ONDRIVE By Sham Samaroo
(From his book BLASTING FOR RUNS, Rohan Kanhai, the most gifted West Indian strokeplayer, gives us a ball by ball account of the thrills of the first tied test match of the 1960-61 tour of Australia)
Here is Rohan Kanhai, in his own words, telling us what it was like to be on the field for that unforgettable game.
“It’s true enough that ours is a musical race and we held many a sing-song aboard plane and coach on that trip. When we arrived in Brisbane Airport, en route to the first Test, a Brisbane official asked who were the deaf players sitting in the bus waiting for transport to the city.
Cool as cool can be our manager Gerry Gomez replied: “Oh them! They’re just a bunch of no-good cricketers. Don’t worry about them.” The ‘hearing aids’ were ear plugs attached to transistor radios on our laps. Yes, that was a happy tour—the one everyone said gave cricket the shot-in-the-arm it needed to keep it alive. It was the tour that etched itself in the record books for all time, producing the one and only tied Test in the history of cricket. The build-up to Brisbane was more likely to make the Aussies scoff than get them worried about our chopping their champions. We’d lost to Western Australia and New South Wales by an innings—not the best of credentials for prospective giant-killers. But when the chips are down. . . .
Alan Davidson, the greatest all-rounder I’ve met barring Gary Sobers, marked out his run at the Member’s end. His basic ball is a late inswinger, moving so late in the air that the batsman is usually committed to his shot. Conrad Hunte smashed Davo’s third ball to the long-off boundary and swept the next over short square leg’s head to the fence. Eight runs in the first three minutes of a Test match . . . the fans were enthralled. [But] Davo was to pick up Hunte, Cammie Smith and myself before lunch. Someone was bound to come good and that someone was Gary Sobers. They said that Gary couldn’t play spin but they must have eaten their biros long before he was out for a magnificent 132.
Norman O’Neill (181) and Bobby Simpson (92) top-scored when Australia chased our 453 all out and finally sneaked ahead by 52. Our total second time round didn’t look good enough—we bowed out for 284 leaving the Aussies 233 to get in 312 minutes. Roughly that’s 45 runs an hour. By now we were into the last day of this fantastic match. The cricket had been good, sometimes brilliant, but there was nothing to make us think that what was to come would live forever in the minds of the privileged few who watched. [In their chase] Bobby Simpson was burned’ by the Hall fire, in Wes’s second over. Neil Harvey became Hall’s second victim immediately afterwards. Sobers, once a goalkeeper with the police cadets back in Barbados, dived forward, went head over heels and came up clutching the ball. Australia were seven for two. Australia [at lunch] 28-2 in 70 minutes. O’Neill and McDonald resumed [and] they went berserk, smashing Hall to the boundary not twice but three or four times. It couldn’t last—and it didn’t. [Their next] three wickets had tumbled dramatically for eight runs and, at 57-5, they looked groggy, mighty groggy. It only needed the coup de grace.
Benaud, barren of runs lately, was the one man who could save the Aussies. Ramadhin beat Benaud all ends up and literally shaved the stumps. But instead of a wicket it was byes and the famed partnership was on its way. Davo—what a great match he was having—cut and pulled Ramadhin viciously in his thirst for runs. Forty nine wanted in 48 minutes … then 36 in 31 minutes. At 5.30 with the score 206 Hall took the new ball. Thirty minutes were left, 27 to win, and four wickets to go. It looked the Aussies all the way as Davo, feeling ten feet tall, moved inside a Hall bouncer and hooked it high into the heavens for, four. Benaud pushed one wide of Solomon at forward square-leg and called for a very short run. Little Joe was onto it like a flash and in the same action threw from side-on to the stumps. The wicket was shattered as Davidson vainly tried to make his ground. Earlier Frank had told Hall: “No more bouncers, Wes. No more.” But now things were desperate and Wes, despite a deep regard for his skipper, decided to take things into his own hands. He let go a towering ball, Benaud was tempted to hook, and the ball flew from his glove to the delighted Alexander.Richie admitted later that a bouncer was the last thing he expected at this stage of the game. “Who,” he said sadly, “would bowl such a ball when one stroke, a four, would level the scores?” He got his answer. Four runs now needed to win, four balls to go. Tension was at fever pitch but the next ball capped everything. Wes kidded Grout into thinking he was serving up another bouncer and Griz went into the hook. Instead the ball pitched on a perfect length and Grout could only spoon the ball up high to me at backward square-leg. I tucked myself right underneath it, my eyes glued to the ball and my hands scooped like a bucket to welcome it in. But, un-known to me, Wes had changed direction on his follow-through and was charging towards the now dropping ball.
Ever seen a steamroller running away down a bank? That’s what it must have looked like to the horrified onlookers. Someone gasped: “Wes, no Wes” and at the same moment I felt his elbow crash against the side of my head. I was knocked spinning and the ball dropped into Wes’s hands and spilled over. Wes stood there, sweat pouring down his face, a picture of misery. This was the last straw. The batsman had crossed so Australia needed three runs with three balls to do it. Meckiff, impassive, swished Hall away to the square leg outfield with a shot that strictly belonged to the golf course. Even as the ball sailed into the setting sun my shoulders drooped. This was a four to be sure. But somehow the ball tired before Conrad Hunte, running as though his life depended on it. As he stooped and picked up a foot inside the boundary the batsmen were turning for the third and winning run. To this day I can picture the throw. From 90 yards away the ball flew low and straight to Alexander. A fraction to the left or right and Australia would have won. But, no. Alexander hadn’t to stir a muscle in collecting the ball and he splattered the stumps with Grout diving like an Olympic springboard champion for the crease. The scores were level at 737 runs all. [Australia 9 down] and two balls remained. Hall, tired to the point of exhaustion, pitched the ball in line with the middle and leg stumps and Kline played it with the full meat of the bat to forward square-leg. The crowd went berserk as the batsman set off on the victory run. From about 12 yards, with only one stump showing to him, Joe Solomon swooped one-handed and threw. Umpire Hoy’s finger reached for the sky as the stumps keeled over.
Had there ever been such drama? Had there ever been three such miraculous throws? The crowd swarmed over the oval and we danced like little schoolboys delirious with joy.
Benaud came out to greet us, draped an arm around Worrell’s shoulder, and the two gladiators walked off into history. Everything was pandemonium. The Aussies poured into our dressing-room; champagne appeared as if by magic; Wes Hall treated us to calypso after calypso; and Davidson kept jabbering: “It’s a tie, it’s a tie.” Sir Don Bradman said: “It is the best thing that could possibly have happened for the game.”
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of THE WEST INDIAN.