Walters, Chappell dazzle

Ian Chappell’s 97 on a turning track in the second innings was worth more than a century and nobody else could reach fifty. He batted nearly four hours despite a severely sprained ankle and Australia set West Indies 334 for victory. Gulu Ezekiel recollects a gripping tale.

Australia did not lose a single series during Ian Chappell’s reign as captain from 1972-75. One of the more significant victories came in the West Indies in 1973 where Australia won 2-0 despite a depleted pace bowling attack.

Dennis Lillee, the spearhead, broke down with a debilitating back injury after finishing wicketless in the first Test at Kingston, while Bob Massie lost his form and place in the side.

It was a difficult period for the home side as well. For the first time in nearly 20 years, it was without the services of the mighty Garry Sobers, who was recuperating from a knee injury. Veteran Rohan Kanhai took over the captaincy.

Chappell expertly marshalled his inexperienced bowling resources, which consisted of pace bowlers Max Walker and Jeff Hammond and leg-spinners Terry Jenner and Kerry O’Keeffe.

The first two Test matches ended in tame draws, the strong batting on both sides dominating.

Chappell’s instincts told him the home side was biding its time, waiting for its master off-spinner Lance Gibbs to strike on the turning track at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the venue for the third and fifth Tests.

Doug Walters was one of the best players of spin bowling in the 1970s and he showed his mastery as Australia chose to bat first. Walters had been going through a lean trot over the previous year but now he came good with a magnificent 112. Support came from Ian Redpath (66), Greg Chappell (56) and O’Keeffe (37).

Playing horses for courses, the Windies’ bowling was unusually spin-heavy. Supporting Gibbs were the youngsters, left-armers Elquemedo Willet and Inshan Ali.

Australia was 108 for two at lunch on the opening day. The very first ball after the break from Gibbs was driven handsomely through the covers by Walters.

The canny Gibbs tried every trick in his book. But he had no answer this day to the skills of Walters who plundered 102 runs (out of 138) in the session between lunch and tea. On a pitch taking plenty of turn, it was batting of the highest class and helped take his side to 238 for three at tea. But Ali then accounted for Walters and Ian Chappell in quick succession and by close parity had been restored at 308 for six.

West Indies had to bat one man short in the match, losing Lawrence Rowe to an ankle injury while fielding. In the end, it may have been the difference between the two sides that fought on even keel till the end.

With Jenner picking up the first three wickets, West Indies was wobbling at close of the second day at 210 for five in reply to Australia’s 322 all out. It was propped up by fifties from the young Alvin Kallicharran and the skipper Kanhai.

Australia grabbed a lead of 52 the next morning, small but ultimately match-winning.

By now the pitch had crumbled and it looked like Gibbs would run through the Aussie batting. He did take five wickets, but while Walters had mastered his bowling in the first innings, in the second it was the captain who played a brilliant knock.

Ian Chappell’s 97 under the circumstances was worth more than a century and nobody else could reach fifty. He batted nearly four hours despite a severely sprained ankle and received support from Redpath (44), Walters (32) and Walker (23 not out). That helped stretch the total to 281, setting West Indies 334 for victory.

It would be a formidable task. But the pace was set by opener Roy Fredericks who cracked a sparkling 76. By tea on the fourth day Fredericks and fellow left-hander Kallicharran had taken the score to 121 for one and an improbable win appeared to be on the cards.

But as had happened in the first innings, Kanhai fell just before the close of play, bowled by Greg Chappell for 14; this after another change bowler, Keith Stackpole had accounted for Fredericks. Ian Chappell was constantly shuffling his bowlers but at 188 for three and with Kallicharran still there on 61, the pendulum was beginning to swing towards the home side.

The final day was action packed all the way. By the lunch break, only Lloyd had lost his wicket and with Maurice Foster keeping him company, it looked like Kallicharran (on 91) would take the Windies home. The score stood at 268 for four, just 66 more runs needed.

During the interval, Chappell gave his bowlers a roasting. “Some of you blokes are starting to whinge and complain about our luck and that won’t help us win. Our policy has always been to bowl line and length, no matter what,” he told them.

It did the trick. Just 10 minutes before lunch, the new ball had been taken. And the very first delivery after the break saw Kallicharran drawn forward to Walker and edging it behind to a jubilant Rod Marsh.

That was the wicket they desperately needed and now the bowlers were among the tail. It folded up pretty quickly, the last five wickets tumbling for a meagre 21 runs with O’Keeffe cleaning up four of them.

The home side’s plans had misfired. Though its spinners claimed all but three of the wickets to fall to the bowlers, they came at a heavy price. The margin at the end of a pulsating match was just 44 runs.

Its spirit broken, West Indies rolled over in the fourth Test at Georgetown to be trounced by 10 wickets. The fifth and final game was drawn and Australia had retained the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy against all odds. It was one of Chappell’s finest performances and it would be another 22 years before Australia won another series in the Caribbean.

The scores

Australia 332 (Ian Redpath 66, Greg Chappell 56, Doug Walters 112, Kerry O’Keefe 37, Lance Gibbs three for 79, Inshan Ali three for 89) and 281 (Redpath 44, Walters 32, Ian Chappell 97, Gibbs five for 102, Elquemedo Willett three for 33) beat West Indies 280 (Maurice Foster 25, Alvin Kallicharran 53, Rohan Kanhai 56, Deryck Murray 40, Terry Jenner four for 98) and 289 (Roy Fredericks 76, Foster 34, Kallicharran 91, O’Keefe four for 57, Max Walker three for 43).