My latest in this series goes over some ground I’ve already trod, when writing about the 1984-85 summer. Yet I wanted to revisit it because the Australian 1984 tour of the West Indies deserves its own article.
It was a fascinating series, that one. Taking on the world’s best side in their own backyard, the first Australian tour in years without Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh or Dennis Lillee.
It resulted in a famous 3-0 drubbing yet there were great moments for the Aussie cricket fan: Allan Border’s inspirational stand with Terry Alderman at Port of Spain (on top of his 521 runs for the series); Rodney Hogg taking a swing at Kim Hughes during a game; Hughes and Wayne Phillips causing an international incident by batting slow in protest during a tour game; Phillips scoring 120 at Bridgetown.
Was a defeat inevitable?
Honestly, probably yes.
But is there anything Australia could have done to minimise it?
Let’s look back.
The summer of 1983-84 had been a good one for Australia, comfortably beating Pakistan 2-0 in the Test series.
There was apprehension about the retirements of Marsh, Lillee and Chappell, but causes for optimism: Geoff Lawson stepped up as pace spearhead, with players like Rodney Hogg and Carl Rackemann offering support, and Terry Alderman coming back from injury; batsmen Hughes, Border, Phillips, Kepler Wessels and especially Graham Yallop had marvellous summers.
It wasn’t a green team: Hughes, Yallop and Hookes had all toured the West Indies before. And maybe, just maybe, Kim Hughes would flower as captain in the absence of Chappell, Lillee and Marsh.
The squad selected was as follows:
1. Kim Hughes (captain)
2. Allan Border (vice-captain)
3. Kepler Wessels
4. Wayne Phillips
5. Graham Yallop
6. Steve Smith
7. Greg Ritchie
8. David Hookes
9. Geoff Lawson
10. Terry Alderman
11. Rodney Hogg
12. Carl Rackemann
13. John Maguire
14. Tom Hogan
15. Greg Matthews
16. Roger Woolley
I can’t knock the selection of the batsmen or the fast bowlers – all were very good and in form.
The choice of spinners and wicketkeepers was less clear cut. I don’t think Woolley was as good a gloveman as Steve Rixon who should have gotten the job (and had toured the West Indies before).
Still, Woolley had done well for Tasmania, was a better batsman than Rixon, and had already played a Test against Sri Lanka. No one talks about Roger Woolley these days but for a while there he was meant to be Rod Marsh’s heir.
The first-class stats for the leading Australian spinners that summer: Tom Hogan took 26 wickets at 33, Bob Holland 24 at 30, Matthews 22 at 37, Peter Sleep 24 at 46, Murray Bennett 20 at 37, Ray Bright 20 at 54.
Matthews and Hogan had played against Pakistan, and Bennett had been in the squad. The better bowler than any of them was Bob Holland. He was the most experienced and the most consistent – but he was also the eldest. And his batting wasn’t as good as Hogan’s or Matthews’.
I think Hogan’s selection was entirely justified. No one talks about Tom Hogan much these days but he was a good player – a solid spinner, fighting batsman, all that stuff (a sort of Ray Bright mark 2).
But Holland should have gone with him instead of Matthews – Holland had a better chance of getting teams out, and that wins you more games than containment and fighting tail-end knocks.
Of course the biggest mistake was that Rod Marsh had not been appointed captain of Australia earlier (there had been several chances to do it: the 1981 Ashes, 1982 Pakistan tour, 1983 World Cup and 1983-84 home summer).
If that was the case he would have stuck around and could have led Australia. That wasn’t the selectors’ fault, though.
Another mistake came when Yallop was ruled out of the tour with injury. Instead of replacing an experienced batsman with another experienced batsman they picked Dean Jones.
Now, Jones became an absolute champion and was clearly a player for the future, but they already had that in Smith and Ritchie; in a side that had lost Chappell they needed someone who had been around the block such as Wood. In the end it didn’t matter that much because Wood would fly out to replace Kepler Wessels. And Jones did fine.
Early tour form was encouraging, especially from Steve Smith. So good in fact the selectors decided to drop Wayne Phillips for the first Test, despite Phillips’ excellent work over the 83-84 Pakistan series.
