Breaking a hoodoo: ’95 Windies tour oral history, Pt 1

Mark Taylor with the Frank Worrell Trophy. (Getty)

(On the 25th anniversary of Australia lifting the Frank Worrell Trophy in 1995, we begin a three-part feature on how one dynasty ended and another began, as told by those who played in it)

THE 1990s proved to be a decade of immense change. The Cold War ended, the internet era began, and an emboldened Australian cricket team arrived in the Caribbean in March 1995 intent on ending the game’s most iconic dynasty.

A collection of a little more than a dozen independent Caribbean nations had banded together to rule the sport for the best part of two decades.
The West Indies had not only gone undefeated for 29 Test series across 15 years stretching back to 1980, but they had played the game with enthralling aggression and a charm that won them fans across the globe.

McGrath was player of the match in the first Test. (Getty)

Even as Allan Border shepherded a young Australian team from a low ebb in the mid-1980s to World Cup glory in 1987 and instituted a hold over England that lasted 16 years, his sides could not have overcome the mighty West Indians.

Despite possessing a renewed vigour and a handful of budding generational talents – the-then household names of Warne, Waugh (x2), Taylor and Healy – the Aussies lost series in 1991 (in the Caribbean) and 1992-93 (at home) by 2-1 scorelines.

A one-run loss in Adelaide in the penultimate match of the latter campaign, which remains Test cricket’s closest winning margin, left an agonising scar.
“It had become a bit of a hoodoo,” Mark Taylor, Border’s successor as captain, told “To be considered somewhere near the best, we had to beat the West Indies.”

But the Windies’ aura was increasingly becoming a façade, showing cracks that would grow larger in the ensuing years – many of which have since become gaping chasms.
Captain Richie Richardson returned for the ’95 campaign after a nearly year-long break to battle chronic fatigue syndrome, to find a bowling attack that had become increasingly dependent on the legendary duo of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

Brian Lara had emerged as a global star having, in the space of three months a year earlier, set new records for the highest Test score (375 against England in Antigua) and the highest first-class score (501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham).
Yet the failure to replace batsmen of the ilk of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes (who missed the ’95 Test series against Australia due to a dispute with the West Indies’ board) meant Richardson’s men were becoming over-reliant on Lara’s runs.

Still, after Australia were beaten in all but one of the five ODIs that preceded the four-Test series and lost two of their key fast bowlers to injury before the main event was underway, the visitors knew they would not prise the Windies’ crown away easily.

First Test, Kensington Oval, Barbados, March 31 – April 2, 1995
West Indies XI: Stuart Williams, Sherwin Campbell, Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Richie Richardson (c), Jimmy Adams, Junior Murray (wkp.), Winston Benjamin, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Kenny Benjamin

Australia XI: Mark Taylor (c), Michael Slater, David Boon, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Greg Blewett, Ian Healy (wkp.), Brendan Julian, Paul Reiffel, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath
Jimmy Adams (West Indies batsman): Along with everyone who was looking on, we knew this was an unofficial world championship. Both teams had been getting good results up to that point. We hadn’t lost a series for a while, we’d just come out on top in a series in Australia a few years before in 1992-93. The team that came out on top would be looked upon as the best Test team in the world.

Steve Waugh (Australia batsman): They were beatable for the first time in a long time. Having said that, the last couple of series before that we had thought that as well and they’d found a way, like all champion sides do. But it was just a feel that the time was right and it was time for change. They were still a formidable side with a couple of great bowlers and a couple of world-class batsmen.

Ian Healy (Australia wicketkeeper): It was a champion team we had been losing to, like everyone else in world cricket. But they no longer held champion status in our minds.
Mark Taylor (Australia captain): We did a couple of things a bit differently. In our training sessions, we took the back nets down at one stage and let the bowlers bowl bouncers. We openly discussed short-pitched fast bowling because we knew it had become a major part of thisseries. In previous series against the West Indies there had been almost an unwritten rule that you didn’t talk about it. Everyone was talking about it behind the scenes but no-one in the team was openly discussing it.

