The West Indies team of the 1980s stakes a rightful claim to being one of the best ever in cricket’s history.
Across 15 years, the West Indies had gone undefeated for 29 Test series. They seemed to have an assembly line of great batsmen and bowlers. As soon as one great would retire, another would step up to take his place.
In the early 80s, there was a period when the West Indies went unbeaten for 27 matches – winning an incredible 17 of them, drawing the other 10. Their best period was between February 1981 and December 1989: in 69 Tests in that span, they had a 40-7 win-loss record. But between January 1990 and March 1995, they started losing a few – the record dropped to 20-9. Still, someone had to bring that incredible run to an end... someone, as they say, had to bell the cat.
Such was their dominance in Test cricket that beating them became an ultimate status symbol. It was also something that drove the other teams to excel. That’s what the great teams do... they make everyone around them better.
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Australia, in the 80s, had been in a tough spot themselves. They had lost a lot of great players and the rebuilding phase under Allan Border had brought them the 1987 World Cup trophy but Test domination was still some ways off.
Then came the 1995 tour of the West Indies. The Aussies, under Mark Taylor, had started to rediscover some of their earlier swagger. They were tough and uncompromising but they also had some great talent in their team – the Waugh brothers Steve and Mark, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Michael Slater, Ian Healy. They seemed like a team ready to step up.
The West Indies team wasn’t too bad either – Richie Richardson (captain), Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh. There was enough quality there to put up a challenge against any opposition.
Australia won the first Test at Bridgetown by 10 wickets, the second Test at St John’s was drawn and the West Indies bounced back to win the third Test at Port of Spain by nine wickets. That set the stage for the fourth and final Test of the series at Kingston, Jamaica.
West Indies, batting first, put on 265 with Richardson scoring 100 and Lara contributing with 65. No one else in the batting line-up got past 23. In reply, Australia were in a spot of bother at 73/3 when the Waugh brothers got together to push their team towards victory. Mark Waugh scored 126 and Steve Waugh chipped in with a gritty 555-minute 200, his first double ton in Tests. Together, they batted the West Indies out of the match. Eventually, the West Indies collapsed in their second innings and Australia won by an innings and 53 runs.
The hero for Australia was Steve Waugh, whose 429 runs at 107.25. He was, by some distance, the best batsman on display in that series. The elder Waugh scored 189 more than the next Australian - his brother, Mark - and 121 more than West Indies’ most prolific batsman, Brain Lara. Steve Waugh’s series was not memorable for his contributions with the bat but also for off-the-field drama that followed him after he claimed a bump-ball catch off Lara. He was the target for fan abuse constantly since but on the field, he was in a zone that saw him score bucketload of runs when almost everyone else struggled.
“After 15 years and 29 series, world cricket’s longest-lasting dynasty was overthrown by the relentless, underestimated Australians - the most distinguished run of triumphant success gone with the Windies,” was how Wisden described the series result.
In a feature titled The dawn of an Aussie golden age, Andrew Ramsey wrote for cricket.com.au, “Notwithstanding [Richie] Richardson’s jarring observation at series end that Taylor’s team was the weakest Australian outfit he had encountered and whose triumph came because the home team batted badly, this 1995 campaign was more than a turning point in the respective fortunes of two teams. It represents a divergent moment in the game’s history, which has remained indelibly altered ever thus.”
On May 3, 1995, Australia won back the Frank Worrell Trophy to end the rule of one of cricket’s most iconic teams. The end of an era in more ways than one. The West Indies never attained such lofty heights again and Australia never looked back to start a great era of their own.
A look at the series as a while in the video below: