When Frank Worrell led the West Indies to Australia in 1960 he took with him the three spinners Alf Valentine, Sonny Ramadhin and the relatively unknown Lancelot Richard Gibbs. Alf was left arm, the justly celebrated Sonny bowled off-breaks and leg breaks in the Barnes finger-flicking tradition of disguise highlighted before.
The first test in Brisbane was famously tied with the opening bowlers Wes Hall taking nine wickets in the match and Davidson eleven for Australia. Together Ramadhin and Valentine took three for 226. Australia went on to win the New Year’s test by seven wickets. In the home side’s first innings of 348, Ramadhin was given just five overs, taking one for 21.
Our old friend C.L.R. James in Cricket – the Great Captains cites what happened next as evidence of Worrell’s great captaincy skills and provides a measure of the man. For the third test he dropped Ramadhin and brought in Lance Gibbs who had done little on the tour that far but had taken four for 29 in the second innings of the warm up match in Tasmania.
The decision seemed inspired when Gibbs, brought on before Valentine, took three for 46 which along with Valentine’s four for 67 gave the West Indies a first innings lead of 137. The West Indies took their lead to 463 before Valentine with four for 86 and Gibbs with five for 66 won the match for the visitors by 222 runs.
Gibbs on the last morning took four wickets for two runs in a spell of 27 balls. Not for the first time the scorer would have benefited from a rubber stamp with c. Sobers b Gibbs imprinted on it.
It had not been plain sailing because in their mammoth task of chasing 464 to win Harvey and O’Neil for the third wicket had taken the score from 83 to 200 and looked well set and threatening.
But Worrell had noticed that Harvey was having trouble with a pulled leg muscle. Knowing that this would restrict his movements, especially against spin, the West Indian captain brought Sobers in close at cover and told the inexperienced Gibbs to give the ball plenty of flight to Harvey.
This YouTube film of Gibbs bowling to England in 1973 shows that he had a now very modern javelin-style delivery action.
The front (left) foot lands outside the line made by his back (right) foot presenting his chest to the batsman. His bowling arm whips over with great speed and he rises on this the ball of his left foot pivoting over this with tremendous force as our Compare the Drives image demonstrated yesterday. This gives helps him to find considerable dip and therefore bounce.
Facing Gibbs, a batsman would see a ball inviting him forward to drive, but the steeply descending ball is never quite as in-reach as the batsman thinks. Straining forward Harvey would realise this and, in trying to compensate, lift the ball towards the waiting Sobers just as Worrell had foreseen.
The scorebook reveals R.N. Harvey caught Sobers bowled Gibbs for 85, N.C. O’Neil caught Sobers bowled Gibbs 70. After their dismissal only one batsman reached double figures.
In the first innings of the fourth Test Gibbs did the hat-trick – the first hat-trick against the Australians in the twentieth century – and took five for 97. In the last Test he took four for 74 and two for 68 in 41 overs, 19 of them maidens. He ended the tour topping the averages with 19 wickets for an average of 22 runs.
Indeed, this was inspirational leadership by Worrell and fully justified what must have seemed an inexplicable and hugely controversial selection decision.