x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Australia's recent tour a blast from the past

Frank Worrell Trophy this year a throwback to a time when rivalry with West Indies was simmering, writes Dileep Premachandran.

Even though Michael Clarke, centre, led Australia to a 2-0 Test series victory over the West Indies earlier in the week, both teams seem to be trending upwards. Emmanuel Dunand / AFP
Even though Michael Clarke, centre, led Australia to a 2-0 Test series victory over the West Indies earlier in the week, both teams seem to be trending upwards. Emmanuel Dunand / AFP

It is a little over half a century since the West Indies toured Australia for a series that played a huge part in reviving Test cricket after several years of stultifying defensive tactics.

Sir Frank Worrell's team may have lost 2-1 – the first Test, which ended in a tie, is perhaps cricket's most famous game – but the brand of cricket they played won them thousands of admirers.

"Commerce in [Melbourne] stood almost still as the smiling cricketers from the West Indies, the vanquished not the victors, were given a send-off the like of which is normally reserved for royalty and national heroes," wrote the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.

In the years that followed, the rivalry supplanted even the Ashes in the hearts of the game's followers worldwide.

For much of the next four decades, a West Indies versus Australia contest was a de facto world championship.

Both teams boasted fearsome pace attacks and had batsmen that combined style and belligerence.

Australia laid down a marker with a 5-1 thrashing of Clive Lloyd's team in 1975/76, but the lessons that the West Indies learnt from that debacle allowed them to dominate the game for nearly two decades.

Both the 2005 Ashes and the 2001 series between India and Australia have their votaries when it comes to naming the greatest contest of the modern age.

Neither, though, marked the end of an era, not in the manner of the titanic contest in the Caribbean in 1995.

After years of coming close – Australia lost by a run in Adelaide in 1992/93, when victory would have given them the series – the men in the baggy green finally succeeded in knocking West Indies off their perch.

It was cricket of the highest intensity, with highly skilled batsmen withstanding ferocious spells from some of the greatest fast bowlers to have played the game.

In the end, Steve Waugh's double-century and his twin Mark's hundred were the difference as Australia won the match and series at Sabina Park.

Pictures of Steve Waugh's torso taken after the innings reveal just how much of an ordeal it was, with multicoloured bruises and welts worn almost as badges of honour.

Since then, the contests for the trophy named after Worrell have not had the same resonance.

That 1995 defeat was followed by a steep decline in West Indian fortunes.

Australia went from strength to strength, putting together two 16-match winning streaks in the first decade of the new millennium. Even the West Indies at their best had never managed more than 11.

When Australia journeyed to the Caribbean last month, both teams were at something of a crossroads.

The West Indies had played India home and away earlier in the season and competed strongly.

They had lost 1-0 at home and 2-0 away, with the scorelines not reflecting just how hard they had pushed the Indians, especially on the subcontinent.

The fast bowlers had strived hard and a new generation of batsmen, with the experienced Shivnarine Chanderpaul providing the nous, had hinted at better times being around the corner. But Caribbean cricket has been waiting for a revival for a decade now. Sooner or later, you need results.

When Greg Chappell, India's coach on the tour of 2006, upset the locals by suggesting that the West Indies had "forgotten how to win", he wasn't that far off the mark.

Ottis Gibson, who has presided over the creation of a new nucleus in the past 18 months, tends to agree, pointing to missed chances at last year's World Cup and during several Test matches.

For Australia, the challenge at the start of 2011/12 was to get out of the trenches. England had administered a 3-1 hammering in an Ashes series on home soil, and the selectors had drawn a line under Ricky Ponting's captaincy. Under Michael Clarke, the first shoots of a new era were quick to show.

After a demoralising defeat in Cape Town, Australia stormed back to level the series against South Africa at the Wanderers, with the 18-year-old Pat Cummins being the star turn.

The home Tests against New Zealand featured similar inconsistency. Victory in Brisbane was followed by defeat in Hobart, despite a magnificent unbeaten century from David Warner.

India were overwhelmed over four Tests, with an ageing, listless side no match for a vibrant Australian team that unleashed a succession of fast bowlers at the visitors.

Clarke himself made a triple-century and there were runs aplenty for Ponting as the humiliations of the previous home summer were gradually forgotten.

In the Caribbean, we got a series that was mostly about attrition, a throwback to three or four decades ago. The West Indies were missing stars such as Chris Gayle, but on slow surfaces that took turn, they held their own for long periods.

It took an imaginative decision from Clarke to open up the first Test and he was at it again in the second before rain ruined the final day. In Dominica, the West Indies again held sway before Matthew Wade's century wrested control for Australia.

At the end of it, Australia are once again eyeing the top of the tree. The key to their Ashes hopes in 2013 will be keeping the likes of Cummins and James Pattinson fit.

They might also need to find a couple of batsmen, with Ponting and Hussey getting on.

As for the West Indies, they had the bowler of the series in Kemar Roach, who took 19 wickets. With decent support for him, they could cause England problems this summer. Chanderpaul remains as consistent as ever, and it is his combination with the exciting Darren Bravo that holds the key to their short-term future.

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