Like every pandemic-weary, cricket pedant – starved of cricket with an avid audience beyond the deep point boundary – I have been reflecting on cricketing times past.
During one of these frolics, I found myself back in the scalding West Indian summer of 1984-85: the most destructively traumatic Test series of my formative years. It is the measure of the Windies’ supremacy in that distant summer that only four Australians who played in the first Test in Perth – Allan Border, Graeme Wood, Kepler Wessels and Geoff Lawson – were still in the ring, jabbing and sparring by the fifth Test in Sydney.
More harrowing, for me, was seeing the Australian captain brought to his knees, his face awash with tears. Kim Hughes was not quite 31 years of age when he played his last Test for Australia. To put that in brutal context, Michael Hussey was the same age when he made his Test debut!
The West Indian team that bruised, battered and bewildered the Aussies in that ’84-85 season was the most imposing XI Australia played against, as a unit, during my lifetime.
Just look at the cavalcade of calypso batsmen who greeted the Aussies at the crease.
To this day, I still wince when I see them in my misty mind’s eye: Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes playing defensive strokes with the same belligerence as when they hammered the ball to the cover fence; Richie Richardson snickering quietly to himself in between late cuts and pull shots; King Viv pulverising the Aussie bowlers with the well earned arrogance of a heavyweight champ; Clive Lloyd lurking at the wicket like Darth Vader and wielding his heavy bat like a light sabre; Larry Gomes and his no-nonsense “I can’t go for that, no can do” batting style; and Jeff Dujon providing an early-model prototype for the modern-day wicketkeeper-batsman.
And if the Windies’ batsmen scared me, then their bowlers were terrifying.
Malcolm Marshall sweeping in from mid-off to unleash the ball with barely fathomable shoulder ferocity; Joel Garner, off his long run, hurtling to the wicket and delivering a steepling ball from the heavens; Michael Holding, unbelievably held in reserve as a first-change bowler, whispering upon winged feet towards the crease like an Olympic sprinter; and a young Courtney Walsh bowling with as much destructive force as the Australian front-line attack.
These guys were both awesome and awe-inspiring. I hated them for what they did to my team. Yet I loved them with a passion.
Would any Australian XI, in my lifetime, have beaten them?
Searching through some old scorecards from the early 2000s, I think the most formidable Australian team to walk onto the field together was the Aussie XI that took on South Africa in the summer of 2001-02: Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath.
What an extraordinary collection of talent!
There is little room for doubt, in my nostalgic mind at least, that this posse of cricketing pugilists would have competed well against the West Indian juggernaut of ’84-85.
Indeed, I believe they would have risen victorious!
The Aussie batting line-up was sufficiently strong to, at least, accumulate a competitive score; the spiteful malevolence of the Windies’ bowling attack notwithstanding. I accept it would have been tough. Though the likes of Hayden and Langer, Ponting, the Waugh twins, Martyn and Gilchrist had prospered against express bowlers like Allan Donald, Shoaib Akhtar, Simon Jones and Javagal Srinath, they never had to endure the unrelenting venom of a quartet such as Marshall, Garner, Holding and Walsh. But I believe they would have found a way to post an adequate score.
So why do I think the Aussies would have prevailed?
Simple. The Warne factor.
Any Australian who remembers that harrowing summer of ’84-85 will rejoice in the memory of the final Test, in Sydney, where spin twins Bob Holland and Murray Bennett made the West Indian batsman look like they’d been punked on Candid Camera. Australia’s innings triumph brought joy to a nation in despair.
But if spinners of middling talent, like Holland and Bennett, could befuddle, bewilder and bemuse the West Indian batting greats, there is little doubt that Warnie would have skittled ’em.
And that is why – at least in my fantasy Test – the 2001 Aussies would have avenged the anguish wrought by the 1984 West Indians.