By the skin of their teeth; Walsh and Phil Simmons are ecstatic after the last wicket

By the skin of their teeth; Walsh and Phil Simmons are ecstatic after the last wicket © Getty Images

I had been recalled to the side after four years to play at my home ground in this Test, and I was very excited. I had been having a good domestic season but was still surprised to be picked ahead of Greg Matthews. Anyway, once you get an opportunity you've got to snap it up, and that's what I did.

I got two wickets in the first innings - Desmond Haynes stumped off a terrible full-toss down the leg side, and Keith Arthurton caught at point - and I felt my comeback was coming along okay.

West Indies got only 250-odd, but when we batted, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, along with Ian Bishop and Kenny Benjamin, did enough to keep our batsmen in check. Ambrose was pumped up, especially after the incident during the tri-series where Dean Jones had complained about his wrist band obstructing the batsman's vision when Curtly was bowling. After that Curtly had shifted to a higher gear; he was hunting us down. He finished with six wickets in our first innings, giving his side a lead of about 40 runs.

West Indies had added some 100 runs to their lead when Allan Border brought me on to bowl. He had wanted to bowl me earlier but I had had a fielding mishap: I had managed to puncture my thumb with one of the spikes on my boot, and had got my hand strapped. But when I came back and picked up the ball and bowled practice balls to AB at mid-off, it just felt scarily good.

There are days when you just struggle to hold on to the ball - you can't put as much zip on it as you want because the seam is flat or the field has made the ball slippery. But that day it felt terrific. It was the third day, and the Adelaide Oval pitch had bounce and a bit of turn. It was a good wicket to bowl spin on, and things just went my way.

I bowled a ridiculously small number of overs (6.5) for a ridiculously large number of wickets (five).

The first one was the danger man, Carl Hooper, caught in the deep by Merv Hughes when he top-edged a sweep. The rest followed so quickly that it felt like a blur.

It was terrific that I had got five wickets and had restricted the opposition to 146, but I didn't feel too satisfied. When you take five for 60-odd off 30-odd overs, and you have to work hard and use your head, it feels satisfying. Here I felt like I had not earned the wickets, well as I may have bowled.

The next day, Australia Day, was also my birthday. We only needed 186 runs and we had two days in which to get them. But by the time I walked in, things had gone pear-shaped for us. Ambrose once again bowled a significant spell just after lunch, picking up the wickets of Steve Waugh and Border in quick sucession - two backbone-y sort of batsmen. That was a big blow.

I was feeling pretty confident, though, when I joined Justin Langer, who was making his debut. We needed a little over 80 runs. It was the last over before tea and I cover-drove the last ball, off Bishop, which added to my confidence. In the dressing room during the break Langer and I agreed: "Yeah, mate, we're gonna make a fist of this."

We inched ahead, but then Langer got out with 42 still needed. Last man Craig McDermott wasn't a success against fast bowlers and I thought the end was nigh. But he stuck around courageously, batting straight and making runs, and that gave me hope.

We refused to look at the scoreboard because that takes your mind off the most important thing, which is the next ball. We kept getting closer and closer and the crowd kept getting bigger and bigger and the chants of "Waltzing Matilda" grew louder and louder.

When we were just one run behind, Craig tried to fend off a Walsh bouncer and was given out caught behind in controversial circumstances. I was in a poor position to judge because when Craig tried to avoid the ball, his back was towards me. There was definitely a noise, and lots of people had plenty to say later about what exactly the ball hit.

Back in the dressing room, though, no one said anything for 20 minutes. There was nothing left to say. It was so bloody close in the end. The one-run defeat - still the only game in Test-match history to have finished by that margin - still bites me. When I batted, I kept saying to myself, "It's Australia Day, it's my birthday; of course, we're going to win." It didn't work out like that. Frustrating. It continues to hurt still.

As told to Nagraj Gollapudi. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine



  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | January 28, 2010, 3:37 GMT

    walsh! one of the greats!! i hope i was there :p

  • POSTED BY Sam on | January 28, 2010, 1:52 GMT

    I remember I was 12. There were two or three wickets to go and i asked dad to drive me in to get in for free because the gates would've been open. To my amazement he said yes! As we were driving in one or two wickets fell so we thought we would turn up to see a match already completed. We ended up seeing a good whole hour and a half (or about that) for free! Both batsmen (mc dermott and May) looked very professional and seemed like they could get the runs.

