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When Australia's intended tour to South Africa was cancelled, the West Indies Board of Control agreed to send a side to Australia to play six Test Matches, two years before their next scheduled visit.
With Thomson and Lillee on one side and Roberts acand several other fast bowlers on the other, it was obviously going to be a trial of strength between the two best international sides of the time. When, in June 1975, the West Indies beat Australia by 17 runs at Lord's in the Prudential Cup Final, the anticipation of this series was heightened considerably.
As it happened, in spite of the best possible start, for Australia and the West Indies each won one of the first two Tests, it turned out to be a sad anti-climax, Australia winning five-one.
Temperamentally, West Indian sides have always been suspect and it was probably only the discipline, the example and the sympathetic understanding of Frank Worrell which enabled their formidable side of the early 1960's to be successful for so long, first under his own captaincy and then under Sobers'.
Man for man the West Indies side in Australia was at least as talented as Australia's. The difference lay in their response to pressure and in their respective abilities to work out what was required of them if they were to win an extremely exacting series.
Australia won easily because they were better led, they were tougher opponents when the pressure was on, they were admirably single-minded about the job of winning and their cricket was far more disciplined.
The West Indies have never won a series in Australia and, before it started, it looked as if this tour would give them a wonderful chance. Although Australia won and convincingly so, one came away with the overriding impression that this had been a series which the West Indies had, if anything, done more to lose than Australia had to win.
From the very start of the tour it was obvious that the West Indies' chances were going to be severely handicapped if their batsmen were not going to be able to check their desire to play their strokes regardless. By the time the First Test Match came round in Brisbane at the end of November, their main batsmen had all played beautiful innings of thirties and forties and fifties, but hardly any had gone on to make hundreds and to spend a long time at the wicket and therefore to grow thoroughly accustomed to the high bounce of the Australian pitches.
In many ways the progress of these West Indies players round Australia was summed up by the first morning of the series. Lloyd won the toss and batted and the West Indies played as if they were involved in a one-day knock-out game. Eighteen overs were bowled before lunch, every conceivable stroke was played and at the interval they were an incredible 125 for six.
In the context of Test cricket it made no sense whatever and the first seven West Indies batsmen had all had the experience of playing county cricket and therefore understood the discipline that was required.
Having virtually thrown the match away on the first morning, they then twice played themselves back into the game only to throw it away again each time. In their second innings Rowe and Kallicharran made hundreds, putting on 198, and just when it seemed that Australia would have an uncomfortable amount to make in the fourth innings on a pitch which was taking spin, Rowe, Lloyd and Richards all got themselves out unnecessarily and Australia's target was only 219.
Even then they still had a chance, for Gibbs began to bowl beautifully and it required a wonderful piece of batting by an Ian Chappell to prevent him breaking through. As it was, when Chappell was 27 he drove too soon at Inshan Ali and gave the bowler a low, but none-too-difficult return catch which Inshan Ali, always a poor reactor to pressure, dropped. If that catch had stuck Australia might have lost.
This first match is worth dissecting in a review of the series because so much that happened in it was symptomatic of what went wrong with the West Indies in the series as a whole.
It also revealed Lloyd's tactical weaknesses as a captain. When in the field, he was slow to appreciate situations and to read the game. Even in the final innings of this match when, to have any chance at all, the West Indies had to attack all the time with the Australians needing such a small score to win, Lloyd seemed uncertain what to do. One moment there was a fine leg, then a ball was edged through where leg slip had been and fine leg was brought up.
When Inshan came on Chappell twice swept and if there had been a backward short leg he would have been caught off the glove each time. It was only then that Fredericks was brought up, but when in Inshan's next over he was square cut for four Fredericks was moved into the covers. Lloyd was all the time blocking the gaps rather than trying to take the initiative.
This obviously does not explain the Second Test Match in Perth which the West Indies won in four days by an innings and 87 runs. The volatile nature of the West Indies would make it dangerous to back Australia to beat them in a specific Test Match and maybe silly not to back them in a six-match series.
In Perth, on much the fastest wicket in Australia, which admirably suited the West Indians' way of batting, everything came off. Roberts and Holding, who had shown himself to be Roberts' natural opening partner and indeed was timed to be faster than Thomson, Lillee and Roberts, bowled magnificently on a pitch which had pace and bounce.
