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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • P Subramani on May 18, 2010, 12:09 GMT

    The famous photograph of all the West Indians jumping in celebration was when Joe Solomon knocked down the stumps from square leg as Ian Meckiff was taking the victory giving third run. At that time it was unique that a fielder could knock down a single visible stump. But that was the moment the te match ended in a tie. In one of the matches, I do not know which one, Wes Hall tried to hit a six. He connected but with the ground. He held onl the handle of the bat as the meaty portion of the bat flew towards mid on.The picture of Hall with everyone else in splits was a sight for the Gods.This series saw the swansong of Alf Valentine but the emergence of one of the greatest off spinners in the world. Lance Gibbs. He hounded the Australians all the way. At Adelaide, he got 3 wickets in four balls and at Sydney he got the hat-trick. He was virtually unplayable because he was so tall. He was the second bowler to cross 300 wickets after Fred Truman. Truly a great series.

  • P Subramani on May 18, 2010, 1:57 GMT

    This is with reference to Martin's post. I was fortunate to have heard nearly every word of commentary covered by the ABC of the famous Tie drawn series in 1961 and saw the great Ashes series of on the television. I regard both these series as two of the best ever played. While the 2005 Ashes was gladiatorial with a fair deal of blood and gore it also had a bit of what one hardly sees these days. Gracefulness when a man is down and out.The Harmisons,the Vaughns and the Flintoffs powered Englandto a well deserved win in a very closely contested series. That was big because one had grown so used to Australia win everything For a passionate neutral like me it was truly heartwarming.The Tie drawn series was all about the romance of this great game. A coloured team lead by a legend playing a great Australian team led by one of the greatest leg spinners the game has seen.The dramatis personae. One only gets to see these names only on stone. That series had everything one longs to see.

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2010, 21:52 GMT

    It's amazing to think that 90,000 people came out for one of the days of a test match in this series. And it's mind boggling to think that 500,000 Australians would come out to give a ticker-tape farewell to any team! I wasn't alive yet to see that series, but what an impact must have been made. Sir Frank Worrel was the first black captain of the WI and he showed absolute class with the job.

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2010, 16:51 GMT

    I was only a pre-pubescent boy at the time. Apart from a number of romantic encounters in later life, and a few other unforgettable moments of pure danger, nothing, certainly no sporting event, has ever had the same visceral effect on me as did that 60s series 50 years ago. Listening from here in the West Indies, we didn't have TV in the country yet, my mother only let me stay up that late with her and the older kids because I assured her that the whole school was already coming to school bleary-eyed, even the teachers. "It's a tie...!" shouted the announcer, his voice breaking with excitement, and we spent a few minutes digesting that, because I thought we'd won the match, then we realized that instead of a victory we had something even more remarkable. It seemed impossible for the rest of the series to live up to the adrenalin level generated by that single match, but it did!!

  • Dimuthu on May 16, 2010, 12:38 GMT

    @Spinoza & Neil Fairchild - it's quite sad that you have to bring up your own series and kick up a fuss when 'turning points' are discussed. did you see 500,000 indians or englishmen come to town to see off the Australian visitors? didn't think so.. as good as those 2 series, and many others from the current era, were, i don't the Windies tour of Australia in 60/61 needs qualification

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2010, 11:52 GMT

    If I were a member of the West Indies Cricket Board of control I'd ask Chris Gayle to study everything that those cricketing giants, Sobers, Nurse, Kanhai, Hall, Hunte, Gibbs, Lloyd, every one a star in his own right, everything they had to say, or write, anecdotally and generally, about the captaincy of Sir Frank Worrell, how they looked up to him and depended on him for confidence and morale, and how he kept them individually sharp and focussed, especially in critical moments of direst emergency.

    Of course, he himself was from another generation, one of the three Ws, so the reverence came easy. So, The Board itself, too, needs to consider this inter-generational aspect of leadership, which is ALWAYS enormously important in any conflict.

  • Rajaram on May 16, 2010, 6:52 GMT

    One of my prized possessions is the Video of the first Tied Test at Brisbane.I watch it ever so often. There can never be a rivalry to match Frank Worrell's West Indians versus Richie benaud's Australians.What was touching? 500,000 Melbournians coming to bid farewell to the West Indians for giving them a marvellous spectacle.Show me this kind of respect -EVER.

  • P Subramani on May 16, 2010, 4:58 GMT

    One never thought that we were on the verge of the greatest Test series ever played before the first Test at Brisbane. When Gary Sobers scored 132 on the first day and Kanhai,Solomon and Worrel made their contributions it seemed an even battle in the making to someone like me following the game on the radio in distant India. They got to 454 and then it was O'Neill billed as the next Bradman. He scored 180 odd ensuring a small lead for Australia. Then the test went unspectacularly tiil the last day mayhem. My sister asked me that morning,'What happens if they scored the same number of runs ?'. I could'nt help ridiculing her suggestion. Then it happened. The now famed Tie drawn Test. It was truly memorable.Then we saw the growth of Lance Gibbs,and the gentlemanliness of Wally Grout, Possibly some questionable umpiring in the Adelaide Test allowing them to draw the certainly lost game through Ken Mackay and Lindsay Kline. The stand lasted the whole day nearly. Yes Australia won !

  • Baruch on May 15, 2010, 20:23 GMT

    Hey. Aren't we forgetting India vs Australia 2001?

  • Evan on May 15, 2010, 15:16 GMT

    How short memories are. I wonder how Botham and Willis feel about 1981 disappearing into the mists?

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