A fledgling West Indian team, under a captain in his first full series, showed great resilience in winning the new Frank Worell Trophy - the original had disappeared - and adding yet another World Series Cup to their collection. It was West Indies' first series against Australia since 1972-73 without the imposing batting talents of Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge, the first since 1979-80 without Jeffrey Dujon, their most successful wicket-keeper-batsman, and since 1983-84 without Malcolm Marshall, their leading taker of Test wickets. All had left the international scene since the teams last met in the Caribbean, less than two years earlier, and the failure of the reconstituted team, under new captain Richie Richardson, in the World Cup did not encourage hopes of a quick revival.
When Australia won the Second Test at Melbourne comfortably by 139 runs, having only just been denied victory in the First, and then amassed over 500 in their first innings of the Third at Sydney before removing the openers for 31, West Indies faced a stern test of character. An extraordinary double-century by the left-hander Brian Lara, assessed by many reputable judges as one of the finest innings of the modern era, revived them. Lara's 277, the fourth highest Test score by a West Indian, and his third-wicket partnership of 293 with Richardson led to a total of 606, undermined Australia's confidence and proved the turning point in the series. After securing a draw in Sydney, West Indies won every match: the final two Tests to take the series 2-1 and four consecutive World Series Cup games, including the two finals against Australia. A heart-stopping victory by one run, Test cricket's narrowest margin, in an unusually low-scoring match at Adelaide levelled the series. And as they had done in each of their three previous Tests in Perth, they overwhelmed their opponents on a characteristically fast and bouncy pitch.
While Lara's unforgettable performance changed the course of the series, Curtly Ambrose's flawless fast bowling was instrumental in winning it. Hindered by bad luck on unresponsive pitches in the first three Tests, he was irresistible in the more sympathetic conditions of Adelaide and Perth, claiming 19 wickets in the two matches at less than 11 runs each. Using his height to awkward effect, Ambrose was always capable of delivering the unplayable ball at the opportune time. When Australia required only 186 to win at Adelaide, he removed their two most reliable batsmen, David Boon and Allan Border, for a single between them. Then he settled the outcome of the Perth Test after lunch on the first day with a stunning spell of seven for one off 32 balls. He went on to equal the record of 33 wickets in an Australian-West Indian series held by Clarrie Grimmett and Alan Davidson. In the two one-day finals, he took eight wickets for 58.
West Indies could also take comfort from the positive and level-headed leadership of Richardson, and the advance of those batsmen still seeking to establish themselves. In their contrasting styles, the right-handed opener, Phil Simmons, and the left-hander, Keith Arthurton, scored their maiden Test centuries. Jimmy Adams, yet another left-hander among the new brigade, batted solidly when given the chance. The batting failures of the experienced Desmond Haynes, in his eighth series against Australia, and Carl Hooper, and the fact that the vice-captain, Gus Logie, was not chosen at all for the Tests emphasised the development of the new order. The bowling, heavily dependent on Ambrose, lacked the depth in quality pace of its predecessors, although Ian Bishop improved markedly each time he bowled on his return to international cricket following his lengthy lay-off through a back injury. In the circumstances, Hooper's off-spin was used more than ever and made a significant contribution.
Australia's eighth successive failure in a Worrell Trophy series was an understandable disappointment to them after coming so close - particularly to their captain, Border, who had been involved in the last seven series. Border's personal joy at Australia's triumph in Melbourne was enhanced by his first home Test century for five years, and he passed 10,000 Test runs a week later in Sydney. After that his fortunes slumped as markedly as his team's, culminating in his first pair in first-class cricket in the Perth Test when he was reported by the umpires for dissent for the second time in the series. Fined half his match fee by the referee, Raman Subba Row, after the First Test in Brisbane, he was merely reprimanded by Donald Carr, who had taken over before his second misdemeanour. The solid Boon, restored to his opening position, was the only Australian to bat consistently and the only one to emulate four of the West Indians and average over 40. He, Border and the Waugh twins each scored centuries but the Australian batting was always vulnerable to the extra bounce Ambrose and his associates extracted at Adelaide and Perth. Martyn and Langer, two Western Australians in their early twenties, were the new batsmen introduced and, though they achieved nothing spectacular, they were undaunted by the atmosphere of Test cricket.
The loss of Bruce Reid, the tall left-arm fast bowler who once more broke down after the First Test, appreciably weakened the Australian attack, especially since Craig McDermott threatened only in spells. The whole-hearted Merv Hughes seldom wavered, his 20 wickets at 21.60 runs each deserving reward for his efforts, but the most incisive bowling came from the spinners. Shane Warne, still an apprentice in the difficult art of leg-spin, secured the Melbourne victory with his seven for 52 but managed only two wickets after that. Tim May, the off-spinner playing his first Test for four years, completed the rout of West Indies' second innings at Adelaide with five wickets for five runs, and appeared to have set up an Australian Victory. A day later, he was at the non-striker's end when Courtney Walsh's dismissal of McDermott undid all his efforts.
In pleasant contrast to their previous series, which was marred by obvious antagonism between the teams, the spirit throughout was amicable, due largely to Richardson's attitude and the presence of the ICC referees. Border's reaction to the umpiring may have been unbecoming a captain but he was not alone in believing it to be sub-standard. There seemed to be a peculiar reluctance to invoke the lbw law: only 11 such decisions were given in the five Tests, opposed to 21 in the previous season's series against India. The perpetual popularity of the West Indians in Australia, Australia's initial success in the Test series and the presence in the World Series Cup of the World Cup champions, Pakistan, brought in large crowds. Average attendance for the 14 one-day Internationals was about 30,000 and for the Tests just over 16,000 a day. They were encouraging statistics.