Then, on the second morning, the West Indies had ninety minutes batting before lunch and at the interval after only fourteen overs they were 130 for one and Fredericks had 81 of these. He went on to 169, Lloyd made 149 and there were two other fifties. Australia's new captain, Greg Chappell, who had taken over from Ian at the start of the series, found as Illingworth had found at Lord's in 1973, that when everything runs for the West Indies there is no way of stopping them.
At one-all after only two Tests, the series seemed made, but in Melbourne after Christmas the West Indies found themselves put into bat on a slow pitch with a hint of greenness about it on the first morning. They tried to play as they had done at Perth and were bowled out soon after tea on the first day for 224. After that it was predictable that they should lose inside four days.
The most tragic game of all, for the series and for the West Indies, was the Fourth Test in Sydney in the New Year. After two days only the West Indies could possibly have won it. They had been all out for 355 and although Lloyd had shown a strange reluctance to put the Australian batsmen under pressure when they were struggling on the second afternoon, they were still only 164 for four in the evening.
Lloyd took the new ball after lunch the next day when the score was 235 for 5 and in the next hour 77 runs were scored off ten overs. Julien shared the new ball with Roberts, and Holding and Roberts never shared the new ball at any stage. It was a surprising piece of captaincy and the fate of the tour was decided in those ten overs.
Australia built up a lead of 50 and then in the evening three of the West Indies main batsmen were out to ill-disciplined hooks and Australia had won the game before tea on the fourth day. After that the last two Test Matches were little more than boring formalities, although at this stage of the tour Roberts was no longer fully fit. The West Indies batsmen with one notable exception continued to fail while the Australians went remorselessly on.
The tremendous fast bowling of Thomson, who had bowled better than he had done against England the previous year in Australia, and Redpath's highly successful if, from an aesthetic point of view, slightly unbecoming way of playing the short pitched bowling he received from Roberts and Holding -- he made three hundreds in this series -- allied to the fact that two matches were played at Melbourne, which was to the West Indies' disadvantage, gave Australia a series which I think they would always have won if by a much narrower margin, but, as it was, it was made easy for them.
Lloyd had been captain in India the previous year when the West Indies had won by the odd Test Match in five and he had drawn a three-match series nought-nought in Pakistan before leading the West Indies to victory in the Prudential Cup.
Australia was the first time he had found himself under real pressure as a captain and he did not find the going easy. When the strain was greatest he did not seem able to control his own nerves as he would have liked when batting and as captain he was never prepared to speak firmly to his batsmen and to tell them how he expected them to try to play the fast bowling on the steep bouncing pitches.
His attitude was that his players were mostly professional cricketers and that therefore they should be able to work it out for themselves. They were manifestly unable to do this.
Apart from the odd innings, Fredericks (at Perth), Rowe and Kallicharran (at Brisbane), Lloyd (at Perth) and Richards in the last two Tests, they did not do themselves justice.
One kept on feeling that if only they had really tried to work out the problems which confronted them and not to continue in the sublime hope that it would all come right in the end, these vastly talented players must have scored more runs. Greenidge tried his utmost, but the bounce showed him to be vulnerable outside the off stump and in the end his nerves probably got the better of him.
The disappointing performances of Boyce and Julien, who are as full of natural ability as any of the West Indians, were impossible to explain except to say that perhaps they were both guilty of not working hard enough at their game.
Murray gave everything, as did Lance Gibbs who, on what proved to be his last tour, broke Trueman's record of 307 Test wickets when he had Redpath caught at long on in the Sixth Test at Melbourne. While Murray kept wicket consistently well, he changed from an obdurate batsman always difficult to dismiss, into one who played more flamboyant strokes than almost any other West Indian, which maybe was a measure of the panic in the side.
Gibbs suffered from a captain who did not readily want to bowl him and, indeed, if he had been used rather more imaginatively Australia's task would not have been so easy.
There was one notable exception, as far as the batting was concerned, in the last two Test Matches and that was Vivian Richards. By the time the Fourth Test had ended he had had a bad tour. The ability was there, but he was unable to translate it into anything larger than the occasional brilliant forty.
Then, in a minor match after the Sydney Test he was sent in first and made an exciting 93. He opened again against Tasmania at Hobart where he batted beautifully for a hundred in each innings and so he went in first with Fredericks at Adelaide.
