No. 20 May 15, 2010

Worrell's West Indians in Australia

In the drabbest hours of the game came a contest that breathed life back into it and gave birth to one of cricket's great rivalries


Fifty years on, the scratchy black-and-white footage crackles with youth and daredevilry and wild, carefree strokeplay. This was a series of extraordinary finishes and extravagant flourishes, two months when cricket danced to a different beat. There was the hypnotic helter-skelter of the Brisbane tie, the unblinking tension of Kenneth Mackay and Lindsay Kline's last-wicket salvage act in Adelaide, the tremulous twists of Australia's two-wicket triumph in the MCG finale.

Amid it all shone Garry Sobers' sun-filled swagger, Wes Hall's brimstone and bluster, Alan Davidson's big-hearted heroics, Norman O'Neill's lithe artistry, Richie Benaud's cool head, Frank Worrell's warm smile, Rohan Kanhai's deft touch and timing…

Timing, indeed, was everything. Cricket's brightest series coincided with one of its drabbest hours. Sluggish over rates, stodgy run rates, throwing, dragging, and an avoid-defeat-at-all-costs grimness were pointing the game towards oblivion. Twelve of the 16 Tests preceding that 1960-61 series had ended in stupefying stalemates. But this was a new decade, a time of long hair and liberation, and cricket caught on quickly. Benaud and Worrell, two captains astute beyond their years, were unbreakable in their determination to play happy, uncomplicated, risk-laced cricket. And from determination came regeneration.

"Cricket seems to be in the doldrums all over the world," the South African board secretary Algy Frames had written to Don Bradman. That letter was dated September 1960. Five months later 500,000 Melburnians clogged the streets to farewell Worrell's West Indians, and the graceful game was great again.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine