If a cricket buff is ever asked the question as to which was the greatest Test match of all time, the answer would come without any hesitation “the tied Test at Brisbane”. There have been only two matches in the history of Test cricket that ended in a tie - the one played between Australia and the West Indies at Brisbane in 1960 and the the other being the one between India and Australia at Chennai in 1986. Though both matches produced the same result and created the same levels of excitement, I would place the 1960 match above the other if only for the reason that this was the first such result ever. The series between Australia and the West Indies in 1960-61 produced one of the most thrilling contests of all time and had served to rejuvenate Test cricket at a time when administrators were worried over diminishing viewership for the game and falling revenues. On the contrary, the three-Test series of 1986 would have been an eminently forgettable one, but for the tied Test, with neither side winning a match. Even the tied Test was petering out into a dull draw when Alan Border decided to inject some excitement by declaring his second innings closed at the start of fifth day’s play, to set India a stiff target of 347.
Worrell at the helm
Frank Worrell was appointed as the captain of the West Indies side to tour Australia in 1960-61. This was the first time that a non-white had been made captain of the West Indies side and was by itself a momentous development. Worrell was a great leader of men who knew that he had under his command a bunch of splendid cricketers. He was aware that the lack of success of previous sides from the Caribbean islands was not due to lack of potential but on account of shortage of team spirit and cohesiveness. He spoke to the players and told them firmly that they were playing for the West Indies and should see themselves not as playing for Barbados or Trinidad or any of the individual islands that made up the side. He himself set a personal example by being completely neutral and devoid of any personal or regional affinities. This helped to develop the trust and confidence of the players and they slowly molded into a unit.
Australia had been going through a lean patch after the retirement of Don Bradman and members of his all-conquering side from international cricket. Loss of two consecutive Ashes series had showed them in poor light. However, after the appointment of Richie Benaud to lead the side in 1958, the fortunes of the side had been on an upswing, with the Aussies regaining the Ashes and winning Test series in the sub-continent against Pakistan and India. Thus, it was a resurgent Australia taking on a youthful West Indies, with both sides led by astute captains.
The first Test was played at Brisbane. West Indies had not fared well in the tour matches prior to the Test, losing to New South Wales and Western Australia and managing only a solitary win over Victoria. However, the cricketers from the Caribbean islands were not too worried over their poor performances in the tour matches; they had used the games to settle down and besides, they had full trust in their new skipper who was working toward a plan- of molding the talented individuals at his command into a team, where each member helped the others. It took some time for this concept to take roots among the members of the side. But by the time the first Test began, Worrell’s efforts had borne fruit, as could be seen from the performance of the side in the series.
Worrell won the toss and elected to bat. The highlight of the West Indies innings was a superb knock of 132 by Gary Sobers, which has been rated by those fortunate enough to witness it as among his best innings. There were useful contributions from Worrell and Solomon who made 65 apiece and a fighting 60 by wicketkeeper Gerry Alexander, which together propelled them to a total of 453 runs. In reply, Australia made 505, helped by a chancy 181 by Norman O'Neill, 92 by Bobby Simpson, 57 by Colin McDonald and 44 by Alan Davidson. Wes Hall was the pick of West Indies bowlers with figures of four wickets for 140 runs.
When West Indies batted again, Davidson who had picked up five wickets for 135 runs in the first innings went one better. He picked up the wickets of almost all the top order West Indies batsmen, including Sobers, Worrell, Rohan Kanhai and Collie Smith, to return with figures of six for 87. Except for Worrell, who top scored with 65, Kanhai, who hit 54, and Solomon, who chipped in with 47, none of the other batsmen could get into their groove as they collapsed to 253 for nine wickets, a lead of mere 201 runs, when stumps were drawn at close of play on fourth day.
On the final day only 5000 spectators reached the ground at Brisbane, thinking that Australia would score an easy win. However, the last wicket pair of Hall and Valentine had other ideas and defied the Aussie bowlers for more than half an hour to add 31 runs. West Indies innings closed with a total of 284 runs, thus leaving the hosts with a target of 233 runs.
Hall had warmed up nicely during his foray at the crease. He charged in like a man possessed when the Australian second innings commenced and removed Simpson in the very first over for a “duck”. He followed this up by removing the dangerous Harvey and Australia found themselves on the blackfoot at seven runs for the loss of two wickets. McDonald and O”Neill took the score to 49, when both were dismissed, the former falling to the medium-pace of Worrell and the latter to the fury of Hall. Favell fell to Hall shortly thereafter and when Ramadhin dismissed Mackay, Australia were in deep trouble at 92 runs for the loss of six wickets.
At this juncture, skipper Benaud joined Davidson, who was batting sensibly, at the crease. Benaud had been told by Don Bradman, then chairman of selectors for Australia to play positive cricket during the series. Australian Cricket Board was worried about the dwindling spectator interest in the sport and was looking forward to some exciting cricket which would bring more crowds to the venue of the matches. Bradman was only voicing the views of the establishment when he told Benaud that selectors would look kindly towards players who played aggressively, thinking about those who paid money at the turnstiles.
