Cannot tamper with this history ballUpdated: Jan 17, 2019, 09:59 IST
Australia's recent completion of 1,000 international victories is remarkable enough to underline the quality of players they've produced over the years
I go back to the 1949-50 series in South Africa. At Durban, SA dismissed Australia for 75 but the hosts did not enforce the follow on, in anticipation of a storm which didn't show up. SA were bowled out for 99. Chasing 336 for victory, Neil Harvey, otherwise a free-flowing strokeplayer, went on to play an uncharacteristic innings that thwarted SA for 328 minutes. When he reached his hundred, Australia couldn't lose; and when he flicked one 50 runs later, Australia won. In 1961, Richie Benaud's shoulder injury prevented him from leading his country at Lord's. It gave Harvey his solitary chance to captain Australia and he did it with great success.
England bounced back in the next Test at Leeds and were all set for yet another triumph in Manchester when Benaud, in a desperate bid to win, decided to bowl around the wicket into the footmarks left by the England bowlers. England needed to score 256 and were well placed at 150 for one when Benaud had Ted Dexter snicking one to Wally Grout for 76. Skipper Benaud was unstoppable and Australia ended up winning by 54 runs. His decision to bowl around the wicket was taken on the advice of former star Ray Lindwall the previous evening. "If you do it, do it well, else they'll kill you," Lindwall told Benaud. Australia's Oval Test victory in 1972 did not provide them Ashes honours like in 1961, but ask Ian Chappell to name his top five moments as captain and this match won't be low down.
Chappell was captain for the last Test of the previous Ashes at Sydney, where England clinched the Ashes. His side had been at the receiving end in the Leeds Test of the 1972 Ashes when a strange fungus attacked only the pitch and not the outfield. As expected, Australia lost and the series scoreline read England 2, Australia 1 before the Oval finale. Chappell, who wouldn't take any sort of moaning from his players with regard to the Leeds pitch, was clear in his pre-Test talk to the team: "I am convinced that we are the better side, but I won't be able to say that back home if we don't win here." Chappell set out to lead by example. In response to England's first innings score of 284, he and brother Greg scored hundreds to boost Australia's total to 399. England fared better in the second innings with 356 and Australia were set 242 to win, which they did with five wickets to spare.
That win set the tone for another phase of Australian dominance. The 1977 Centenary Test went down as a memorable win too — not bad for a side which had been bowled out for 138 on Day One. Dennis Lillee, who had claimed 10 wickets in the 1972 Oval Test, was the star here as well with 11 wickets. There is a compelling reason why Lillee is rated as Australia's greatest fast bowler. In 1981-82, he was not as swift as he was in the earlier decade but wily as ever in the opening Test against the West Indies at Melbourne. But first, a blonde called Kimberley John Hughes. Michael Holding and Andy Roberts had reduced Australia to eight for three wickets and Hughes walked into cricket's Colosseum to do battle against the best team in the world. Blows to his foot and thigh were shrugged off and he indulged in some brave strokeplay.
He drove, cut, hooked and admitted getting carried away trying to hook Roberts again. In the book, Golden Boy by Christian Ryan, Hughes is quoted as saying, "Roberts gave me a look that said, don't get too clever." The seam, according to Ryan, shaved Hughes's skull. Hughes got to his well-deserved 100 and he could have easily ended up joining fellow Australians David Hookes and Peter Toohey to have been struck brutally by Roberts. The rest of the batsmen scored only 83 runs while he progressed from 71 to 100 with No. 11 Terry Alderman at the other end. As a schoolboy who followed that Test, I became more of a Kim Hughes fan. Later that day, Lillee followed up his dismissal of Desmond Haynes by getting rid of nightwatchman Colin Croft and vice-captain Viv Richards off successive balls. Richards was foxed by a ball which brought about an inside edge. His stumps were shattered off the last delivery of the day.
The following day, Lillee became the highest wicket-taker in world cricket when he went past Lance Gibbs's mark of 309 and claimed seven for 83. A spell of three for 44 in the second innings helped break West Indies' 15-Test unbeaten sequence. Lillee caused a revival in Australian cricket during the early 1970s. He was fast, foxy and formidable, the F words that his country's cricket so badly need in their hour of crisis. Yes, quite a few Australians have not played the game in the right way in their quest to win, but a large number of them have and for that Australia deserves 1,000 toasts.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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