December 19th, 1929 was the day pūrṇa swarāj (Complete Self-rule) was promulgated by Indian National Congress and they asked India to celebrate 26th January of 1930 as India's Independence Day. For various reasons, it was not to be and India was finally liberated from the British after almost a century and a quarter on August 15th, 1947. This declaration of pūrṇa swarāj was recognized and honoured when India declared herself a Republic on the 26th of January, 1950. Coincidentally, exactly 142 years to the day before the decided date of declaration, the First Fleet that had departed from Portsmouth, arrived in an island that would later be known as Australia. This arrival is celebrated as Australia Day.

1993 was probably the last year when West Indies were the best side in both formats of the game. Within two years they would relinquish the Frank Worrell Trophy that they had held since 1978 after Steve Waugh's seismic 200 in Jamaica. Hindsight shows that even West Indies' very successful 1993 season was a one-off in an era of decline that was coming since Clive Lloyd had retired in 1985. One by one their great pacemen had retired and only Marshall remained. Walsh had yet to hit the heights of 1990s. Bishop and Ambrose were the new hopes. None of the others like the unrelated Benjamins, Cummins, Cuffy etc were up to the high quality standards of their predecessors.

Batting was in a similar predicament. West Indies had four batsmen, making their debuts in the 70s, who played at least 50 tests, scored at least 4000 runs at an average greater than 40 and scored at least 10 100s. Only Richie Richardson, from the 80s, made the cut when meeting the above conditions. The 90s was slightly better with Lara, Adams and Chanderpaul (the first Indian origin player to play for West Indies since 1981) making their test debuts. The rest of the batsmen like Campbell, Arthurton, Simmons were just not good enough. The exception was Carl Llewellyn Hooper whose talents were as mesmerizing as they were frustrating. 

The results, in both formats, were also merely average to good instead of the usual great. The aura in ODIs was long gone by the time the 90s came. West Indies failed to qualify for the semifinals in both the 1987 and 1992 World Cups. They were defeated in the 6 Nation Nehru Cup by Pakistan. West Indies, of Ambrose, Marshall and Walsh bowling 30 out of 50 overs, could not defend 273 runs in 1989! They suffered whitewashes against England and Pakistan away. In the 1991/92 annual Australia Tri-Series tournament, West Indies were pipped to the final by India of all teams! uccak kaṭṭa avamāṉam (ultimate insult) indeed!

Tests were similar but not that bad. We have already seen how the results had begun to wane under Richards compared to how powerful Clive Lloyd's side were. The great trio of Marshall, Richards and Dujon bowed out in the Oval test of 1991 against England. The only test West Indies played before their 1992/93 tour to Australia was the one-off test against South Africa. South Africa were sitting pretty at 123/2, needing just 78 runs to win the one-off test. A combination of the sheer will power of Walsh and Ambrose and a choke that South Africa would later make their own in white ball cricket, saw the Windies hold on to their proud home record of not having lost a series for nearly two decades.

This is the pre-amble before the West Indies arrived in Australia for the annual tri-series (Pakistan would complete the trio) and 5 tests. The previous series between Australia and West Indies in West Indies was played in bitter acrimony. Border's young upstarts, true to their brash "Aussie Way", never respected the aging but still strong home side and thrashed them 4-1 in the ODIs. Tests, though, were a different kettle. Australia, fresh from back to back Ashes annihilations, competed strongly but the veteran home side were just too good for the (relative) Aussie Colts and won the series 2-1. The loss was in the 5th test, a dead rubber.

Border and Simpson (the Aussie coach) firmly believed that their team was ready to defeat the Richards-less & Marshall-less West Indies. West Indies could lay claim that they were ascendant if not dominant in the first test at the Gabba for four and a half days but in the end were left gasping for air with Australia needing 3 wickets in the last six overs of the match. Before the Boxing Day test at MCG, the ODI series took place where the Windies had a 3-2 record in the 5 matches they had played. Australia utterly dominated the 2nd test from start to finish but for a 132 run partnership between Richardson and Simmons on the 5th day. Shane Warne, who had bowled Australia to victory in Colombo with a spell of 3/11, finally broke through in spectacular style and gave the home side the lead with a match winning spell of 7/52. 

Australia went from strength to strength in the Sydney test scoring 503 runs in their 1st innings and reduced West Indies to 31/2. Brian Charles Lara signalled his arrival, in his inimitable style, showing his ability to play the long game. His 277, cruelly ended by a run-out, proved to be the B-12 shot the haphazard West Indies needed. The game ended in a high-scoring draw. The ODI series resumed after the 3rd test and West Indies swept the 4 remaining matches, including the two finals, to win the tri-series for the first time in 4 years. Brian Lara helped himself to 50s in both finals. More importantly, Curtly Ambrose, after Dean Jones infamously asked him to remove his wristbands, became Angry Ambrose and claimed 5 wickets & 3 wickets in the two finals. Until then, Ambrose was average, poor even by his standards but somewhere in between the 3rd test and the ODI finals the switch had flipped.

