This summer will mark the fiftieth anniversary of a significant tour, where the international matches were not granted Test and One-Day International status.
Nonetheless it deserves acknowledgement for its importance to Australian cricket. It also featured individual performances by Garry Sobers and Dennis Lillee that are recognised as among the greatest ever on Australian soil.
South Africa had toured eight years before, and was scheduled to do so again in 1971-72. Its extremely strong team featured almost every star of its 1969-70 clean-sweep over Australia. It also contained uncapped future champions Clive Rice and Vintcent van der Bijl. However during 1971 it was becoming increasingly apparent that it would be impossible for the tour to take place.
Rugby Tests with South Africa were taking place behind two-metre fences topped with barbed wire. Airlines and hotels, and the trade union movement led by Bob Hawke, were boycotting the team. Police were baton-charging protesters. The Queensland government declared a state of emergency.
In September, just seven weeks before the South African cricket team was due to arrive, the Australian Cricket Board withdrew its invitation. The home side was therefore left without an opponent. Arranging an alternative one was not straightforward as only five other countries held Test status.
England had visited twelve months earlier. The West Indies had toured three years previously, and were due to host New Zealand from February. India had visited only twice before, including four years prior. Pakistan had played just a one-off Test in Australia seven years previously. New Zealand had never been invited to tour. Most players were amateur, and to tour would need to take unpaid leave from work.
For similar reasons, South Africa’s scheduled tour to England in 1970 also did not take place. England instead hosted a series with a Rest of the World XI. Its Test status was approved, but withdrawn three years later, costing the home side’s Alan Jones his sole Test cap.
The Australian Cricket Board followed that example and also arranged to host a Rest of the World XI. It would participate in five unofficial Tests and three one-day matches, as well as eight games against State and second-class sides.
The Australian team
The home side had lost 4-0 in South Africa in 1969-70, then 2-0 at home to England in 1970-71. Captain Bill Lawry didn’t survive the consecutive series defeats. He was dropped for the last Ashes match even though winning it would have meant Australia retaining the trophy that it had held since 1958-59.
Lawry wasn’t the only casualty. Alan Connolly, Ken Eastwood, Eric Freeman, Laurie Mayne, Brian Taber and ‘Froggy’ Thompson also would never take the field for Australia again.
New skipper Ian Chappell inherited nine players who until the Ashes series had never represented Australia. The most notable of them were his brother Greg, Terry Jenner, Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Kerry O’Keeffe. 1960s stalwarts to hold their places during the team rebuild included Grahame McKenzie, Ashley Mallett, Paul Sheahan, Ian Redpath, Keith Stackpole and Doug Walters.
The Rest of the World XI
The Rest of the World squad was drawn from all five Test opponents, and the now-exiled South Africa.
Its 17 members were Norman Gifford, Tony Greig, Richard Hutton and Bob Taylor (England), Bishan Bedi, Farokh Engineer and Sunil Gavaskar (India), Bob Cunis (New Zealand), Asif Masood, Intikhab Alam and Zaheer Abbas (Pakistan), Hylton Ackerman, Graeme Pollock and Peter Pollock (South Africa), and Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and captain Garry Sobers (the West Indies).
It was difficult to raise a strong team despite England having earlier cancelled its tour to the sub-continent on security grounds, leaving no international cricket anywhere in the world during the summer. Leading players such as Geoff Boycott, Alan Knott, Mike Procter, Barry Richards and John Snow had unbreakable commitments elsewhere. The Pollock brothers could not join the tour until after its first two Test matches had already been completed.
The party’s senior members were the Pollocks, the three West Indians, and Bedi, Engineer and Intikhab. Gavaskar’s performances since debuting for India just seven months previously had been outstanding. Zaheer and Asif had enjoyed highly-successful 1971 seasons in England. Two, Ackerman and Greig, had never played Test cricket.
The Test matches
The series commenced at the Gabba with a high-scoring and rain-affected draw. Australia was sent in and tallied 4(dec)389, in which Keith Stackpole and captain Ian Chappell recorded centuries. The visitors responded with 4(dec)285, thanks to tons by Ackerman and Kanhai. Chappell added a second century when his side batted again.
The second match took place at the WACA just twelve months after its inaugural Test match. Doug Walters’ ton anchored an Australian total of 349. Dennis Lillee then routed the World side, claiming 8-29 in a score of 59 all out. Despite Kanhai’s second-innings century, four wickets apiece to home-town heroes Lillee and Grahame McKenzie ensured victory by an innings.
The MCG was the venue for the series’ third match, which commenced on New Year’s Day. The visitors elected to bat but scored just 184, with their new nemesis Lillee claiming 5-48. Australia replied with 285 and a useful 101-run lead, thanks to Greg Chappell’s undefeated ton.
The World XI’s second innings was dominated by captain Garry Sobers’ magnificent 254. It enabled a team total of 514. The home side chased 414 for victory but reached just 317 despite Walters’ second century of the series.
The series then travelled to the SCG, level at one win apiece. Stackpole’s ton anchored a home-team score of 312. The visitors replied with 277 after being at one stage 6-68, a highlight being Bob Massie’s 7-76. Australia’s second innings of 546 in just eight hours was highlighted by a century to each Chappell brother. The World XI’s target was 582 but after it reached 5-173, the match’s final day was washed out.
Adelaide Oval was the venue for the deciding match. The home side was restricted to 311, thanks to Tony Greig’s 6-30. The visitors replied with 367 for a 56-run lead, largely due to a fine ton by Graeme Pollock.
Australia could score just 201 in its second innings despite Ian Chappell’s undefeated century, with spinners Bedi and Intikhab sharing seven wickets. The World XI lost just one wicket in scoring the 146 runs necessary for victory, and thereby claimed the series by a 2-1 margin.
The tour was a success, both on the field and financially. There were magnificent individual performances worthy of international cricket, available for posterity on YouTube. Lots of runs were scored, and generally quickly. Some relatively-unknown participants subsequently forged outstanding careers.
133,638 fans attended the MCG’s match, while the corresponding figures for the SCG and Adelaide Oval were 90,961 and 61,737. The tour’s third and final one-day international game attracted 42,121 spectators to the MCG.
Ian Chappell captained his country in a full series for the first time, and led by example with 634 runs at 79.25 including four centuries. Stackpole, Walters and Greg Chappell each scored two tons.
Lillee had just two Test caps but in four more unofficial ones took 24 wickets at 20.08. John Benaud, Bruce Francis and Bob Massie represented their country for the first time.
The World XI didn’t play to its full potential yet won the series with a genuine team effort. Captain Sobers top-scored with 341 runs and took nine wickets, his sole half-century being that 254.
Graeme Pollock’s one significant innings was his crucial century in Adelaide. Kanhai scored two tons and averaged 69.75. Ackerman totalled 323 runs at 46.14 including one century. The inexperienced Gavaskar and Zaheer were inconsistent.
Unknown all-rounder Greig took the new ball in a team lacking fast bowlers, and added 16 wickets to his 180 runs. Spinners Intikhab and Bedi took 19 and 17 wickets respectively.
The best bowling performance
Lillee’s 8-29 and 4-63 at the WACA was a break-through performance by him, notwithstanding his 5-84 on Test debut less than 12 months previously. He produced it at his home ground, at just 22 years of age.
In the World XI’s first innings his last six wickets came without cost, as he improved his figures from 2-29. He took nine wickets in the first session of the match’s second day, including Engineer twice, as the World XI was dismissed for 59 then forced to follow-on.
Lillee dismissed Gavaskar, Sobers, Hutton and Cunis for ducks. Engineer, Lloyd, Greig and Intikhab also fell cheaply to him. At one point he took three wickets in a single over. The future iconic mode of dismissal “caught Marsh bowled Lillee” occurred three times.
His field-placings often included five slips and two leg-slips. The entire innings lasted just 90 minutes and 14.1 eight-ball overs. Lillee later stated that “It was the best hour of my career,” and Sobers that it was the fastest bowling that he had ever faced.
