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Where were you when...

Lance NEITA

Saturday, January 25, 2014    

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"WHERE were you when such and such happened" is always a nice intervention when conversation stalls and you want to keep it going. In some cases it may lead to the disclosure of an embarrassing situation or of places where you should not have been, but more often than not it generates a spontaneous sharing of similar experiences and memories.

Do you remember the first time you heard Ray Charles sing I Can't Stop Loving You? What about the morning when you watched the World Trade Centre towers crashing to the ground? And where were you when Wolf Blitzer announced Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.

I have the clearest picture in my mind of where I was when President Kennedy was killed. We were studying in the Senior Common Room at school when a junior student put his head in the door to announce that the "president" had just been shot. We turned on our handsets and, for the first time, I found myself listening to live coverage of an awesome and traumatic event being relayed to the entire world.

CBS Evening News' Walter Cronkite broke the news first: "We have just had a report from our correspondent Dan Rather in Dallas, and he has confirmed that President Kennedy is dead." In the background were the sirens, screams and the wails from a frightened crowd. We were transported by radio to the hospital room at Parkland Memorial Hospital where the president's body lay after frantic efforts to save him, then on to Air Force One to weep with Jackie Kennedy while the incoming president, Lynden B Johnson, who only a few minutes before had been the vice-president, was sworn in.

For me, it was an introduction to the extraordinary magnetism of live media coverage of a startling and unexpected event. It was the first national crisis played out on live television, and it made live broadcast a vital part of cultural expression.

So, we try to remember where we were during those great moments in time, but also regret the occasions when we were not around to witness or experience a particularly historic event. I must confess to having missed one great "where were you", and I have no one to blame but myself.

It happened during the last over of that famous tied Test between Australia and the West Indies on December 14, 1960 at Brisbane, down under. And I missed it.

I was following the match each night on my father's Mullard radio. But four nights going beyond midnight was taking its toll, and by 10:00 pm on the fifth day (Jamaica time), sleep got the better of us and we went to bed convinced, like thousands of others, that it would be a drawn match.

The next thing I knew it was 6:50 am and Roy Lawrence was replaying the last over on JBC's sports news. And play it he did, the entire week, as listeners, like me who had given up and retired early, tried to rinse the last ounce of excitement out of what is known as the most dramatic over ever bowled in cricket history.

It's such an epic story that it's worth telling over and over again. This is what happened. It was the first Test of the 1960-61 series with Australia at home to the West Indies, and the two teams were packed with star players. Richie Benaud led the home team, which included Bobby Simpson, Neil Harvey, Norman O'Neil, and Alan Davidson. The West Indies had Frank Worrell, captain, and players such as Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall, Rohan Kanhai, Franz Alexander, Sonny Ramadhin, and Alfred Valentine.

Sobers spanked a magnificent 132 in the first innings to lead West Indies to 453. Australia replied with 505 and then dismissed West Indies for 284, leaving the hosts with 233 for victory.

In a fiery spell of bowling, Hall grabbed four early second innings wickets on the fifth day to restrict Australia to 109 for six at tea. Davidson and Benaud then led a remarkable comeback with a 134 seventh wicket partnership which again put the Aussies on top.

This is probably when I went to bed, giving Australia the likely win, and unwittingly missing the greatest finish in cricket.

The tide started to turn when Davidson was run out for 80 by Joe Solomon fielding at cover. Suddenly the excitement of the morning's play had returned. Australia needed six to win and three wickets in hand. And one over to go.

The drama began to unfold. At 5:54 pm (Australia time) Worrell handed the ball to Hall and instructed him not to bowl any bouncers, especially to Benaud who was on 52 -- in those days an over consisted of eight balls.

Benaud and Wally Grout sneaked a single off Hall's first ball, then Benaud snicked a catch to wicketkeeper Alexander off the 2nd. This made Australia 228 for 8, with five runs to win. The new batsman Ian Meckiff ran a bye from the fourth ball, leaving Australia four to win.

Then came the fifth ball and Hall did the inexplicable. He bowled a bouncer to Grout who skied it to midwicket. Kanhai got under it, ready to take a comfortable catch. At that moment, Hall, intent on making up for the bouncer, rushed Kanhai out of position and then, as the West Indies waited to exhale, dropped the catch.

The batsmen ran a single, leaving Australia with three to win, and Hall filled with remorse. To make matters worse, Worrell went up to him and said in his usual mild voice: "Wes, I told you not to bowl a bouncer."

Meckiff swung the sixth ball to midwicket and ran two, then went for a desperate third to secure the winning run, only for Grout to be given run out from a neat Conrad Hunte throw-in.

With the scores level, and last man Lindsay Kline coming in to face the seventh ball, the tension around the ground and across the listening cricket world was at a record high.

Hall bowled, Kline played and attempted to run, and then out of the blue Joe Solomon made a miraculous and deadly throw from square leg at the single stump in his sight to break the wicket and tie one incredible game.

Pandemonium in the camps, and celebration on both sides. It was a glorious end to five fascinating days and one final over of amazing cricket. It left everybody with a story to tell about that last over, except me. Gary Sobers recalls that he was praying that the ball wouldn't come to him: "It's probably the first and only time in my life that I didn't want to feel the leather."

Hall recalls that as he was about to bowl the last ball Frank said to him, "Wes, if you bowl a no-ball you can't go back to Barbados".

And LD "Strebor" Roberts, who was covering for The Gleaner, said he ordered a double brandy and water, drank the water instead and sent back to the bar for some water because the brandy was too strong.

Only one Test has been tied since then. Australia was again involved, this time against India in Madras in September 1986. I missed that great "where were you" as well.

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmail.com

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