A look back at the West Indies Test tour of Australia in 2000/01Marco Trevisiol |
Throughout the 1980s & 1990s in Australian cricket while the Ashes continued to be a highly popular series, there was no cricket that carried more prestige and anticipation then when the West Indies made one of their many tours there. As the undisputed best side of the world, the West Indies carried an aura about them that no other cricket side could match. A player like Viv Richards was arguably a bigger box office draw for Oz cricket fans than any local player.
But the golden era began to fray in the mid-1990s and the West Indies declined at an increasingly rapid rate. So much so that they went from being the undisputed no. 1 side in the world in the mid-1990s to being a rabble by the start of the 2000s defined by hopeless Test performances away from home and bickering and industrial disputes destroying any spirit the team had.
The leadup to the West Indies tour of 2000/01 had a sense of doom about it even before it had begun. Their away Test performances had been dire in the past 5 years. Series whitewash defeats in Pakistan and South Africa and perhaps even more significantly, their tour of England during 2000 had led to their first series loss against that side since 1969. Not only were they beaten by a side that had been last in the Test rankings just 12 months before, but they were humiliated at regular stages, being bowled out for scores of 54 and 61.
If they were going to be badly beaten by an improving but flawed English side, how bad would they suffer against Australia?
The Australian side had widely been considered the number one Test side since winning the Caribbean in 1995, but their Test performances during the 1999/00 season suggested they’d gone to another level. Against a very strong Pakistan lineup and touring NZ against arguably the best Kiwi side in a decade, they had developed the belief they could win relentlessly and constantly. 10 wins in a row was a testament to their ruthlessness and desire for unprecedented success.
The key was the introduction of Adam Gilchrist as keeper at the start of the summer. His outstanding attacking and counter-attacking batting abilities at no. 7 was almost as if the side was playing with one extra player. His introduction made the best side into the world into one of the best Test sides cricket had ever seen. Facing such an outstanding opponent looking to exact revenge on all the heavy beatings Australia suffered in previous decades, a rapidly declining West Indian side never had a chance.
The bad signs for the West Indies began in their early tour matches where they were thrashed by Western Australia and Victoria. Their heavy over-reliance on Brian Lara (who looked out of sorts himself) in the batting and a bowling attack filled with bland and dull pacemen (a far cry from the individual brilliance of previous pace attacks) suggested a horror tour was in store for them.
The leadup to the opening Test in Brisbane was highlighted by the appearance of the surviving players from the famous Tied Test 40 years before at the same ground, probably the starting point in the great rivalry between the two sides. However, the competitiveness that marked that Test match was totally absent in this match.
In less than 2 and a half days, Australia thrashed the West Indies by an innings and 135 runs. The greatest signifier of Australia’s dominance was the extraordinary match figures of their great paceman Glenn McGrath with 10 for 27. Notably, the absence of Shane Warne (recently voted as one of the 5 greatest players of the 20th Century by Wisden) was hardly felt as Stuart MacGill was a more than able leg-spinning replacement.
The decline in the standard of the West Indian play was epitomised by opener Darren Ganga. While solid and technically correct, despite occupying the crease for lengthy periods at no stage did he get on top of the bowling lineup and score freely, which was in stark contrast to such aggressive openers like Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge. He spent 143 minutes on the opening morning at the Gabba scoring just 20 and at no stage in the series would he reach 35.
If the opening Gabba Test was bad, the start of the 2nd Test WACA was even more horrendous for the West Indies. On a ground that they had previously prospered on (won 5 out of 5 there) they were destroyed on the opening morning, reduced to 5/22 after just 10 overs. To top it off, Glenn McGrath took a hat-trick during this destruction (including star batsman Brian Lara), meaning he’d taken 13 wickets in the series at a cost of less than 50 runs. Even though he was fairly quiet for the remaining 3 and a half Tests, he was still a deserved Man Of The Series.
The West Indies still had great players but for various reasons they were below their best. For the West Indies tireless leading wicket-taker Courtney Walsh, on his fifth Test tour of Australia it proved to be one tour too many. While he was hard-working and disciplined as per usual, the sharpness and movement that had characterised his bowling throughout his career was beyond him now and he never took more than 2 wickets in an innings.
On the other hand, West Indies great batsman Brian Lara should have been still at the peak of his powers in this series but his tour was dogged by rumours of his lack of fitness, hamstring problems and being generally aloof from the team. Apart from a fine 182 in Adelaide, he had no impact on the series.
As dominant as Australia were during this series, it was not a flawless performance. Their batting was often patchy and sloppy, relying on one or two individual performances (and the miniscule totals by the West Indies) to get by. A lot of these issues would be fully exposed on the tour to India that followed.
For example Ricky Ponting , who had an excellent 1999/00 season, treaded water during this West Indies series, being wasted at no. 6 and being a relatively modest contributor. After a disastrous India tour it was only when he took the no. 3 spot on the 2001 England tour did he really begin to utilize his full talents.
Similarly, Justin Langer had a mediocre series against the West Indies after a breakthrough 1999/00 summer. It eventually lead to his dropping from the side and it was only when he was reinvented as a opener on the 2001 English tour did his career get going again.
In a way, as enjoyable as this 5-0 whitewash of the West Indies was, it was almost too easy for Australia as only during the 3rd Test in Adelaide and 5th Test in Sydney did the West Indies provide any sort of fight at all. It probably helped instil a sense of overconfidence in Australia, which would come to haunt them on the India tour when they lost a series they were in a seemingly unbeatable position in halfway through.
Crowds generally flocked to this series, delighting in the awesomeness of this great Australian side and seeing revenge taken on the West Indies after years of dominance. But by the end of the series, so pitiful had the lack of resistance been from the Caribbean side that one sensed even Oz fans wished for a more competitive contest then they had been treated to.
Indeed, one looks back on the series with a sense of sadness as it marked the end of the golden era of Australia/West Indies contests, particularly tours to Oz by the Windies. Never again would the West Indies play a 5 Test series in Australia. What were once major events in Australian cricket rivalling The Ashes was now just another series.
And considering how much anticipation an Australia v West Indies Test series used to bring, that is indeed a sad thing.