Rod Marsh's long road to Dominica
To say no member of Australia's team has played a match in Dominica is not quite true. The captain, Michael Clarke, has never been here before, nor Michael Hussey, or even the exceedingly well-travelled Ricky Ponting. But the selector on duty in Roseau is Rod Marsh, and in April 1979 he took part in the only match an Australian team has played on the island.
The 11th of 12 scheduled World Series Cricket limited-overs matches in the Caribbean between West Indian and Australian teams was dour and low-scoring, the hosts winning at a canter after Marsh had led the visitors' somewhat meagre resistance in making 137 for 9 from their allotted 45 overs. It turned out to be the last match of WSC, as a truce between Kerry Packer's PBL and the Australian Cricket Board was sewn together while the tour progressed.
Some elements of Dominica have not changed. The major airport at Melville Hall is still on the far side of the island from Roseau, necessitating a 90-minute drive along a winding road through some of the thickest rain forest any traveller is likely to see. "Particularly the drive from the airport I remember last time vividly," Marsh told ESPNcricinfo. "Clive Lloyd was on our bus - for what reason I don't know, because we were opponents, but we did in World Series Cricket days mix a lot more than they do now. He described the road as a 'boy scout' road, one good turn deserves another, and coming in I remembered it all… it's a shocking road.
"But it's a lovely place once you get here, and this ground itself is certainly nothing like it was. I'm assuming it was in the same position, but there were no stands at all. It was like an open recreation park and we were here for a one-day game. We stayed in the same hotel but there was no modern part to it. It was just the fort. We were in here for probably two nights and then out to St Kitts and we got washed out there. It was basically the end of the tour."
WSC had been a long journey, furtive and clandestine at the start, then loud and increasingly proud as the matches gathered an escalating level of public support at the grounds and on television. Its innovations and developments formed the basis for much of the 21st-century game, from blanket television coverage and marketing to aggressive cricket by players aware of the game's commercial imperative to entertain. The WSC tour of the West Indies could also be argued to have expanded the game's reach in the Caribbean, and by extension globally - matches were played in numerous non-Test venues.
"I would imagine the [current] players would've thought, getting out of the plane and into the airport then onto the bus - I'd imagine they'd be thinking, 'Are we really going to play a Test match here?'" Marsh said. "But when you come here and look at it, you think, 'Geez, what a lovely ground for a Test match.' And I've heard already that the place is going to be teeming with people, which is fantastic for both sides. I think it is far better to play in front of a crowd than in front of an empty stadium. So let's hope we fill it and let's hope there's some terrific cricket - and that we win."
The price of such expeditions was paid by the nerves, and in some cases attention spans, of the WSC players. The 1979 tour was beset by riots and unrest, while rain also played a major role, much as it did during the second Test of the current series in Trinidad. Two of the limited-overs matches were washed out, while in Georgetown, scene of the fourth Supertest, the rain was of such intensity as to keep the players in their hotel rooms for days on end. When they emerged, crowd riots also conspired to result in a drawn match. The Test series was ultimately shared 1-1, while West Indies won the limited-overs fixtures by a wide margin.
"We had a lot going on and it was a willing series," Marsh said. "We had a few riots here, there and everywhere. We had one in Trinidad, we had one in Barbados, but the big one, the proper one, was in Guyana, and there was a lot of rain about too. When we went to Guyana I remember rooming with Ray Bright at that stage, and I don't recall leaving our room for about three days.
"We didn't have a beer. We decided because we were getting no exercise as it was too wet to go out on the park. We decided we'd drink nothing but coffee, and we played cards for three days solid. Talk about boredom… thankfully Ray Bright was a funny man, so at least we got through that. He got through it as well and I don't recall who won the cards. But by God we drank a lot of coffee."
By the time of Dominica, it had become clear that these would be the final matches played under the WSC banner, as Packer had achieved his aim of pushing the Australian board into a corner from which its only option was to hand the rights to officially sanctioned cricket to his Channel Nine network. While the WSC West Indies tour would be followed by the 1979 World Cup and a tour of India, both contested by the team of the establishment, by the start of the next Australian summer, Marsh, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and the rest of the "rebels" were back in Australian colours - or in contention for them.
"During the tour we got the information that some sort of deal had been done between the ACB and the Packer organisation," Marsh said. "We got the information that we would be playing [for Australia], that it would be back, so it was important to us over here that we played well. Obviously the guys that had played for Australia were doing very well and we knew that we had to play well to get our places back in the team."
For Marsh the tour remains a valued memory as well as an ominous pointer to how formidable an opponent West Indies would become in subsequent years. Thirty-three years on, there is even a hint of nostalgia in his voice when he mentions how good West Indies were, and enthusiasm also for the fact that the current team is showing signs of significant improvement.
"They were a heck of a good side, the West Indies. We matched them over here [in the Supertests], which was a good effort. We felt pretty proud of the fact we were able to match them on the scoreboard," he said. "It's nice to see them really competitive again. Over the last couple of years I think a lot of their pride has been regained and it's starting to show again on the scoreboard. It would be nice if they were a force to be reckoned with again, and that's where they're heading."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here