Welcome to the series where we relive a moment, a game in history that has changed the way the sport has been played, in our weekly segment. Today, we go back to the biggest chase in the history of Test cricket, where underdogs West Indies punched above their weight to down the formidable Aussies.
It’s May 13, 2003, and we are at the Antigua Recreation Ground, St John’s, in what is turning out to be arguably the most historic Test moment in the folklore of West Indies cricket. The crowd is going bonkers, in the most Carribean style, as they can sense the aroma of something sensational and never seen before. And it’s due to the fact that Australia are at the receiving end of something as monumental as this, the great Aussies, the world winners, a team with a galaxy of stars, a team that knows how to turn even the worst of situations into their favor by hook or cook, a team that never gives up, a team beating which is as remarkable as anything in world. The heat is on. West Indies are a shot away from history. Vasbert Drakes is a shot away from being remembered and cherished for ages.
The whole crowd is on its feet. Tension is palpable on the face of the Aussies. The Windies are trying and failing incessantly to put up a brave face. Everything has come to a standstill. The whole Caribbean is watching. The whole cricket world is holding its breath. All the cricket fans have gathered in their living room. They want to remember for eternity how history was made. They can’t wait to tell their kids, grand kids, the fairy tale story of how an epic David vs Goliath battle unfolded in front of their eyes. It’s been a roller coaster ride. Stuart MacGill has the ball in the hand. Will Drakes do it for the millions of Caribbean people or does the leggie still have some magic up his sleeve? But, wait, we ought to know the backstory, how did this Test match reach this classic climax?
Coming into the series, West Indies were no longer the mighty West Indies. They were all glory stories of years gone by. The 70s, 80s or even the early half of the 90s were now enchanting stories of the past. It was all gone, down in the Ashes. Reality bites when one puts into context that the Caribbean side had entered the series winning only three of the last 10 Test series that they had played, of which two came against a relatively weak Bangladesh and Zimbabwe sides.
Against Australia, their record was even more dreadful. They had not won a series against them since 1992/93, more than a decade, and across four series they had lost three, while one ended in a drawn series. Coming into the fourth and final Test at St John’s, West Indies were again getting humiliated. Australia had already won the four-match series 3-0. Pretty much like the last Frank Worrell Trophy where Australia had roughened up Windies by whitewashing them 5-0 Down Under, another clean sweep looked inevitable.
Talking about Australia, they headed into the series or the last few years, as a matter of fact, the best team in world cricket by a country mile. They had experienced the high of winning the Ashes series at home last time they had donned the whites. They were unbeaten in a Test series since the 2001 loss at the hands of India. In fact, they had won four of their last five Test series with one ending in a draw. They were no less than the invincibles of the world.
So in the fourth and final Test in Antigua, Jermaine Lawson, who had taken a hat-trick in the last Test, took his game a notch higher with his hostile bowling that finished with figures of 7 for 78 as Australians were skittled out for 240. Despite getting starts none of Justin Langer, Martin Love, Steve Waugh or Adam Gilchrist, could convert their starts even into fifties. No one but Brian Charles Lara put up a show for West Indies with a stellar 68 that helped them finish on 240 cancelling Australia’s first innings total. The game was even stevens at halfway stage.
But the ruthless Australians were never going to give it away easily. Fighting was their second nature. To make up for their first innings inefficiency, this time the Aussie openers went crazy and added 242 runs for the opening stand alone. More than first innings totals of both the sides. Runs came thick and fast at 4.73 as Matthew Hayden (177) and Justin Langer (117) made centuries each.
But remarkably enough, there was a collapse for the tourists. It meant their last nine wickets could only add 175 but that left 418 runs for Windies to win the game, which was a record chase, achieved by none since cricket commenced in 1877. Australia had looted Omari Banks and Vasbert Drakes the most as they conceded 4.14 and 4.84 RPO after bowling 37 and 19 overs respectively.
