Rumble in Jamaica
It was a series in which cricket took a back seat all through. Kerry Packer was busy signing up the best Caribbean players, while the West Indies Cricket Board, on the other hand, was trying to force its players to toe the line.
They were testing times for Australia. Bob Simpson was leading a green bunch of youngsters to the West Indies after the Australian board refused to select players who were playing for Packer.
Our confidence was high, though, because we had just won at home against the world-class spin attack of India. But that elation dissipated soon once we came up against the likes of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. We were packed off inside three days in the first Test in Port-of-Spain. And it was much the same in the second, in Barbados.
Then controversy struck. The Packer West Indians pulled out due to their differences with the WICB and the third Test, in Guyana, saw a new-look West Indies team. We were about par with this second-string side and we won a closely fought match. Then we faltered miserably in the next Test, which was in Port-of-Spain again. Still, we fancied our chances in the final Test on the true batting wicket at Sabina Park.
Jamaica was a volatile place: crime was rampant and we were warned not to go out alone at night. The robbers "don't just steal your ring, they chop your wrist off", we were told. Things weren't much better at the ground. A few West Indian players warned us against disputing the umpire's decisions, as the crowds were notorious for the way they behaved. Apparently some fans even carried guns into the stands. There was wire netting circling the ground, from the grandstands to the fence, to arrest any crowd invasions.
The first couple of days saw some hard cricket between the teams. We held the upper hand for the first couple of days and put up 343. My own contribution was 122. We then had West Indies gasping at 63 for 5 but we let it slip and they ended up making nearly 300 thanks to a hundred from Larry Gomes and a good effort from their tail.
With just under two days' play remaining, our task was clear: set a target quickly and get them out. We made 305 in the second innings - both Graeme Wood and I narrowly missed out on hundreds. That left West Indies 367 for victory. We had one day to reduce the series deficit to 3-2.
When they were five down for less than 100, we thought we had them in the bag, but once again they found a saviour. This time it was their captain, Alvin Kallicharran, who led from the front and refused to budge.
|The robbers "don't just steal your ring, they chop your wrist off", we were told. Things weren't much better at the ground. A few West Indian players warned us against disputing the umpire's decisions, as the crowds were notorious for the way they behaved. Apparently some fans even carried guns into the stands|
It was all hard going. The wicket was turning but not much, and our spinners, Bruce Yardley and Jim Higgs, had to toil. In the final hour there was another twist. Higgs got the big wicket: Kallicharan, lbw. West Indies were more than 100 runs away and eight down.
Next, Vanburn Holder was legitimately dismissed, caught behind off the glove. He showed no dissent, but on his way back he took his gloves off, and out of disgust at himself for getting out, hit them against his hip.
That did it. The crowd thought it was a bad decision. Suddenly, as we were celebrating the wicket, we found stones and all kinds of stuff - bottles, chairs even - being thrown across the ground at us. Some of it even reached us at the wicket, where we were grouped. We began to get a little worried. The dressing room was under the grandstands and there was no chance we could make it back safely.
Finally, after about 40 minutes the riot police arrived and escorted us back. Relieved to be in safer confines, we had just started to laugh about the incident when we heard gunfire and hit the deck. Apparently people were setting the stands on fire and the cops were firing blanks in the air, and then teargas to disperse the crowds. A little later real bullets were fired as well. We needed an armed escort to get back to the hotel.
After the ruckus died down we realised how close we had been to victory. Simmo strongly wanted to play a sixth day, and the WICB were willing. Some of us players were reluctant but a vote was taken and it was decided we would play. But while umpire Wesley Malcolm was willing and brave enough, his partner Ralph Gosein refused. A third umpire, John Gayle, too said no. So the game was declared a draw.
We had had about six overs the previous evening. We would have won, no doubt about that. The match was taken away from us.
Peter Toohey played 15 Tests and five ODIs for Australia in the seventies. He was speaking to Nagraj Gollapudi. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine