Australia's great escape

MACKAY, WHO REMAINED UNBEATEN on 62, admitted: "We were lucky to see it through. I don't know how many overs we played, or what the score was. I was interested in only one thing - the clock."-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Every single fielder was clustered round the bat as the minutes ticked away. Just one mistake by the last BATSMEN and it would be all over. That mistake though would never come. By GULU EZEKIEL.

The tied Test match in Brisbane was the perfect way to start the 1960-61 series between Australia and the West Indies. Surely, one heart-stopper was enough for a series!

The teams were locked 1-1 when they moved to Adelaide for the fourth Test. Australia had won the second in Melbourne (the 500th Test of all) by seven wickets. But the visitors stormed back to draw level, winning the third Test in Sydney by 222 runs. When left-arm fast bowler Alan Davidson (with 27 wickets from the first three Tests) pulled out with an injury, the odds favoured the West Indies. They had never won a series in Australia before. Now was their best chance.

The West Indies' batting was deep with Joe Solomon coming in at number eight. With Rohan Kanhai top-scoring with 117 and Frank Worrell and Gerry Alexander contributing with the willow, their first innings total of 393 was respectable. Richie Benaud, with five wickets, was the pick of the Australian bowlers.

Australia replied with a healthy 366, thanks to half-centuries by Colin McDonald (71), Bobby Simpson (85) and Benaud (77). It could have surpassed the West Indies total, but at 221 for five, the lanky Guyanese off-spinner Lance Gibbs took a hat-trick, his victims being Ken Mackay, Wally Grout and Frank Misson. The lead was meagre. By the end of the third day, the Windies had capitalised on that by finishing at 150 for one.

After Cammie Smith (46) was first out to Mackay, it was left to Conrad Hunte (79) and Kanhai to consolidate. Kanhai got his second century of the Test while Worrell and Alexander (87 not out) helped their side declare at 432 for six.

Worrell was criticised for not declaring early as it was felt even a target of 400 would have been way beyond the capabilities of the hosts.

Then with barely an hour to go on the fourth evening, fast bowler Wes Hall struck two crucial blows. Australia stumbled to 31 for three with McDonald (run out), Les Favell and Simpson back in the pavilion. Now it appeared it would only be a matter of time before the rest of the Aussie batting folded on the final day. Norman O'Neill and Peter Burge set about saving the Test on the final day. Worrell rotated his three main bowlers, Hall, Gary Sobers and Gibbs. Surprisingly the field placement was not attacking. The pair was hardly troubled, while it brought up the hundred of the innings. In fact, runs did not really matter for the Windies at that time.

It was left-arm spinner Alf Valentine who made the breakthrough. He got one to bounce and turn and Burge's intended cut landed in 'keeper Alexander's gloves. The batsman made 49. This partnership added 82 runs. But the team was not out of the woods. Benaud joined O'Neill and ensured they went into lunch without further loss. The morning session had produced just one wicket.

With the total on 129, O'Neill became the fifth batsman to fall when he gave a return catch to Sobers after making a valuable 65. There was still 210 minutes to go for the end of the match and the Windies bowlers seemed to be under control. Only Ken Mackay and Benaud, the two specialist batsmen, were left. Mackay, ironically nicknamed `Slasher' because of his defensive abilities, was a tough, obdurate batsman who put a high price on his wicket. But he was lucky to survive the very first ball he faced when he was nearly caught at slip.

Benaud struck a couple of boundaries before he too was caught and bowled by Sobers. His 17 runs had taken up 61 precious minutes on a day when time was running out for the West Indies.

That made it 144 for six and the West Indian camp was confident that the match was now in their bag. Perhaps they had forgotten about the legendary Australian grit. Every bit of that would now be needed to save the match.

Wicketkeeper Wally Grout was no great shakes with the bat and was out for a duck in the first innings. Would he be able to hang on this time around? Worrell rung in the changes in a desperate bid to polish off the tail. It would all be in vain. Grout played one of his most valuable innings. In 76 minutes at the crease he scored 42 and also added 59 precious runs with Mackay. Worrell had him lbw for 42 and picked up two more wickets in rapid succession. Australia had lost three wickets for four runs and at 207 for nine, still 110 minutes of play remaining, there seemed nothing that could stop the Windies. Then came the final dramatic chapter of a fascinating Test match. Mackay was now left with only last man Lindsay Kline for company. To the amazement of everyone the two survived everything the West Indians could throw at them. In fact, with just over an hour left, Sobers claimed a catch off Worrell as Mackay stretched forward. All were convinced they had their man, except for the person who mattered the most — umpire Colin Egar.

Every single fielder was clustered round the bat as the minutes ticked away. Just one mistake by the batsmen and it would be all over. That mistake though would never come.

The bowlers hurried through their overs, bowling the eight-ball overs in just over two minutes. Mackay and Kline stuck to their task magnificently. No one had given Kline a chance of staying on for more than a few minutes at best . Now it was all down to Hall bowling the final over.

Hall strove mightily to extract some life from the flat pitch. He thundered in to bowl the final delivery to Mackay who gamely took it on the body to preserve his wicket and it was all over. Against all the odds, the last wicket pair had saved the match for Australia. Mackay's grim and priceless unbeaten 62 had consumed nearly four hours. Perhaps more remarkably, Kline pieced together 15 not out in 110 minutes. Together they added 66 runs and even the Aussie players in the dressing room could scarcely believe their eyes! Mackay admitted after the great escape: "We were lucky to see it through. I don't know how many overs we played, or what the score was. I was interested in only one thing — the clock."

Amazingly, there would be yet another classic encounter in the fifth and final Test in Melbourne. Australia would win it by two wickets to take the series — arguably still the greatest of all time — by a 2-1 margin.

BRIEF SCORES

West Indies 393 (C. W. Smith 28, R. B. Kanhai 117, F. M. M. Worrell 71, S. M. Nurse 49, F. C. M. Alexander 63 not out, Misson three for 79, Benaud five for 96) and 432 for six decl. (C. C. Hunte 79, C. W. Smith 46,R. B. Kanhai 115, F. M. M. Worrell 53, F. C. M. Alexander 87 not out) drew with

Australia 366 ( C. C. McDonald 71, R. B. Simpson 85, P. J. P. Burge 45, R. Benaud 77, K. D, Mackay 29, D. E. Hoare 35, Sobers three for 64, Gibbs five for 97) and 273 for nine (N. C. O'Neill 65, P. J. P Burge 49, K. D. Mackay 62 not out, A. T. W Grout 42, Worrell three for 27)