Rob Steen
Rob Steen Rob SteenRSS FeedFeeds  | Archives
Sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

It was fifty years ago today

The effect of the first Tied Test was to raise cricket from its prevailing grisly greyness and take it closer to the zeitgeist of that heady decade. That's why that game and that series remain unmatched for cricketing drama

Rob Steen

December 8, 2010

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Australian batsman Ian Meckiff is run out with only two balls to go to secure Test cricket's first tie, Australia v West Indies, Brisbane, December 14, 1960
Joe Solomon ran out Ian Meckiff in the last dramatic act of a Test of outstanding quality © Getty Images
Enlarge
Related Links

Brisbane 1960. Fifty years on, has any game touched it for aura or resonance? For resurrecting hope where virtually all had been extinguished? For giving future generations faith in cricket's potential as the most engrossing theatre of all? As that inimitable comedian Frankie Howerd was wont to put it, nay, nay, and thrice nay.

I was barely three at the time, and hence utterly unaware of a contest immortalised by the title of Jack Fingleton's vivid hard-backed account, The Greatest Test of All, but the ripple effect was vast. I was still in single figures by the time I learned about that magical first tied Test but the cumulative impression created by reports, memoirs, history books and monochrome photographs was deep and lasting. So this was how wondrous sport could be, how cricket could be.

Confirmation came in the late 1990s, via 59 minutes' worth of video highlights from ABC's television coverage. Sure, the view was largely from mid-off, the camerawork dodgy as well as prehistorically limited, but every frame was precious: the joyous majesty of Garry Sobers' cover drive as he flowed to his classical first-day hundred; Alan Davidson's consummate allroundedness; Norm O'Neill's power; Wes Hall and Rohan Kanhai in full exotic flight; the bedlam and mayhem that followed Joe Solomon's unerring side-on throw as Ian Meckiff lunged for the winning run. After 83 years and 502 games, the fanciful notion of a tied Test, the ultimate sporting longshot, had finally bounded from theory to reality.

As Gideon Haigh relates in The Summer Game, Keith Miller and Alan McGilvray, the commentator, were flying into Sydney together when the hostess advised them that the match had finished "even".

Miller: "You mean it wasn't a draw?"
Hostess: "No, it wasn't a draw."
Miller: "Then the West Indies won?"
Hostess: "No, nobody won it. I'll go back and find out."

By the time she returned with the full picture, McGilvray was the personification of misery. "I have spent nearly 25 years," he would write 25 years later, "being furious for leaving Brisbane that day."

Over those five days at the slow-blinking dawn of the 20th century's most progressive decade, Australia and the West Indies also gave us a blueprint: a three-day test of skill capped by a two-day examination of nerve, underpinned by a refusal to regard the draw as a worthy goal until all other options had been exhausted. And boy, was it needed.

IT WOULD BE HARD TO EXAGGERATE cricket's vices as the Fifties gave way to the Sixties. Chucking was rife. The West Indies banned Roy Gilchrist for hurling beamers at an Indian tourist. On successive England tours of the Caribbean, in 1954 and 1960, Tests at Kingston and Port of Spain erupted in riots. Bottles were thrown in Delhi too, impending home defeat the unifying cause.

Even more dispiriting was the grisly greyness of the matches themselves. Of the 11 dullest Tests in history (measured by run-rate when at least 20 wickets fell), 10 took place between January 29, 1954 and December 5, 1958 (and 17 of the 23 least gripping). Of the seven most dilatory days' play on record, five occurred between October 1956 and Christmas 1959. The most recent Ashes series, in 1958-59, began with the most patience-snapping, love-sapping passage in Anglo-Antipodean annals: England ground out 106 runs in five hours on day four at the Gabba, thanks primarily to Peter May's decision to promote Trevor Bailey ahead of Tom Graveney and The Barnacle's uncanny impersonation of a constipated slug. Not much of a plug for the first Test televised live down under. There have been easier times to be a cricket tragic.

