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Australia vs. West Indies 1975/76 : Forging a Dynasty

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For the better part of the 1960s and up to the start of their 1975-76 series, the West Indies and Australia remained locked in the unofficial battle for world cricket supremacy, Australia had edged ahead over four competitive series but the Windies ODI World Cup triumph in the English summer of 1975 had thrown the issue up into the air once again.

By pure coincidence in scheduling the cricketing world was provided the immediate opportunity of confirming just who was top dog with a super-sized six Test Match series to be played down under. 

In retrospect, Ian Chappell’s Australians were by far more experienced and settled boasting the formidable likes of the skip himself and his brother Greg, Doug Walters, Rick Mc Cosker, Ian Redpath, Rodney Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, Maw Walker and Gary Gilmour.

In comparison, the Windies fairly reeked of a heady brew of high potential and limited experience with Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding all within their second international season and Lawrence Rowe, Bernard Julien, Keith Boyce and Alvin Kallicharan just four seasons on themselves.  

With Clive Lloyd just two seasons into developing his team, expectations may have been a bit unfair but to say the team was nervous would be untrue.  They had copped the Kangaroos at Lords and why should they not have them in their backyard as well? 

By the third morning session of the first Test at Brisbane (some say by the third morning session of almost every Test of the series), it had become obvious to most observers that there would be no further dispute by series end. 

Blown out on day one, the Windies were never in that match and ultimately succumbed by eight wickets.  An astonishing reversal in Perth by an innings left much for many to think about but as the tour wore on, innumerable mental batting errors - the team became known in the media as the (then) punny ‘Happy Hookers’; and general inexperience - Michael Holding broke down in tears on the field of play after another poor umpiring decision went against him. 

Scenes of player disaffection (players lay down flat on the grass during breaks in play), minor indiscipline (Holding, Richards and Julien only smile impishly to this day when asked to recall the female attention received on the tour), and defensiveness (open heated discourse often occurred between the Windies players in the outfield and racist crowd members, as well as against Aussie team sledging).

The final 5-1 result could not have been more emphatic and there were open calls in the local media for Lloyd to step down, yet, in less than one year, it was clear that the West Indies were the best team in the world, bar none. A position they would retain for two decades.

Does this make any sense? Well, as they say, context is everything.

A peaking Australia, with powerful contributions from their entire top and middle order as well as (again) a peaking Lillee/ Thompson combination ably assisted by Gilmour and Walker, all while playing at home, would have badly beaten all comers in the world at that particular point in time.  An almost immediate and truly astonishing combination of retirements (Walters), loss of form (Redpath, Mc Cosker) and injuries (Lillee, Thompson and Gilmour would never be the same) followed the series and triggered an Oz decline from which they would not recover until the late 1980s.

The Windies?  Well I mentioned Roberts and Holding were around earlier and by the summer of 1976, Wayne Daniel would be introduced, and by the spring of 1977, Colin Croft and Joel Garner.  You can read the rest of that story elsewhere.

Vivian Richards, a relative novice opening the batting at the start of his record year of 1976 would be known as simply ‘the King’ by its end redefining the one down slot.  Gordon Greenidge would also reel off four Test centuries (and three nineties) by 1977 and in 1978 he would be introduced to Desmond Haynes. Yup, you can read the rest of that one elsewhere as well.

India faced the first fire in the spring of 1976 and literally surrendered the final Test in palpable protest by captain, Bishen Bedi. England was then decimated over the course of one of their hottest summers 3-0 and the dye was cast. 

It was not just that the bowling attack was quite fast, it was the sustained speed and quality of the bowling along with its use to intimidate as well as seek wickets that was new to the cricketing universe. The innovation to utilize four fast men as against the concreted concept of two pacers, one workhorse seamer and a spinner, turned the game on its ear.  Coupled with the string of quality batsmen, fielders and keepers, there was little anyone could competitively muster to take games into four and five days. 

Both Lloyd and Richards have spoken at length about the Australian tour and how its trauma forged modern Windies Test policy.  Lloyd saw how quality sustained pace could (i) win matches (ii) psychologically cow opposing teams and (iii) engage the crowds making them a virtual twelfth team member on the field of play.

Richards has often supplemented these comments by noting the then unheard-of flow of racial abuse and cries of ‘kill’ directed to Oz bowlers when Windies were frequently on the ropes.  He has always commented that he has never forgotten the experience and that it heavily informed his and his team’s general indifference to ‘easing up’ their opponents regardless of the status of the match or the quality (or lack thereof) of the opposing batsmen (as a footnote, Richards often refers to his 101 at Adelaide as his second fave knock, just behind his 63 against India in Sabina ’83.  He also refers to Roy Fredericks’ gang-busting 169 in Perth as the best knock he ever saw).  

It is ironic that the great Windies run of the late twentieth century was born in the rubble of that infamous Aussie tour and perhaps sadly poetic that their current decline was born at the apex of that run as perspiration and ruthlessness gave way to expectancy alone.

 

 

 



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