The Adelaide Oval was the setting for the 4th test. Richardson called correctly and opted to bat. An unusually wet summer in South Australia meant that this wasn't the usual Oval that was historically one of the two great (London's Oval is the other) batting wickets. It had juice for both the fast bowlers and the spinners. Merv Hughes' fifer on a rain affected first day restricted West Indies to 252. Lara managed a 50. The openers, Simmons and Haynes, and custodian, Junior Murray, scored 40s. 220 minutes of play were lost on the 2nd day. Australia had lost Taylor late on day one and lost Boon early on day 2 after getting hit on the forearm. The home team lost 2 further wickets and managed to swell the team score to 100. 

Day 3 aka moving day was just that. Ambrose released all his frustrations and anger on the Aussie batsmen and took 5 of the 7 wickets to fall on the day and gave his side a priceless 39 run lead on an increasingly deteriorating pitch and inclement weather. McDermott's opening spell produced 3 wickets and Hughes took the prize wicket of Lara to reduce West Indies to 65/4. Hooper resisted and provided support to his captain and the duo added 59 runs for the 5th wicket. The last 6 wickets wickets fell to May and Warne in a 9 over spell for the addition of 22 runs, May picking up 5/9 in just 6.5 overs. 

Australia had two full days to chase 186 but the pitch was continuously becoming more and more bowler-friendly. Ambrose, fresh from his 1st innings excellence, took 4 off 7 wickets to fall as Australia slumped to 7/74 still 112 runs away from winning the Frank Worrell Trophy after 15 years. Warne joined debutant and future opener Justin Langer to add 26 important runs before Bishop had him trapped in front. 84 runs to win, 2 wickets in hand. May, full of confidence from his Michelle in the 3rd innings, gave support to Langer. The duo inched their way to 144 when Bishop had Langer nick one to the keeper, still 42 adrift. Langer had played his guts out having ground out 54 invaluable runs on a diminishing pitch and against an extraordinary bowling attack in 253 minutes that must have surely felt like hours.

Courtney Walsh was not a very gifted bowler. He was hardworking and persistent. He never inspired the awe, even among the Caribbean people, that the 80s quartet, Marshall or Ambrose did. In fact, he was seen as some sort of a liability at sometimes. McDermott and May, calmly and patiently, kept chipping away against an attack that was tiring by the ball. With 9 runs to win, May confidently drove Walsh through the covers and picked up 3 runs. Ambrose induced a mistimed shot from May that agonizingly fell inches in front of Richie Richardson. 

Walsh ran in to bowl his 19th over of the innings. May & McDermott had added 39 runs in 85 minutes. The genial Jamaican dug one short and May fended it toward square leg. Desmond Haynes was in a slightly skewed position and it flew just behind him and there was a possibility of a 2nd run which would have tied the score. Ambrose swooped in from fine leg to prevent it and McDermott was on strike having survived 88 minutes against the fiery trio of Walsh, Bishop and Ambrose. Walsh was gasping for air. He had bowled his heart out. Nevertheless, he steamed in again and dug one in and Billy had to turn away to take evasive action. The ball seemingly hit his glove and nestled into the waiting palms of Murray. Walsh had absolutely no doubts about it and immediately ran towards gully with his left arm raised in the air. Darrell Hair raised that dreaded digit and the West Indies had won an incredible test match by just 1 run. The only test out of the 2293 completed test matches till date with a margin of one run! All this on Australia Day!

Billy McDermott still contends that he didn't glove the ball but unfortunately there was no DRS and the umpire's decision stood. West Indies were back from the brink. Ambrose having come to the party in Adelaide, raised hell in the WACA with possibly the most destructive spell in test history and gave West Indies a most memorable series victory against a very strong and underrated Australian side led by Allan Border. It would be the last series defeat suffered by Australia at home for nearly 16 years. West Indies followed this by crushing World Champions Pakistan at home in an unofficial Test World Championship bout 2-0. They won another tri-series (Pakistan were the 3rd side again) in South Africa and ended the calendar year in grand style: Brian Lara's spectacular 153 acing a daunting target of 284 against Pakistan in Sharjah. 

Bobby Simpson, when writing for The Hindu, once said that West Indies and Australia were rarely well matched. One team was almost always stronger than the other. In his opinion, they were evenly matched in only two series: 1960/61 and 1992/93. Little wonder that both series are considered all time classics and are contenders for the mythical G.O.A.T 5-Test series. The series where Brian Lara announced his arrival as the next (and possibly last) West Indies great batsman and Ambrose cemented his reputation as the world's best fast bowler. Little did the West Indies know that 1993 would be the last peak West Indies would see and find newer and newer depths every succeeding year. 



Popular Posts