It was exactly 14 summers ago, when I, then a 10-year old taking baby step towards becoming the huge aficionado I am now, got lucky enough to witness one of the greatest Test matches ever.
Probably among the first few Test matches I watched as a young fan, the fourth and final Test of Australia’s tour of West Indies in 2003 for the Frank Worrell Trophy had all the ingredients to go down as an iconic Test that would be remembered for years. Temper tantrums, ugly spats, umpiring mistakes, crowd disturbances and more than anything, top quality cricket made for compelling viewing and a record fourth innings chase.
Troubled by the fiery pace of Jermaine Lawson, who scalped his career best figures of 7/78, the Aussies were bowled out for just 240 on Day 1 after winning the toss and opting to bat. However, the Windies could not capitalise on it and were themselves shot out for 240, in spite of skipper Brian Lara’s dominating 68 off 94 balls. Openers Justin Langer and Mathew Hayden cracked quick centuries in the second innings as Australia gave the Windies a mammoth target of 418.
Already 3-0 down in the series, the Windies not only had the daunting task of chasing down a record 418 in the fourth innings at St. Johns to win the game but had to play out more than two days in order to salvage a draw and avoid the embarrassment of being white-washed at home.
Top order collapse and the Sarwan-Chanderpaul partnership
For starters, the opening pair of Chris Gayle and Devon Smith negotiated a testing final session on day three, finishing at 47 for no loss. On the following day, however, both departed in quick succession in the first session and Windies slid to 50/2, bringing skipper Brian Lara to the crease. The legendary batsman had been in fine nick in a fluent knock of 68 in Windies’ first innings.
Starting exactly from where he left off, Lara scored a brisk 60, particularly dominating Stuart MacGill. Lara launched the leggie for three sixes straight down the ground, including two consecutive ones, that took him to his fifty.
However, just when he looked good for a big century, he unwittingly stepped down once too many to MacGill and saw the woodwork disturbed as the leggie got one to spin past Lara’s ambitious bat swing and hit the top of middle stump. Meanwhile, Darren Ganga had also been dismissed by McGrath for a painstaking 8 off 40 balls.
With their skipper back in the pavilion and the score at 165/4 in pursuit of a mammoth chase, all seemed lost for the Windies. However, two of their middle order batsmen refused to simply give up – a young Ramnaresh Sarwan and the ever resolute Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
The pair buckled down for the daunting task ahead, not just playing out time but more importantly, scoring swiftly to build a 123-run partnership for the fifth wicket in the subsequent 26 overs. Their ploy was to make the most of MacGill’s overs but the likes of Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and even Glenn McGrath weren’t spared.
The Ugly Confrontation
Being a bowler who simply hated giving away runs, this phase of play also saw McGrath growing frustrated with the resilient partnership. He lost his cool and vented it all out at Sarwan in one of the ugliest on-field confrontations the game has seen. McGrath at the time was also battling a tough phase in his personal life, with his wife Jane battling cancer.
Although I couldn’t make much of it back then, as I would learn in later years, this was what went on between the two.
While Sarwan was running past McGrath for a single, the bowler asked, “What does Brian Lara’s c*ck taste like? “I don’t know. Ask your wife.” was Sarwan’s quick response. Little did Sarwan know about Jane’s condition and little did McGrath expect such a sharp response. Taken aback, the pacer responded, “If you f**king mention my wife again, I’ll f**king rip your f**king throat out.”
Though the duo have said to have buried the hatchets ever since, this little episode in between did slightly mar an engrossing contest between bat and ball but is now part of cricketing folklore and is remembered every time we rewind to this iconic Test match.
The chase is back on track
Moving on, the partnership grew and Sarwan went on to score the second Test century of his career. However, Windies lost a couple of wickets soon after in Brett Lee’s over and the Aussies would have believed they were then well and truly in control of the game with the Windies slipping to 288/6.
First, a falty hook shot from Sarwan saw him departing on 105 and then David Shepherd wrongly adjudged wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs caught behind off the very next delivery when the ball had actually hit his arm and not any part of the bat or glove.
The umpiring howler and subsequent replays on the screen led to unrest among the crowd, who threw bottles into the ground, and a slight interruption. But Chanderpaul took over from Sarwan and continued battling on with much needed support from No. 8 Omari Banks. The pair brought down the target to less than 100 and safely negotiated the rest of the day’s play to end Day 4 on 371/6, with Chanderpaul unbeaten on 103* and Banks on 28*.
Banks and Drakes complete the historic triumph
Going into the final day of the Test, West Indies still needed another 47 runs to pull off the historic chase and had four wickets in hand. However, the Aussies threw a spanner into the works when they got rid of Chanderpaul. In the fourth over of the day, Chanderpaul was caught behind off Lee, having added only one run to his overnight score. Three more wickets stood between an Aussie victory and history for West Indies. But Banks and the incoming Vasbert Drakes were no mugs with the bat.
The duo dug deep against good bowling from the formidable trio of McGrath, Gillespie and Lee but also did well to not go into a shell and fail to latch on scoring opportunities. With not a lot of runs to get, all the pair had to do was to play sensible cricket by playing out time and capitalising on the occasional bad deliveries. With a mix of stout defence and the occasional boundaries, Banks and Drakes slowly inched towards the score.
Drakes survived a scare when MacGill had him trapped plumb in front of middle stump but umpire Shepherd once again erred, luckily, for the Windies. In little under 13 overs after the fall of Chanderpaul, the pair added 46 runs for the eighth wicket and scripted the still unbeaten world-record chase.
Drakes hit the winning runs off MacGill with a cut through the backward point. The triumph surpassed the previous record — India’s 406 for four to beat West Indies in Port of Spain in 1976 — and handed captain Brian Lara his first success in his second stint as captain. Drakes, unbeaten on 27 and 20-year-old Banks, who was just playing his second Test and scored an unbeaten 47, had both played the most important innings of their careers.Published 14 May 2017, 14:36 IST