The best batting performance
Of Sobers’ innings at the MCG, Sir Donald Bradman said “I believe Garry Sobers’ innings was probably the best ever seen in Australia. The people who saw Sobers have enjoyed one of the historic events of cricket, they were privileged to have such an experience.”
He played it at a critical time. Australia led the series 1-0 after its victory at the WACA, and then claimed a 101-run first-innings lead in this match. Lillee had removed Sobers third-ball in Perth, then for another duck in his first innings in this match. Sobers was rankled by a description of him as Lillee’s “bunny.”
Sobers commenced batting with his side’s score 3-146, or just 45 runs in front. His innings of 254 runs lasted just 376 minutes, while sundries and his partners contributed a mere 105 runs. It included 35 fours, and sixes from two consecutive deliveries by Kerry O’Keeffe.
Australia’s capable bowling attack of Lillee, Bob Massie, Terry Jenner and O’Keeffe was ably supported by Doug Walters, Graeme Watson and Greg Chappell. Lillee returned a modest 3-133 from 30 overs, after preceding innings figures of 8-29, 4-63 and then 5-48.
Match participants later recalled Sobers’ innings:
“We had a pretty good bowling attack but he made them look second-rate and that’s what good batsmen always do. He hit the ball with tremendous power and everyone was hoping that it didn’t come towards them and the bowlers were hoping it didn’t come back to them as well…It was an all-round gem of an innings, no doubt. It certainly was one of the best I ever saw and as far as international games went, it was my No. 1.” (Doug Walters)
“It was the most amazing innings in terms of timing and power. He had such rubbery arms and wrists, and the power he could get through those wrists was extraordinary… By the end of Sobie’s innings every bowler and every fielder had had enough- it was pretty much slaughter.” (John Benaud)
“He just batted for a few hours but during that short time he dominated the Aussies. It wasn’t just the runs he scored but the manner in which he scored them that was so attractive. Especially the manner in which he tamed Lillee when he took the third new ball: Sobers hit him out of the attack in a matter of few overs. He just hit four after four and some of them were so thunderous that they would hit the concrete and come back into the field of play.” (Peter Pollock)
Under Ian Chappell’s leadership, Australia became a genuinely great team that did not lose a Test series. Australia won at home against Pakistan, New Zealand and England, and in the West Indies and England. It also drew series in England and New Zealand. The World XI gave both he and his side crucial development opportunities.
Lillee and Greg Chappell played their first full series for Australia, and Rod Marsh his second. All three subsequently became genuine greats of Australian cricket.
Massie made his Test debut at Lord’s just a few months later, and claimed an outstanding 8-84 and 8-85. Unfortunately his total career would comprise just six games.
Many of the lesser-known World XI players developed into outstanding cricketers. Greig made his debut during the following English summer, against Australia. Gavaskar and Zaheer enjoyed long and productive careers.
Bedi, Engineer, Intikhab, Kanhai, Lloyd and Sobers continued to serve their countries superbly. Unfortunately the Pollock brothers never played Test cricket again. While Ackerman would never gain a cap, his son Hylton jnr did earn four.
After three home summers during the 1960s had not featured any Test cricket, 1971-72 would prove to be the last such instance. The following one included Pakistan’s first series in Australia, and then 1973-74 featured New Zealand’s inaugural tour. Sri Lanka played its first Test match in Australia in 1987-88, and Zimbabwe in 2003-04.
Six and seven years later, an extremely-strong Rest of the World side participated in World Series Cricket’s two home series. It included the 1971-72 team’s members Greig, Lloyd and Zaheer, who by then were household names.
Australia and a genuine Rest of the World team did play a recognised Test match in 2005-06, at the SCG. However the home side easily won the match in little more than three days, and the concept has not been repeated since.
Unfortunately one downside of the expansion of first Test cricket and then the one-day format since 1971-72, has been the downgrading of the Sheffield Shield competition. Regular Test cricketers once played in the majority of its matches, but now are very rarely available for selection.