December 8, 2015

When the four-man apocalypse hit Australia

Looking back at West Indies' first series win down under
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Bad for your health: Messrs Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

The last time West Indies won a series in Australia was during the famous 1992-93 summer, when Courtney Walsh clinched the one-run victory in Adelaide and Curtly Ambrose bowled a devastating spell in Perth.

At the Jamaica Test during Australia's Caribbean tour this June, the Australian media were rightfully already grumbling about the possibility of replacing West Indies with New Zealand for the Boxing Day and New Year Tests. How did Cricket Australia decide to give West Indies the two most lucrative Tests of its international calendar for the first time in 15 years?

In assessing the upcoming series, renowned cricket historian Gideon Haigh said, "I wouldn't be booking third-day tickets for any of the games - they could be brutishly short." All signs point to this being the most embarrassing West Indies tour to Australia in history, and those running the affairs of West Indies cricket, those who have sent an under-strength squad to face Steven Smith's men, need to take much of the blame.

During the halcyon days of West Indies cricket, a tour to Australia was one that produced great memories. The 1960-61 series between the two sides is arguably the greatest series of the 20th century. The legendary ABC radio commentator Johnnie Moyes labelled it "the most wonderful cricket tour Australia has known".

"Although Malcolm [Marshall] came in later and became arguably the greatest fast bowler ever, I'm not sure how he could have fit into that team, even at his best"
Andy Roberts

Sir Frank Worrell, West Indies' first official black captain, was cheered by 200,000 Australia fans (still living under a white immigration policy) with "For he's a jolly good fellow" in an open motorcade at the end of the tour. But West Indies lost that series 2-1.

It was only in 1979-80 that West Indies won their first Test series down under. The seeds of that victory were sowed during the humbling 5-1 defeat on the 1975-76 tour, and aided by India chasing down a record 403 in Port-of-Spain in April 1976. The losses prompted West Indies captain Clive Lloyd's decision to build a four-man pace battery, which he unleashed on Australia three years later.

Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, the leaders of the attack, which also included Joel Garner and Colin Croft, firmly placed the 1979-80 win as the highlight of their careers.

"Being a member of the first ever West Indies team to beat Australia in Australia will always be tops," said Holding. "Despite winning two World Cups and so many other things with the West Indies, winning in Australia was the pinnacle."

By that tour, Roberts said, West Indies were a changed side from the past. "We weren't only playing calypso cricket, which people tended to use against us in those times to suggest that we were good to watch for a period then fall into bad habits - we totally dominated them in every department."

Viv Richards averaged 96.50, with one hundred and three fifties, in the series © Getty Images

The events of 1975-76 had left a strong impression on Lloyd's men. Holding, in particular, recalled a moment from the fourth Test, in Sydney, when Australia captain Ian Chappell was caught behind, but to Holding's dismay didn't walk.

"The story with Chappell in Sydney is well documented," Holding said. "He was out caught behind, wasn't given out, and of course, since he never walks, just stood there. I sat down at extra cover in disbelief, and it was Lance Gibbs, I think, who came over and encouraged me to continue."

But the bad memories didn't fester a feeling of wanting revenge in 1979-80, only a quiet confidence. Both Roberts and Holding credited the two years in World Series Cricket (WSC) for the preparation it gave their team.

"We had the fire power, so we were confident," said Roberts. "Plus, WSC was great preparation. Although we didn't play at Perth, one of the fastest wickets I ever played on was during WSC in Townsville. So we were prepared for anything in '79-80."

That confidence faced an early challenge going into the opening Test, in Brisbane, when Lloyd, who was recuperating from a knee operation, was ruled out. After West Indies scored 441 in reply to Australia's 268, hundreds by Greg Chappell and Kim Hughes forced a draw.

"Despite winning two World Cups and so many other things with the West Indies, winning in Australia was the pinnacle"
Michael Holding

Greg Chappell, alongside Sunil Gavaskar, had the best overall career average against West Indies in Tests and in WSC. His ESPNcricinfo profile states: "Perhaps the outstanding batting of his career left no trace on the record books, his 629 runs at 69 in five unauthorised World Series Cricket 'SuperTests' in the Caribbean in 1979, off a West Indian attack of unprecedented hostility."

Roberts and Holding felt that having seen so much of Greg Chappell in WSC would help them finally work out a plan to dismiss him early. And so it proved, because after scoring 74 and 124 in Brisbane, Greg Chappell didn't pass 50 in the remaining Tests against West Indies that season.

"Greg was one of the best batsmen we bowled to. Indeed, it took a while to figure him out, but that was another advantage of WSC. Seeing so much of him, after a while, we came up the idea of attacking him more aggressively than normal in order to shake up his technique," said Roberts. They decided to keep him on the back foot and not allow any front-foot drives.

"That Australian summer he made runs against Pakistan, who were also touring, but not against us," said Holding.

Roberts, who dismissed Greg Chappell three times in the series, best illustrated this plan in the final Test, in Adelaide, when he got him out first ball, fending a lethal bouncer to Garner at gully.

West Indies' fast bowlers restricted Greg Chappell's scoring by not letting him drive off the front foot © Getty Images

At the time Viv Richards held the record for most runs in a calendar year, in 1976, but Roberts and Holding rate his batting in the 1979-80 series as his best.

