Today’s ‘Better Than Sex’ goes back to Adelaide in 1993 as Courtney Walsh’s bowling and the boot of Desmond Haynes held Australia’s army at bay, and kept the West Indies, however briefly, in possession of the crown.
The West Indies were in flux in 1993. Forced to rebuild following the retirements of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Malcolm Marshall, Richie Richardson’s troops were heavily reliant on Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and an untried dasher called Brian Lara. With a resurgent Australia ready to pounch, the 1993 tour down under was always going to be tight. In fact, it was enough to hinge on the width of Desmond Haynes’ right boot.
Adelaide saw Australia 1-0 up with two to play. On a lively pitch, both teams tore into each other. At the halfway mark the West Indies held a slender lead, before folding in their second innings to the off-spin of Tim May who, in his own words, bowled “a ridiculously small number of overs (6.5) for a ridiculously large number of wickets (five).”
On the fourth morning Australia faced a target of 186. Although Ambrose struck first, cleaning up David Boon for nought, at 54-2, Australia were in good shape. But then came a devastating spell of throat-tickling nastiness from Ambrose, Walsh and a loose Ian Bishop, reducing the hosts first to 72-5 and then 102-8.
With 84 still needed, May walked to the wicket to join the debutant Justin Langer, and May promptly crashed Bishop to remind everyone that this match was still alive. But soon into the afternoon session, with 42 still needed, Langer was caught behind, which brought in Craig McDermott, a renowned bunny. McDermott was no batsman, but here he managed to hang around, fending and poking the odd single as May carved away at the other end.
The West Indians were getting twitchy. The target kept coming down, each improbable run cheered ever louder on Australia Day. As the West Indies got ragged, bowling ever shorter, the Australians started to believe.
Now the scoreboard confirmed it. May and McDermott had found 40 runs, and Australia were two runs from victory. Walsh ran in again. Another short one. McDermott got up on his toes and struck it purely off his hip and into the vacant leg-side region for the winning runs.
Wait on! Somehow Dessie Haynes, a leaden-footed shadow of his former self reduced to fielding at short-leg, had dived to his right and miraculously got a boot to the ball. No run! Back from the brink, reprieved, the indomitable Walsh turned and ran in again. Two runs still needed.
Tim May takes up the story: “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 exactly what the ball hit.”
The West Indies were lost to delirium. The series had been kept alive by the closest winning margin possible. A week later at Perth, Ambrose produced one of the great spells to take seven wickets for one run. Curtly’s greatness that day, Courtney’s heart and Dessie’s boot, somehow delivered the West Indies the series, and a stay of execution.
West Indies 252 (Lara 52; Hughes 5-64) & 146 (Richardson 76; May 5-9) BEAT Australia 213 (Ambrose 6-74) & 184 (Langer 54; Ambrose 4-46; Walsh 3-44) by one run. West Indies won the series 2-1.