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On this day: Steve Waugh’s resistance brought about a new era in Australian Cricket

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“To be the world’s best, you have to beat the world’s best.” ~ Dorothy Hamill. A certain individual named Steven Waugh would turn out to be a good example for the above quote a few years later.

West Indies had ruled the roost over the game of Cricket for a good 20 years going into the ’90s, with their pack of fast bowlers intimidating, terrorizing, and dismissing the best batsmen all around the world. While they did not talk to or sledge the batsmen like your average fast bowler, they did not need to, the very sight of the likes of Griffith, Marshall, Roberts, Garner, Holding, Colin Croft steaming in were enough for the batsmen to wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Most of the batsmen across the cricket playing nations back then were mentally destroyed after coming across them. Some of them quit the game, some of them suffered career threatening injuries, and the rest of them just gave in to their might. Although, there were a few batsmen who had the courage to grind it out, occasionally taking agonizing blows to the body, and tried to score runs. Very few batsmen have been able to dominate the West Indies bowling in their prime. There was no respite for them, even if the batsmen somehow managed to play out the two opening bowlers, they found, to their dismay, two other bowlers who were equally as quick being introduced into the attack. Add to that the long list of skillful, masterly batsmen the West Indies had, namely, the iconic opening pair of Greenidge and Haynes, Sobers, Kanhai, Kalicharran, Viv Richards, Lloyd, the list goes on. After a turbulent start to the ’70s, the emergence of the above Cricketers, plus the appointment of Clive Lloyd as captain of the side, meant that the following decade would be dominated by the contingent from the Caribbean.

Australia, on the other hand, had a fairly good run in the early 70’s after losing the Ashes at home to England in 1971, which can be attributed to the controversial sacking of the then captain, Bill Lawry. With ace Cricketers like Ian and Greg Chappell, Doug Walters, Rodney Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, they went on to win the Ashes twice after that, beat the West Indies at the Caribbean in 1973, and enjoyed numerous Test Series wins at home. Then came along an offer from Australian business tycoon Kerry Packer to 35 of the World’s best Cricketers, to play televised limited overs Cricket under floodlights in coloured clothing. Frowned upon at first, the cricket boards of the other countries were behind their Cricketers in taking part in this new format. But the country playing host to this new form of Cricket suffered the most, as 18 of their best Cricketers were signed up, meaning that Australian cricket were divided into two parts. Due to Australia’s poor performances in Tests that followed, and the success of WSC, the Cricket Board offered to reach a settlement with Packer, thus giving birth to the World Series Cup. But the damage was already done. Post the retirement of the likes of the Chappell brothers and Rodney Marsh, Australia went on to suffer defeat after defeat in Tests. Their nadir came when they suffered a 3-1 Test series defeat at home to their arch nemesis in that era, the West Indies, causing the then Australian captain Kim Hughes to resign in tears midway through the series. Allan Border, a tough, stocky left handed Queenslander had to take over the reigns reluctantly. Although he had a horrible start to his captaincy career, his team losing to New Zealand in the summer of 1985-86 once each at home and away, and then completely battered by their arch rivals England in the following summer, losing the Ashes, the Perth Challenge and the World Series Cup, he was destined to bring better days for Australian Cricket.

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March 1995. Australia, led by Mark Taylor, travelled to the West Indies for a 5 match ODI series followed by a 4 match Test Series. Since the season of 1986-87, Australia went on to win the 1987 World Cup, triumphed in quite a few multi national World Series tournaments all around the World, and beat England 4 consecutive times in an Ashes series, twice each at home and away. The retirement of Allan Border the previous year meant that Mark Taylor was picked to lead the team in Baggy Greens. They were coming off an Ashes win against England at home and a Centenary Cup win in New Zealand. West Indies, on the other hand, were yet to taste a series defeat since the ’80s, despite their best bunch of Cricketers retiring from the sport. The emergence of several stars such as Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper, Junior Murray, Ian Bishop, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, adding to that the leadership of an experienced Richie Richardson meant that West Indies Cricket would still be a tough team to beat.

Australia’s last visit to the West Indies back in 1991 was bittersweet, they beat the West Indies 4-1 in the ODI series but went on to lose the Test Series 2-1. The following year, West Indies travelled to Australia and won both the Test Series and the World Series Cup. It was the West Indies who triumphed in the ODI series 4-1 this time, as the two teams geared up for the Test Series.

Fifties from Taylor, Steve Waugh and Healy and 8 wickets in the match by Glenn McGrath meant that Australia won the first Test at Bridgetown by 10 wickets, and in with an advantage going to Antigua. Rain played spoilsport in the 2nd Test, meaning that the two sides had the share the spoils. Mark Taylor, in the presentation ceremony, said, “Now we’re very confident at this stage. Two Test matches left, we’ve only got to win one of them.”

On the 21st of April, 1995, the Australian Cricket team were welcomed to a lush green pitch in Trinidad, much to the horror of all the players. Michael Holding said in his pitch report, “Well, usually here in Queens Park Oval, I’m usually in pretty familiar surroundings. Not so today. There’s a lot of grass on this pitch, and very green grass at that. Usually, there’s lower grass than this. This very long grass is naturally growing out of the surface, and so I feel it will certainly help the fast bowlers a lot.”

Mark Taylor was certainly not helped by his sheer bad luck of losing tosses, calling tails and losing for the 6th time in a row, as West Indies captain Richie Richardson sent Australia in to bat.