 
 
The appreciation was entirely mutual: Melbourne expressed a nation's gratitude with a tickertape send-off. "The statement which was quite frequently made and which brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes," remembered Worrell, "was: 'Come back soon.' "
 

That Brisbane tie, therefore, could not have been timelier. What made it so magical, though, was its immediate legacy. The second and third Tests brought convincing wins for each side but the Hitchcockian suspense soon returned. Australia's final pair, Ken Mackay and Lindsay Kline, hung tight against Wes Hall, Garry Sobers, Lance Gibbs and Alf Valentine for the last 100 minutes to secure an impossible draw in Adelaide. Then, in the decisive bout in Melbourne, watched on the first day by a record throng of 90,800, Mackay, again, and Johnny Martin dragged the hosts across the line with two wickets standing and a few million hearts barely intact.

Revealingly, in each of those three epic encounters, first-innings leads were relatively minor - 52 in Brisbane, 27 in Adelaide and 64 in Melbourne. Each game built to a crescendo, a full and mighty climax. Fittingly, by way of reinforcing the wisdom of making Test matches the length they are, that MCG decider, scheduled for six days, finished late on the fifth.

Not until 2005 would a single series contain three such palpitating finishes. And not even the fused memory of Geraint Jones' plunging catch at Lord's, Brett Lee's doughty defiance at Old Trafford and Ashley Giles' eyes-agape cover-drive at Trent Bridge can quite match up to the delicious improbabilities savoured half a century ago, albeit probably because contemporary perceptions are so reliant on the interpretations of others, heightening the mystery and romance. That that trio of games raised the bar, and gave the planet's most anti-modern ballgame a tomorrow, cannot be disputed. 

SERENDIPITY PLAYED ITS PART. The men who tossed up on December 9, 1960 were of a similar disposition. Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell were wise, enterprising enablers with an eye for big pictures and small details, but let's not paint them as romantics. Indeed, it was Don Bradman, not Benaud, who exhorted the baggy green 'uns to do their bit to drag the game from its negative spiral, a speech the captain would recall when the pair sat down for tea on the final afternoon. "[Bradman] looked quizzically at me and said: 'Well what's it going to be, Richie - a win or a draw?' "

Belatedly appointed as the islands' first full-time black captain, Worrell was taken aback by the crowds. "Never before had we experienced the pleasure of playing cricket in an environment in which the spectators regarded the quality of cricket as all-important whilst they seemed completely disinterested in the result of the game." The appreciation was entirely mutual: Melbourne expressed a nation's gratitude with a tickertape send-off. "The statement which was quite frequently made and which brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes," remembered Worrell, "was: 'Come back soon.' "

It would be a mistake, though, to imagine that this was a series founded on daring or enterprising batting, even by the slothful standards of the day. The most arresting statistics from this period are the scoring rates. The mean output was 2.65 runs per six-ball over; 56 bowlers were meaner than that, but then the batsmen, cautious to a fault, were all-too willing accomplices. How curious, then, that the rate during that Australia-West Indies series, 2.56, should have been under par.


A fan watches the day's play from the top deck of the northern stand, Australia v West Indies, 2nd Test, MCG, January 3, 1961
The rest of the Tests during West Indies' tour of Australia in 1960-61 were also extremely watchable © Getty Images
Enlarge

Nevertheless, by way of affirming that a thick, twisting plot deserves the suspension of time rather than acceleration, Fingleton's conclusion was heady, even giddy. "By taking the corpse of international cricket out of its winding sheet and infusing new life into it; by converting what used to be cricket wars of attrition into joyous events…Australia and the West Indies have set an example which other cricketing countries will ignore only at the peril of their own cricketing status."

Little did Fingleton anticipate how freely that risk would be taken, even by the participants. "Dull and unenterprising cricket was over," claimed Benaud in A Tale of Two Tests, "in Australia at any rate." Within months of those words being published, however, came another meandering, drab Ashes tussle. "I think everyone who saw the last day at either Adelaide or Sydney felt that too great a disparity existed between what went on in the minds of the players, and what passed through the minds of the audience who had paid to be entertained," lamented Alan Ross. "Matches are played over five days," insisted Benaud, "not over one-and-a-half." Ted Dexter, his opposite number, suggested a purse of £1000 per match and cremating the Ashes.

