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Australia's fourth tour of the West Indies was depressingly dominated more by events off the field than on them. The inauguration of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, which had created such chaos throughout the cricket world, had considerable influence over the series.
The Australian Cricket Board of Control adamantly refused to select any of the Packer players, with the result that they sent a young and inexperienced party under the captaincy of the veteran Bobby Simpson, recalled from retirement to lead his country in the earlier series against India.
The West Indies Board, on the other hand, decided they would choose players contracted to WSC on the grounds that they had never refused to play for their country and had now made themselves available.
With the two teams thus constituted, West Indies proved far superior in the first two Tests, which they won by large margins inside three days. By the end of the seconds Test, however, it was clear that relations between the Board and the Packer players were becoming strained.
The Board was "to say the least, extremely disappointed" when three young players - Austin, Croft, and Haynes - signed contracts with WSC despite an earlier, verbal assurance not to do so. The West Indies Board felt the Packer representatives were militant in their financial negotiations, seeking substantial increases just before the first Test.
For their part, the players were irritated by the decision to relieve Deryck Murray, their spokesman, of the vice-captaincy in mysterious circumstances on the opening day of the series. They detected a coldness in the Board's attitude towards them and, when they were handed a March 23 deadline to state whether they would be available for the tour of India and Sri Lanka later in the year, saw it as unwarranted pressure because of their Packer associations.
The Board, however, simply stated that they wanted to be prepared for the India and Sri Lanka trip. When they received no definite response by the date set, the selectors decided to replace three WSC signees - Austin, Haynes, and Deryck Murray - with three who had no such ties - Gomes, David Murray, and Williams - for the third Test.
Clive Lloyd made an almost immediate protest, announcing his resignation from the captaincy he had held for 29 successive Tests since 1974. It was time the West Indies Board made "very clear the principles underlying the selection of the present team," he said.
Within two days, other West Indian players contracted to WSC also withdrew from the team in solidarity with Lloyd. Although a meeting between Lloyd, some of the players involved, and the West Indies Board - headed by the president, Mr. J.B. Stollmeyer - was held on the eve of the third Test, nothing was resolved. The West Indies then named a new team, appointing Alvin Kallicharran captain for the remaining three Tests and banning the Packer players for the rest of the series.
The impasse caused an emotional explosion throughout the Caribbean with heated arguments raging everywhere. Kerry Packer himself flew to the West Indies to meet with his players and state his case. Groups in Trinidad and Jamaica called for the public to boycott the fourth and fifth Tests; the Board and the selectors were widely criticised and urged to resign.
In response, the Board declared that they had bent over backwards to accommodate the Packer players and charged that they were "vacillating" and "were under the domination of WSC".
With the teams more evenly matched as a result of the dispute, the final three Tests produced far keener cricket. Australia won the third narrowly, and West Indies the fourth to regain the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy they had last held in 1965. Australia were on the verge of victory in the fifth when the crowd, reacting violently against an umpiring decision, halted play by throwing stones, bottles, and debris on the field.
When an attempt was made to restart the match on an unscheduled sixth day to make up lost time, it did not meet the approval of one of the umpires and the match had to be left abandoned as a draw - the final bizarre twist in a series bedevilled throughout by acrimony and confusion.
There were other incidents as well, and even if they were overshadowed by the confrontation between the players and the Board, they were nonetheless unsavoury.
The Australians, ill-equipped to cope with the formidable West Indian fast bowling early on, suffered several injuries that affected their team balance. Several batsmen were struck and some took to wearing protective headgear.
In the end it brought a public protest from the manager, Mr Fred Bennett, against the short-pitched bowling of Croft in the Guyana match, describing it as "a direct contravention of both the law and the tour conditions". At least twice, Simpson was so at odds with the umpire that he called for the tour conditions to be brought on to the field for scrutiny; a most unusual occurrence.
After the first Test, the experienced umpire Douglas San Hue reportedly voiced his dissatisfaction with the action of two Australian bowlers to the West Indies Board. He did not stand again until the Jamaica match when he no-balled the off-spinner, Yardley, for throwing. When he was appointed for the final Test, the Australians objected and the West Indies Board replaced him, causing further controversy.
In such an atmosphere, the cricket was almost secondary. The Australians hoped the tour would have helped them rebuild a strong Test team but their performance was disappointing.
The left-handed opener Graeme Wood and the aggressive right-hander Peter Toohey obviously possessed the potential to develop into batsmen on whom Australia could rely in the future, and the left-handed Graham Yallop batted soundly.
But there was little else, and they were always susceptible to inexplicable collapses. Simpson, who had made such a stirring return in the series against India, found the going much more difficult against faster bowling and achieved nothing to speak of.
The bowling depended heavily on Jeff Thomson for penetrative effect. On occasions he produced spells of great pace and hostility, but he lacked the support of another genuine fast bowler and West Indies were frequently able to recover from faltering beginnings. In fact, the spinners, Yardley and Higgs (leg-spin), did the bulk of the bowling on tour.
If the West Indies lost a host of great players at the same time - and another, the 22-year-old Haynes, who showed unmistakeable signs of becoming one - their absence presented several others with the opportunity to make their mark.
Gomes, the steady Trinidadian left-hander with only two previous Tests in England in 1976 behind him, returned with a flourish, scoring centuries in two of his three Tests. The newcomers, Williams and Alvin Greenidge (the new opening pair) and Parry and Shivnarine (the all-rounders) also fitted easily into the atmosphere of Test cricket.
With such an inexperienced combination for the final three Tests, West Indies were fortunate to have in their ranks Kallicharran and Holder, two stalwarts of longstanding. Kallicharran, with the added responsibility of captaincy thrust upon him, increased his already considerable reputation with two centuries of real quality and another crucial innings of 92 in the fourth Test.
Holder, at reduced pace, played a significant part in the fourth Test win, and his 100th Test wicket at Kingston was deserving reward for his many years in the service of West Indies cricket.
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