I made a point during a team meeting that we were going to discuss it openly. We all knew we were going to cop it. If we weren’t going to discuss it openly, we may as well not be here.

Waugh: When I first used to play against the West Indies, there was almost a feeling that they could bounce us and intimidate us as much they wanted to, and we were a bit timid in our responses. It was just time for us to say, ‘Enough is enough and we’re not going to cop it anymore – we’re going to give it back to you and give it back with an extra 10 per cent’. There was a conscious effort to ruffle their feathers, and particularly with short-pitched bowling because we had copped it for a long time.

Taylor: Glenn McGrath was instrumental in that. Particularly at that stage of his career, Glenn was not a great batsman. So there was no doubt he was going to be targeted back with bouncers, but it didn’t seem to worry him. It wasn’t just about intimidatory bowling. It was about squaring the ledger and if we were going to cop it, we may as well dish it out as well.

Brendon Julian (Australia fast bowler): I got called up before the first Test match, because Damien Fleming had done his shoulder. I flew from Perth to Guyana – it was probably the longest trip I’ve ever done in my life. It must have taken me 50 hours. I got in at about one o’clock in the morning to the hotel then I had to get up six hours later and play a three-day match against Guyana

‘Tubby’ (Taylor) said I needed to play at least one game before the Test. We lost the toss and I opened the bowling in about 40-degree heat and 90 per cent humidity. I was down on the boundary dry retching because there was a sewerage canal surrounding the ground. I thought I was going to pass out.

I remember Mark Waugh looking at me from second slip, going, ‘You okay mate?’ Then during that match, Craig McDermott rolled his ankle running home.
Taylor: Fancy going running with me! It was the end of a Guyana lead-up game – we weren’t playing in the game, so we went after play. We set off just jogging along, but he (McDermott) wanted to go a bit quicker than I, which was certainly understandable.
When I finally caught up to him there was a gathering of people at the end of this seawall and he was in agony, his ankle had already blown up. I then had to sprint to the Pegasus Hotel to grab (physiotherapist) Errol Alcott. We knew straightaway that was going to be the end of Craig’s series because he was in a bad way.

Julian: So I was playing! There was no-one else. We had no other options. ‘Mocca’ (Carl Rackemann), McDermott’s replacement, didn’t get in until halfway through the first Test.
Paul Reiffel (Australia fast bowler): I didn’t think I would play much of a part. I’d been dropped 12 months earlier and I spent a year trying to get back in. We (Reiffel, McGrath and Julian) were all trying to establish ourselves and all three of us were so happy to get the opportunity.

Glenn McGrath took on the role of strike bowler in the series. (Getty)

Richie Richardson (West Indies captain): I was eager to reestablish myself as captain and a leading batsman in the world. I had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome since about 1992. I took a few months off, I changed my diet and I was feeling good again. What we didn’t realise was that Australia were on a serious mission. Even though we believed we were favourites, the departure of Craig McDermott – who was their leading bowler at the time – I believe that inspired the team to dig a bit deeper.

Australia had never won in Barbados and their make-shift bowling attack, none of whom had played more than a dozen Tests, were thrust into the spotlight immediately as Richie Richardson won the toss and batted first. When the hosts slumped to 3-6 inside the first few minutes of the match and Lara and Carl Hooper launched a ferocious rearguard, the tone was set for a high-octane series.

Waugh: At 3-6, it was all just falling our way. It was almost as if it wasn’t real to start with. When we took those wickets, we thought, ‘These guys are vulnerable, we have a chance to really beat them in this series’. The first hour of that Test match was pretty crucial in the outcome of the series because it was reinforced that we had a real chance if we played some good cricket.

