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West Indies outplay Australia by skin of their teeth

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Last updated on 26 Jan 2024 | 06:37 AM
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West Indies outplay Australia by skin of their teeth

The hosts fell short by just one run while chasing 186, with Curtly Ambrose taking 10 wickets in the match

With the International Cricket Council limiting bouncers to one per over, Test matches were fast losing their popularity among fans, who had intensely enjoyed the lethal battle between blood-thirsty bowlers and technically superior batsmen. Until West Indies took on Australia in one of the best Test matches ever played and revived the longest format.

Touring Australia for a five-match Test series, which was designed to be relentlessly intercepted by the Benson & Hedges World Series, the Men in Maroon started on the back foot. The first three matches saw the visitors trailing the series 1-0 after the Aussies had pulled off a thumping 139-run victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The series could have been well over in the third Test itself when the hosts tallied 503 runs in the first innings, but an upcoming Brian Lara kept the visitors in the game with an unbelievable 277-run knock to draw the game.

The third tied Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground was followed by four World Series games and it had seemingly disrupted Australia’s flow. Adelaide was proving harder for batters to stay and Merv Hughes exploited this opportunity to limit the visitors to 252 runs by taking a five-fer.

Desmond Haynes (45), Phil Simmons (46), Brian Lara (52) and Junior Murray (49) were the only bright sparks for West Indies as most of the rest returned to the pavilion after scoring in a single figure.

However, if West Indies had struggled to score runs, hosts Australia were desperately trying to avoid an embarrassment in familiar conditions. Curtly Ambrose led the West Indian attack with the likes of Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Allan Border and Ian Healy among the victims of his six-wicket haul. Merv Hughes remained Australia’s highest scorer with his 43-run knock as the hosts trailed by 39 runs.

The turf was getting harder to bat as days progressed and the Australians knew they were still very much in the game. As expected, Tim May and Craig McDermott ran through almost the entire West Indies line-up with captain Richie Richardson being West Indies’s highest score with 72. May was Australia’s standout bowler, taking five wickets in 6.5 overs and conceding just 9 runs.

Years later, looking back at the game, May had said, “It was just the ideal offspinner's pitch. There was bounce, there was a beautiful breeze. Perfect for the curve away. If I didn't take 5 for 9 then, I never would have."

With the visitors all wrapped up for 146 runs, Australia were left with a target of 185 runs in two days. The match was heading towards a straightforward victory for the hosts despite the bowling-friendly conditions, which would have ended the series with a match to spare.

However, Walsh turned up the heat once again as the likes of David Boon, Steve Waugh, Border and Hughes fell prey to his lethal bowling. With Malcolm Marshall out of this game, West Indies needed others to chip in at this crucial juncture and Ian Bishop did exactly that by removing a dangerous-looking Justin Langer. Courtney Walsh took care of the rest as after he sent Mark Waugh to the pavilion. Australia lost eight wickets for the next 48 runs.

With just one wicket left, Tim May added 40 more runs alongside Craig McDermott having Australia at a one-run distance from sealing a hard-fought victory. However, Walsh managed to get McDermott’s edge in the dying moments of the game and wicket-keeper Junior Murray wasn’t letting that chance go.

Justin Langer, who was debuting in the Adelaide Test against a strong Wesr Indies side, had later said, “[Boon] said to me, Test cricket will never ever, ever, ever get harder than this. I thought he was just being nice to me. But it's true. I'd never played tougher Test cricket than that first match.” 

West Indies hadn’t lost a Test series in their last 13 outings and they bettered their record by winning the last Test match in Perth by an inning and 25 runs.

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