Cricket's closest contests: Australia vs West Indies, Sydney, 1996
As a twenty-year-old, I didn’t witness this epic match live on TV as it happened, but when I turn back the pages of history, this Bevan special certainly comes to the forefront as one of the most exciting contests in the game of cricket. This game is more important, considering the fact this was the first of those numerous match-turning innings that came from Michael Bevan’s willow. It was a transition phase for both the teams, with the Caribbeans descending from their throne and the Aussies climbing the ladder to glory.
It was New Year’s Day at Sydney and the big stadium was almost full, in spite of the prediction of heavy showers on the day. It was the visiting side led by Courtney Walsh that won the toss and decided to bat first. Glenn McGrath and Paul Reiffel opened the new ball attack, with humidity and conditions in their favour. The West Indies’ batsmen were exposed early in the innings. Stuart Williams, Phil Simmons and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were off to the pavilion with the scoreboard at 28, courtesy Reiffel.
Sherwin Campbell held fort for some time with Carl Hooper joining him at the other end, and then the rain gods seemed to have answered the West Indian prayers. The match was interrupted after 17 overs, with rain accounting for 108 minutes of play. As there was no efficient calculation system in picture, the match was made a 43 overs-a-side affair as the West Indian batsmen strolled back into the crease.
Shane Warne was introduced immediately post resumption and broke Campbell’s defence immediately, with his very first ball. Jimmy Adams, too, followed suit without troubling the scorers. At 54/5, darkness loomed on the West Indian side before Hooper took centre-stage. He took responsibility and carefully evaded the spin-pace combo by almost scoring a-run-a-ball. The timely boundaries kept coming and he was ably supported by Roger Harper, who batted hard to save his skin.
Hooper played some good strokes off part-timer Michael Bevan, but as the death overs approached, Reiffel, McGrath and Warne did a decent job in ripping the tail and thereby restricting the visitors to 172/9 in their allotted 43 overs, guided by an able 93 from Carl Hooper. The top four Australian bowlers conceded runs lesser than 3.5 runs-per-over while Paul Reiffel and Shane Warne scalped four and three of the opposition batsmen respectively.
The Aussies were expected to have an easy time, with the required run rate just over four runs. But the formidable West Indian pace attack had different ideas. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose bowled almost unplayable deliveries at the Australian top-order and skipper Mark Taylor was the first to depart after a needless run-out in the second over. Michael Slater, Ricky Ponting and Stuart Law followed suit with Ambrose looking lethal with the ball.
A youngster named Michael Bevan walked in front of the crowded SCG, but still, all eyes were on Mark Waugh who was at the other end. But Ottis Gibson ensured that the rhythm of the opening bowling combination didn’t go down as he dismissed Waugh and Shane Lee in the space of three deliveries, to leave the hosts reeling at 38/6. Ian Healy joined Bevan at the crease and the two looked to play some sensible batting the host. That didn’t last too long though as Healy was accounted for by Harper and at 74/7, with the tail exposed, an Australian victory looked the most impossible of all possible scenarios.
Bevan batted through the odds and was given able support by Paul Reiffel from the other end, who had decided to carry forward the fight, from the ball to the bat. Bevan was keen on keeping the scoreboard ticking, taking on the attack to all bowlers alike. He got a reprieve early in the innings when Roger Harper grassed a pretty easy catch and except that, Bevan’s innings was flawless, considering the pressure and the situation in which he made his knock. Reiffel was dismissed with sixteen more runs still required and Warne came out to the middle. Bevan shielded his partner, taking the match to the final over, with seven required off Roger Harper’s bowling.
Ball 1: Harper to Warne, defended straight back to the bowler, 7 required off 5
Ball 2: Harper to Warne, down the leg side, wide, 6 required off 5
Ball 2: Harper to Warne, dabs the ball to point, Warne run out while attempting a single 6 required off 4
Ball 3: Harper to Bevan, tries to hit it past cover, but gets only a single, 5 required off 3
Ball 4: Harper to McGrath, hits some part of McGrath’s bat and they run for a quick single, 4 off 2
Ball 5: Harper to Bevan, hits it back to the bowler, 4 off 1
Ball 6: Lofts it straight back over the bowler’s head for a boundary, AUSTRALIA WIN! Harper comes up to Bevan and does a high-five and now the whole crowd gets electrifying!
Bevan looked calm and composed and it looked like his calculation on the reputed West Indian bowling attack was done much earlier. The balls were middled, the ones were converted into twos, the twos into threes and there were those odd boundaries that came when the run rate slowed down. It was more of a mature innings, a solid one. The role of a finisher was redefined and serenity seemed to have been bestowed upon Michael Bevan. The innings was an example of one of the greatest batsmen in the history of the limited overs game.