Since its initiation there have been days when the mass has opined in favour of limited-overs cricket. Indeed, there have been days in Test cricket that have been dull and boring – even for the purists. And then, all of a sudden – a day comes across and changes the perception of the world and puts their mindset to where it should have belonged in the first place. It is for days like these that Test cricket has been considered the supreme level of the sport: January 26, 1993, was one such day.
It was the fourth Test of the series. Australia were 1-0 up already, and nobody gave West Indies a chance to square – let alone win – the series. Their first bowlers had bowled well in bursts, but they never seemed like running through a line-up the way they had over the past two decades.
Richie Richardson had won the toss and had elected to bat. Though the West Indians were sensible in their approach – four batsmen crossed forty (Brian Lara followed his famous 277 with a fifty) – none of them went on to make a big score, and Merv Hughes bowled them out for 252 on what looked like a pitch that favoured the batsmen. Curtly Ambrose then struck back, dismissing the Australians for 213. West Indies seemed to be comfortably placed at 125 for 4, but then on came Tim May and bowled an amazing spell of 6.5-3-9-5, and the West Indians collapsed to 146 (Richardson scored almost half of them) at stumps on Day Three, leaving Australia a paltry target of 186 for what looked like an easy victory.
The next day was Australia Day, and people flocked to the stadium in thousands. Everyone was keen to witness their team defeat the number one team in the world, clinch the Frank Worrell Trophy; they wanted to see the West Indies lose a series for the first time since their New Zealand tour of the late 1970s.
Richardson handed the new ball to the already pumped-up Ambrose. His tall, imposing physique stood at the end of his run-up, the top button of his shirt undone, and the characteristic white bands visible on both wrists. As he bowled his first ball, it was evident that he was bowling with a purpose, and will do whatever it takes to make life difficultfor the Australian camp. He still seemed furious about the fact that Dean Jones had asked him to remove his wrist bands earlier on the tour.
He bowled with characteristic pace, and was well-supported by Ian Bishop from the other end. There was an ominous stranglehold, making runs almost impossible to come by. Then Ambrose struck – he bowled one just outside the off-stump, and the good-length ball cut back in sharply; the usually solid David Boon was caught on the crease, and ball hit the stocky batsman on his knee-roll. He had fallen for a duck off 17 balls, and with that wicket, Ambrose had managed to send an early message to the enemy camp.
Richardson knew he had to shuffle his four fast bowlers around after short bursts if he needed them to be fresh throughout the day. He brought Kenneth Benjamin – who had the middle names Charlie Griffith – ahead of Courtney Walsh. The result was instantaneous; Mark Taylor, who had crawled to a 42-ball seven, edged one to wicket-keeper Junior Murray, and that was that.
Justin Langer, on his debut, managed to hang around while Mark Waugh decided to counterattack. He hit four boundaries, and took the attack to the West Indian camp. For a while it seemed that Australia had recovered. Then Walsh ran in, his run-up silk smooth, not displaying the slightest bit of aggression till the release of the ball. Then he sent out a snorter that kicked from a good-length. Mark Waugh could only fend it, and Carl Hooper took an amazing catch diving to his left in front of first slip.
The match was far from over, though. Langer was well set by now, and was now beginning to open up. Additionally, Australia had in their line-up two of the greatest fighters of all time in Steve Waugh and Allan Border. It was then that Richardson brought Ambrose back. The spell Ambrose produced was an incredible one.
He bowled one just outside the off-stump: Steve Waugh, possibly a bit frustrated from the unyielding noose of Ambrose and Walsh, hit one straight to Keith Arthurton at cover; Arthurton had almost dropped it, but managed to catch it in the second bounce. In walked Allan Border, Australia’s saviour on plenty of such occasions under similar circumstances.
Ambrose gave Border a torrid time for what seemed like an eternity. The pitch showed uneven bounce – one of the balls reaching Murray on the second bounce. And then, in the very next delivery, Ambrose unleashed the most brutal of bouncers, once again from a good-length: Border could merely fend it in front of his face, and Desmond Haynes at forward short-leg took an easy catch.
Langer took a single off Walsh, and the typically gritty Ian Healy dragged the next delivery on to the stumps for a golden duck to register a pair in the match; Walsh, forgetting all composure, ran towards his mate Ambrose for that high-five. It was Walsh’s 1000th First-Class wicket, and the West Indies were in with a serious chance now.
At the other end, Ambrose was bowling relentlessly. His accuracy was phenomenal, and he kept attacking the stumps, which meant that he was bound to get wickets on a pitch that offered uneven bounce. One of his deliveries kept low, and Hughes, top-scorer in the first innings, tried to play across and was trapped leg-before. It was Ambrose’s 10th wicket of the Test (his innings figures read four for 11 at this point), and with Australia on 74 for seven, the West Indies were the clear favourites now. Ambrose had ripped through the middle-order with three wickets in 19 balls.
Walsh was equally menacing at the other end: he bowled a brutal bouncer to Shane Warne that hit his forearm and ballooned to Hooper at second slip. There was a huge appeal, but Darrell Hair turned it down. Warne settled down, and runs began to come in a slow trickle. Langer looked solid, and Australia managed to cross 100.
Then, in the over before tea, Bishop bowled a full one to Warne – who made the cardinal sin of playing across after holding fort for 72 minutes. Yet another batsman was trapped leg-before. As May walked out on his birthday, the match was virtually over with Australia at 102 for eight. May cover-drove the last ball before tea, and he and Langer agreed during the interval that they would “make a fist of this”.
After tea, Bishop let loose another snorter that hit May high on the bat and dipped fast towards Phil Simmons at third slip, who caught it on the first bounce. That single incident apart, May and Langer continued to fight back doggedly, not giving any chance: the tight line and length did not allow them to counterattack; they did not make the mistake of playing across unlike some of the batsmen dismissed earlier. As they spent more and more time at the crease, the West Indian fast bowlers showed signs of tiring. Bishop hit Warne’s inside edge, but it virtually brushed the stumps past a diving Murray and sped to the boundary as Australia entered the 130s, adding to the frustration of the bowlers.
Bishop bowled beautifully in this session, and might have picked a few more wickets on another day. He bowled a short-pitched one to Langer, and finally his persistence paid off: the ball did not rise as expected, took Langer’s edge as he attempted a pull and Murray completed the rest. Langer’s resistance had come to an end after a 253-minute 54, and out walked Craig McDermott with the score on 144 for nine.
The West Indians sensed victory, but the last pair hung on. Inch by inch they crawled towards the magic figure of 186. They batted for an hour, and were still not separated. Richardson tried everything: he brought on Hooper, brought back Benjamin, but he could not take that one final wicket. The crowd, silent by the home team’s debacle, now found its voice: they chanted Waltzing Matilda in unison, and the chorus grew louder and louder as Australia inched closer.
Richardson changed bowlers frequently, and eventually had to fall back on his most experienced pair – Ambrose and Walsh. Neither was new to the situation, and they took up the challenge. They ran in for one final burst in the dying hours of the day as the shadows kept lengthening.
Ambrose almost got a wicket with a short ball to May that fell just short of Haynes at forward short-leg: as the batsmen crossed over for a single, the target came down to a single digit. May drove Walsh through the covers next over for a comfortable three, and Australia reached 180.
The crowd cheered every run, but at the same time realised that it was not over yet. Walsh pitched one up, and McDermott drove it to short mid-off, where it fell just short of Richardson. Runs continued to come in singles, and Australia meandered to 183. All three results seemed possible, and speculations of a repetition of the Brisbane tied Test began.
Walsh ran in again, and bounced at May: May fended it off his hips, and it flew to the right of Haynes; as Haynes chased the ball, the batsmen exchanged ends. They did think of a second run – a run that would have got them at par with the West Indians – but they decided against it as Ambrose ran in from deep square leg to field the ball.
Two runs to get. One wicket in hand. Not a single word was uttered across the stadium. The players sat transfixed in their dressing-rooms. The spectators waited with bated breath as Walsh reached his mark. Walsh – the warrior of many battles, the veteran who had seen it all – ran in. He knew he could not overstep. He knew he could not afford to bowl a loose ball. He knew he had to get a wicket. Somehow he had to conjure that one special delivery. He knew that the glory of the island nations, bound only by cricket, rested on his broad shoulders. He simply had to deliver.
Walsh bounced. McDermott did his best to move away, and turned his back towards the bowler, facing Murray. The ball, however, brushed something on its way; the West Indians went up in unison, and Hair ruled McDermott caught behind. The jubilant Walsh ran amok, collected a stump as a souvenir, and ran towards Ambrose. The triumphant twosome led their side back to the pavilion with their arms around each other.
The Australian dressing-room sank in silence: they simply could not believe that they have lost by the closest of margins. May was the most inconsolable of the lot – his five for nine and unbeaten 42 had gone in vain. There was some doubt regarding McDermott’s dismissal, but Border decided to accept it gracefully. He hailed Ambrose – the Man of the Match – in the same way as Richardson did.
Ambrose wrecked Australia with a spell of seven for one in 32 balls in the next Test at Perth, and went on to win and retain the rubber 2-1. Ambrose finished the series with 33 wickets from five Tests at 16.42. The Australians were shattered, but they knew their time would come shortly.
But that is another story.
West Indies 252 (Brian Lara 52, Junior Murray 49 not out, Phil Simmons 46, Desmond Haynes 45; Merv Hughes 5 for 64) and 146 (Richie Richardson 72; Tim May 5 for 9) beat Australia 213 (Merv Hughes 43, Steve Waugh 42; Curtly Ambrose 6 for 74) and 184 (Justin Langer 54, Tim May 42 not out; Curtly Ambrose 4 for 46) by 1 run.
(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)
First Published: January 26, 2013, 11:06 am