A Game for Cool FoolsDave Wilson |
The first book I ever read on cricket was my dad’s copy of AG “Johnnie” Moyes’ account of West Indies’ tour of Australia in 1960-61. Consequently, the first Test match I ever read about was the opening Test at Brisbane that winter. Coming across the book a couple of years after the event, when the swashbuckling Ted Dexter and fiery Fred Trueman were my cricketing heroes, it was difficult for me to appreciate the dour state of cricket at that time. I recently acquired my own copy of that book, and the wonderful memories it revived inspired me to produce this piece on that Brisbane Test.
Throughout the decade of the 1950s, cricket was in a parlous state in general, and in England in particular. In the 120 or so years during which Test cricket was played up to the millennium, the worst nine in terms of runs per over all took place in the fifties. The one year which avoided that accolade, 1959, still features in the top fifteen (or should that be bottom fifteen?). In English domestic cricket, a decade of increasingly attritional cricket saw the runs per match steadily reduced until, in 1958, the lowest level for 35 years was reached – the golden summer of 1947 was very much a distant memory.
Though the decline wasn’t restricted to English domestic cricket, it was very much an English disease, as Tests involving England made up more than half the number of series played during that decade. The fact that England were difficult to beat during the period meant there was hardly motivation to provide more entertainment. Controversy reigned, with accusations of throwing, dragging and pitch-doctoring very much to the fore (see Tim Quelch’s excellent Bent Arms and Dodgy Wickets for a full examination of the period), all of which contributed to the avoidance of defeat becoming the major objective. By the end of the decade, EM “Lyn” Wellings was describing the first Test of the 1958-59 Ashes series as the ‘dullest and most depressing’ he had ever seen. Little surprise, then, that the commercial TV networks in Australia had little interest in broadcasting cricket.
This was the state of affairs preceding the visit of West Indies to Australia that winter of 1960-61, a time when the host country’s “White Australia” policy had not yet been consigned to history, while in West Indies Frank Worrell had been appointed as its first black cricket captain (assuming one discounts a one-off deputising by George Headley). Worrell’s appointment came largely as a result of significant representation by activist and cricket writer CLR James, and was assisted by Gerry Alexander’s request not to be considered for the captaincy; as events would reveal, it was a wise choice indeed, Worrell demonstrating remarkable powers of inspiration, though as a selector his request to include Roy Gilchrist in the party had fallen on deaf ears.
The previous meeting between the two countries had actually been a high-scoring affair in the Caribbean which Australia won 3-0, a result which would have been 4-0 but for the heroics of Clairemonte Depeiaza and Denis Atkinson (see Martin’s piece on Atkinson here). A record 22 centuries were made, with Clyde Walcott scoring five of them, also a record – the high scoring was no doubt helped by the fact that England wasn’t playing. Current form favoured the Australians, their recent Ashes triumph preceding the defeat of West Indies at home to England.
Certainly that’s how it looked in the warm-up matches, six games producing just one win for West Indies, with Bill O’Reilly being moved to write that their fielding ‘presented such an air of immaturity that one can foresee difficulties’. However, with there being evidence of what Moyes described as ‘noticeable leadership’, West Indies hoped that unprecedented sessions of organised fielding practices would turn that around. Despite the difficulties in the early matches, the program had been specifically designed to acclimatize the tourists prior to the beginning of the Test series, something which was lacking during their previous visit some nine years previously. Fast bowler Chester Watson, possessed of what some thought a suspect action, was nonetheless a surprise omission and so West Indies fielded eight recognised batsmen. That meant that Worrell, who had injured his thigh in the warm-up matches, would have to open the bowling with Hall.
Leading batsman Garry Sobers had struggled during the warm-up matches, leading Sir Donald Bradman to counsel him that the runs would come “at the right time”. Bradman had also made a speech to the Australian squad, stating “The selectors will choose players they believe are playing good cricket, and they will look in kindly fashion on players who play aggressively and are clearly thinking about those who pay their money at the turnstiles. The selectors want you to be winners but not at the cost of making the game unattractive for the cricket follower.”
With both captains, Worrell and Benaud, echoing Bradman’s desire for bright cricket, the scene was set for the first Test in Brisbane. Prior to the commencement of the tour, the Canberra Times had noted that ‘[Cammie] Smith has far surpassed the champion batsman Garfield Sobers with his sparkling, cavalier style of batting.’ West Indies batted first, Sobers indeed finding runs at the right time as he produced one of the finest innings ever played – his 132 was described by Richie Benaud as “champagne batting”, sentiments later echoed by Allan Davidson who claimed it was one of the five best he had ever seen; Colin McDonald was even more effusive, considering it to be the finest he’d ever seen. Sobers may have been fired up by the unfavourable comarison to the previously uncapped Smith mentioned above, as well as newspaper reports that Benaud ‘had him’, the spinner having claimed him cheaply prior to the first Test – Benaud meanwhile could only stand and applaud Sobers’ explosive shot-making. Radio commentator Michael Charlton described one of his 21 boundaries, a pull shot through mid-wicket, that “never rose more than 5 feet off the ground, like one of Nelson’s cannonballs, on over the fence like a rocket, mowing down the crowd.”