Benaud now proceeded to take the battle to the West Indies camp. He and Davidson decided to take quick singles so as to throw the fielding side into disarray. The pair did not let go of any loose deliveries either. As the score board started ticking along, frustration mounted in the ranks of the visitors, resulting in a couple of overthrows as well. However, Worrell took charge of the situation and in his typical deft manner asked his boys to “relax and keep playing”.
As the total crossed 200, hopes rose among the Aussie ranks. Davidson was batting splendidly and Benaud had, besides lending him admirable support, rattled the West Indians by his brisk running between the wickets and stealing of singles from under the nose of the fielders. Worrell, however, was not one to give up easily and urged his players to keep fighting. When two balls remained of the second last over, the Aussie pair finally slipped up. Benaud pushed a delivery to mid wicket and started for a quick single. Solomon who was patrolling the area picked up the ball and threw down the stumps at the strikers side in one quick motion to catch, Davidson well short of the crease.
The dismissal of Davidson brought a new lease of life to the West Indian camp. Davidson and Benaud had taken the score to 226 when this dismissal took place. The new man Wally Grout, who was so tense watching the proceedings that he forgot where he had kept his batting gloves, took a single off the last ball, thus keeping the strike.
Those days sides playing in Australia had to follow the norm of eight ball overs. While in other parts of the world an over comprised of six balls, in Australia, it consisted of eight deliveries. Thus, when Hall started the last over of the match, the hosts needed six runs of eight balls, with three wickets in hand. The advice that Worrell gave to Hall as he marked out his run up was “Don’t bowl a no ball Wes, and no bouncers please” . Worrell knew very well that bowling a bouncer against a set batsman was tricky as even a mishook might produce a boundary and take the match out of their hands.
The first ball of the last over was a fast full toss that hit Grout on his solar plexus. Even as he doubled up in pain, Grout heard Benaud shout “One” and scampered to the non striker’s end. Thus it was down to five runs off the last seven balls. Hall steamed in and let go a bouncer; he could not control the natural instinct of a fast bowler to bowl one, despite the directions of his captain to the contrary. Benaud, who was thinking along the same lines of Worrell, did not expect a bouncer and his hurried attempt to hook it resulted in gloving it into the waiting hands of Alexander behind the stumps. Benaud was gone for 52 and Australia now needed 5 runs off six balls with two wickets in hand.
Ian Meckiff, who replaced Benaud at the crease played the next ball back to the bowler. Meckiff took a wild swing at the fourth ball and failed to connect but found that Grout had taken off almost along with the ball for stealing a “bye”. Thus Grout was back on strike with four needed off four balls. Grout slogged at the next delivery and managed a top edge which sent the ball soaring to the sky. Kanhai at square leg was positioning himself under the ball when he was floored by Hall who, in his excitement, was making an attempt to take the catch himself in his follow through. Thus the ball fell harmlessly between these two fallen West Indians and the batsmen took a single.
“Relax fellas!”, the booming voice of Worrell reverberated across the ground as Hall walked back to the top of his bowling mark. Australia now needed three runs off three balls and Meckiff was on strike. Hall pitched one just short off good length and Meckiff went for a mighty slog which he connected, carting the ball over the head of Conrad Hunte positioned at midwicket. Hunte turned and ran like a Olympic sprinter to stop the ball before it crossed the boundary line. In one motion he picked up the ball and threw it to the wicket keeper's end.
Of all the events that took place in the final over of this match, this throw is the one remembered by all those fortunate to witness it. It was fast and low and accurate, in that it covered a distance of almost 90 yards from the fence to the stumps, landing perfectly into Alexander’s gloves, which was poised just above the wicket. Grout made a desperate dive to beat the throw but failed to reach the crease before Alexander whipped off the bails in a flash. Batsmen had completed two runs and were going for the winning third run when the run out took place. Scores were level now and one wicket remained with two balls to go.
Last man Kline came in and tapped the first ball he faced to square leg and the batsmen took off, looking for a quick single. Solomon darted in and picked up the ball, and from a position where he could see only one stump at striker’s end, threw them down in one swift motion. Meckiff was well short of the crease and West Indian players started celebrating even before the umpire raised his finger!
For some time there was a confusion about the result. Both sides knew that they had not lost the match. It was after discussions between the umpires and scorers that announcement was made that the result was a “tie”. This was greeted by shouts of joy by all the players and both the teams celebrated together wildly that night.
The ensuing Tests of this series produced exciting cricket and though the hosts won the series 2-1, the visitors won the hearts of the Australian public. They were given a ticker tape send off with almost the whole of Melbourne coming out on the streets to bid farewell to one of the most popular sides to have toured the continent. This series provided for the rebirth of Test match cricket as Jack Fingleton wrote in his column titled “Cricket Alive Again”. Generations of cricket lovers would continue to thank Worrell and Benaud and the sides at their command for their wonderful contribution to Test cricket, which would never be forgotten so long as the game is played.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)