"I remember the incident with Viv [in Melbourne] when he hit Rodney Hogg into the stands the very next ball he faced after he got hit in the face from a bouncer. That totally deflated him and the Australian team," said Holding.

"Viv was in total command of everything compared to any series I ever played with him or saw after I retired," said Roberts. "Some of shots he played off [Jeff] Thomson and [Dennis] Lillee, the pulls from the front foot through midwicket and straight down the ground - I have never seen a batsman play express bowling with such command before or since."

In 11 Tests together between 1979 and 1982, Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner took 172 wickets at 24.11.

"All four of us brought something different," Roberts said. "I was the shortest and brought my experience. Michael, well, what more can you say about him? Garner and his height and unrelenting accuracy, and Colin Croft's angle and pace - no other fast bowler ever bowled with that unique style from around the wicket, aiming to a batsman's ribcage.

"Although Malcolm came in later and became arguably the greatest fast bowler ever, I'm not sure how he could have fit into that team, even at his best. We knew from that Australia tour that our pace strategy could dominate the world, and so it proved to be."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Thomas Cherian on December 15, 2015, 3:13 GMT

    what a bunch of talented men to ever grace the game...no team had such an arsenal of bowlers...

  • TUSHAR on December 14, 2015, 23:50 GMT

    what about sunny he not only scored 774 runs in his debut series but went back to W. Indies and scored more in 1976 and in 1980.

  • GV on December 12, 2015, 15:33 GMT

    Sorry one mistake - Gooch scored 6 centuries in 31 tests vs WI. In think he averaged higher against WI than non-WI...! Further, one of those series was in 1986 in WI (where England were blanked 5-0). The pitches in that series were not very good quality stuff.

  • GV on December 12, 2015, 15:32 GMT

    Drew2, please refer to my earlier comment about GC. He scored heavily in packer throughout, against WI and the rest of the world, in Aus and in WI. But to my mind, in Packer, players were NOT representing their country. Nothing can convince me that the WI played at their best in 1978-79 in WI when GC scored all those runs, because as soon as they came back to Australia, and played in official tests, the WI seemed to rise several notches, especially their bowlers, and 1) GC did not prosper after the first test 2) the WI broke him down in 1981-82 and 3) GC retired just before the 1983-84 tour to the WI. How can one ignore all this and place him in the same league as Gooch and Sunny? But except for this, a truly great batsman, and one of my all time top batsmen. But we are discussing a very specific skill here, which is to face top pace and do so consistently. GC's greatness was slightly different - to score in great quantities, where few equalled him. But that is just my opinion.

  • Andrew on December 12, 2015, 9:20 GMT

    @Cool_Jeeves Contrary to popular belief, the West Indians didn't bowl bodyline in the same way that Bradman faced. Not a comparison, but I agree that Gooch was exceptional against them. So was Gavaskar, and the one that everyone forgets or doesn't want to give credit to is Greg Chappell. When it comes to GC, everyone suddenly remembers one summer where he had a run of failures, but this was an anomaly. His record against them was fantastic even in Packer cricket when they were at their most fearsome.

  • GV on December 12, 2015, 3:29 GMT

    Would just like to make sure that Gooch is mentioned alongside Gavaskar et al. He was every bit as brilliant against top class pace. 153 in Barbados against this very attack, 117 in Jamaica in the same series. 4 other centuries. Twice averaging 50 against them - even Bradman averaged only 56 in the body line series. Shows Gooch's class. He played 31 tests against this quality of WI and scored at 44 with 5 centuries. Gavaskar played 15 tests, scored at 47 with 5 centuries. The others like Border etc. were sub-40. There were other variations of the WI team during the packer era which were weaker teams so am not including them in the stats.

  • Jeff on December 11, 2015, 20:46 GMT

    All these cotton-wool wrapping health and safety freaks in England should take note - WI fielded four FAST international class bowlers against batsmen with NO helmets, 3-4 balls each over aimed straight at the head (that's around 300 skull-hunters a day), and no players were ever seriously injured or killed. One FAST-MEDIUM bowler who is barely first class standard hit a guy on the head who WAS wearing a lid and he died. This proves everything - it was a FREAK accident and getting amateur cricketers facing 40mph trundlers to wear lids wont change anything.

  • Prasanna on December 11, 2015, 17:04 GMT

    @wpbus13 , i think the indian Legend Sunny Gavaskar had an awesome record against these menacing bowlers back then, without any of the fancy protection gear seen these days. Now thats why he is one of the greatest to have picked a bat, given the quality of bowling those days, with fast bowling being at its menacing best.

  • Prasanna on December 11, 2015, 16:52 GMT

    Sorry to see the free-fall of the WI. 1995 was a water-shed year for both Aus and the WI - mantle was passed when we beat them 2-1 in WI , something that lasted till 2007. Teams were average after that, what with Aus, Eng and SA sharing the spoils. Don't see eras of complete dominance as in the past. SA has got into a transition phase, Aus just coming out of retirements of as many as 6 stalwarts and Eng having its own share of problems. NZ is just ok. Less said the better about others.

  • Bohurupi on December 10, 2015, 22:15 GMT

    Arguably, during 1979-80 and the time around, WI was the all time greatest test team.