Helped by Sobers’ heroics West Indies had amassed 453 in even time with what Moyes described as ‘really dazzling cricket’, including a ninth wicket stand of 86 runs in 69 minutes, though Alan Davidson managed to take five wickets. But Australia, thanks in no small part to an innings of 181 by Norm O’Neill managed a first-innings lead of 52; O’Neill’s hundred would remain Australia’s solitary century in all five Tests, as compared to six by West Indies, though having been dropped twice in quick succession and hitting only one more boundary than Sobers had, O’Neill’s innings was a horse of a different colour. He had no doubt put his side in the ascendance, however, and The Cricketer noted that ‘after his earlier uncertainties [he made just 29 in an hour-and-a-half by the end of the second day] he batted particularly well’. West Indies, steered by Worrell’s second consecutive innings of 65 (though he was missed first ball), then left Australia 300 minutes for a makeable 233, and although the tourists’ predilection for fast scoring certainly did not help their cause, holding off Australia’s bowlers for forty valuable minutes on the final morning undoubtedly did. Davidson was once more the hero for Australia with 6/87 to give him eleven for the match, thus equalling the highest Australian wicket hauls against West Indies set previously by Bert Ironmonger and Clarrie Grimmett.
Hall, whose pace had ploughed a lonely furrow in Australia’s first innings, proved to be the man most likely in their second as he quickly disposed of Simpson and Harvey, the latter from a remarkable diving catch by Sobers, who in the process dislocated the middle finger of his right hand. Veterinarian-come-wicket-keeper Gerry Alexander re-set it, before Sobers went off to treat the bleeding, leaving Australia reeling on seven for two. At 49, Hall also claimed O’Neill after fine captaincy from Worrell; after O’Neill cut Hall for two fours, Worrell did not fill the gap, such that in mis-hitting while going for the same shot O’Neill was caught behind. On the same score Worrell bowled McDonald, whose painstaking 16 had taken an hour-and-a-half, Australia now being well behind on the clock.
Les Favell then arrived, but could do little to stem the tide as he departed for just seven, once again due to Worrell’s exceptional tactics; in allowing him a single to the off while putting an extra man on the on-side, he had Favell immediately caught by the re-assigned fielder. With Hall producing figures of 4/38 off 12 overs, half the side were now gone for 57 and any chance of victory seemingly departed with them. Davidson, the hero with the ball, now joined fellow left-hander Ken Mackay and together they held the tourists at bay for the best part of an hour, with Worrell for some reason reluctant to utilize Sobers. Finally, Ramadhin beat Mackay and halted the partnership at 35, though the 78 minutes it took had not enabled Australia to make up the lost time. With Australia now 92/6, West Indies were surely at this point strong favourites to win.
Enter Richie Benaud, whose play had not greatly impacted the state of the match to this point, but he bore a steely countenance and a captain’s determination to fight to the end. However, at tea Australia were 109/6, needing 124 to win at just over a run a minute, but with West Indies needing just four more dismissals. During the break, Bradman asked Benaud if he was going for the win or a draw; when Benaud replied in the former, Bradman responded drily with “I’m very pleased to hear it”. The two thus returned to the crease, having what Moyes described as fewer nerves than a false tooth, they alone having the wherewithal to pull this match out of the fire, assuming they were still together at the death.
Alternating aggression and attrition as necessary, they pushed the score along with one eye on the clock and one eye on the field, Davidson in particular delighting the spectators with some superb hooks and pulls, while singles were taken with seeming impunity, although at one point Davidson was almost run out with fielders running everywhere. When the 200 come up, Hall took the new ball. At the start of the penultimate over, with the clock showing ten minutes to six and the score 226/6, Australia were firmly in the driving seat, Davidson commenting to Benaud “Just make sure I’m up there for Wes”, thinking he would have a good chance of sending Hall to the boundary. But when Benaud called for a sharp single Solomon’s direct hit from side-on to the stumps had Davidson trudging dejectedly back to the pavilion, though the West Indians applauded him the whole way. Davidson’s 80 runs provided what Moyes called ‘a sort of spinal column, rigid and strong, holding the side together’ – though circumspect for quite some time, he then let loose with Benaud, taking Australia to within sight of victory . Davidson would later comment that he never batted better, especially with Ramadhin and Valentine, bowling on the by now cracked surface, proving particularly difficult.
