Before their landmark triumph in the Caribbean in 1994-95, Australia had beaten West Indies six times in 17 years in Test matches, mostly in dead rubbers. Now they beat them five times in six weeks to register the first clean sweep in series between these countries, though Greg Chappell's Australians won a six-Test series 5-1 in 1975-76, just before the long drought. It was cricket's most graphic example of the boot being on the other foot.
Surprisingly, there was little smirking in Australia, and no gloating. The crowds came to celebrate the home team's comprehensive and irresistible brilliance. There was no sense of vengeance, just sadness and emptiness because, in truth, the series was so one-sided as to be dull. Australia won all 15 internationals - Test and one-day - during the summer, making it 30 out of 31 home internationals over two successive summers. These five Test wins were part of a run of 16 successive victories, far eclipsing West Indies' previous world record of 11.
It did not matter that Australia were without Shane Warne for the entire series, and Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie for parts of it. Corporate spirit, rather than individual brilliance or singular achievements, was the team's distinguishing quality. Cricket may famously be described as an individual sport played by teams, but Steve Waugh's Australians had made it a team sport played by individuals, none of whom was either above the team or indispensable to it. This applied even to the leadership: when injury forced out Waugh for a match, Adam Gilchrist, in only his 12th Test, stepped in as captain and the streak continued. Australia were to win all of Gilchrist's first 15 Tests, such was their time of plenty.
The West Indians, in contrast, were at a wretchedly low ebb. By summer's end, they had lost their sixth away series in a row, in which sequence they had won three and lost 21 Tests. They had also lost ten of their last 11 first-class matches, encompassing not only seven Test defeats, but heavy losses against Somerset, Western Australia and a half-strength Victoria. Jimmy Adams, for whom the captaincy was the most poisonous of chalices, remained dignified and gentlemanly throughout, but could provide no inspiration in word or deed. It was scarcely a surprise when he was sacked as leader and player after the tour, and vice-captain Sherwin Campbell went with him. As for the rest, some Caribbean commentators thought that they were on rather better terms with themselves than their achievements warranted.
Not for the first time, Brian Lara carried the batting; not for the first time, he buckled under the weight. He managed just one scoring shot in his first three Test innings, falling each time to Glenn McGrath's perfectly aimed cutters, and a mood was immediately set for the series. Lara, trying too hard to impose himself, played recklessly, making three Test ducks and three more in the one-day series. When he did come off, with 231 against Australia A in Hobart followed by 182 in the Third Test at Adelaide, the West Indians had their best two results for the summer - a draw and a mere five-wicket defeat. It was a measure West Indies' standing that Lara was considered to have failed and yet was easily his team's highest scorer both in the Tests, with 321, and the Carlton & United Series, with 372. More than half his Test runs came in that one innings at Adelaide, however; in the other nine he made 139. He also had to contend with a silly debate about the presence on tour of his English girlfriend; as management noted, all the Australians brought partners along with no apparent adverse effect.
The most consistent batting came from Ridley Jacobs, 33, and Marlon Samuels, 19; between them lay the West Indians' lost generation. Jacobs fought rearguard actions with pride, character and not a little derring-do; Samuels, summoned late to the tour, showed impressive cool, not to mention a way forward. Adams and Campbell averaged less than 19 apiece, the loss of Shivnarine Chanderpaul after one Test was keenly felt, and poor Ramnaresh Sarwan, having prepared with five weeks at the Australian Academy, made three runs in six successive innings - against Victoria and in the first two Tests - and was not seen again until the final Test. In all, West Indies made 28 ducks in the series, breaking the previous record by two, and reached 200 just once in the first four Tests.
Adams insisted that his team's failings were not technical, but it was impossible to agree. Their general method was to stand flat-footed at the crease for a time, sometimes a long time, then fan a catch into the cordon. Mostly, the West Indians did not so much collapse in minutes as sink over hours, but the effect was the same. Only when all was lost was caution thrown to the winds, new blood introduced and some hope for the future kindled.
