August 4, 2011

'The most incredible game'

The tied Test was memorable not just for the result but the friendships it built
  shares

The tied Test was a match played between two teams who just wanted to play good cricket. You had two captains who had exactly the same thoughts about making it entertaining and competitive. When Frank Worrell first arrived in the country, Richie Benaud said, "Let's have a good series." "Yeah, it should be a lot of fun," says Frank. And there was always that friendliness between the two teams.

Garry Sobers made 132 in the first innings. I rate it in the top five innings I've ever seen. He didn't just beat the field - his timing was superb and so was his placement. If you could get a set-square and cut the gap between the fieldsmen in half - he just kept putting it through the gaps; the centre of the gaps. It was a wonderful innings.

Bowling to him, you just had to keep using your variations, using the return crease. We were trying everything we could possibly do to stop him from scoring. I can remember one shot he played off Richie. It absolutely went straight down the wicket, between Richie in his follow-through and the stumps. All Richie could do, as it went past him like a rocket, was turn around and clap the shot. It was just an incredible drive.

In our first innings Norm O'Neill got 181. There was no better player to watch once he was set. He was a terribly nervy starter, but if you could get him to 30 and he was in the mood, he could play every shot in the book: the late cut, the square cut... He pulled the ball, he swept the ball, and his back-foot play was as good as anyone I've ever seen.

We knocked over West Indies in the second innings for about half of what they got in the first innings and we thought, "We've got a show here." We needed 233 to win.

As it turned out, there were no slow over rates by West Indies or anything. It was straight on. All of a sudden I went in at 57 for 5 and I thought, "Goodness gracious, I've been out there bowling or batting for four days already and all of a sudden here we are in a situation where I've got to go out and bat."

I must admit, when Kenny Mackay got out, that was a blow for us. We were 90-odd for 6 and Richie came in, and we started off aggressively. We were trying to take the initiative.

"I can remember one shot Garry Sobers played off Richie. It absolutely went straight down the wicket, between Richie in his follow-through and the stumps. All Richie could do, as it went past him like a rocket, was turn around and clap the shot"

We came in at afternoon tea and that was when Bradman, who was the chairman of the board, said to Richie, "What are you going to do?" And Richie said, "We're going to have a go." If you were six down at tea and you have a whole session to save the game, 90% of the time you could say sides would just play for the draw. But to go out and want to score 130-odd in the two hours was a pretty daunting task. But that was our attitude, and we got there and virtually had it won.

The top of the wicket had gone quite a bit. There were pieces of what I'd call flaked turf taken out.

Ramadhin and Valentine were very difficult - Valentine especially, bowling left-arm over into that, with the ball coming back in to me. I made 80. I don't think I've ever batted better than in that innings.

You had to use a bit of discretion. I can remember Ramadhin bowled one of his special balls - I supposed you'd call it the doosra of the day - and I didn't pick it. But I decided the next ball definitely wouldn't go away from me, it would come in to me. I thought, "I'm going to belt this", and it hit the pickets on the boundary. I thought I had a psychological advantage from that decision to have a go.

Wes Hall was fired up, there's no doubt about that. I can still remember him bouncing me, and I hooked him and it hit the fence on the full. I said to Richie at the start of the second-last over, "Just make sure I'm up there for Wes, because I knew Wes would drop one short, and I thought with a bit of luck I could get four out of the seven runs we needed. But as it turned out I didn't get there. I wasn't Usain Bolt and I got run out.

There were so many great moments in the Test match. You can always say this bloke played a great innings, or someone bowled well, but there were so many wonderful moments.

Joe Solomon ran me out in the second-last over - he threw the wicket down. And then he turns around and throws the wicket down to tie the match. In the circumstances and the pressure there would have been there for the fielding side, that was amazing.

There was confusion everywhere. I don't think anybody knew. There were broadcasters who were mixed up. Rohan Kanhai was running around with his arms above his head, saying, "We are the champions, we are the champions!" I think he thought that they'd won. It was the most amazing situation.

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 the time, but it was more profound the next morning. That was what made the whole series.

I can still remember, after the game we all went together to what was the dining area, and we had a West Indian and an Australian, a West Indian and an Australian all the way around, and everybody mixed. We drank and talked and chatted about tours that we'd had, and it was a real get-together.

Then the secretary of the Queensland Cricket Association came down and said, "You gentlemen have got to get out, you've overstayed." Apparently the president at the time thought we should have been out of the ground half an hour after the end of the game, and this was about an hour and a half later. We were actually ejected from the ground.

People like the late Gerry Alexander, Wes Hall, Cammie Smith - I've got all their birthdays down. I send them a card for their birthday. We exchange cards at Christmas. That bond is still there. To me that's something Test cricket can give you. I can't see how you can play a Twenty20 or a 50-over game and have that same bond.

They're great blokes. We have so much laughter. It's not like any other game or series that I can ever remember. I had great individual friends like Ted Dexter, Kenny Barrington and Peter May, but this friendship was with everybody - everybody that played in the tied Test.

The pressures changed daily in that match. When you'd come to the end of five days, there was nothing in it. It was the most incredible game of cricket, and the forerunner for what was one of the greatest series of all time.

As told to Brydon Coverdale, ESPNcricinfo assistant editor