Despite Davidson’s demise, Australia were still firm favourites to get the seven runs necessary for victory, having three more wickets to give. Grout, who had chain-smoked through the whole of Benaud and Davidson’s partnership before having to frantically locate his gloves, which had dropped down inside his pads, hurried to the centre with the air of ‘a man late for an appointment’. With the clock now showing four minutes to six he immediately added a single amidst mounting excitement, surely a mistake as it could result in Grout having to face Hall for the start of the final over. Sobers then cleverly bounced Benaud to prevent from keeping the strike, leaving Australia to get six runs from the one remaining over possible.
And so began, amongst what Michael Charlton described as “almost hysterical excitement”, possibly the most momentous over in the history of Test cricket, if not all of cricket. The events of that final eight-ball over were so incredible, with proceedings being lent an even more surreal air by the blood-red sunset behind the scoreboard, making it difficult to tell the state of the match, the only way to do them justice is to break them down ball-by-ball.
First ball, Australia 227/7 need six runs to win off eight balls
Hall bowls to Grout who, missing the ball, is hit on the leg. However, he has no time to dwell on the pain as he sees Benaud bearing down on him for a single, while West Indian fielders scramble for the ball lying agonizingly in the block-hole just in front of Grout’s recently vacated wicket. Both batsmen are safe.
Second ball, Australia 228/7 need five runs to win off seven balls
Worrell had cautioned Hall at the start of the over against bowling bouncers, and so of course next ball he does exactly that, but Benaud makes contact and sends it into the safe confines of Alexander’s gloves amid raucous cheers from the West Indians. As he walks off, Benaud cracks “All yours, Wal” to which Grout replies sardonically, “Thanks very much.”
Third ball, Australia 228/8 need five runs to win off six balls
Meckiff is the new batsman. He plays the ball defensively, no run.
Fourth ball, Australia 228/8 need five runs to win off five balls
Meckiff plays and misses at the next ball, which reaches Alexander, but with Grout shouting for a single and taking off ‘like an Olympic sprinter’, Alexander flings the ball to Meckiff’s end, but the run-out chance is missed. Meckiff would have been out by yards.
Fifth ball, Australia 229/8 need four runs to win off four balls
Grout scoops the next ball high over his shoulder, and with four fielders converging on it at square leg Kanhai, positioned right underneath it, is in position to take the catch. However Hall, shirt “billowing like a sail”, comes flying in like an express train and reaches over Kanhai’s head, succeeding only in deflecting the ball and having to watch despairingly as it falls harmlessly to earth. The batsmen run a hurried single and what should have been 229/9 becomes 230/8.
Sixth ball, Australia 230/8 need three runs to win off three balls
Meckiff hits the ball in desperation to the square leg boundary, the batsmen setting off like rabbits while squinting into the setting sun to hopefully watch the ball disappear to the boundary. However, with the crowd cheering in anticipation of an Australian victory, they are forced to look on in disbelief as Hunte swoops on it and, in one movement, turns and propels it from 80 yards away straight to Alexander’s gloves. Grout, who is in the process of completing the third and winning run, flings himself and his bat at the crease, sliding in on his stomach. Alexander breaks the wicket and Grout’s efforts are in vain, as he is left to pick himself up, covered in red dust.
Benaud later confirmed that he had concerns over the outfield, as that morning it was unmown and covered in clover, the groundsman having been unable to take care of it due to an early morning shower. Benaud remains convinced that if the ground had been mowed Meckiff’s shot would have reached the boundary, and Australia would have won. The confusion caused by the setting sun was possibly the reason that the report in the Canberra Times noted mistakenly that Kanhai had made the throw.
Seventh ball, Australia 232/9 need one run to win off two balls, 6.03pm
Kline, having got up from his sick bed after a bout of tonsilitis and who also mislaid his gloves, having been sat on them, walks out to the wicket. Frank Worrell, possibly indulging in a little gamesmanship, intimates “I wouldn’t be in your shoes for all the tea in China. You look a little pale…”. Worrell warns everyone that only one run is left and cautions Hall not to bowl a no-ball. Kline tells Meckiff “We are going to run on this ball no matter where it goes”; he plays the ball and sets off for what looks like the winning run, however Solomon, the hero not ten minutes previously, takes the ball in front of Lashley while yelling “Move, move, move!” and, unbelievably, once more throws down the wicket. The umpire’s finger goes up and that’s it, the match is over.