Julian: One of the big things for me was seeing Richie Richardson walk out with a helmet on. I couldn’t believe it. This guy was one of my heroes, I’d watched him and Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge (bat without helmet). That to me was an endorsement that he probably wasn’t on top of his game. Not that I felt more confident, but it meant I wasn’t overawed.
Richardson: I realised I was coming to the end of my career. I had (previously) tried the helmet in the nets and fielding at bat-pad, and I just couldn’t cope with it. It was very uncomfortable and I had decided I would take my chances and trust my reflexes. But when I realised I was coming to the end of my career, I started thinking it would be really unfortunate if I got hit. So I wore it even though it was very, very uncomfortable. I never got used to it.

Reiffel: The ground was full and those grounds had such a unique atmosphere. It had been buzzing then the crowd just went really quiet. They’d never seen this happen – or at least not for a long while.

Junior Murray (West Indies wicketkeeper): It was always a good wicket to bowl on first in those days, with a bit of moisture which you could exploit. Once we lost 3-6 on that first morning, Lara brought us back into the game. Brian was our prized possession, our main batter. If he went early, the rest of the batsmen had to compensate.
Reiffel: It wasn’t easy bowling to guys like Lara on those small grounds. He was one of the world’s best. And Carl had this running battle with Warnie; Carl just wanted to hit him all the time. It was electrifying on that first morning.

Winston Benjamin (West Indies fast bowler): Tactically we were not as sound as we were before. These guys saw that Brian was on the go, so they thought, ‘We have to match him’. I don’t think they understood their roles at particular times as batters. It doesn’t have to be shot for shot with Brian. You can just hit the ball around and give him the support he needs, and in the meantime you’re setting yourself up for a big innings as well. But … all the pressure would fall back on Brian

Waugh: I dived to my right, juggled the ball, fell down and when I hit the ground, it was my belief that the ball bounced off my wrist, which was on the ground at that point, and (the ball) bounced up. In a lot of ways it probably looked like it hit the ground. I asked a few of the players around me, ‘What were your thoughts?’ and they said, ‘It looked okay to me’ and I went with that.

Taylor: Steve was quite confident he hung onto it. I was blindsided because we had three slips in place and I had to look through Shane Warne and Mark Waugh. He juggled it and then he also fell away from us a little bit as well. We couldn’t really see what transpired.
Julian: There were no big screens around the ground then. Lara just looked at Steve Waugh and he said, ‘Yep it’s out – it rolled up my arm and I caught it’. Lara was happy to go. There was no big controversy when it happened.

Greg Blewett (Australia batsman): Looking at the replays afterwards, I think the ball did hit the ground. That’s what I thought anyway. But when the ball gets underneath you, sometimes you don’t necessarily know. It caused a fair bit of angst. (Waugh) almost fell on it and came up with the ball in his hands. But I don’t think there was any stage (on the field) where anyone thought he didn’t catch it.

Waugh: I didn’t find out until after play that it had been an issue. We played the whole day, no problems, and then came off the field and the word was going around that it was seen by some in the commentary box as not being out.
Julian: I had four wickets and I remember looking at Tubby and saying, ‘I’m never going to get a five-for again. You’ve got to give me the ball’. He looked at me and said, ‘No mate, we’ve got to win the Test’. So he gave the ball to ‘Pidgey’ (McGrath) and Warnie to clean up the tail. I always rib him about that when I see him. My one chance to get a five-for in a Test and he denied it

Taylor: That first day in Barbados and that first Test match really changed the momentum of that whole tour, from a 4-1 loss in the one-dayers. All of a sudden, we believed we could win and I think people who were watching and reporting on the game started to believe that also.
The West Indies had been bowled out for 195 on day one and although Taylor and Steve Waugh grafted half-centuries in reply the following day, Australia lost their fifth wicket while still trailing by a run.

