West Indies tour of Australia in the 1960-61 season is widely considered to be the best ever test series in Australia. The 1992-93 tour of West Indies may not be as famous but it was equally dramatic.
The series saw many great individual performances like Lara’s 277 in Sydney and Ambrose’ 7 for 1 in Perth, also West Indies won the series 2-1 after falling behind 1-0 in the series. But the greatest test of all was played in Adelaide which had its dazzling climax on 26th Jan 1991, the day which is considered as the Australia Day in that country.
This was the 4th test of the series which was billed as a battle for the number one test team. West Indies was the rank one test team but on the decline. Although greats like Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, and Malcolm Marshall were gone, Captain Sir Richie Richardson was leading a team with veterans like Desmond Haynes and Carl Hooper, a young Brian Lara who had started to announce himself in the world stage and four-prong pace attack of Ambrose, Walsh, Bishop, and Kenny Benjamin. Australia did not have a good World Cup at their home early that year but was developing a good team. Players like Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh, and Steve Waugh built the core of the team with spin wizard Warne started to show what he would deliver in coming years. For this test, they also recalled the off-spinner Tim May after a four-year break. They were captained by Alan Border, known as ‘Captain grumpy’.
The test match started like any other test match. Richardson won the toss and decided to bat first. But West Indies could not capitalize as they were bowled out for 252. Four of the batsmen reached 40 but the highest scorer was Lara with 52. The lack of converting starts was the reason for their undoing. For Australia, Merv Hughes took 5 wickets and 2 wickets went to the comeback-man Tim May.
But Australia could not take advantage. Ambrose ran through the middle order with 6 wickets and Australia were bowled out for 213 with Hughes being the highest scorer with 43.
West Indies were looking to build on that 39 runs lead and when Richardson and Hooper added 59 runs in the fifth wicket to take them to 124 for four, it looked like they would run away with the match. But Tim May had a different plan. He took five of the last six Windies wickets and his second innings bowling analysis read 6.3-3-9-5. At the close of day, three West Indies were all out and the target was set at 186 for Australia to chase and get a memorable 2-0 series win on Australia Day.
But West Indians were not ready to give up so easily. Ambrose took the new ball along with Bishop and from the beginning, it looked like they were bowling with a purpose. The usually solid Boon went for a 17-ball duck. The other opener Taylor also nicked a Kenny Benjamin delivery to put Australia on early trouble. The debutant Justin Langer formed a partnership with Mark Waugh who with some classy boundaries took the score past 50. But with the team total at 54, Waugh got a snorter from Walsh and could only fend and caught brilliantly by Hooper. All the West Indian bowlers were in great rhythm, Steve Waugh, Border, Healy, Hughes none of them could stay for long and from 64-3 Australia were suddenly 74 for 7. Shane Warne hung on with Langer for over an hour but was out in the last over before Tea. At 102 for eight, Australia looked completely down and out and West Indies win looked just a formality.
But again the comeback-man Tim May came to the party on his birthday. He batted sensibly, especially against a rampaging Ian Bishop who bowled beautifully and troubled both batsmen. And with the score at 144, Langer tried to play a pull and could only nick to the keeper Junior Murray. It was a good innings of 54 for the debutant but still, the match looked over for them. The last batman Craig McDermott entered the field and batted with lots of grit and some luck. Richardson did all he could do through bowling changes and fielding placement. Slowly the runs were coming. Australia passed 150, then 175 to take the target in single digits. The crowd, after a depressing day finally found their voice and cheered for each run, but they knew with only one wicket in hand, everything was possible, even a tie.
At 183 for 9, Australia needed just three more to win. Walsh ran again for one last effort. May fended a ball towards the leg side and could take only one, two more to go for a win and one required for just the third tie in the history of test cricket. Walsh bowled again. Another short ball but McDermott did not want to play it. He looked to move away but while going to Junior Murray the ball touched something, all the West Indian players went up in unison and McDermott was given out by umpire Darrell Hair. It was a great moment for Walsh who ran around the ground, picked up a stump and celebrated with his buddy Ambrose. The duo led the rest of the team to the dressing room. There was some suggestion that it was not a catch but the Australian captain Border did not complain and accept the brilliant performance from Ambrose gracefully.
This is the closest test match win ever and was very close to becoming another tied test for these two teams who played the first tied test match 32 years back in Brisbane.