The series between West Indies and Australia in 1960-61 is arguably the greatest Test series ever. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the humdingers on February 1, 1961 that contributed towards making the series so memorable.
First Test at Brisbane: Tied, and widely regarded as the greatest Test of all time.
Second Test at Melbourne: Australia won by 7 wickets.
Third Test at Sydney: West Indies won by 222 runs.
The series was tied 1-1 as the two teams, separated by virtually nothing, moved to the fourth Test at Adelaide. Frank Worrell – who had won hearts during the series by aggressive, competitive cricket and playing the sport in its spirit – won the toss amidst great cheer.
Australia were without the services of Alan Davidson and Ian Meckiff. Rohan Kanhai blasted the Australian attack away on the first day, scoring 117 in 149 minutes with 14 fours and 2 sixes. He was supported well by Worrell (71) and Seymour Nurse (49). Gerry Alexander shepherded the tail well and remained unbeaten with 63. Richie Benaud took 5 wickets as West Indies scored 393.
Australia responded well. Bobby Simpson, Colin McDonald and Benaud all went past 70, and despite the spinners Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers sharing 8 wickets between themselves (Gibbs took 5 wickets including the first hat-trick against Australia in the 20th century), they managed to score 366, thanks to a defiant ninth-wicket partnership of 85 between Benaud and debutant Des Hoare. They scored 366.
After a solid start from Conrad Hunte and Cammie Smith, West Indies accelerated in their second innings. Kanhai thwarted the inexperienced Australian seamers. Kanhai scored another hundred – 115 – and the other two heroes of the first innings, Worrell and Alexander, did encores with 53 and an unbeaten 87 respectively. West Indies declared at 432 for 6 on the fourth afternoon, leaving Australia to score 460 in 120 eight-ball overs.
Whatever chance was there for the Australians to have gone for a chase was over before stumps on the fourth day. Les Favell nicked one off Wes Hall, McDonald was run out, and then, just when it seemed that Norman O’Neill would guide Australia to relative safety, Hall had Simpson caught behind to end the day’s play. Australia were reeling at 31 for 3.
A 13,000-strong crowd turned up for the fifth day, hoping that their country would be able to claw back into the match. O’Neill and Peter Burge did just that, hanging around for the fourth wicket and scoring runs at the same time. Just when the crowd and the dressing-room heaved a sigh of relief, Alf Valentine had Burge caught behind for 49. The partnership had added 82 in 99 minutes: it was 113 for 4 now.
Soon after, O’Neill hit one back to Sobers, and when Benaud fell the same way, panic set in. True, Ken Mackay was there (he was nicknamed “Slasher” rather ironically; he was reputed for his dour, dogged defensive style), but wickets kept falling at the other end.
Wally Grout held on, though, and Mackay and Grout added 69 runs in 76 minutes, once again increasing the odds of a draw. It was then that Worrell brought himself on. In a superb spell, he removed Grout, Frank Misson and Hoare, thereby reducing Australia to 207 for 9 with still 109 minutes to go.
Lindsay Kline walked out. He bowled Chinaman of a sublime quality, but that attribute would hardly turn out to be useful at this point. Kline’s reputation with the bat was such that they the policemen turned towards the crowd as soon as he entered the arena to stop a pitch invasion. The situation was tailor-made for Mackay, though. He could bat for hours at a stretch, but would Kline be able to sustain the pressure?
Soon afterwards, Mackay played one from Worrell to Sobers at short-leg. Sobers caught it, and the West Indians began to leave the ground. However, Col Egar ruled Mackay not out, and Worrell’s men resumed the match without a word, adhering to the excellent spirit in which the series had been played. Though Worrell refused to comment on this after the day’s play, the West Indians were sure that Egar was wrong. On the other hand, Mackay claimed that it was a “bump” catch and the decision was, indeed, correct.
To his credit, Mackay held on. Not only did he survive, he hit the occasional boundary as well, and did not hesitate to give Kline the strike.
Kline, on the other hand, played very sensibly, presenting a dead bat to everything bowled at him. As he got more and more settled, he started taking singles, and the pressure was eased a bit.
Mackay was in his usual calm self. Unfazed by the pressure, he carried on, chewing gum as he always had been, his stance relaxed as usual, his cap at a jaunty angle. He left the balls perilously close to the off-stump, leaving the spectators gasping, but he knew exactly what he was doing. Every now and then he took time to flex his limbs or walked a few paces to tap the pitch. Worrell did not protest.