Former Australian opener Greg Blewett said in a documentary made on this very series by Fox Sports, “Their fast bowlers on that pitch was always going to be hard to negotiate, and quite frankly, they bowled really well, and we just weren’t up to the challenge.”

Australia were 14/3 when David Boon was joined by Steve Waugh to steady the ship. The West Indian fast bowlers were on song, bolstered by the favourable conditions. The ball was seaming and deviating a good few inches after pitching at a length. Boon, in particular, looked completely hapless, with a sheepish smirk on his face after playing and missing countless times as to suggest, “How am I supposed to play at these?”

Thankfully for the two batsmen, shortly afterwards, the players had to go off due to a sudden downpour. Steve Waugh was more annoyed than anyone else due to the fact that there had been more water out into that pitch.

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14th Over, Australia’s First Innings. Curtly Ambrose bowled a bouncer to Steve Waugh, who comfortably ducked under it. The ball carried through to the wicketkeeper, Junior Murray. Ambrose, in his follow through, gave Steve Waugh a customary fast bowler’s glare. Steve Waugh, standing his ground like John Wayne according to Wisden, stared back and nonchalantly said the following words, ” The f*** you looking at? Go back and bowl.”

The last time an Australian tried to rattle Curtly Ambrose up was two years prior to this incident. In the 1st Final of the World Series Cup in 1993, Australian middle order batsman Dean Jones walked out to the centre and asked the umpires to insist Curtly Ambrose to take the white sweatband off his right wrist. According to Jones, he was looking for release points, so he wanted to get a better view of the ball. This did not quite go down well with the 11 West Indies players AND non striker Mark Taylor. Ambrose went on to take 5/32 as West Indies won that game by 25 runs.

Ambrose’s glare turned sharper, as he asked if he actually swore to him. That’s when Steve Waugh snapped back, “I can say whatever I want to say.” At this point, Ambrose had enough.

“That was when I ripped into him and let him have it: ‘Man, don’t you effing swear at me again.’ And I don’t swear a lot so for me to use expletives it was clear that my anger was at boiling point.” Ambrose wrote in his autobiography, Curtly Ambrose, time to talk.
“I lost it. If he had said nothing to what I had asked him, or even told me he didn’t swear, it would have ended right there, but when he came back at me again with all guns blazing, there was no holding back.”

The situation got so heated that West Indies captain Richie Richardson had to intervene and drag the 6’8″ tall fast bowler away from determined, defiant frame of Steve Waugh.

“I got seriously heated. I told him, ‘Man, I will knock you out – here and now. I don’t care if I have no career left’. That was when Richie intervened and told me to forget about it, and it was a good job he did because my ability to restrain myself was gone.” The 98 Test veteran with 405 wickets to his credit wrote.

The crowd was into the contest. Tony Cozier in the commentary box was shocked by the series of events. The next two balls were at Waugh’s ribs at express pace, Waugh got hit on the glove as well, and the last ball of the over was played and missed by him.
As the over came to an end, Tony Cozier aptly remarked, “And that’s the end of an over which will be written about in all the papers tomorrow, and will be discussed for many years to come by those who have watched it.”

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Allan Border said in the documentary, “I got the feeling that was a real mood changer in the Australian camp, you know, for years and years and years the West Indies have been dominating the Australian sides and, you know, I was part of that era, it was just very hard to get on top of them, and I just got the feeling that there was a change in attitude that typified that we weren’t going to back down.”

After the day’s play ended, upon asked about what happened out there, Waugh calmly replied, “It was just tough Cricket, tough Test match Cricket. I’m at it with the bat, he’s at it with the ball, we’re trying to do our best, but sometimes, tempers flare up, but, I thought it was playing in the right spirit. He bowled pretty well, I batted pretty well.”

Out of the 128 runs Australia could manage in the first Innings, Steve Waugh stood around like a lone warrior, scoring 63 of them and remaining unbeaten in the end. McGrath and Paul Reiffel, motivated by Steve Waugh’s efforts, took out the West Indies top order.

West Indies were starting to build momentum into their first innings when the man who rescued his team in the first Innings, Steve Waugh, got the well set Carl Hooper out. West Indies slid to 136 all out, with McGrath taking 6/47.

Alas, the efforts of Sr. Waugh and McGrath went in vain, as the fast bowling trio of Ambrose, Walsh and Kenny Benjamin took the second Innings wickets of Australia among themselves for only a 105 runs. West Indies went on to chase a paltry target of 98 to win the third Test by 9 wickets, and levelling the series 1-1. This meant that the final Test match at Jamaica had everything to play for.

A hundred from West Indies captain Richardson and a 75 ball 68 from Brian Lara were the only major batting efforts from the West Indies in the first Innings of the final Test of this enthralling Test series. Despite opting to bat after winning the toss on a shiny, dead flat pitch with a few cracks on it, West Indies collapsed to 265 all out on the first day itself. The Waugh twins, Mark and Steve, dug in after Australia were reduced to 73/3. When Mark got out, Australia’s score stood at 304, 39 runs clear of the total of West Indies. Elder brother Steve picked up from where he left off in the previous Test, scoring his maiden Test double hundred, as Australia piled up a mammoth 531 runs on the board. Apart from some resistance from nightwatchman Winston Benjamin, there wasn’t much fight from the remaining West Indies batsmen. West Indies 213 all out, Australia won the match by an Innings and 53 runs, and with that, became the first team to win a Test series against the West Indies in 15 years. A new era was born.