ICF Magic Moments in cricket 13:

12/4/09 in Cricket   |   gwadineeraj   |   99 respect

As promised, I bring to you tonight the first tied test. Writing about this game is going to be hard for a multitude of reasons such as the emotive value of the series, the outstanding performances by the various players, my own development as a young boy learning about cricket and the emotions attached to that and finally the fact I have not seen this game save the last over. Before I elucidate my view of this game there needs to be a preamble about how I came across this particular match and its impact on me. I was at my grandparent’s house in the summer of 91 for my school vacation. It was a lovely summer and I did all the things which alights a young lad’s heart. On one particular afternoon when it was too warm to play outside in the garden, I slipped into my grandpa’s library room where he kept all his books. As I was a voracious reader and shared my grandpa’s love for literature, I was one of the gifted few to have access to the books. As I was rifling through the books, I came across a bunch of Wisden from various years, one of them was the year 1961 (if memory doesn’t fail me anymore). My interest was piqued, curiosity heightened and since it was the beginning years of my interest in cricket I was keen to know more. I settled down on the bed to start reading. There were a lot of test match scores etc but also an article about the tied test. I read the article without putting down the book. I was confronted by a series of emotions too complex for a young lad such as me to confront or to decipher. I was awestruck, moved, shaken and touched. In front of me a series of knights, warriors and gentlemen had come alive, ones who played the game for the love it, for glory and nothing more. At the time of the tied test Richie Benaud was still playing cricket (imagine that), there was the magnificent Alan Davidson, Ian Meckiff (who would disgrace himself), the statesman Frank Worrell (who would be knighted by the Queen of England), the unbelievable Conrad Hunte, the gifted Garfield Sobers (another knight of the realm) and the quite fearsome Wesley Hall. Imagine that star cast for a moment; just try to play it in your mind. Now we move to the story itself.

The tied test considered in isolation is a non event, it is important only because such a happenstance had never before occurred in the 80 odd years of International cricket until then. The two teams with its knights at the end of the duel stood at égalité, so what if it was so, does it not occur often enough in football and other sports? Nay, it had never before happened in cricket.

The preamble to the series of 1960 between Australia and West Indies was in itself the beginning of a change in the world. Frank Worrell had been appointed captain for the series. He was the first black man to captain the WI team, the first black man to captain any cricket team. He was a disciplinarian and expected his team mates to be gentlemen and his opposing captain was Richie Benaud who was yet to lose a test series (as history would have it, he never would). The Australian crowd was expectant of this series and was eager for the action to start. West Indies had not won a series in Australia until that point and it would be some years before they did. The first test match as is the vaunt of the Australian summer was all set to be played at the Gabba in Brisbane. The two teams were evenly matched with extraordinary men forming a part of each team. West Indies won the toss and promptly decided to bat with Hunte opening for the Windies. They were in trouble early on but were rescued by a magnificent century by Sobers scored at a whirlwind pace under 3 hours (less than a session and a half, imagine) ably supported by half centuries from Worrell, Solomon, the keeper Alexander and by the surprising Wes Hall. Wesley later said to his captain that he was “seeing the ball like a football and wouldn’t have got out for less than a hundred”, but he did as he lost his patience and he had to bowl in a few minutes. West Indies had amassed 453 runs in little more than a day. Alan Davidson finished with a 5fer. Wesley Hall would have to shoulder a huge burden as he was the only known pacer for the West Indies during this tour. The Australians had a solid start to their first innings which sparkled with fifties for both openers Mcdonald and Bob Simpson. This then set up the groundwork for an awesome 181 from Norman O’ Neill (read Gideon Haigh’s profile on Cricinfo to know more about him, I can do no more justice with words than Gideon has managed) with able contributions from the lower order, Australia finished with 505, a lead of 52 runs. Wesley Hall had bowled 30 (8 ball) overs painful and tiring and picked up 4 wickets with extreme pace at times, he also bowled 4 no balls (this would prove crucial at a later stage). The second innings of West Indies contained half centuries for that magnificent Rohan Kanhai and the statuesque Frank Worrell. Windies finished with 284 runs and Alan Davidson had bowled his heart out to pick up 6 wickets and stop the Windies march onwards. Davidson had also picked up 11 wickets for the match to go with 44 runs in the first innings. His role would prove to be huge in the second innings. Australia had to score 233 to win on the final day. They were quickly reduced to 6/92 by the fearsome Hall who laid waste the Australian top order.

Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud came together to reconstruct the castle which had been ruined by the hurricane. Both men were tough, born fighters and Australian, need I say more. They batted together for a little less than two and a half hours and scored a run a minute 134 which almost took the Australians to victory. "Our policy after tea was to try to rattle the West Indians with our running between the wickets and our selection of shots, carry the attack to them and see if they would crack. They did crack a little under pressure, but so did we," the Aussie captain, Richie Benaud, wrote in his autobiography. Run they did without giving the Windies a whiff of a chance, a true race against time as they only had about a session to knock off the runs. Perchance, had they slowed down things might have turned different but Alan Davidson hit the ball to square leg and was confidently running to his end when Joe Solomon ran across and threw down the stumps from square leg with only a single stump on view stranding Davidson on 80. The match was not yet over.

It was the final 8 ball over, six runs to win Wes hall came back with the new ball and the captain’s final gambit had been played. A leg bye was scored off the first ball; Benaud came on strike and was promptly dismissed leaving 5 runs to be scored by the tailenders Grout, Meckiff and Kline. The next ball was a bye reducing the equation to 4 off 4, a wild swing from Grout (trying to finish) resulted in a dropped catch and another single. Meckiff on strike smacked it towards square leg boundary for what looked like a certain win for Australia but not to be so as the outstanding Hunte threw the ball like a rocket across 80 yards into Alexander’s gloves finding Grout short of his crease. Kline the last batsman was in, one to win off two balls. Frank Worrell is alleged to have told Wes Hall “Do you realize that if you bowl a no ball you will never be able to set foot in Barbados?” Hall bowled a legal delivery which Kline hit and set off for a run only for Solomon to swing into action again to run out Meckiff. The match was over and wonder of wonders, it was a TIE. It would take hours for the details of the game to settle in as the Windies believed that they had won and the Aussies believed that they had lost the game. It was the first and only statistically perfect tie in the history of cricket as all 40 wickets had fallen (this was not the case in the India-Australia test). It was over, what a fascinating game? How could your interest as a young lad not be kindled when you have read about such a titanic game?

The Windies went on to lose the series 2-1 and when they left the shores of Australia in February 1961, over 100000 Australians lined up on either side of the street to cheer their motorcade. Rarely, the send off reserved for ones who had been vanquished but such were the gentleman and knights who played for that Windies team, they had won the affection, love and respect of the Australian crowd. What then of the Australians? Benaud’s team would set the trend for great Australian tradition of never giving up and always going for the win. How many teams today would try to knock off 130 runs in the final session of a test match with 6 wickets down? I can name only one.

Jack Fingleton wrote a book on the 1960 tour titled “The greatest test of all”. His book has a verse from an obscure Australian poet Henry Newbolt which I shall reproduce:

“There’s a breathless hush on the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

Surely, play up, play up for the love of the game. I cannot find a better verse to describe the teams or the game.

http://www.cricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62888.html

Next time Sunil Gavaskar’s heart breaking double century versus England.
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"The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along."
 
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