With Curtly Ambrose's retirement, Courtney Walsh had to sustain the bowling on his own. Though willing as ever, and still his team's best, he could not disguise his aging and finished with 11 wickets at 43.72. Marlon Black bowled some hostile early spells until injury cut his tour short, and Merv Dillon improved throughout to finish with 16 wickets at 29.93. All bowled well in bursts, but could not maintain pressure. They were so intent on keeping the ball away from Mark Waugh's pads, for example, that they gave him more to cut than he had had for seasons. There was so little spinning strength that, upon his arrival, Samuels was pressed immediately into the front line with his nascent off-spinners, and immediately took good wickets, too.
The West Indians spent the summer being battered and bowled. Their tour began with a blow on the jaw for tailender Kerry Jeremy in the opening first-class match, after which he was scarcely seen. It finished, just after they lost the one-day final, with a vicious assault on Black outside a Melbourne nightclub which put him in hospital.
Australia were unremitting and unrelenting, but not without flair. The series was lacklustre because there was no sense of contest, not because it was short of skilful, elegant and entertaining cricket. In Brisbane, McGrath took ten for 27; in Perth, he rolled up his 300th wicket, Lara's, into a hat-trick; in Melbourne, his opening seven overs cost just one run, a no-ball - identical to Ambrose's opening spell on the same ground eight years previously, except that Ambrose conceded a wide. But McGrath was not alone. There were eight bags of five wickets or more for the Australians, including two in the Adelaide Test for Colin Miller. No West Indian took more than four in an innings.
Australia's batting was solid rather than indomitable. They reached 400 only twice, though less than 400 in the first two Tests was enough for innings victories. Only Mark Slater passed 350 for the series; the Waugh twins made Australia's only centuries. Mark began the summer under an injunction to make runs or make way, and spent it surrounded by opprobrium after the release of the CBI report in India. Such close attention from selectors and sleuths appeared to concentrate his mind, often apt to wander, until he was playing as in his silky heyday. Nor did Steve betray any sign of decline. At No. 3, Langer had a poor series, and Ponting made fewer than he would have liked. However, wicket-keeper Gilchrist provided attractive, timely runs and Martyn, replacing the injured Steve Waugh in Adelaide, played two composed and unbeaten innings when they were especially needed.
Only in etiquette did Australia let themselves down. It is difficult to know which was more risible: Stuart MacGill charging Sarwan with his shoulder at Adelaide, or referee A. C. Smith's declaration that all had been put right by MacGill's apology. Yet even the intemperate moments were instructive - a reminder that the players were only flesh and blood, that they did feel pressures, and that the game takes much conquering, physically and mentally. In the apparent simplicity of another victory, this was too easily overlooked.
One-sidedness notwithstanding, attendances were good all summer and easily surpassed the Australian Cricket Board's conservative budget. The allure of a champion team ought never to be underestimated. Before the First Test in Brisbane, a reunion of the teams of 1960-61 prompted glorious memories of that series, highlighted by the first tied Test, and the way it had lifted cricket from the doldrums. It was as if cricket were silently crying out for a reprise as the match-fixing scandal continued to deepen. It was fanciful, of course. What this series demonstrated above all else was the extent to which times and the game had changed.
Match reports for
ACB Chairman's XI v West Indians at Perth (Lilac Hill), Nov 7, 2000
Western Australia v West Indians at Perth, Nov 9-12, 2000
Northern Territory Cricket Association Invitation XI v West Indians at Alice Springs, Nov 14, 2000
Victoria v West Indians at Melbourne, Nov 17-19, 2000
Prime Minister's XI v West Indians at Canberra, Dec 7, 2000
Australia A v West Indians at Hobart, Dec 9-12, 2000
Australia A v West Indians at Adelaide, Jan 9, 2001