    I'm remember one of the batsmen hit the ball quite well, but then it seemed to hit a seagull and didn't quite make it for four.

    Could it be that it was a seagull that won the match and not just an umpire descision that didn't seem to seriously take into account enoough the rule 'benefit of doubt.

    I guess in the whole sceme of things it didn't really matter, because the Australians showed their true character of 'aussie battler' and although Australia didn't win the series, they went on to become world dominators. Amazing!!

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | January 27, 2010, 18:24 GMT

    Look at the three prominent names mentioned in the article .... Ambrose , Walsh and Bishop ..... another not so prominent Kenny Benjamin .... that was a bowling attack any captain could dream for ..... you dont need strategies for such a bowling attack ........ and even the useless of strategies look wonderful because the bowlers here made the things happen ...... The fast bowlers left the scene and we saw the decay of one of the greatest cricket teams of the century ..... hats off to the fast bowlers from the Caribbean ........ Wish the great batsmen of these modern times came across them ........ would have been a fascinating contest to watch ....... and of course the test matches would have sustained their popularity .........

  • POSTED BY thimothy on | January 27, 2010, 17:42 GMT

    i was just a boy at that time, therefore i vaguely have much recollection of that series BUT what i do remember is sitting in the living room whlie my mother pierced next to me with her smile on one end of the couch and mine on the other, with the looks of the 'Skipper and Gilligan' on our faces as if the professor/one of the great pacemen of the era was just about to save the day once again...and while Igarth80 is more or less accurate about the mighty WI losing their grip on a substanial ranking position in the test arena, i also ask of you to acknowledge the fact that the WI team of that time did not have any of the technological advancements in the cricket world to help with the training...it was just a stroke of pure talent....and when the australia team can perform on raw talent then i hope you post another comment...

    timmy...a true WEST INDIAN fan from trinidad and tobago

  • POSTED BY Lucas on | January 27, 2010, 2:15 GMT

    No doubt it was off his helmet. Hot Spot would have won the Aussies the Frank Worrell Trophy. As it was it only took one more tour to knock the West Indies off their high perch.

  • POSTED BY Aaron on | January 26, 2010, 22:55 GMT

    Firmly in the WI Camp,my flatmates and I watched incredously as it appeared the Aussies were going to get there needing a relatively huge score with their two last wickets in hand. There were some pretty dodgy calls made by the umpires during the course of that last wicket from memory, but that was always the case whenever D Hair was one of the officials in a home test. Good on him for making the right call on the last wicket. In the end nobody felt good about this game, not the Aussies obviously, the WI guys all realised how very lucky they had been to get the win in the end, and us WI supporters by default felt cheated that the Aussies didn't eat the thrashing Ambrose had dished up for them.

  • POSTED BY SRIVATSAN on | January 26, 2010, 18:04 GMT

    The last wicket was given by ... Darrel Hair (if memory serves) ... which shows the conflicting arguments on neutral umpiring and all that and various questions that have been raised against Darrel Hair at different times and also his own personna probably.

    What a test match!!

  • POSTED BY Luke on | January 26, 2010, 13:32 GMT

    UDRS would have resulted in at least one more ball to score from - or be dismissed from. Waspsting, I assume you're trying to agitate as every replay of that ball shows the ball was nowhere near bat, glove or arm. If anything it hit his helmet. Nice try.

  • POSTED BY Jim on | January 26, 2010, 13:28 GMT

    I was there too, in the crowd. It was still a working day then, and a mate and I snuck off from work and got into the Oval under the "free after tea" rule. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing. Every ball that failed to take a wicket got a roar from the crowd. Any scoring shot sent us into a frenzy. The crowd was completely spellbound, watching some of the best fast bowlers ever work over a pair of, well, ferrets (sorry!).

    A couple of overs before the end, McDermott got a nick on the ball that everybody in the ground heard apart from the umpire. Cue another huge wave of sound. I don't know if I've ever seen a couple of tailenders subjected to more hostile fast bowling.

    When McDermott finally got a big glove on the ball there was probably about 5 seconds of absolute silence, before the biggest eruption of pure joy I've ever heard from a crowd. We all knew we'd seen something special.

    Losing didn't matter - it was the most fantastic cricket I've ever seen.

    So happy birthday Mr May

  • POSTED BY shafeen on | January 26, 2010, 12:00 GMT

    a nice account, upto the end. I saw the match and the last ball - i don't think there was any doubt that the ball hit Mcedermot's glove!