At times, even teammates could not escape David Boon © Getty Images
At times, even teammates could not escape David Boon © Getty Images

March 3, 1991. West Indies’ powers were on the wane, but there was still some steam left. After conceding a lead in the first Test at Sabina Park, the fast bowlers, led by Patrick Patterson, kept pegging away at the wickets as David Boon stood firm. Then Mike Whitney walked out, and Boon could not resist himself. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates the story.

Mike Whitney was a rank tail-ender, but at least he had more Test runs (68) than wickets (39). At First-Class level things were closer: his 415 runs just about pipped his 412 wickets. The numbers are indicative of the quality of his batsmanship.

At this stage of his career he had scored 8 runs from 7 innings in a career that had already spanned a decade. Not many cricketers have managed to score at less than a run a year.

Unfortunately, he was up against West Indies at Sabina Park this time. It does not get much deadlier than that. Malcolm Marshall was arriving at the last leg of his career, but Curtly Ambrose had already arrived. And then, there was that pair of local boys — Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson.

Jeff Dujon has gone on record multiple times claiming that Patterson was the quickest of the West Indian bowlers he had kept wickets to: even Marshall paled in comparison.

Craig McDermott (5 for 80) and Merv Hughes (4 for 67) made it evident from the start that this was no ordinary pitch. Desmond Haynes had to retire with an injured toe. Gordon Greenidge had to be treated on the ground after being hit on the shoulder. Gus Logie had seven stitches administered for a blow above his right eye. West Indies were reduced to 75 for 6.

Thankfully, both Haynes and Logie returned. Logie batted bravely for his 77, Dujon got 59, and Curtly Ambrose played a few shots. West Indies got to 264.

Geoff Marsh (69) and Mark Taylor (58) then added 139 for the opening stand. David Boon batted grimly, adding 68 with Allan Border and another 101 with Mark Waugh. Australia reached 357 for 5.

Then Patterson struck. Greg Matthews was caught behind and McDermott was bowled. Hughes fell first ball, caught by Carl Hooper. Meanwhile, Walsh had removed Ian Healy at the other end.

Whitney emerged.

A decade back Whitney had made the most unusual of Test debuts when Australia were touring England. With Jeff Thomson, Geoff Lawson, Rodney Hogg, and Len Pascoe were all ruled out, Australia were left with Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman. So Whitney was summoned immediately from his Gloucestershire duties.

However, this was different: this was Sabina Park, living up to its reputation of being one of the fastest pitches in the world; Patterson, steaming in with as much ferocity anyone has seen in history; was on a hat-trick; and Whitney was a rank No. 11.

As Patterson ran in, Whitney backed away towards square-leg. Patterson went for the stumps. The yorker missed the stumps.

Now Patterson was absolutely livid. He hurled a bouncer. Whitney just had time to raise the bat. The ball looped in the air, and they ran a single before it hit the ground.

Whitney breathed a sigh of relief — till the umpire decided to update him: “Bad luck, Mr Whitney: it’s over.”

Whitney, desperate by now, attempted an almighty swipe off Walsh’s first ball. He connected again, by some mysterious whim of nature. Whitney got his second single.

One cannot really blame poor Whitney. Boon, already past his hundred, had been batting solidly at the other end. He had put up big partnerships and had countered the storms. No, he would certainly take a run.

Unfortunately for Whitney, it did not happen. Boon did not look in the mood to get to the other end. He calmly negotiated the remaining five deliveries from Walsh. Then he summoned Whitney for a mid-pitch conference and announced: “I just want to have another look at how you play Patterson, buddy!”

Do I even need to type out that Patterson clean bowled Whitney in the over that followed?

A little postscript

The innings became a turning point of sorts for Whitney. He remained unbeaten for the rest of the series, and even scored 12 the next year and followed that with two 13s. His last 7 Tests fetched him 58 runs at an impressive 11.60.

Brief scores:

West Indies 264 (Gus Logie 77*, Jeff Dujon 59; Craig McDermott 5 for 80, Merv Hughes 4 for 67) and 334 for 3 (Desmond Haynes 84, Richie Richardson 104, Viv Richards 52*; Extras 52, Craig McDermott 3 for 48) drew with Australia 371 (Geoff Marsh 69, Mark Taylor 58, David Boon 109*; Patrick Patterson 5 for 83).