On February 19, 1977 Doug Walters and Gary Gilmour ruthlessly smashed the New Zealand bowlers after a late night out. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the most stunning partnerships in the history of cricket.
Before the match
If nothing else had happened, this Test would still have been a memorable one. Ewen Chatfield was making a comeback after swallowing his tongue and being declared clinically dead following a severe blow during the course of a Test against England a couple of years back.
But the focus of this piece is Aussies Doug Walters and Gary Gilmour. Before the tour Greg Chappell emphasised on a new fitness regime, introducing early morning runs for the squad, something alien in 1977. He wanted Walters and Rodney Marsh — the seniors of his team — to be in charge of this.
Walters was never one for physical activity. He regularly skipped the morning jog. On one occasion he started with the team, but soon vanished, only to join them 200 metres from the hotel and went straight to the bed. He arrived the next morning, proudly adorning a Playboy T.t-shirt, with the words ‘Jogging Can Kill’ printed somewhat proudly on the back.
It was ridiculous to expect Walters to be disciplined. On the eve of the Christchurch Test the players dispersed and went to their respective rooms to their rooms. Some of them stayed back for a few drinks. Two hours before the team meeting, there were only two men in the bar — Walters and manager Roger Wootten. Later, Wootten retired as well.
At five in the morning Wootten rapped on Marsh’s door. He probably did not dare to wake up Chappell, and went for the vice-captain instead. When Marsh opened the door, Wootten exclaimed that Walters was still in the bar. Marsh told him that this was regular for Walters, and he told him that Walters was always under control during a Test. Not reassured altogether, Woootten retreated.
Day One: Walters and Gilmour begin
Glenn Turner won the toss and put Australia in. After Chatfield struck early amidst a great cheer from the Lancester Park crowd, the Hadlee brothers kept on pegging at the wickets. Richard took three and Dayle two, and Australia found themselves at 208 for six. The New Zealand seamers seemed to be doing a splendid job, and with a dreary-eyed Walters as the only specialist batsman at the crease, things did not look too good.
Walters was not set, either. He had come out some time back, and lost Chappell and Marsh. In his own words, he ‘hardly saw’ the initial deliveries from Richard Hadlee. He fished around, not moving his feet at all, and missing almost everything that came at him. He took almost half an hour to settle down. He could not time virtually anything till he reached 20. All those present thought that Walters was too sleep-deprived and hung-over to bat properly.
Gilmour was dropped when he was on 13, but then, being the sober of the two, he took the responsibility of the onslaught. It was he who began the destruction. He flailed his bat like a sword, and began hitting the New Zealand bowlers everywhere around the park.
Walters opened up soon, and began to play his strokes as well. Everything seemed to happen in a blur: Walters dominated the bowling — Richard Hadlee included — and soon left Gilmour far behind. He seemed to be a man possessed. His eyes reddish from the previous night, his head a bit stodgy, but his incredible hand-eye coordination taking the New Zealand bowlers all over the park.
Australia ended the day at 345 for six — a reasonably high score for a side being put in and being 208 for 6. Walters had raced to an absurd 129, while Gilmour provided company with 65.
The next morning, at almost the same time, there was another knock on Marsh’s door. It was Wootten again. Yes, Walters was at the bar again. However, this time he had company in the form of none other than Gilmour. Worse, their reckless night was spotted by a few Australian journalists, who were ready to pounce upon them at the slightest sign of failure the next day. Marsh had to put a serious effort to calm Wootten and send him back to his room.
Day Two: Walters and Gilmour continue
Kerry O’Keeffe, the next man in, severely criticised the approach of Walters and Gilmour, especially when they were the next batsmen in. Getting drunk once was atrocious enough — but you could still be forgiven if you were the No 5 batsman. Both not out batsmen getting drunk was simply not acceptable.
The pitch did not behave well the next morning. Hadlee made the ball talk once again, and Walters struggled once again for about 20 minutes or so. However, once he got going, there was no looking back from there. Gilmour soon joined in the fun, and the two of them went berserk.
Walters and Gilmour, however, carried on from where they had left the earlier afternoon. Gilmour reached his maiden Test hundred in no time, but fell immediately for 101. It remained his only Test hundred. Gilmour had scored 101 off 146 balls with 20 fours and a six, and the pair had put up 217 — an Australian seventh-wicket record that still stands today.
Walters carried on, though, unperturbed. He flogged the Kiwis — who had virtually given up by now — and soon reached his double hundred. He lost O’Keeffe, who had criticised them earlier in the day, but Dennis Lillee and Max Walker hung around, and Walters was last out, scoring 250 in 342 balls with 30 fours and two sixes. Australia had scored 552, and Walters had scored 250 out of the 420 during his tenure at the crease. It remained his career-best, and is still the highest score for an Australian against New Zealand.
A completely flattened and demoralised New Zealand ended the day with 106 for three. Walters celebrated his innings with his team with — you’ve guessed it right — more booze.
The remaining days
O’Keeffe and Walker made inroads in the New Zealand line-up. The Kiwis had starts, but none of them converted these starts to anything substantial. At 265 for eight, follow-on was inevitable, but Hedley Howarth and Dayle Hadlee added 73 for the ninth wicket, and New Zealand evaded the follow-on, eventually folding for 357.
Being ahead by 195, the Australians went in pursuit of quick runs. Rick McCosker scored an unbeaten 77 as Australia declared at 154 for four, asking New Zealand to chase exactly 350 in just over a day.
Once again New Zealand kept on losing wickets at regular intervals, with only Bevan Congdon standing tall amidst the ruins. From 218 for three they soon slipped to 260 for eight with still almost an hour’s play left. But Dayle Hadlee hung around once again, helping Congdon score a hundred and salvage a draw. New Zealand finished at 293 for eight.
They did not survive at Auckland, though: Lillee took 11 wickets, and Australia romped to a ten-wicket victory.
Brief scores: Australia 552 (Doug Walters 250, Gary Gilmour 101; Ewen Chatfield 3 for 125, Richard Hadlee 3 for 152) and 154 for 4 declared (Rick McCosker 77 not out) drew with New Zealand 357 (Mark Burgess 66, Hedley Howarth 61; Kerry O’Keeffe 5 for 101, Max Walker 3 for 66) and 293 for 8 (Bevan Congdon 101; Max Walker 4 for 65).
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
First Published: February 19, 2013, 11:07 am