They just touched the ball and ran like whippets. And slowly the Australians started squeezing out of the stranglehold of Wesley Hall and the other West Indians.
Between the stolen singles and twos, Alan Davidson cut and hooked with vicious grace. He had walked in with the score reading 57 for five, Hall on rampage. At the other end captain Richie Benaud looked unruffled. When he had come in at 92 for six, all had looked lost.
The plan had been to scatter the fielders with some audacious running. And it seemed to be working.
In the dressing room, all padded up, Wally Grout chain-smoked his way for two hours. Ian Meckiff and Lindsay Kline, rank tailenders, cast anxious glances at the nervous wreck supposed to go in before them. They did not see much to reassure themselves.
Meanwhile, at four o’clock, commentator Alan McGilvray had left the ground saying that the match was over. The spectators who lived in Sydney had booked the 5.45 plane. Some stayed back and some risked leaving. Many were forced to go because of earlier commitments. Several confessed that it had been the biggest mistake of their lives. Watching all the remaining Tests did not make up for it.
The swinging pendulum
After four days of trading blows in the first Test, the visitors seemed to be destined to come out on top.
On the first day, Garry Sobers had played one of the greatest knocks ever seen in Australia. The breathless innings would remain close to his heart. When years later Lindsay Kline told him, "that wonderful innings you played, that 130 was fantastic," the legend responded, "Lindsay, it was 132". Sobers scored plenty of hundreds in his career, but every detail of this one was precious. It had made the Brisbane crowd delirious for three hours.
However, Alan Davidson, that human machine who ticked over hour after hour with the same relentless accuracy, captured five wickets and kept the West Indians down to 453 – in spite of fifties by Frank Worrell and Joe Solomon and an entertaining half century by Hall with his haymaker swings.
Australia had responded well. Norman O’Neill, not really at his best, had fought hard to notch his highest Test score of181. Several deliveries of Hall had left angry marks on him. Colin McDonald had been hit painfully on the knee by the West Indian pacer, but had hobbled to 57. Bobby Simpson had sedately progressed to 92 before a rush of blood towards the end of the second day had seen his stumps disturbed by Sonny Ramadhin. And Alan Davidson had peerlessly left his signature in every phase of the game by scoring 44. The home team led by 52 after first innings exchanges.
On the fourth day, Davidson had cast a magic spell. With six wickets – 11 for the match – he had swung the match towards Australia. When he had bowled Hall on the final morning, Australia had needed 233 in 310 minutes.
It was expected to be a routine chase. “When I walked through the gate and along the side of the pavilion to the dressing rooms, I could see white flowers dotting the turf; clover flowers. It was obvious that the ground hadn't been mown this morning. I ask for a mowing, but the curator tells me there was a heavy shower just after seven o'clock and he hasn't been able to get the mower on the ground... now he hasn't the time to do it. I don't s'pose it matters a great deal really, we'll only have a bit over 200 to make,” Benaud recalls.
But, it was not going to be easy. Hall later wrote in his autobiography, “I was fresh, marvellously fresh. I hurtled into the attack with a vigour which even I found a little amazing. I seemed to be propelled by a jet during that early onslaught.”
With new boots that produced enormous blisters, Hall charged in and generated pace like fire. Simpson went for a duck, Harvey for five, the promising O’Neill for 26 – all to the big Barbadian bowler with the crucifix danglingfrom his neck. McDonald battled for one and a half hours before being bowled by Worrell. Hall knocked over Les Favell, and Ramadhin managed to spin one past Ken Mackay’s defence just as he was settling down.
With 124 needed in 120 minutes, four wickets in hand, Don Bradman approached Richie Benaud during the Tea interval.
“What is it going to be?” asked the great man.
"Well, we're going for a win," replied Benaud.
"I'm very pleased to hear it," replied Sir Donald.
And then came the push and run tactics, resulting in overthrows, misfields and wild returns. The excitable men in the West Indian camp were feeling the heat, and the serene Worrell did a magnificent job of keeping them under control.The match soon started slipping away and by the middle of the last session, Australia was again established on top.
Davidson and Benaud batted on, charting a fascinating fight-back. With 11 wickets and 44 in the first innings, now the left-handed all-rounder unfurled a splendid second innings.Combining cheeky running and some bold hits to the fence, the partnership was on its way to finishing the match. And the game was all but sewn up, end well within sight. With12 minutes left, Davidson was on 80, Benaud on 52. Seven runs remained to win, and the last four wickets still intact.
At this stage, Benaud played a few dot balls from Sobers and then pushed one to the leg side and called for a single. A tiring Davidson was perhaps a little slow to react. Solomon, 25 yards out and square to the wicket, swooped down on the ball like an eagle and hit the wicket. “If I'd have been Usain Bolt I wouldn't have made my ground,” Davidson recalled recently.
