Australia and West Indies tie, 1961

The greatest Test match

I was there. I saw it all. That is something that countless thousands would give much to be able to say. For it was The Greatest Test Match, The Greatest Cricket Match and surely The Greatest Game ever played with a ball. Australia v. West Indies at Brisbane from December 9 to December 14 was already a great match before it bounded explosively to its amazing climax to produce the only tie in the history of Test cricket.

Some time has elapsed since the remarkable events of Hall's last over, in which the final three Australian wickets fell, five runs were made to bring the scores level and one catch dropped. But the picture of those events is more vivid now than it was at the time.

Then all was confusion, for so much happened and thrill followed thrill so rapidly that everything became an exciting jumble. Even Meckiff, the last man out, was confused and thought West Indies had won by a run.


The Final Over

Six runs were wanted by Australia when Hall began what had to be the final over. The first ball hit Grout high on the leg, dropped at his feet, and he and Benaud scampered a single. Now the odds were heavily on Australia for Benaud was 52 and batting in match-winning vein.

But immediately the odds were levelled. The next ball was a bouncer and Benaud aimed to hook it, as Davidson a few minutes earlier had superbly hooked a similar ball. He merely nicked it, and every West Indian leapt for joy as Alexander took the catch. So Meckiff arrived to play his first ball quietly back to Hall, and Australia needed a run off each ball.

A bye was run, and Grout skied the fifth ball just out on the leg side. Fielders converged from all directions, but Hall was the tallest and most determined, and he alone put his hands to it as the batsmen were running a single. It bounced out, and the fielders drooped in despair.

The next delivery almost completed their despair, for Meckiff courageously clouted it loftily away to leg. He and Grout ran one, then another, and staked all on a third to win the match as Hunte was preparing to throw from the square-leg boundary. It was a glorious low throw, fast and true, and though Grout hurled himself at the line and skidded home on severely grazed forearms he could not counter the speed of the ball.

Umpire Hoy flung his right arm high to announce the decision immediately to everyone anxiously looking towards him, and again the West Indies leapt and flung their arms in triumph. A minute or so later umpire and fielders repeated their actions, only more so. At the fall of the last wicket the joy of the West Indies was so expressed in leaps and bounds and running about that the scene might have served for a ballet of ultramodern abandon.

The man who sent them into transports of delight and tied the match was little Solomon when Kline smoothly played the seventh ball of that fateful last over towards square-leg. Meckiff at the other end was well launched on a run, but he never made it. With little more than one stump's width to aim at, Solomon threw the wicket down, as he had done some dozen minutes earlier from farther away to run out Davidson and give his side the chance to save themselves.


Three Run Out

That was not the least remarkable feature of this very remarkable match. Three of the last four batsmen were run out by a fielding side whose throwing often had their wicket-keeper racing yards from the target area to retrieve the ball. At the crisis the throws straightened themselves, or perhaps they were made by the right men, for Hunte and Solomon were not often among the wild throwers.

That final over lasted nine minutes and ended four minutes after the appointed time. Not so long ago it would have been cut short at the dismissal of Grout. But for a comparatively recent law amendment, which provided for the last over being played out whatever the time, we lucky spectators would not have palpitated to the last tremendous thrill of that last tremendous over. Nor perhaps would spectators, bounding with excitement no less than the fielders, have raced across the ground to cheer and call for the heroes of the day, and repeat their cheers again and again in front of the players' pavilion.


Unforgettable Sight

That, like the freely expressed delight of the West Indies fielders, was an unforgettable sight. They were not so numerous as that gathered rapturously in front of The Oval pavilion in 1953, when Hutton's team at last recovered the Ashes from Australia, but the Queenslanders made up for their relative lack of numbers by their enthusiasm. We all recognised that this was more than a tied match. It was tied by teams playing in Homeric manner.

At the climax neither side made the slightest attempt to play for safety. Both were set on winning or perishing in the attempt. With three wickets standing, including that of Benaud, Australia could surely have coasted home to safety, and since they had gallantly pulled themselves up from a position of imminent defeat only two hours earlier, we could hardly have blamed them if they had.

On the other side Hall, who had earlier wasted many deliveries barely within the batsman's reach, bowled straight more consistently than at any previous time in the match. Australia and West Indies played out the game in a spirit which should serve as an example to all others.

There have been other Test matches not far removed from being tied. Perhaps the most momentous was that at The Oval in 1902, when Australia were cantering home until Jessop hit a hurricane century and Hirst and Rhodes, the last pair, scored the final runs with typical Yorkshire unconcern in singles to give England the win by one wicket. Now in 1960 the Brisbane Test eclipsed that and all other close and thrilling finishes.


Right Example

From first to last the spirit of enterprise was in striking contrast to the play in most other recent Tests. Almost coinciding with it a bitter defensive contest was waged by India and Pakistan without ever any prospects of a definite result.