West Indies had a decent start of 48 but soon, it turned into 74 for 3, with a clean sweep staring West Indies in their eyes. But the hosts were hopeful of their prince Brian Lara’s mastery or something from the talented duo of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The pitch was sun-baked, full of Calypso flavor. The prince looked in blazing from. After all, he always loved hammering Aussie bowlers. He was in smacking form yet again. But on 60, when he tried to blast Stuart MacGill out of the ground for his fourth six of the innings, the Aussie spinner showcased he might not be Shane Warne but good enough to bamboozle the prince. MacGill had smashed Lara’s stumps. Also Windies’ chances. The broken stumps symbolized Windies broken hopes.
But Sarwan and Chanderpaul were not ready to give up. For Chanderpaul, for far too long he had played under the shadow of genius Lara. For Sarwan, he had to prove that there’s more to him than just talent and inconsistency. The partnership started growing. But the chase remained a long shot. At least, that’s what everyone thought. For too long and too many times, they had seen fight from the opposition against Australia that later turned into submission crossing the line. But the line was crossed even before the game reached its climax.
This is the game when Sarwan locked horns with McGrath. The game where tempers flared to an extent that Mcgrath was ready to “f**king rip” Sarwan’s “f**king throat”. The moment which great McGrath still regrets the most. The game where Australia’s fiery mental disintegration under Steve Waugh and the bitter skirmishes had reached an unacceptable level. But Mcgrath’s frustration lay in the manner Sarwan and Chanderpaul were batting. They were cutting, pulling, hooking, glancing and smashing Australia’s ego with the willow in hand. Those authoritative shots were too dominating for invincibles of world cricket. One they couldn’t take.
The partnership between Chanderpaul and Sarwan reached the three-figure mark in 138 deliveries. They added 123 but Sarwan was dismissed after a counter attacking 105 at a SR of 75.54 and Ridley Jacobs on a duck in quick time. A familiar collapse beckoned. Heart had started sinking for Windies supporters. They had gotten used to disappointment not hope. Chasing 130 with four wickets in hand seemed as difficult as climbing the Mt. Everest.
With a broken finger but not spirit, Chanderpaul was intent on giving it back to the Australians in the best possible way- runs. He kept attacking Australia. He added 84 runs with Omari Banks. Windies could suddenly hope. A record chase was in sight.
All that the hosts needed on day five was 47 runs with four wickets in hand. It was no longer as complex. But with Australia, you never knew. The chastened and revivified pair of Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie were steaming in with a newish ball on day five. Rockets in the form of deliveries were unleashed to stop the great Windies victory. It was a dead rubber but for Aussies, it was a matter of life and death. That’s how they played cricket. The tough cricket. Centurion Chanderpaul was out early to Lee.
46 looked distant with three wickets in hand. But masses had gathered to witness history. They were praying, they were everything they could to boost Omari Banks and Vasbert Drake. The much targeted down on confidence bowlers from Australia’s second innings. But life was giving them the second chance. A historical second chance for redemption. Will they defend, play the ball on merit or commit harakiri? They decided to counter punch Aussies in their gut. A historical victory without audacity? Nah.
There were edges, balls landing in the gaps, a reprieve, a six, ferocious bouncers and what not. But then came the 129th over. After weathering the storm, Windies were just nine runs away. In his second Test, the 20-year-old and much bankable Banks collected boundary of MacGill’s first ball. Now, only five runs were needed. There was an LBW shout, then a single of a wide full-toss, which brought down the equation to four runs with three wickets in hand.
The biggest moment of Drakes’ life beckoned. Brian Lara and his men were nervous in the dressing room. The crowd was on its feet in all its might in what was turning out to be an all-time classic. This was the moment. It had the plausibility of reinvigorating West Indies cricket. Of inspiring generations to come. After conceding the world record chase of 406 to India in Port of Spain in 1976, it was their moment to replace the bad memories and carve the highest Test chase ever. It was historic, it was tense, it was magic, a moment to savor for decades.
But Australia, they just needed to get rid of Drakes on final delivery of the over and then try their luck out may be with Brett Lee’s yorkers and bouncers or McGrath’s top off mad accuracy to new batsmen. But before that, can MacGill produce magic and send back Drakes or not? Let’s find out.