February 11, 1961
The crowd of 90,800 that packed the great ground on February 11, 1961 to see the second day of the fifth Test of the Australia-West Indies 1960/61 series was a record for any cricket match. It surpassed the 87,798 that watched Don Bradman carve a chanceless 270 against England at the MCG in 1936/37.
This was a celebration of cricket, towards the end of possibly the greatest ever Test series, played hard and fair with batsmen scoring quickly and bowlers always on the attack. The crowd saw an opening stand of 146 by Colin McDonald and Bob Simpson, some skilful spin bowling from Garfield Sobers and Lance Gibbs, and a powerful cameo by Peter Burge.
Sobers showed a different facet to his game, displaying considerable heart to bowl unchanged for 41 eight-ball overs in Australia’s first innings. 90,800 knowledgeable patrons applauded both teams, utterly absorbed by the contest and the personalities involved.
The set-up was perfect. The most celebrated series of all time had kicked off with the legendary tied result in Brisbane, followed by an Australian win and then a West Indian victory. The fourth Test in Adelaide had an enormously dramatic finish when Ken “Slasher” Mackay and self-acknowledged batting bunny Lindsay Kline kept the marauding West Indians at bay for 100 minutes in order to force a draw.
The caravan returned to the MCG where the local crowd was splendidly primed, having followed the fortunes of the thrilling lead-up matches. With the whole series there for the taking, and such pyrotechnic performers as Sobers, Wes Hall and Rohan Kanhai on the West Indian side and splendid competitors like Alan Davidson, Norm O’Neill and Neil Harvey representing the home team, entertainment was assured.
Skippers Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell kept both teams focussed on attacking, and ensured fair play. Australia ultimately triumphed by two wickets and so claimed the series, but never has the cliché been more apt: the biggest winner was the game itself.
When that Test concluded, the departing West Indian side was given a tickertape send-off in the streets of Melbourne. "The tears came easily on that extraordinary procession and I couldn’t be bothered wiping them away," Worrell later wrote. "It was incredible."
Actually, the whole summer was.
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