When They Were Kings

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Steve Smith refuses to feel sorry for himself. Like Steve Waugh, his one-time Bankstown teammate, Smith lived a boyhood dream by playing cricket for Australia. But others regard him sympathetically. They see a 39-year-old who might have been a fine Test batsman but for the misfortune of starting out against the West Indies bowlers of the mid-1980s.

"They went out with the attitude that they had to get you before you got them," recalls Smith, who averaged 8.2 from three Caribbean Tests in 1984 and never played Test cricket again. "I had one of the fastest bowlers in the world, Malcolm Marshall, coming from one end, and one of the tallest and most feared bowlers in the world, Joel Garner, coming from the other. From an opening batsman's point of view, it was an ugly scenario."

Nor did things improve when Marshall and Garner wearied: captain Clive Lloyd merely summoned two more fast bowlers to continue the onslaught. Backed by fieldsmen who, says Smith, were "always in your face," Lloyd's four-pronged pace attack ruled by terror and attrition. Invariably, batsmen's spirits were broken by either the pain of being hit, the fear of being hit, or frustration at having their batting reduced to self-defense.

There was nothing stopping other countries from using four quick bowlers-except that no one had comparable artillery.

In its place came complaints that the West Indies were spoiling cricket by stripping batsmen of their capacity to enthral with front-foot strokes. When such noises came from Australia, Lloyd would point to the Australian summer of 1975-76, when the fury of Dennis Lillee­Jeff Thomson was unleashed on the West Indies, who were trounced 5-1.

That series got Lloyd thinking that all-out speed was the way to go. He was convinced of it soon afterward, when the West Indies lost a home Test to India despite setting them 403 to win. On the last day, Lloyd put his faith in three spinners; when they failed him, he called them together in the dressing room. "Gentlemen, I gave you 400 runs to bowl at and you failed ... How many runs must I give you in future to make sure that you get the wickets?" The trio played barely another Test between them, and from then on West Indian bowling was, literally, a blur.

"With that fearsome pace attack of theirs, taking them on was the challenge of the era," says Kepler Wessels, then an opener for Australia. Says former New Zealand captain Ken Rutherford, whose career has spanned both eras: "In my debut in 1985, I opened the batting at the age of 19 and came up against Marshall, Garner and [Michael] Holding. I finished the series with an average of 1.71-not an auspicious start to my Test career."

Once their bowlers had spooked the opposition, the Windies' batsmen usually ran them ragged. Murderous yet technically sound, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes formed one of the all-time great opening pairs. The grafting left-hander Larry Gomes averaged 91.13 during the West Indies' streak. Lloyd could be punishing; Viv Richards was the "Master Blaster," Richie Richardson his apprentice. "They had some of the best batsmen to have played the game," recalls Wessels.

The West Indies' run ended when Australia, in Melbourne, held them to a draw in December 1985. In the next Test, in Sydney, Australia beat the Windies by an innings and 55 runs, with New South Wales leg-spinner Bob Holland taking 10 wickets for the match -a foretaste of the '90s, when the world's fast men would be overshadowed by a blond tweaker, Shane Warne.

This is a key point about the Australian teams of 1995-2000: they've ruled by different means than the speed- obsessed West Indian juggernauts of yesteryear. In the current side, only newcomer Brett Lee could be classed as a pure speedster. Says New Zealand's Rutherford: "Where the West Indies intimidated their opponents with their fast bowlers, Australia [do it] by applying pressure as a unit."