Jack Fingleton's match report on the record partnership on The Canberra Times
Jack Fingleton’s match report on the record partnership in The Canberra Times

On May 6, 1965, Bill Lawry and Bob Simpson scripted Australia’s highest opening partnership, a massive 382, in Australia’s total of 650 for 6 declared. The two collected double centuries, but it wasn’t enough to prevent West Indies from winning the series. Karthik Parimal looks back at that momentous day of Test cricket and a record that remains intact till date.

Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs were names that had batsmen, even the established ones, in a muddle during the 1960s. When Australia toured West Indies in the summer of 1965, they were immediately stifled by the tearaway pace of Hall and Griffith and the guile of Sobers and Gibbs; although Sobers occasionally belonged to the former category as well. The quartet had been exceptional in the first three Tests as the four bowlers were all amongst wickets, getting under the skin of the Australian batsmen on all counts and guiding them to a 2-0 series lead, the margins of victory being significant.

It was in the fourth Test that the visitors decided to stage a comeback, for they had to win the remaining fixtures at Bridgetown and Port of Spain to draw level in the series. Australian skipper Bob Simpson, also one of the openers, won the toss and opted to bat first. His partner Bill Lawry, who had been struggling to cope with West Indies’ bowling artillery in that series, was retained and the two set out to better their highest opening stand of 39. Their resolve soon came to the forefront as the bowling was tactfully handled, digressing from their usual defensive approach.

Doubles against one of the most formidable attacks

Both Simpson and Lawry dominated the bowlers and seldom looked like letting a delivery pass through their watertight techniques. Session after session, they dismantled the quartet despite them constantly trying to make inroads. By the end of the day, the hosts were left disgruntled as they took no wickets. “Simpson and Lawry mastered the bowling with such purpose that they batted throughout the first day for 263,” noted Wisden. Simpson remained unconquered on 137 whereas Lawry trudged his way to 102. Not many players, especially from the other camp, understandably, were pleased with the latter’s dogged approach.

The second day was racy and the same script was forged — the Australian batsmen continued to pummel a hapless unit. In due course of time, the partnership between Simpson and Lawry overtook Australia’s best for the first wicket — 233 between Bill Brown and Jack Fingleton registered in January 1936 — and there were no signs of it receding. In fact, Lawry now became involved in a double century partnership for the second time in two years. The previous was alongside Ian Redpath, against South Africa in January 1964, as the two amassed 219 for the opening wicket. His penchant for big knocks, and partnerships, became evident.

As the second day progressed, they became the first opening pair in Test history to score double centuries in the same innings. Simpson was the first to reach the coveted milestone, scoring at a much brisker pace than Lawry. He was bowled for 201 by Hall as the first wicket fell for a massive 382 on the board. The duo fell 31 short of the world Test record for the then highest opening partnership (413), held by India’s Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy. It nevertheless was the highest for Australia, and a number that remains unsurpassed till date. The 382 was also 69 behind Australia’s best partnership in Tests ever — 451 by Sir Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford.

After clearing the fence on three occasions, Lawry succumbed to Joe Solomon’s part-time spin on 210. By then, Bob Cowper had taken over the mantle of scoring and he nonchalantly made his way to a century. Australia declared on 650 for six, batting for 189 overs.

Declaration and an eventual retreat

In reply to Australia’s gargantuan total, West Indies scored 573, riding on another double century, this time by Seymour Nurse, and Rohan Kanhai’s 129. The match appeared to be heading towards a turgid draw, when Simpson declared Australia’s second innings closed on 175 for 4, thereby setting West Indies a formidable, yet possible, target of 253 to get on the final day. The pair of Lawry and Simpson could muster just seven runs this time around.

The decision was initially termed a “sporting” one, but as the West Indian batsmen kept chipping away at the total, Simpson’s apprehensions surfaced and as many as eight fielders were sent to patrol the boundary ropes. “Surprisingly, Simpson declared his innings at 175 for 4, setting us a sporting target of 253 in 270 minutes. But when Conrad Hunte and Bryan Davis put on 145 for the first wicket he lost interest, spread his fielders around the boundary and asked his bowlers to keep the ball well outside the off stump. Even so, we finished just 11 runs short with me on 34 not out to add to my first innings half century,” recollects Garry Sobers in his autobiography. “It should have been Simpson going for the victory because a draw was of no use to him in the series. I have no doubt that he should have continued to attack and might well have bowled us out with the challenge thrown down,” he further states.

The match ended in an eventful draw, but Sobers wasn’t happy, showing his displeasure openly at Australia’s defensive tactics. He wasn’t very appreciative of Simpson’s and Lawry’s innings either, terming it as “time wasting” as the two batted on until the middle of the third day.

Brief scores:

Australia 650 for 6 decl. (Bill Lawry 210, Bobby Simpson 201, Bob Cowper 102, Norman O’Neill 51) and 175 for 4 decl. (Bill Lawry 58, Norman O’Neill 74*) drew with West Indies 573 (Conrad Hunte 75, Rohan Kanhai 129, Seymour Nurse 201, Garry Sobers 55; Graham McKenzie 4 for 114, Neil Hawke 3 for 135) and 242 for 5 (Conrad Hunte 81, Bryan Davis 68).

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper 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/karthik_parimal )