It is shocking what has happened to the West Indies. I am left with ancient memories of Australian men battered like crash-test dummies.
Memories of a nation’s psyche reduced by devastation, a gritty demolition of the best eleven Australia could muster.
The first time I saw it happen I was trying to drink strong tea with my grandmother. I was nine years old.
Cricket against the West Indies was the ultimate test. I wanted resolution, victory to end to the slaughter. But the Frank Worrell trophy was lost. And the trophy became truly lost for decades.
The played demoralising cricket. They were far too good for anyone. It wasn’t always so. Australia once held the upper hand.
The West Indies were hammered on their Australian tour in 1975-76. Denis Lillee and Jeff Thompson terrorised their batsmen. Australia won the six Test series five-one.
After their World Cup triumph, the West Indies had been humiliated.
Clive Lloyd, captain of the Caribbean, learned long-lasting lessons from that series.
Lloyd remembered the fear, the mental disintegration, how the Australian’s were tougher. He implored his team to get stronger and fitter and better then inspired them to play some of the toughest cricket ever, just to beat the Aussies.
Within two years he assembled one of the best fast bowling attacks in the history of the game. Men like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft didn’t bowl two good balls an over. They bowled four or five, at blistering pace.
Every ball had two purposes, to get a wicket or hurt the body. It was a sustained, unrivalled attack.
Holding described the intent of the pace battery. ‘If you don’t like it, get out.’
It was World Series Cricket that helped define the West Indies and refined their bullying. Their flair brought a new dimension to the game. Fast bowlers didn’t get batsmen out. They blasted them out.
Batsmen were willow-wielding cavaliers, dramatic run machines against try-hard attacks.
It was worse than that. When the West Indies peaked, calling it a game was a disservice. It was a mismatch. The West Indies were simply better in all facets of the game.
Australia fought hard. The contest for the Frank Worrell trophy became a duel of brutality, bat against ball, might against might. Take your guard 22 yards away. Stand ready, wearing padding and holding a slender length of timber.
Look around. People are watching. A man wearing white will run in and set a ball down as fast and nasty as he can.
Runs were hard-earned. Batsmen were often humiliated and most likely hurt.
The West Indies won their first Test series against Australia in 1979-80. They kept the Frank Worrell trophy for fifteen years. In those long years, Australia often lost their dignity.
Think about those years for a moment, about what that congregated scattering of nations did to your psych when you were a kid. Think about how the West Indies destroyed Australia.
I didn’t hate it. The West Indies are the only cricket side I don’t mind losing to. I loved watching the best cricketers in the world whack our best without mercy. Losing was okay, because they were so damn good to watch.
Remember the eighties, when you were a kid and playing backyard cricket. Everyone pretended they were a Test cricketer. Your mates fielded in slips. Your brother was there too, batting first drop or bowling first change.
You’d commit ultimate treason, because you wanted to be the West Indies and captain the gathering of men from tiny castaway islands. Let your brother or your mates pretend to beAustralia. Let them pretend to be the losers.
My wonderful grandmother, Mary, didn’t indulge in sport. Didn’t care about football or horse racing or the Olympics.
But Mary made an exception for the West Indies. She knew their names and watched her black and white television when the cricket was on. She listened to the Tests on the radio.
Mary referred to the assaulting gathering as The Windies. So I started doing that too.
I was surprised an old woman so disinterested in sport liked watching Clive Lloyd and his men. But they were too flamboyant for Mary to ignore.
And the Windies were the best. Almost twenty years they churned out bowlers built for speed and brutality and batsmen with flair and defensive arrogance.
They were unbeatable. I loved them.
Michael Holding was a cricketer so pure he transcended athleticism. Legendary English Test umpire, Dickie Bird, described Holding as whispering death, because he couldn’t hear him as he ran in to bowl.
Imagine death whispering to you as he ran in and let that ball go, a weapon to hurt or get you out. For some, pain wasn’t an option. It was easier to get out, and many did without trying too hard.
I modelled my action on Michael Holding. By fourteen I had it perfected, without any of the pace, swing or seam.
Andy Roberts had the ball on a string. Ian Chappell has always said Roberts had two bouncers, one you could hook for four and one that hit you like a hook. Roberts busted the jaw of the late David Hookes with the bouncer designed to hurt.
Joel Garner hurtled the cricket ball from fearsome height, perfecting the yorker, twice hitting Kim Hughes on the toe during the 1981-82 series, rendering Hughes immobile, with a foot that swelled so bad his shoe had to be cut open.