The original Australian XI chosen for the first Test was:
7. Woolley (wicketkeeper)
Then Woolley broke his finger before the game and Phillips was press ganged into being keeper. Phillips shouldn’t have been dropped in the first place – Smith or Wessells could have played at three over Ritchie, or they could have cooled their jets over Smith (just because a young bloke is in form in tour games doesn’t mean you have to rush them into the Test side. Cricketers aren’t cheese that’s about to expire.) Phillips had barely kept at first-class level.
This was the one Test in the series Australia looked (for a time) as though it might win, helped by a last-wicket partnership between Hogg and Hogan for 97 runs plus the Australian bowlers dismissing the West Indies for 230 in the first innings.
However this was to be the one time they’d get the West Indies for less than 300 the whole series (indeed, the Windies would go through the five Tests without losing a single second-innings wicket).
Australia’s batsmen couldn’t ram home the advantage in the second innings (though Phillips made 76) and the firm of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes brought the West Indies close to victory before the game ended in a draw.
For the second Test an injured Smith was replaced by Dean Jones, with Phillips opening and keeping. Australia struggled to dismiss the West Indies but Border and Alderman held on for another draw.
So far not terrible. But Australia had escaped a 2-0 deficient only via some weather, a lucky break (Hogg-Hogan partnership) and a miracle effort of batsmanship (Border).
Could their luck hold?
Well, yes… or so it seemed on the fourth day of the third Test with the West Indies still chasing down Australia’s big first-innings total. (Wood replaced injured Wessels; Phillips had scored 120).
Then Clive Lloyd counter-attacked to give the West Indies a lead, Australia’s batsmen collapsed in their second dig, and the West Indies romped home.
For the fourth Test, Woolley was in as keeper, allowing Phillips to play as a specialist batsman. Rackeman and Maguire came in for Hogg and Alderman. Jones came in for an injured Wood; Smith was also out. The West Indies won by an innings and 36 runs.
For the last Test, Woolley was out for Smith, and Jones was replaced by Greg Matthews to give the bowling extra strength. Australia lost by ten wickets.
What a terrible tour for Australia.
It must be said that that West Indies side was incredible.
I think they would’ve beaten Australia, even with Rod Marsh as captain. I think they would’ve won even had Greg Chappell and Dennis Lillee still been playing.
The batsmen and bowlers simply struggled too much. That’s not the fault of the selectors. More Tests might’ve been given to John Maguire, whose disciplined line and length gave him Australia’s best figures on the tour, but I get why the selectors didn’t pick him.
Anyway this is the squad they should’ve taken
1. Rod Marsh (captain) or Steve Rixon
2. Kim Hughes (vice-captain) or (captain) if no Marsh
3. Allan Border
4. Wayne Phillips
5. Kepler Wessels and then when he got injured Jones or Greg Shipperd
6. Graham Yallop and then when he was injured Graeme Wood
7. David Hookes (he didn’t do well but I would’ve taken him)
8. Steve Smith (didn’t do well in the Tests but deserved his chance)
9. Greg Ritchie
10. Geoff Lawson
11. Rodney Hogg
12. Carl Rackemann
13. Terry Alderman
14. John Maguire
15. Tom Hogan
16. Bob Holland
I think the selectors did on the whole a fair job. Their big mistake was picking Phillips as wicketkeeper, and even then that wasn’t the plan it just happened that way. They also needed a match-winning spinner and Holland was a better option than Matthews.
A side that would’ve done better against the West Indies:
2. Wessels then, after his injury, Smith
3. Yallop then, after his injury, Wood
7. Marsh (captain)
Winning in the West Indies around this time was hard. But it could be done. The 1978-79 Australian WSC XI for instance held the West Indies to a 1-1 draw, and that wasn’t a fantastic team, it just had some amazing players (Greg Chappell making 620 runs, Lillee took 23 wickets).
With a stronger keeper, better captain and more varied attack, who knows how the 1983-84 might have fared.
Australia wouldn’t win in the West Indies for another ten years. They had a good chance in 1990-91 – a very settled side, the West Indies in decline – but managed to blow it, in part via some dodgy selections (Steve Waugh as the fourth bowler?).
In 1994-95 it all came good. But the nightmare of 1983-84 remains.