Fifth Test

Australia v West Indies

When late on the afternoon of February 15, 1961, Valentine spun a ball past batsman and wicket-keeper it was swallowed up by the crowd as they swarmed on to the Melbourne Stadium while MacKay and Martin were going through for the winning run. Thus ended an enthralling series which appropriately culminated in excitement and drama.

The drama occurred when Australia, needing 258 to win, were 254 for seven. Grout late cut Valentine and the off-bail fell to the ground. Alexander, the wicket-keeper, did not turn round to follow the ball's flight but instead stood pointing at the broken wicket. The batsmen went through for two runs, after which the umpire at the bowler's end, Egar, went over to speak to Hoy at square leg. They decreed that Grout was not out. What caused the bail to fall off can only be conjecture but those two runs remained fact and the value of two runs at such a vital stage cannot be calculated.

The umpires' ruling brought forth some hostility from the crowd of 41,186, who, however, soon had other events to occupy their minds. Grout was eighth out without addition and at the same total the West Indies missed a fairly easy chance. This lapse gave Martin a single and brought the scores level. Then came that final extra.

The beginning matched the end. Though rain fell over the city two days earlier it was generally considered that the side winning the toss would bat first. But Australia had a captain brave in Benaud. With the atmosphere heavy and Hall on the other side, he sent a murmur of surprise round the ground by telling the West Indies to take the first innings. In the event, Davidson, the one bowler who, it was hoped, would do most to prove Benaud right, accomplished practically nothing. Instead the spinners worried all except Kanhai and Sobers and there was no cause for complaint from Australia when at the end of the first day West Indies were 252 for eight.

A world record crowd of 90,800 saw McDonald, at his very best, and Simpson serve Australia well on Saturday with an opening partnership of 146, the best send off for either side in the series., but at 236 for six the lead stood 57 runs away when stumps were drawn.

Thus far the cricket had been interesting but not so engrossing as much of the play in the earlier matches. The game really began to tick again on Monday. Then the batsmen, including Harvey, who injured a leg muscle catching Kanhai, were wound on the web of Sobers and Gibbs and Australia were thankful for the aggressiveness of broad shouldered Burge in helping them finish their innings 64 ahead. Sobers went on to bowl at 124 for no wicket, half an hour before the tea interval on Saturday, and did not come off until the score stood at 335 for nine. He bowled slow at first, opened with the new ball on Monday and bowled all morning and for an hour afterwards. In all, his marathon effort lasted 41 overs and final figures of five for 120 in 44 overs spoke eloquently of an unflagging performance.

The first-innings deficit did not worry West Indies. Indeed, it seemed to spur them to greater effort. Smith hooked the second ball from Mission over fine leg for six and he and Hunte had 50 on the board in a many minutes, so that runs soon began to count again. Kanhai sent the fieldsmen scurrying with some delightful stroke play and by the end of third day the match has regained its even keel. West Indies were 62 runs on with eight wickets left. Some of the balance tilted Australia's way as they fought with all their natural tenacity but once more they found an "enemy" of comparable toughness in Alexander, who maintained his record of having exceeded 50 in each of the Tests. For two and half hours he defied the bowlers. Then he was caught of Davidson, who when he had Hall taken behind the stumps brought his aggregate wickets to 33 in four Tests of the series. This catch, and three more taken during the day despite a damaged wrist, enabled Grout to match the record of helping in 23 dismissals in a rubber.

So came the final phase with Australia needing 258 for victory. Simpson began as enthusiastically as Smith, taking 24 runs off the first ten balls sent down to him, including 18 from the opening over. He was just as convincing when the spinners wrought havoc later and to him more than any other went the main accord on this final day of a memorable series. Both sides agreed before the start that an extra day should be added so as to minimise the chances of a stalemate but enterprising cricket from all made it unnecessary.

© John Wisden & Co