All good things must come to an end and West Indies’ fantastic team, which completely dominated Test cricket for two decades, was no exception.
Between 1980 and 1995 West Indies did not lose a single Test series. When playing at home in familiar conditions, opponents did manage to draw series, but by and large West Indies flattened every side they came across.
However, by the 1990s, a new power was establishing itself in world cricket. Australia were on the rise, but to be considered the best they had to beat the best.
Throughout the Nineties the two teams played each other 23 times in Test matches, winning nine each and drawing the remaining five. Having won just three matches in the preceding 13 years against the West Indies, across five series losses, Australia were finally knocking the legendary side off their perch.
Here is the story of how Australia overtook West Indies to become the world’s best Test side, told through a handful of Test matches between the two sides in the 1990s.
Continuation of a theme
2nd Test, Georgetown, 23-28 March 1991 – West Indies won by 10 wickets
West Indies weren’t done yet. After the first Test was drawn, Viv Richards’ side produced a statement win in Guyana, thrashing the tourists by 10 wickets.
Australia’s total of 348 in the first innings was dwarfed by the hosts’ 569 as Richie Richardson struck 182 and Desmond Haynes 111.
West Indies’ bowling foursome of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Malcolm Marshall and Patrick Patterson then did the business, rolling the Aussies out for 248 to set up the simple chase of 28 runs.
5th Test, St John’s, 27 April-1 May 1991 – Australia won by 157 runs
Gordon Greenidge’s mammoth score of 226 helped settle the series in West Indies’ favour in the fourth Test, but Australia were not going to return home empty-handed.
Mark Waugh’s unbeaten 139 ensured Australia posted 403 batting first at Antigua before Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes took four wickets each to earn the visitors a first-innings lead of 189 runs.
Mark Taylor then made 144 of Australia’s 265 to set West Indies an improbable chase of 455. Australia’s seven bowlers shared the wickets to give them their first Test victory in the Caribbean since 1978.
Series on a knife edge
4th Test, Adelaide Oval, 23-26 Jan 1993 – West Indies won by 1 run
Australia held a 1-0 series lead coming into the fourth Test in Adelaide. Shane Warne had taken a fantastic 7-52 in victory at Melbourne and it felt like the tide was turning.
Bowlers were on top in Adelaide, as just three batsmen passed 50 across the four innings. Every run was vital, with the series on the line.
Australia needed 186 runs to win the series with a Test to go and, despite collapsing to 102-8, it looked as though they would get them. Justin Langer (54) was then dismissed to leave the hosts 42 runs short, with just one wicket remaining.
Tim May (42 not out) and McDermott (18) got them to within touching distance before disaster struck, No. 11 McDermott edging Walsh behind while trying to leave with the score on 184.
“There wasn’t a West Indian there who was not at least two feet above the ground because of the intensity and emotion of the situation,” batsman Phil Simmons later recalled. “It was a relief for me and there was joy as well, because if we had lost we would’ve lost the Frank Worrell Trophy.” West Indies would go on to win the series decider at the WACA.
4th Test, Sabina Park, 29 April-3 May 1995 – Australia won by an innings and 53 runs
The final Test of Australia’s tour of the Caribbean, with the series score tied at 1-1. It was here that the Waugh brothers stepped up to record an historic victory in Kingston.
The twins put on 231 runs together in front of a hostile Sabina Park crowd, with Mark making 126 and Steve a phenomenal, gritty 200 against the quick and skilful pairing of Ambrose and Walsh to post 531 to West Indies’ 265.
Inspired by their efforts with the bat, Australia’s bowlers, led by Paul Reiffel and Warne, rattled through the hosts’ line-up to wrap up the game and the series.
“It was the start of a new chapter in Australian cricket,” Reiffel later said.
4th Test, Antigua Recreation Ground, 3-7 April 1999 – Australia won by 176 runs
Australia had broken a psychological barrier and from Kingston in 1995 onwards, they won five of the remaining nine Tests against West Indies in the 1990s. All of those victories demonstrated their new-found dominance, but the final match of the decade perhaps shows it better than any other.
Winning away from home in unfavourable conditions was no longer a rare occurrence, as Antigua in 1999 showed.
Australia dominated from start to finish, winning the toss and posting 303 despite figures of 5-94 from Ambrose. Only a century from Brian Lara – who was in the midst of one of the all-time great individual series – prevented a first-innings collapse from the hosts, but Justin Langer’s 127 and accurate bowling from Glenn McGrath and Stuart MacGill set up a comfortable win and secured a 2-2 series draw which underlined how far Australia had come.