Confusion reigned as to the actual result, the scorer’s job having been made more difficult by all the run outs and working out if the batsmen had crossed or not. Joe Solomon thought they had won, while Worrell thought they had lost, Kanhai meanwhile was proclaiming West Indies champions, while Meckiff also thought Australia had lost. Broadcaster ‘Johnnie’ Moyes kept his head though, announcing hte very first tie in a Test match. Davidson later said he didn’t think anyone knew at the time that the scores were tied, but his disappointment in Australia throwing away victory was tempered by Don Bradman, who told him “Don’t be disappointed Alan – today, you’ve made history.” Charlton recalled that Bradman had been holding a newspaper while watching the final moments, which ended up completely shredded as a result of all the tension. A possibly apocryphal story has it that one commentator had incorrectly called the result and had to go back the next day and re-record it. Australian broadcaster Alan McGilvray meanwhie had left the ground at 4pm, convinced Australia had lost, and was only informed of the actual result just before landing in Sydney. According to this article it remains the most dramatic Test match ever.
Benaud, also disappointed in what he considered to be a missed chance for victory, was in turn counselled by Bradman – “This is the best thing which could have possibly happened for cricket.” Ken Mackay, with a sly allusion to contemporary cricketing controversy, greeted Joe Solomon with the plaudit “Joe, you must be the greatest thrower-out of all time, but I think your action is suspect!”
The crowd, a disappointingly small 4,000, stormed the field and the players had to jostle their way good-naturedly to the dressing rooms. Benaud emerged and walked off the field with Worrell, their arms round each other’s shoulders, Worrell being heard to exclaim, “Man, that was a game for cool fools!”
The players of both sides mingled in the dressing rooms, drinking in celebration, the West Indians leading all in calypsos, however the good feeling didn’t last long. As a result of complaints lodged by the Queensland Cricket Association, who felt that the celebrations had gone on far too long, the Australian Cricket Board subsequently decreed that players should vacate dressing rooms within a few minutes of the end of a day’s play. Of the twelve board members, only Bradman did not vote in favour of the motion.
The tie forged a lasting bond between all the members of both sides which exists to this day, and in 2001 the surviving members (Worrell had died at the relatively young age of 42) gathered together in Brisbane on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the tied match, as the sides were preparing to face each other for the 19th time.
Davidson, with 11 wickets and 124 runs, was undoubtedly the player of the match, but there were many other fine performances, most notably Sobers’ 132, O’Neill’s 181 and Simpson’s 92, and the fine performance of Hall (bowling painfully in new boots, as well as scoring a 50 in the first innings) being ably assisted by the astonishing fielding of Hunte and Solomon, the latter who had honed his skills throwing down mangoes as a boy. Great credit for this marvellous match must go to the captains, Worrell and Benaud, neither of whom was prepared to settle for a draw, though of course in the end neither of them was able to celebrate a win. Worrell in particular exuded such a calming influence on his young side that they did not falter even during those final moments of almost unbearable tension.
Wisden prefixed its report on the match with the words ‘THE GAME SMILES AGAIN’, while the aforementioned “Lyn” Wellings opined that it was ‘surely the greatest game ever played with a ball’, a match tied by teams playing in ‘Homeric manner’. He also pointed out that, but for a recent rule change the match would have ended on Grout’s dismissal and ‘we lucky spectators would not have palpitated to the last tremendous thrill of that last tremendous over’.
Writing for the Canberra Times at the time, Jack Fingleton noted that ‘the purple drama of happenings here in the last over of the day almost beggars description.’ Meanwhile in his full account of the match in his book, “The Greatest Test of All”, Fingleton enthused “By taking the corpse of international cricket out of its winding sheet and infusing new life into it; by converting what used to be cricket wars of attrition into joyous events…Australia and the West Indies have set an example which other cricketing countries will ignore only at the peril of their own cricketing status.”
The MCC sent a telegram after the match congratulating the two captains. Mr R Aird, then secretary of the MCC stated: ‘I consider this as a victory for both sides. Throughout the five days they played cricket in the way all the delegates at the recent Imperial Cricket Conference hope it will be played in future. It is a pattern for everyone to follow.’
The tourists would later be moved to tears by the sort of ticker-tape parade usually reserved for royalty, as hundreds of thousands turned out to honour them. Further honours resulting from this wonderful match and series included the naming of the trophy awarded to the victor of subsequent meetings between the two sides in Australia as the Frank Worrell Trophy. Awards are also made for the best batting performance (named for Sobers), best bowling performance (Davidson), best fielding performance (Solomon) and the best individual performace (O’Neill). Fingleton was commissioned to design a tie commemorating the event, featuring as its motif a golden tied knot, which was awarded to all of the players and broadcasters who were present at the match.
During the press conference following the match, Richie Benaud stated that “You could only describe the finish as fabulous ? a tie was the best result”, to which Worrell, initially straight-faced, responded “But you must remember we have yet to check the scorebook.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the tied Test match was the first I ever read about – 50 years on, I’ve yet to read of a better one.
With the West Indies in Australia, AG Moyes
View from the Boundary, with Michael Charlton
Over but not Out, Richie Benaud
Calypso Summer, ABC DVD
MCC Library booklet