forming an impenetrable shield against the likes of Glenn McGrath, Paul Reiffel, Shane Warne and Brendon Julian, even as the rest of his entourage fell apart. Only Brian Lara scored a brisk 65, but the partnerships he shared with the rest were few and far between. The last six wickets were gifted away for just 45 runs. Richardson dropped anchor at one end for almost six hours, facing 222 balls before Reiffel dismissed him for exactly a hundred. His innings included 12 fours and a six, but little would he have expected the limelight to be seized so unceremoniously when the Australian reply commenced.
A mediocre total of 265 had been posted, but having reduced the visitors to 73 for three, the hostile pacers sniffed blood. However, two hurdles, in the form of in-form brothers — Mark and Steve Waugh — they were yet to overcome.
Twins win it with tons
As was often the case during those days, West Indies’ bowling revolved around four fast bowlers, with a part-time spinner injected on a sporadic basis during the course of the innings. In this Test, Ambrose, Walsh, Kenny Benjamin and Winston Benjamin formed a quartet, and they immediately peppered the Waugh brothers with accurate, short-pitched deliveries. The fielders close to the batsmen were abuzz, subtly trying to get under their skin. Nevertheless, Steve was in his element. This was evident from the effortless manner in which he handled a first-ball bouncer, which could have caused trouble to most batsmen during the early stages of their innings.
Both Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh got accustomed to the rhythm and homogeneity of the quartet and began to nonchalantly milk them for runs. The duo had perplexed bowlers right throughout the series and the ease with which they scored — especially Steve, unfurling backfoot drives, flicks and ruthless cuts from his blade at will — indicated that it was bound to happen again. The fielders, initially chirpy, had fewer words to say with each passing over. The physical proof of their dropping body language was given by wicket-keeper Courtney Browne, who, slow to anticipate where he’d take the ball, grassed an opportunity presented by Steve on 42. “Any time I got a reprieve, I felt obliged to knuckle down and make the most of my good fortune; anything less than a hundred wasn’t an option,” believed Steve Waugh. And it wasn’t any different this time around.
The brothers kept talking to each other throughout the stand, further strengthening their base. “During this partnership Mark and I conversed at the end of every over — short messages of reassurance such as ‘Keep working hard’, ‘don’t relax now’, or, ‘They look like they’re beginning to tire’,” writes Steve in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone. “By the end of the day we had assumed control of the game and the Waugh twins had lived out a backyard dream by peeling off centuries and combining a double-hundred stand,” he further adds.
The next day, Mark’s knock was reduced to a sideshow. Even as he succumbed to Carl Hooper’s part-time spin for a well compiled 126, Steve kept scoring off the rest of the unit. His determination, resolve and tenacity — traits he trained himself to master ever since he graced the cricketing stage — were beginning to pay rich dividends. The techniques he applied to concentrate would make for a fine lesson, one that would hold many current cricketers in good stead. ‘Watch the ball!’, ‘Now!’ he kept telling himself as he approached the remarkable double. “Between deliveries I totally tuned out and switched off from the intensity of the game. The bowler beginning his run-up was the signal for me to move into ‘semi-awareness’ mode, watching but not being absorbed by the action,” recollects Steve Waugh in his book.
Maiden-double century and the ruckus that followed
In the 158th over, bowled by Hooper, a full delivery on the pads was played away towards the deep by Steve, who had to run four runs, alongside McGrath, to reach his first double century. Before he could digest the fact that he’d realised one of his treasured cricketing ambitions, and acknowledge his blokes in the dressing room, a section of the Australian crowd invaded the field and engulfed the bemused, and weary, batsman. Apart from the usual pats and handshakes, a young girl planted a kiss on Steve’s cheek, completely taking him by surprise. Former Australian cricketer Greg Ritchie, too, scampered his way to the middle to congratulate him — an action he would later regret. This prompted West Indies’ skipper Richardson to comment, “Hello, Fat Cat, what are you doing here? You should know better.”
After all the commotion, Steve finally managed to raise his bat towards the pavilion, absorbing the moment, and the good wishes of his fellow team-mates. After facing 424 balls, he was the last Australian batsman to be dismissed, by Kenny Benjamin, for 200. The visitors piled 531, thereby gaining a lead of 266 runs. Steve left the ground amidst accolades, from the players and crowd alike, head held high.
West Indies were shot out for 213, to lose by an innings and 53 runs and with it the series. Paul Reiffel finished with four wickets to his name and proudly stated that “it was the start of a new chapter in Australian cricket”.
Steve Waugh’s following words best sum up the moment: “About 10 hours later [after the match] I slumped into the quicksand mattress of Room 5/200 (good omen: batted five, scored 200), totally exhausted, still fully kitted up. It was a little strange to wake up dressed in my creams, with the baggy green welded tight to my head and my half-spiked cricket shoes still on, but the satisfaction I felt from having seen team and personal goals achieved was tremendous. I knew this Test was my defining moment in cricket.”
It indeed was.
West Indies 265 (Richie Richardson 100, Brian Lara 65; Paul Reiffel 3 for 48) and 213 (Winston Benjamin 51; Paul Reiffel 4 for 47, Shane Warne 4 for 70) lost to Australia 531 (Steve Waugh 200, Mark Waugh 126; Courtney Walsh 3 for 103, Kenny Benjamin 3 for 106) by an innings and 53 runs.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshippper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/