Healy: Some days I go in and I’m no chance and others they might feed a shot of mine, whether that’s the cut shot or flick off the legs, they might get a bit too straight and it feels easy. It was one of those days. It was quite good fun, which was quite unusual when you’re playing these blokes. And then when you’re ahead, your mind moves from your own batting to winning the match. I got myself into that zone, where it wasn’t all about me; it was about how many we could scrape here to have a great chance of winning
Julian: Heals said, ‘We’ve got to take them on. We can’t just nick and nudge them’ – which is what we did. I always liked batting in the West Indies. Barbados was quick and bouncy with a quick outfield. Once you got a few shots away, it was great. But they had Walsh, Ambrose as well as Kenny Benjamin and Winston Benjamin – those two guys bowled quickly as well.

Benjamin: When you score 195 in the first innings of a Test match, unless your bowlers really come up trumps, you’re going to be behind the eight ball. Ian Healy’s innings was the turning point. We let it slip. We were even (when he came in) and I reckon tactically we didn’t know what to do. We were found wanting.
Healy (74 not out) and Julian (31) ensured Australia’s lead stood at 151 as stumps approached on day two. With only the dogged Jimmy Adams (39 not out from 121 balls) able to offer an extended second-innings resistance, Glenn McGrath got the prized scalp of Lara and surged to the first of his 29 career Test five-wicket hauls.

Taylor: Glenn was very much like Ambrose was to all of us left-handers. He naturally pitched it on about leg stump, made it hard to score and nipped it away from you. He made life very difficult to score and to stay in. McGrath to Lara was always a good combination for us. I always felt we were in the game.

Richardson: We didn’t know a hell of a lot about him. He reminded me of Richard Hadlee, in terms of his consistency and being able to make subtle adjustments depending on the bounce in the wicket. His height was an asset as well. We realised he was a force to be reckoned with, and he went on to be one of the greatest of all-time.
Adams: From the very first Test, McGrath set a marker out that he was as good as anyone in the business at the time. He’d ask questions every ball and mentally you’d be tired, because you’d have to make a decision every ball.

Murray: It doesn’t matter what batsman you are, if you keep bowling that in-between length where you don’t know whether to come forward or go back, you will get any batsman out – no matter how good he is

Reiffel: McGrath bowled really well and the bounce in the pitch really suited him. He gained confidence from that game and his career went off from there. We were lucky as well, we had Shane Warne in that attack who really controlled things, even if he didn’t get wickets. He was a luxury – even though we were inexperienced in the pace bowling, we had Warne who could always control the game from his end. That was vital for us.
Taylor: I remember Glenn bowling to Courtney Walsh and I actually left first slip at one stage to tell Glenn he’s actually allowed to pitch one up to try and get him out. He must have bowled four or five short balls in a row at Courtney Walsh.

Adams: A couple of wickets fall and you think, ‘We’re not going anywhere. For some reason we haven’t turned up for this Test match’. You keep fighting but it’s as if you’re saying to yourself, ‘We’re really going to have to think about what we do here because this one is gone’.
Left only 39 to chase, Australia consigned the Windies to their first defeat inside three days in 30 years.

Taylor: The winning run was an extra. I was facing and it was a no-ball. I remember grabbing a couple of stumps and racing off the field as the crowd came running onto the ground. A bloke tried to grab the stumps off me and he got a bit of a whack in the shin with my bat – I won that battle.

Blewett: We went out on a boat that night and by that stage Carl Rackemann had come over from Queensland’s first Sheffield Shield win ever against my (South Australian) team unfortunately. I remember him getting there halfway through the Test and he was basically in party mode for the rest of the tour really. We had a bloody great time after every Test match whether we won or lost. That was the great thing about the Australian team, we always had a beer afterwards and had good chats – that was part of the culture.

Julian: It dawned on us that we could have six days off. It was open slather. Everything was laid on. We had a great time. I don’t think Carl Rackemann left the bar. It really brought it together as a squad to win the first Test in Barbados. We were all pinching ourselves.

Waugh: We were a little bit surprised by how easily we did it in that first Test match, to be honest. It all happened really quickly and we kind of thought, ‘Did that really happen?’ (Extracted from au)