The Australian dressing-room looked increasingly relieved as Mackay and Kline grew in confidence and began to believe that the duo could pull off a draw. Even Gibbs, the hero of the first innings and who had picked up Mackay as a part of his hat-trick, could not create an impact. He went wicketless.
Lesser captains would have panicked, but Worrell knew that there was still time left. As the clock moved over to 5 o’clock, Worrell took the new ball with an hour to go – and brought back his trusted admiral – Wes Hall.
It was déjà vu for Hall. He had been assigned the same task in the first Test when Australia had four wickets in hand, and the match had ended in a tie. It was a lot easier this time as Hall ran in, his body glistening in the afternoon sweat, the famous golden crucifix dangling from his neck, and the red cherry barely visible from behind his huge palm. The West Indians saw a glimmer of hope. But he could not break through. Mackay remained as composed as he had been throughout the innings, and Kline batted like a possessed man – nothing seemed to go past the middle of his bat.
The West Indians now seemed eager, especially to dismiss Kline. Ten men – including the wicket-keeper – prowled around Kline like birds of prey, prepared to swoop on to every opportunity he would provide. But the opportunity never came. Kline’s bat grew broader and broader as the Test went into its dying moments. The fielders came closer and closer – in fact, they so close that Kline had to seek the umpire’s help when Valentine came within touching distance of Kline’s bat.
As the clock ticked 5.57 pm, Worrell began what one presumed to be the final over of the day. Worrell, who had taken the previous three wickets with such ease, had Kline surrounded by a phalanx of men. As he came on, bowling left-arm spin to the left-handed No 11, everyone waited with bated breath to see whether Kline would be able to play out the over. One ball, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight – Kline had managed to survive.
But the drama was not over yet. As Egar and Col Hoy moved over, there were still seconds left for the clock to tick over to 6 o’clock, which meant that there was enough time left for one more over. Worrell handed the ball to – not for the first time – Hall.
Hall looked completely exhausted as he began the final over, but the adrenaline kept him going. He found it difficult to go past Mackay, though. Hall was so drained out that he took out time before every ball to rest himself. As he ran in the fading light, his spikes bruising the lush green Adelaide Oval, the tension built over. The West Indians were alert; the Australians in the dressing-room were edgy; the crowd almost forgot to utter a single sound.
Mackay looked serene, though. He played out seven deliveries without the slightest lapse. For the sixth ball onwards, Hall decided to come round the wicket. MacKay played out two more balls. As Hall came on to bowl the final delivery, he messed up his run-up, and did not release the ball. He decided to switch to over the wicket instead.
Mackay played out the eighth and final ball. A group of schoolboys rushed on to the ground (the policemen had probably given up by now, and they too were sucked in by what was going on at the ground); the West Indians looked dejected; however, there was still one small bit of drama left in the match – Hoy had called it a no-ball. The ground had to be cleared, and Hall had to bowl yet again – the ninth of the over – and he looked so exhausted that it seemed that he may not be able to bowl it again.
Mackay, meanwhile, had to muster the concentration to play out yet another ball to save the match. One wonders what went through his mind. In his own words, “as I faced the last ball I thought – if it’s going to be short I won’t let it hit my bat, I’ll take it on the body or the head if necessary.”
As Mackay had anticipated, a tired but hopeful Hall let loose a short-pitched one. The trick that had worked with Benaud at Brisbane did not work with Mackay here. Showing exemplary courage, he shouldered arms and let the ball hit his ribs, resulting in a major bruise, but ensuring that he had seen Australia off to safety.
As Worrell consoled a dejected and completely worn-out Hall (he had taken 11 minutes to finish the final over) back to the dressing-room, the crowd invaded the pitch again, this time to congratulate their heroes: they had batted out time, pulling off one of the most sensational draws of all time, McKay scoring 62 and Kline 15, ensuring that the teams went to Melbourne with the series on 1-1. Surprisingly, Kline never played another Test for Australia after this heroic performance despite having a bowling average of 22.82 and a Test hat-trick.
The teams entered the Melbourne Cricket Ground for one final battle to decide the series. But that is another story.
West Indies 393 (Rohan Kanhai 117, Frank Worrell 71, Gerry Alexander 63 not out; Richie Benaud 5 for 96) and 432 for 6 declared (Rohan Kanhai 115, Gerry Alexander 87 not out, Conrad Hunte 79, Frank Worrell 53) drew with Australia 366 (Bobby Simpson 85, Richie Benaud 77, Colin McDonald 71; Lance Gibbs 5 for 97) and 273 for 9 (Norman O’Neill 65, Ken Mackay 62 not out).
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)
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