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By Partab Ramchand
It was a match that set Test cricket alight. It brought to an end a long phase of dull, drab cricket games and paved the way for a brighter future for the sport. It showed that there was nothing wrong with cricket provided the captains and the players adopted the right, positive attitude. Such was its impact that Jack Fingleton devoted a whole book to it terming it "The Greatest Test Of All’’ and it was a description few would argue with.
Fifty years on the tied Test at Brisbane between Australia and the West Indies has lost none of its special aura. If anything it has gained an iconic status. The opening game of the series played between December 9 and 14, 1960 could not have been played at a more critical time in the game’s long history. The fifties had been marked by go slow tactics, negative bowling, defensive batting, throwing controversies, one sided contests and the number of spectators for Test matches were dwindling. It was an unhappy, uncertain period when amidst the general gloom 22 cricketers led by two enterprising captains for whom winning and losing were part of the game played out a match that not only created history but is remembered with a glint in the eye even today.
Just two years before in the previous Test series played `Down Under’ there occurred the infamous "battle of the snooze" at the same venue when during the first Test between Australia and England Trevor Bailey produced the slowest half century in all first class cricket taking 357 minutes to compile it and endured 458 minutes in scoring 68 - a scoring rate of slightly less than nine runs an hour. Off the 425 balls bowled to him the ``Barnacle’’ as he was called scored from 40. In a single day’s play only 106 runs were painfully compiled. Ironically it was the first Test in Australia to be televised and viewers were able to absorb one of cricket’s more bizarre records. Though all this stretched the limit it symbolized the game as it was played at the time.
When the West Indians landed in Australia two years later it was hoped that they would help erase the hideously forgettable memories and do their bit to provide bright cricket. But they exceeded expectations in more ways than one. Not many gave them a chance against Australia which was the No 1 team in the world. But then they had an outstanding leader in Frank Worrell. Even though he was on his first assignment as Test captain it was clear that he would urge his team to play attacking cricket. Fortunately his players rallied around him and the result was arguably the greatest series in the history of Test matches as they produced ethereal cricket and the contest was one of the closest ever with the issue hanging in the balance till the final day of the series at Melbourne before Australia finally triumphed by registering a two-wicket victory.
The series proved to be full of enterprising cricket because the Australians under Richie Benaud took up the gauntlet thrown by Worrell. Their role in producing the innumerable moments of memorable cricket in the series cannot be overemphasized. And it all started at Brisbane. The stage for an enthralling series was set on the opening day when West Indies rattled up 359 for seven thanks in the main to an unforgettable 132 by Gary Sobers. The pace never slackened, there were several twists and turns and the culmination was the pulsating finish which ultimately saw each side scoring 737 while 40 wickets fell.
I was a pre-teen cricket fan at the time and just getting to admire the various aspects of the game and the greats when I was aware of the hullabaloo surrounding a Test in Australia that had ended in a tie. That kind of denouement had never occurred before in the history of Test matches so it took some digesting. And then slowly we came to terms with the unique result, the heroes of the game and the role played by the captains in arriving at the fabulously unique finish.
Today a half century later it can be seen how the Brisbane tie – and the magical series – was a watershed in the game’s history. It did much in reviving interest in Test cricket and making players and captains realize that it was a great sport and all it needed was an enterprising approach. This is best summed up by the conversation between Don Bradman and Benaud during the tea interval on the final day. Australia requiring 233 for a win were precariously placed at 109 for six with their last recognized pair Benaud himself and Alan Davidson at the crease. Bradman asked Benaud "well, what’s it going to be Richie, a win or a draw" and the Australian captain replied "we are going for a win’’. Later as the Benaud – Davidson partnership assumed menacing proportions and was steering Australia to victory Worrell on his part never resorted to defensive measures and kept attacking and the result was – well, simply put, one of a kind in over 500 Tests.