'If I'd been Usain Bolt I wouldn't have made my ground'
Fifty years ago today, the most famous Test match of all reached its remarkable conclusion. The tied Test between Australia and West Indies at the Gabba was played in an atmosphere of camaraderie, against the backdrop of Test cricket needing a boost after several dreary series that turned the crowds away. It was the first Test in a memorable series that featured attractive cricket from two teams, led by Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell. This week, some of the players involved looked back at the finest example of what Test cricket can offer.
Lindsay Kline, Australian spinner I can remember the night before the Test match, there were three or four Aussies and three or four West Indians, we were in Garry Sobers' room playing calypso records. It was very special.
The convivial spirit continued on field, although Sobers' brisk 132 quickly gave West Indies the upper hand.
Colin McDonald, Australian opener On the first day we wondered if we'd ever win a match, because Sobers crucified us. It was brilliant batting. He made one of the greatest hundreds ever; I haven't seen a better one.
Kline I said to Garry years later, "that wonderful innings you played, that 130 was fantastic". And he said "Lindsay, it was 132". So it must have been pretty special to him, because he made a lot of hundreds.
Norm O'Neill made 181 in reply, and Alan Davidson took 11 wickets for the match, leaving Australia with a target of 233 when their second innings began early on the final day.
Richie Benaud, Australian captain When I walked through the gate and along the side of the pavilion to the dressing rooms I could see white flowers dotting the turf; clover flowers. It was obvious that the ground hadn't been mown this morning. I ask for a mowing but the curator tells me there was a heavy shower just after seven o'clock and he hasn't been able to get the mower on the ground... now he hasn't the time to do it. Short of getting the mower and doing it myself it seems that the grass will not be mown today. I don't s'pose it matters a great deal really, we'll only have a bit over 200 to make.
Quickly, Wes Hall reduced them to 6 for 92.
Alan Davidson, Australian allrounder Wes Hall bowled magnificently, when you consider that he had new boots that he hadn't been wearing, and he had these giant blisters on the bottom of his feet. He ended up putting this great slab of sticking plaster across the soles of his feet after he'd cut the blisters off. Really, it was just raw flesh, and he kept pouring in and bowling his heart out. That was one of the most sensational things I've ever seen on a cricket field. He must have been going through agony.
Neil Harvey, Australian batsman Alan McGilvray left on the four o'clock plane to go home to Sydney. He was our doyen of broadcasters at the time. He said "well, the game's over, I'm going home". And he went. And he didn't see the finish of it. He thought we had lost it. But the game's never over until the last ball.
Davidson and Benaud then began a wonderful fightback, taking Australia to within seven runs of victory in the second-last over, with Wally Grout, Ian Meckiff and Kline still to bat.
Davidson I went in at 5 for 57 in the second dig and it wasn't a position you'd hope to go in on, but I used to love those situations. It's the challenge that goes with those sort of situations.
Ian Meckiff, Australian fast bowler Richie and Davo more or less played it as one-day cricket. It wasn't as if they were just taking their time. They were taking cheeky singles and all that sort of thing. It was a very nervous couple of hours.
Gerry Alexander, West Indian wicketkeeper We were struggling. The match more or less appeared to have slipped out of the control of the West Indies.
Meckiff Wally Grout, who was the next man in, chain-smoked all the way through it. He was a nervous wreck. He was the worst of all of us, because he was the man who had to do the job. Lindsay and I were tailenders, whereas Wally at least could play a bit.
Davidson I thought we had the game sewn up. I'd spoken to Richie with two overs to go. It was tip and run, and I said "we don't have to do anything silly, just make sure that I'm down there to face Wes", because I reckoned Wes would bounce me once - well, that was either a four or a six, and we only wanted seven. Then of course Richie played the first three or four [off Sobers] and then hit it straight to Joe Solomon and took off. If I'd have been Usain Bolt I wouldn't have made my ground.
Solomon threw down the stumps from midwicket; Davidson was out for 80. The new batsman was Grout.
Davidson It was impulse. We had been playing that sort of cricket. We'd been hitting it and taking off, and we had a few overthrows from wild throws and the pressure was building all the time. That's where Frank Worrell did a terrific job in pacifying some of the more excitable players in the West Indian side.
Joe Solomon, West Indian batsman Back home in Guyana, I used to hit the stumps regularly. That was regular practice that we did, we'd have a bet on who could hit the wickets down. And as boys we'd try to throw at the mangoes to get them down from the trees. I believe all that came in to make me a good pitcher.
Davidson Wally Grout had to come in and he didn't know where his gloves were. They were in the top of his pads and of course the moment he stood up, they went back in against his thighs and so he couldn't find them. When I got back inside, I wouldn't have said they were the calmest in the world.
With one eight-ball over to go, Australia needed six runs to win. Wes Hall struck Grout with the first delivery, which produced a leg-bye.
Benaud Wally was struck in the solar plexus, a crippling blow, and the ball fell at his feet. It had hardly hit the ground before I was on my way without calling. Wally saw me coming and made off down the pitch holding his stomach... an agonising single to be sure.
The next ball was a bouncer, despite Worrell's instructions to Hall not to bowl short.