Truth be told, that 1960-61 series merely bought the game some time. It would take Test cricket three decades to catch fire as Fingleton predicted. Even then, the chief influence was external, namely the mindset fostered by the one-innings variant. Now, in this era of unwearing pitches and unwavering bats and unhappy bowlers, with the international balance of power more widespread and even-handed than ever, with the draw having gone from norm to exception and with safety-first jettisoned in favour of safety-last, that 1960-61 blueprint is being followed. 

The best sides arm-wrestle over the first three days whereupon the pace quickens and stronger minds prevail. Games are still being won on the opening day, when pitches are often at their least kindly, but day four is becoming increasingly pivotal - witness, in particular, October's Border-Gavaskar doubleheader in India. And turning deficits into victories is no longer a conjuring trick. Now it truly is a game of two halves, Richie.

ONE DIVERTING SUB-PLOT emerged between the fourth and fifth reels of that 1960-61 epic, when Fingleton, reporting for the Sunday Times, asked Worrell whether the rousing spirit could be maintained in the following summer's Ashes confrontation (it wasn't). Worrell, frank as ever, attacked what he saw as a crippling English disease, provoking a stern corrective from Gubby Allen. "[Worrell] said that they regarded the cricket field as a battleground; that their national characteristics had changed and they no longer got any fun out of cricket. He said they were much too serious about a game in which they didn't want to be beaten."

Might the same be said of Australia now?

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

RSS Feeds: Rob Steen

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (December 10, 2010, 1:27 GMT)

With this article in mind, & the awesome WIndies units that rampaged across the cricket world in the 70s, 80s & mid 90s - I hope that (weather aside), the drawn series in SL are genuine signs that the WIndies will be a force again. I think World cricket needs them back at the top! Hopefully Gayle has a couple of good years left @ Test level, Barath & Bravo maybe the new gun batsmen, & if Roach can stay fit I hope he gets a new ball partner in crime, & some better fielding I would be happy.

Posted by   on (December 9, 2010, 17:25 GMT)

There will not be anothe Test like the tied test at Brisbane 50 years ago. The majestic Century by Gay Sobers, the raw hjitting of Norman Oneill, Frank Worrell's ssweetly timed shots, Rohan Kanhai's resolute batting, Wes Hall's marathon spell, the spirited bating stand of Davidson and Benaud, all notable events. It was pulsuating on the last day - both sides do not know the result when Joe Siolomon's throw from the boundary ran Ian Meckiff out - This tied Test is incredible and will rank as the greatest ever Test in the history of cricket. Those fortunte to watch this Test, can say with pride the evens to their grand children

Posted by BigGeorgeMehemood on (December 9, 2010, 16:00 GMT)

On behalf of most West INdians, we think the Pakistan vs WI clashes were de best..esp.1977- Majid, Zaheer, Wasim Raja and the danger man Mustaq Mohammed facing up to Roberts, Croft and Garner. Then we have Greenidge, Alvin, Richards and Freddo against Imran, Safruz, and Asif Icbal. THat is trouble.

Posted by   on (December 9, 2010, 4:47 GMT)

True dinster77, I was pretty surprised when Bhansal didn't recieve the man of the match for his efforts :P

Posted by pranav301283 on (December 9, 2010, 2:31 GMT)

@nafzak - Thanks for adding important context to this incredible event. I got goosebumps when I watched the Chennai crowd give a standing ovation to the Pakistani team (which had returned to play a test series in India for the first time in 11-12 years that year ) in 1999. 250,000 fans lining up to bid farewell to a visiting team is in the same spirit and perhaps a few notches higher. I truly love this game. It may not alleviate the world's problem (no sport can for at the end of the day it has to be only a game), but it can bring a smile to the most hardened of faces, even if for only a moment.

Posted by Number_5 on (December 8, 2010, 22:07 GMT)

Couldnt cricket do with two outstanding leaders like Worrell and Beanud were in this series...One of the great series for as much as the spirit it was played under as the cricket. Modern cricketers AND supporters could do worse than understand what made this series great and what is missing from the game AND its supporters in this modern age. A DVD is available called Calypso summer which is worth the watch for any cricket lover...its reminds you of why we all love the game...

Posted by inswing on (December 8, 2010, 22:05 GMT)

Good article. You have to realize that important stuff happened before you were born. The fact that you weren't around then does not make it any less important.

Posted by nafzak on (December 8, 2010, 18:47 GMT)

Joshua & Hegde... you must be very young. Just before the 60-61 Aus/WI series, cricket was thought to be dying. The way the West Indians and Australians, played in that series changed cricket forever. Australians fell in love with cricket once more and cricket was number one again. In fact, the Australians held the West Indians in such high regard, that before the series ended, they decided to name the trophy played for between Aus & WI, after the captain of the WI team, Frank Worrell. That was a time my friends when Blacks/coloureds still were not always welcomed in every hotel or restaurant. when it ws all over, 250,000 plus Aussies lined the streets of Melbourne to bid the West Indians farewell. Imagine that today.... any visiting/foreign team in any sport being celebrated with a tickertape parade!

Posted by dinster77 on (December 8, 2010, 17:25 GMT)

Joshua - Harbhajan's hat trick? The only one who had a hat trick that game was S K Bhansal!! :)

Posted by   on (December 8, 2010, 15:53 GMT)

Geraint Jones' plunging catch in 05 was at Edgbaston - off Kasprowicz's glove. At Lord's Australia won convincingly!

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination". His latest book, Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, will be published in the summer of 2014

    Dhoni wins the first round in the captaincy battle

Ian Chappell: Both Dhoni and Cook have made some inexplicable blunders, but India's captain pulls ahead slightly

    TV contracts dictate daytime scheduling of Caribbean matches

Tony Cozier: it's unlikely that fans in West Indies will ever get to enjoy five-day cricket in the evening

    Why isn't Ashwin playing?

Martin Crowe: It's hard to understand how India's best spinner is being left out in favour of bits-and-pieces players

    Gower savours life in the last chance saloon

Rewind: David Gower was on the verge of being dropped for good in 1990 when he made a charismatic century against India

Coming back to win from hopeless first-innings situations

Anantha Narayanan: A look at some of the most thrilling victorious fightbacks in Tests

News | Features Last 7 days

India look for their Indian summer

Billboards are calling the series England's Indian Summer, but it is India who are looking for that period of warmth, redemption after the last whitewash, for they have seen how bleak the winter that can follow is

South Africa face the Kallis question

Accommodation for a great player like Jacques Kallis should be made with careful consideration and South Africa cannot get carried away with sentiment

India's bowling leader conundrum

The present Indian bowling line-up will tackle its first five-Test series without the proven guidance of Zaheer Khan, their bowling captain. India had unravelled without him in 2011. Will they do better this time around?

Five key head-to-heads

From two embattled captains to the challenge for India's openers against the new ball, ESPNcricinfo picks five contests that could determine the series

Packed tours, and Shiv's late stumping

Also, best post-war win/loss record, most runs in two calendar years, most ducks in a Test, and brothers with similar numbers

News | Features Last 7 days

    India look for their Indian summer (87)

    Billboards are calling the series England's Indian Summer, but it is India who are looking for that period of warmth, redemption after the last whitewash, for they have seen how bleak the winter that can follow is

    South Africa face the Kallis question (56)

    Accommodation for a great player like Jacques Kallis should be made with careful consideration and South Africa cannot get carried away with sentiment

    India's bowling leader conundrum (44)

    The present Indian bowling line-up will tackle its first five-Test series without the proven guidance of Zaheer Khan, their bowling captain. India had unravelled without him in 2011. Will they do better this time around?

    Why isn't Ashwin playing? (43)

    It's close to inexplicable how India's best spinner is being left out in favour of bits-and-pieces players

    Five key head-to-heads (33)

    From two embattled captains to the challenge for India's openers against the new ball, ESPNcricinfo picks five contests that could determine the series