Only two years earlier Brisbane had been the scene of the dullest ever England--Australia Test. England based their sketchy plans entirely on defensive batting and restrictive practices, and there was hardly a hint at batting enterprise until, on the last afternoon, O'Neill hit out for an Australian win. More recently West Indies and England opposed each other with nothing but negative intentions.

Test cricket had come to a sorry pass. Unpalatable though it is to admit, England developed the tight, restrictive tactics. Having then superior forces, they proved victorious for a time. It is not, therefore surprising that others followed their lead and, in particular, sought to play England at their own game. Hence the tedium of many recent matches. Now Australia and West Indies have given a new lead, which England can neglect to follow only at the risk of grave loss of prestige.


Sobers' Century

England's recently defensive opponents in the West Indies were very different players against Australia at Brisbane. From the outset their batsmen were attacking, and they hoisted the first 50 off only 58 balls. That their batting attack was somewhat undisciplined cost wickets, but, in the course of magnificent stand of 174, Sobers and Worrell proved how fruitful discreet aggression can be.

They were superb, and the hundred by Sobers in just over two hours, from no more than 29 overs, was the fastest Test century for many years. Sobers had the glory in his team's innings of 453, which brought runs at the rare average rate of 4.5 per eight-ball over. But Worrell was the man of great cricketing character who imposed discipline on his side's play throughout the match. In this respect, Solomon's well-judged batting gave him valuable assistance.

Before the end Hall hit furiously and played amusingly. A partnership between him and Trueman would be enormous fun. Then Australia played an innings of 505 which, by comparison with that of their opponents, did not entirely commend itself to the home critics.

Without that comparison, however, it would have been very well received by spectators disillusioned by other Tests. Yet O'Neill's 181, his highest Test score at the time, was not up to the standard of his innings on the same ground in 1958. In the meantime he had apparently fallen into the stultifying groove of current Test cricket.


Great Pace

A second West Indies innings of 284, maintained largely by Worrell and Solomon after some of the earlier batsmen had shown suicidal tendencies, left Australia 310 minutes in which to make 233. And so to the final remarkable chapter.

It began with Hall, a bowler of great pace and enormous, though sometimes misplaced enthusiasm, bowling now with greater discipline and taking West Indies to the brink of success. Half Australia were out for 57, and Hall had four for 37. Then a sixth wicket fell at 92, and those watchers who lived in Sydney were planning to catch the 5.45 plane. They had to wait until the following morning.

Most batting sides, I think, would have tried to play for a draw in these circumstances. Australia did not. They had their captain at the wicket, and he and Davidson set off for victory. Davidson had already had a great match. He had taken 11 wickets and scored 44. Moreover, while the general standard of Australia's fielding was below their best standards, his own work in the field had been flawless. Now he added 80 more vigorous runs to his fine record and, after playing himself through a sticky period at the start, earned every single of them.

Such was his all-round success that in normal circumstances the Test would rightly go down to history as Davidson's Match. As it is, this is to be known as The Greatest Test Match, but it was big enough to carry also a sub-title recognising Davidson's performance.


Up With The Clock

He and Benaud batted with outstanding judgment. They played the bowling strictly on its merits and brought off some sterling strokes, among which Davidson's hook off a head-high bumber from Hall stands out as a vivid memory. And they ran like whippets. Time after time they had the West Indies hurling fiercely at their stumps and missing. It would not have mattered if the stumps had been hit, for their judgment was splendid and their understanding perfect. It was astonishing that, after all the hard work Davidson had done, he was running as keenly and as rapidly at the end as at the start. He was tremendously fit.

After tea Australia had to score just above one run a minute, which was not easy when the average tally of overs per two-hour session was around 27. But they kept well up with the clock, and with 12 minutes to go only seven were needed. The story seemed cut and dried. Australia were going to win, and Worrell would perhaps regret not having used the left-arm off-breaks and googlies of Sobers earlier. When Sobers did arrive to use spin after a spell at medium pace, Davidson and Benaud were in full blast and he could not part them.


Deadly Aim

It was Solomon who did that when 12 minutes remained. Davidson went for an extra run. Perhaps this was the one and only time during the partnership when a direct hit by a fielder could have been effective. Solomon achieved the direct hit from some 25 yards and square with the wicket on the leg side. There followed the two other run-out wickets, and when the dust of excitement had settled there was some talk that Australia had only themselves to blame for faulty running. That it ungenerous to both sides and takes no account of the daring running of Benaud and Davidson, without which they could not have levelled the scores. The attempted runs by Grout and Meckiff in the last over were fully justified.

Post-mortems on such a match are out of place. I am happily content to have been one of the company of 4,100 who saw the thrilling and inspiring end of this greatest match. It serves as a challenge to all cricketers and calls to them to tackle their matches in the same spirit of sporting enterprise. This was essentially a sporting game, as the crowd recognised when they called for the 22 victors in the cause of cricket to show themselves on the patio of their pavilion.


The full report of the West Indies Tour in Australia with descriptions and scores of all matches will be given in the 1962 issue of Wisden. The tour did not finish until after this edition was going to press.

© John Wisden & Co