Benaud Surely no one in his right mind would bowl a bumper at that stage of the match... but it was a bumper delivered with every bit of speed and power the big fella could muster. I tried to hook... trying for the four runs that would have all but won the game. The only result was a sharp touch on the gloves and Gerry Alexander's victory shout as he caught me. Have you ever tried so hard to do something... concentrated so desperately that everything else was pushed out of your mind... and then seen it disappear in a fraction of a second? Then you'll have some idea of how I felt as I passed Grout at the other end and said: "All yours Wal..." He merely lifted his eyes and muttered: "Thanks very much!"
Kline The previous over, I said to Colin McDonald, "I won't have to go in, will I?" He said, "No, I don't think so". Then we lost those wickets and I'm trying to pad up, and I couldn't find my gloves, I'm looking in my bag. I was sitting on them. It got to me a bit, I got pretty nervous, that's for sure.
McDonald Ken Mackay wouldn't let us move from our seats for fear of divine intervention. He was fairly superstitious. Nobody was saying very much. The last over was a sensational over.
Meckiff played the third ball, then missed an attempted slog from the fourth. Grout took a daring bye, Alexander under-armed to Hall, who missed the stumps with a throw that would have run Meckiff out. Next ball, Grout was dropped when he scooped high to square leg, where Rohan Kanhai and Hall converged; the bowler dropped the catch. Three to win with three balls left.
Meckiff I was just trying to get bat on ball. It was a little bit short and I just had a slog at it. Wesley even said during the 40th reunion, when he looked at it again he was surprised how good a shot it was. I didn't tell him what I felt - it was just shut-the-eyes-and-slog.
McDonald The curator had neglected to cut the grass that day, so the ball that Meckiff hit that was a certain boundary, got into the long grass three or four yards from the fence, and just stopped. It was long grass - a certain four - but it didn't make it, and the third run was a run-out. That third run would have been enough to win the match.
Benaud Of all the minor miracles that took place on this day I give pride of place to this one. Hunte was about eighty yards from the stumps when he picked up, turned and threw in one action. I couldn't see the ball... all I could see was the blurred throwing action to my right and the batsmen running for three. For Grout to be run out the ball had to go directly to Alexander... not to the right or left but directly to him... thrown on the turn and from eighty yards. It was a magnificent throw and as Alexander swept the bails from the stumps Grout was hurling himself towards the crease... but still a foot out of his ground.
Scores were level with two balls remaining and the No.11, Kline, came out to bat.
Alexander I remember somebody asking "what's the score, how many have they got?" and I remember screaming at them "they have no more to get!", which was a sort of cockeyed appreciation that at that time the scores were drawn.
Kline I walked out and walked past Frank Worrell and he said to me, "I wouldn't be in your shoes for all the tea in China". Then he also said, "you look a little pale". I felt it.
Solomon The captain said to everyone "be alert, because there's only one run to win". He told Wes Hall to be careful not to bowl a no-ball.
Kline Ian Meckiff was the other batsman and I said to him "we're going to run on this ball no matter where it goes". Wes was bowling and I was standing there thinking, "come on, hurry up, let's get this over and done with". And he bowled it on the stumps, I got the bat to it and it went round the corner to square leg, and Joe Solomon picked it up and threw the stumps down side-on.
After the last ball, there was some confusion about the result, for it was the first tie in 83 years of Test cricket.
Meckiff I wasn't even thinking of a tie. I thought we needed 233 to win, so 232 didn't mean anything to me at that stage.
Kline I'm running for a win and Ian's running for a tie. But I can understand it, we didn't have electronic scoreboards or anything, flashing up "one run to win" or anything like that. I thought he knew, and I thought I knew.
Alexander We were coming off the field a little bit concerned. We knew we hadn't won, but at the same time we knew we hadn't lost. It was a little difficult at the time to appreciate things in perspective.
Don Bradman had encouraged the teams to play attractive cricket before the series, with Test cricket in desperate need of reinvigoration.
Davidson The Don came in at the end of the day and he said, "Don't be disappointed, Alan. Today you've made history". It hit us at that time, but it was more profound the next morning. That was what made the whole series.
Meckiff Colin McDonald came up to me in the rooms and said, "what are you looking so downcast about?" I said, "we've lost haven't we?" And he said, "no, it's a tie". Then it became a big celebration.
Davidson The most amazing part was that at the end of the day's play, when everyone realised what it was, Frank got his team together and Richie got his, and the dining room was these long tables, and we had a West Indian and an Australian, a West Indian and an Australian, all the way around that table. The conversation and the laughing - we spoke about every possible thing, there was some talking about family, there were others talking about the tours they'd just come from - it was an amazing thing that after five days of battle, here we were sitting and laughing and chatting.
Alexander Everyone was going around and if somebody had made, say, 10 instead of 11, they started boasting and said what a good thing I got out. It really threw both the sides together. The two sides got along so much better after that.
McDonald I thought, well, there's never been a better cricket match and the fact that it's a tie means that it's going to be there forever. And it has been. There was another tie played, but it doesn't have the same recall of our tied Test match. When you talk about the tied Test match, it's usually ours.
Harvey I thought once we got two ties, everybody would forget about the first one. But I think it's because it was such a great series. The tied Test was remembered as such because it was the series that got the crowds back to cricket.
Davidson We played our hearts out against each other. If I meet a West Indian that played in that series now, we don't shake hands, we just go into a bear hug. When you think about that, and that it's 50 years on, it is an incredible feeling.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo. Richie Benaud quotes from A Tale of Two Tests by Richie Benaud (Hodder and Stoughton, 1962).