He made a marvellous 101 in the second innings of that Test and 50 and 98 in the final Test in Melbourne. He was the only West Indies batsman who left Australia a better player than when he arrived. He had gone a long way to working out his problems on his own and then he had the luck to be put in first where he found the added responsibility a help. Since leaving Australia he has developed to the stage that he is now one of the best three batsmen in the world.
Of the others, Holding established himself in the side, and with his lovely flowing run in and action he will probably become the fastest bowler of his generation. Thomson must still rate as the most dangerous.
Inshan Ali showed once and for all that the pressures of Test cricket are too much for him and David Murray did not have a particularly auspicious tour as second wicket-keeper, nor did Baichan as a reserve opening batsmen, although he was unlucky not be given a chance before the Sixth Test.
Holder was unlucky with an injury at the start of the tour, but recovered to do plenty of hard work towards the end while Padmore, an off spinner who looks very like Gibbs until the ball leaves his hand, did not have good control. Like the captain, the management of Esmond Kentish and Keith Walcott was not always quite firm enough with the players.
While Greg Chappell had a marvellous first series as captain of Australia, it was the presence of his brother and predecessor Ian which probably had the biggest influence on their success. He managed in a remarkable way to dissociate himself from the captaincy on the field, but the players round him had almost all been members of the side which he himself had built up after Illingworth's side had beaten Australia in 1970/71.
He had produced a wonderful team spirit in that side and although he was now no longer captain, one could not help sensing that his brother Greg might have struggled to get so much from his side if it had not been for Ian's presence beside him in the slips. Although Greg is technically a good captain, I do not think that he has the same flair for leadership as his brother.
While Thomson would, I think, have brought Australia victory even if the West Indies batsmen had come to grips with themselves, Lillee was not as fast a bowler as the one who blasted out England twelve months before. But these two were well-supported by Gilmour and Walker and it is a measure of the strength of Australian cricket that they could not both find a place in the side at the same time.
While Turner's effective left-hander's technique brought him runs, McCosker's rather suspect technique was found out by the West Indies fast bowlers early on and he was dropped from the side. He was lucky that injuries allowed him to return for the last Test when he made a long and laborious hundred which will have done his confidence good.
It was very noticeable that Australia missed Walters and Ross Edwards. The former had a knee injury which ruled him out of the series and the latter had retired from first-class cricket. Nowhere was their absence more noticeable that in the field, for Edwards was one of the outstanding cover fieldsmen of the generation and Walters was brilliant anywhere. Walters' bowling was also missed.
Their absence gave Gary Cosier of South Australia his chance. He had made runs for South Australia against the West Indies and at Melbourne, in his first Test, he made a hundred and established himself for the rest of the series although injury prevented him playing in the last Test there.
He is a big man with a tendency to score a great many of his runs early on either side of gully and in his first Test innings when he made 109 he was desperately close to being lbw to Julien when he first came in.
This was one of several close decisions that went against the West Indies at crucial stages. The doubtful decisions were mostly given by inexperienced umpires and although the West Indies have a justifiable cause for complaint here, the umpiring certainly did not affect the outcome of the series as a whole. The West Indies were also the side most affected during the series by injury.
For the Fifth and Sixth Test Matches a young Victorian left-hander Yallop came into the Australian side. He is a competent middle order batsman, but not yet an obvious Test player, although he did what was asked of him and will be a better player for the experience.
This was an example of the way in which Australian selectors are prepared to give young players a chance to prove themselves early on in their careers, which is in sharp contrast to their opposite numbers in some other countries.
By the end of the series Redpath had retired and both Ian Chappell and Mallett were hinting that they might do likewise. The Australian side will be considerably weaker without them. There can never have been a more difficult batsman to dislodge in Test cricket than Ian Chappell and at the moment there does not appear to be another off spinner of genuine first-class, let alone Test class, ability, other than Mallett while Redpath will be badly missed as an opening batsman and as a man.
Overall in this series I felt that the Australians had not played as well as they had done to beat England four--one twelve months earlier although they had won against the West Indies by a bigger margin and the West Indies are undoubtedly a better side than England, as was soon to be shown.
Match reports for
Queensland v West Indians at Brisbane, Nov 21-23, 1975