The new man, Wally Grout, walked in and could not find his gloves. They had slipped inside the roll of his pads.He nervously lookedaround, fidgeted and sweated before managing to find them and taking guard. A single ended the over.
The last over
Six runs were required off one of those long eight-ball overs used in Australia, and it was the eighteenth to be bowled by Hall.
The first ball reared up, hit Grout a crippling blow on the solar plexus and dropped in front of his toes. Benaud scampered across like an Olympic sprinter, and Grout grunted and hobbled in response, clutching his midriff, somehow crawling into the safety of the non-striker’s end. Five remained off seven balls.
A few overs earlier Worrell had warned Hall to cut down on the bouncers.Now, with Australia a stroke away from victory Benaud stood in front of him, a compulsive hooker and well set on 52. For some reason, Hall decided to pitch the ball well within the bowler’s half of the pitch. The ball screamed through head high, Benaud hooked, and it went to Gerry Alexander off the glove.
Two wickets remained as Benaud walked back.
Ian Meckiff patted the ball back quietly back to Hall. Five were now required from five balls.
As Hall let go of the next ball, Grout ran with it. Meckiff missed it completely and hared down the wicket as it went through to Alexander.A confused Hall ended up at the batsman’s crease and a calm Worrell at the non-striker’s end preventing overthrows. The end result was a bye. Four runs remained to be scored from four balls.
And now, in his second act of direct disobedience of the captain’s instructions, Hall bounced again. Grout, who fancied himself against the short stuff, essayed a hook and the ball ballooned off the top edge. It hovered in the air for an eternity, above the square leg region, with Kanhai and Alexander both in excellent position to pouch it, with lots of time to get there. Worrell later wrote, “How Wes ever got there I will never know,” but the fast bowler had somehow reversed direction from his follow through, galloped down to square-leg, hit Kanhai on the head with his elbow, fumbled with the balland let it drop to the turf.
“The Good Lord’s gone and left us,” Hall exclaimed, startling the square-leg umpire Col Hoy.
In all this commotion, batsmen had taken a single, and three runs remained to win.
Hall charged in again and Meckiff hit hard and high to the leg side. The boundary fence seemed to drag the ball towards it like a magnet. And according to Benaud, it was stopped by one of those outgrowths that had not been mown that morning. The batsmen completed two and turned for what could have been the winning run. Conrad Hunte sprinted to pick the ball up and sent in a spectacular return. Grout dove for the crease, grazing his elbows, but Alexander had the bails off in a flash. The entire ground focused on umpire Hoy, and up went his finger.
The scores were tied.
During the previous over, Kline had asked Colin McDonald, "I won't have to go in, will I?" The opener had responded reassuringly, "No, I don't think so".
And then, as those wickets were lost, Kline had tried to pad up and couldn't find his gloves. After a desperate search, he discovered he was sitting on them.
Now, he took strike and Worrell walked over from mid-off and quietly said to his fast bowler, “Whatever you do Wes, don’t bowl a no-ball. They will never let you back in Barbados.”
Hall’s right foot was well behind the line as he hurled down his seventh thunderbolt of the over. Kline timed it beautifully to square leg and the two men started sprinting across the 22 yards.
Peter Lashley at midwicket had rushed towards it when he heard, “Move, move, move” from a charging Solomon. It was towards the wrong arm of the Guyanese batsman, and he could see just one stump. But, Solomon pounced on the ball and released it with the same the bull’s eye accuracy that he had shown an over earlier. Meckiff was short of his ground. And pandemonium broke loose.
Meckiff thought Australia had lost “Fancy losing like that,” he mouthed to Kline as they walked back morosely. West Indians too thought they had won. It could not be a draw when the batting side was all out in the second innings, could it? On the radio it was announced that West Indies had won by one run.
“We were coming off the field a little bit concerned. We knew we hadn't won, but at the same time we knew we hadn't lost. It was a little difficult at the time to appreciate things in perspective,” Alexander recalled.
It was Don Bradman who came in and told Davidson, “You’ve made history.”
As things cooled down in the pavilion, the truth dawned.Australians came pouring into the West Indian dressing room. Champagne flowed. West Indian manager Gerry Gomez did a jig with Norman O’Neill.
The following Tests were played with that same heady mix of camaraderie and competitiveness – resulting in perhaps the greatest series of all time.
Almost two years later, a South Narango peanut farmer revealed to Wes Hall that he had grabbed the historic ball as it had spun out of Ramadhin’s hands.
As over 3000 people jostled in front of the pavilion, this gentleman had clutched on to this souvenir and made a run for it. Hall recognised the ball from the large split across the seam on one side. A taxi driver had offered him 50 pounds for it, but the proud cricket fan had refused to part with the priceless souvenir.
(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)
First Published: December 14, 2012, 1:13 pm