Malcolm Marshall, a short man, generated blinding speed and backed it up with bullet-like accuracy. Marshall got so used to taking wickets he asked David Boon, in Boon’s debut Test, to hurry up and get out.
‘Otherwise I’ll come around the wicket and kill you,’Marshallsaid.
Boon eventually got out for 51. Those runs made in fear, defined Boon. Marshall’s flippant sledge defined the attitude of the Windies. And it was Marshall who got Boon out twice in that Test.
Courtney Walsh, an affable paceman split the cheek of Greg Ritchie during the 1984-85 season. Ritchie retired hurt on 30 needing stitches. When he came back he made seven more runs.
Walsh, at that time, had hit more batsmen on the head than any other bowler in world cricket. He ended up taking 519 wickets, once a record for a fast bowler. Not bad for a man who was dropped 14 times in his Test career.
Then came the next generation. Curtly Ambrose switched from basketball to cricket with immediate devastation. Tall, fast and fearsome, Ambrose destroyed Australia in the 1991-92 season, famously taking seven wickets for one run during a shattering spell in the deciding Test match in Perth.
That performance ensured the Windies kept the Frank Worrell trophy.
Ambrose was joined by thunderbolt Patrick Patterson, who, for a while, was the fastest man in Test cricket, in a team that contained Marshall, Ambrose and Walsh.
That’s some speed.
Ian Bishop was destined for greatness until stress fractures in his back fractured his international campaign. Bishop still holds the record as the fastest West Indian to take 100 Test wickets.
That achievement, in a line-up of greats, is some feat.
The batsmen were no different. Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes were unequalled as an opening combination. Follow them with Richards, Lloyd and Ritchie Richardson, a trio of wrecking bats.
Add in the unflappable Larry Gomes, who batted without a helmet. Gomes was completely undeterred by bouncers, tough and gritty, hard to get out.
It is interesting that Richards, Gomes and Richardson didn’t consider helmets necessary.
Their sheer arrogance demoralised attacks before they’d taken strike.
Richards wore a cap or white floppy hat. Richardson, built of the same unmalleable steel, wore a one-man floppy tent as his hat. Gomes chose to bat in his afro, safety enough.
Richardsonis the last man in Test cricket who refused the helmet, a throwback, like the best Windies batsmen, to an era where confidence outworked the threat of danger.
Brian Lara continued the hammering. He could bat forever, such a stylish, skilled player who didn’t mind a fight.
The Windies lost the Frank Worrell trophy in 1995, when Australia finally broke through the brilliance. Richardson, as losing captain, derided the victors.
‘I think this is the weakest Australian team I’ve played against,’ he said.
Richardson was wrong. Australia was on the ascension, the Windies on the descent and they haven’t got close since, despite a few drawn series in the Caribbean.
They have learned nothing from their dominance. For too long they’ve been nothing. They might never be something again.
I want the old Windies back. Clive Lloyd had a mantra. Kill the captain and the rest will follow. The theory was simple and effective.
Remember the three Test series in 1981-82 series, when their fast men put Greg Chappell through hell, a season where he made seven consecutive ducks.
In 1984-85 Kim Hughes cried as he resigned the captaincy, ruined by cricket and criticism. Not long after Hughes got dropped forever. His last eighteen Test innings were against the Windies. His average fell from 42 to 37.
The last time the Windies retained Frank Worrell trophy was in 1991-92. There was a sense in that series that the sides were evening up, in terms of ability. But the one-run loss in Adelaide ruined our mentality. And in Perth, Curtly Ambrose ensured the status quo remained.
Such heroics are so sadly missed.
International cricket needs the Windies to be strong. Whatever they’re doing right now isn’t working. Their rebuild is fifteen years old. It hasn’t worked. It may never work again.
And the Windies are a shambles.
Their current generation of bowlers can’t find a line. Their batsmen can’t find technique. The Caribbean swagger has drifted so far it is no longer cool to be casual.
It is heartbreaking watching them get picked apart.
They once played tough, uncompromising cricket that Australian’s loved. I don’t love the rabble now.
Some Australian fans may consider it payback. I don’t, not anymore. This is an unmitigated flogging. I hate what the Windies have become, because the grand memories of their brilliance are stuck in my head, which means they are stuck in my heart.
Like memories of sipping strong tea with Mary as she sat on the edge of her seat in front of the black and white television, watching the Windies against Australia.
The Windies forced her to watch, because they were so damn good.