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The West Indies tour of Australia saw a major shift in the balance of power in world cricket. The famous West Indies side of the previous decade finally disintegrated against the young and highly efficient Australian team which itself was nearing greatness by the end of the series. The West Indies won the First Test at Brisbane mostly as a result of winning the toss on a wicket which broke up, but from then on they were systematically destroyed by a side which outplayed them at all points and went on to win the series 3-1.
It was sad to watch these once famous West Indians trying vainly to recapture their former powers. Age had taken its toll and they were also victims of their own temperaments, for when things began to go wrong they were unable to regroup mentally and take a cool look at their problems. Sobers, their captain, might, with his ability and experience, have been able to stop this, but he seemed to be unaware of what was happening.
The West Indies players undoubtedly suffered from lack of leadership. Sobers, although still an incomparable cricketer, was a remote captain and there was little or no team spirit in the party. When his side went up to Brisbane a fortnight before the First Test he left the party to go to Melbourne for a week on what was officially described as a business trip.
Australia were clearly the better side, but wise leadership would have prevented the West Indies from falling apart as they did. As it was, old age, as cricketers go, had finally had its say with Hall and Griffith; Kanhai, Nurse and Butcher could no longer score runs with their old consistency; the younger batsmen, Lloyd, Camacho, Fredericks and Davis did not quite come up to expectations and with the sharp edge of pace gone from the opening attack Gibbs found himself coming on when the batsmen were well on top.
The West Indies were also unfortunately handicapped by the piece of floating bone in Sobers' left shoulder which caused him a lot of discomfort and prevented him from bowling his back-of-the-hand, left-arm spin. Sobers also suffered from the effects for having played too much cricket over the previous eighteen months. All the same the more experienced batsmen all showed glimpses of their old form and if only they had had an example to follow they would surely have worked out their difficulties, as indeed they would have done ten years before with their reputations still to make.
In terms of figures Sobers himself had a good tour, though by his own standards not an outstanding one. The biggest success of all was Carew. He was lucky to win a place in the touring party and fortunate to be picked for the First Test, but once in the side he looked a better player each time he went to the wicket and vastly different from the man who toured England in 1963 and 1966. Fredericks also promised well for the future and when he learns to get his front foot nearer the ball he should become a regular member of the future West Indies sides. Findlay, from the Windward Islands, showed that he would in time make a worthy successor to Hendriks behind the stumps, but Camacho, who batted well against England the previous winter, lost form over Christmas and never had the chance to regain it thereafter. In the final analysis the West Indies failed to win the series because their bowling was not strong enough, but they lost it because their batting was so unreliable.
The Australians went from strength to strength after the First Test as they collectively revealed the qualities of application and concentration which the West Indies so badly lacked. The tour will be remembered for the batting of Walters, Ian Chappell and Lawry who between them scored 1,915 runs in the series. In six Test innings -- injury kept him out of the First Test-- Walters' lowest score was 50 and his aggregate was 699. In all matches Chappell made over 1,000 runs against the West Indies and he has developed into one of the outstanding batsmen of this generation. Lawry meanwhile was as unglamorous, but as effective, as ever.
His captaincy played a part in Australia's success and with such a good side under him he became a more flexible tactician. It was his decision to put the West Indies in on a greenish wicket in Melbourne on Boxing Day, when incidentally the weather was as cold and damp as any English day in May, which began their decline. In the field he handled his bowlers shrewdly except maybe in the First Test, when in the second innings he gave Mallett, his off spinner, only four overs after Gibbs had already shown what the wicket held for this type of bowler.
The other batsmen, Redpath, who was a much freer stroke player after dropping down the order, Stackpole, a belligerent opener, and Sheahan all had their moments although Sheahan, whose fielding was better even than Lloyd's, seemed to lack the mental toughness which is needed to play a big innings. Australia also possessed a nicely rounded bowling side. McKenzie, back to his best form, took thirty wickets in the series and bowled quite splendidly. He was given good support by Connolly, who although short of pace had the accuracy and control to compensate, and he was an admirable foil for McKenzie. Freeman made the third seam bowler, but although he picked up thirteen wickets in the series, these were mostly tail-enders and he was rather a plain bowler. His fellow South Australian, Mallett, the off-spinner, was a better cricketer and before long he should claim a regular place in the side.
The West Indies batsmen were mesmerised for most of the tour by Gleeson's mysterious spin, which he bowled with the middle finger tucked back against the palm of his right hand. He played a bit part in Australia's overall success and it was not until Carew began to hit him straight in the second innings of the Fourth Test that the West Indies found the answer to him, but by then it was really too late. Gleeson was given spinning support by Stackpole who bowled top spinners more than leg breaks and Chappell (leg breaks).
This Australian side will take a lot of beating over the next six years. It was completed by Taber, who took over from Jarman behind the stumps after the Fourth Test, and had a fine match. Chappell was appointed Jarman's successor as vice-captain and should in time make an ideal successor to Lawry. For one side the tour saw the end of an exciting era, for the other it represented the start of one which could be just as successful. In all other ways it was a satisfactory tour, for although it obviously could not be compared to the previous West Indies tour of Australia in 1960/61, it did quite a lot for cricket in Australia and made a profit besides.
Test Matches--Played 5; Won 1, Lost 3, Drawn 1.
First-Class Matches--Played 15; Won 4, Lost 5, Drawn 6.
All Matches--Played 23; Won 9, Lost 5, Drawn 9, Abandoned 1.
Wins-- Australia (1), Western Australia, New South Wales, Combined XI at Launceston and 5 Country XI matches.
Losses-- Australia (3), Combined XI at Perth, South Australia.
Drawn-- Australia (1), Victoria (2), Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and 3 Country XI matches.
Abandoned--North-West N.S.W. Country XI.
Match reports for
1st Test: New Zealand v West Indies at Auckland, Feb 27-Mar 3, 1969
2nd Test: New Zealand v West Indies at Wellington, Mar 7-11, 1969
3rd Test: New Zealand v West Indies at Christchurch, Mar 13-17, 1969
Match reports for
Queensland v West Indians at Brisbane, Nov 29-Dec 2, 1968
1st Test: Australia v West Indies at Brisbane, Dec 6-10, 1968
2nd Test: Australia v West Indies at Melbourne, Dec 26-30, 1968
3rd Test: Australia v West Indies at Sydney, Jan 3-8, 1969
4th Test: Australia v West Indies at Adelaide, Jan 24-29, 1969
5th Test: Australia v West Indies at Sydney, Feb 14-20, 1969