Caribbean 1999, Pt II: 'He'd hit rock bottom'

Fifteen interviews, two teams, one epic series … an oral history of Australia's unforgettable four-Test showdown with the West Indies in 1999

Adam Burnett

15 March 2019, 02:18 PM AEST


Adam Burnett previously wrote for and edited at Inside Cricket magazine and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia and The Telegraph and the Guardian in the UK.

Read part one, part three and part four of this oral history series

West Indies' humiliation in the first Test in Trinidad had handed their critics – and those of captain Brian Lara, in particular – another layer of evidence upon which to build what was quickly becoming a compelling case.

No West Indies side had ever been whitewashed five-nil in a Test series, as Lara's had been in South Africa over the southern summer. And no West Indies side had ever been bowled out for 51, as Lara's had been in Port of Spain.

The outcome of the first Test suggested more one-way traffic was to come in Jamaica, scene of the second Test and home to some of Lara's biggest detractors in the Caribbean, including legendary West Indies paceman Michael Holding.

"Being captain of West Indies is a huge honour and a huge job. It needs a big man to do it, someone well-rounded as an individual," Holding had said. "Brian Lara is not. He is a spoilt child."

Making matters worse, Lara had missed the bus to training on the morning before the Test began, with rumours he was partying at Kingston nightclub 'The Asylum' until 4am. According to reports at the time, he was then jeered by locals as the West Indies trained.

Lara was under an intense spotlight in Jamaica // Getty
Lara was under an intense spotlight in Jamaica // Getty

Then there was the probation that had been placed on his captaincy; if West Indies were beaten by Steve Waugh's number-one-ranked Australia in Jamaica, it appeared likely to be Lara's last Test in charge.

It was amid this backdrop that the two teams headed to Sabina Park on March 13, 1999. What followed was one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of the game.

Here's how the players themselves remembered the action…

Second Test | Kingston, Jamaica | March 13-16, 1999

West Indies won by 10 wickets

West Indies XI: Sherwin Campbell, Suruj Ragoonath, Lincoln Roberts, Brian Lara (c), Dave Joseph, Jimmy Adams, Ridley Jacobs (wk), Pedro Collins, Nehemiah Perry, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh

Australia XI: Michael Slater, Matthew Elliott, Justin Langer, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh (c), Greg Blewett, Ian Healy, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Stuart MacGill, Glenn McGrath

Jimmy Adams (West Indies batsman): Brian came out of the selection meeting and told me it had been a weird selection meeting. He went in, they gave him a piece of paper and they said, 'That's it – that's your team. Get on with it'. I asked him about a couple of the selections when he told me what the XI was, and he said, 'I really didn't have a choice, Jimmy – this is what they gave me. They said, captain the team that you're given, or else.' You knew the rope was getting shorter for him in terms of captaincy. He was under a lot of pressure, and not just from the public generally, but in terms of results as captain from the selectors and the board itself.

Pedro Collins (West Indies fast bowler): Lara always wanted to be last on the bus, you know. He's just that guy. I don't know what happened but the bus left without him. I remember he got fined a thousand US dollars, and I was thinking to myself, that cannot be me, boy! From then on, I was making sure I was never missing the bus.

Nehemiah Perry (West Indies off-spinner): Brian and I be coming from way back. We played youth cricket together from 1986. We were good mates. I knew that he liked to go out, but I couldn't go out, party and get up to play a game. I had to work too hard to get to where I was. He was so naturally good that he could go out and do all these things, then come out and make a double hundred. I never knew how he did that. Asylum was always packed. Good fun, music, you have a drink and a dance, then at three or four o'clock you roll out, go to bed, then get up by seven to go to cricket – well I couldn't manage that. But anywhere the party was, Brian was there – he was that kind of fun person. Later on I learned that what he did was, as soon as a team meeting finished, he would go to his room and sleep. So he would go to bed at maybe seven o'clock, then get up at 12 or 1am, and go down the road to some party for a drink and so on. That was his routine, and it worked wonders for him.

Waugh won the toss for the second time in the series and again chose to bat. West Indies played two debutants – Trinidad and Tobago batsman Lincoln Roberts, and Jamaican off-spinner Nehemiah Perry. From the coin toss onwards, it was another dramatic day.

Justin Langer (Australia batsman): We thought it was going to be another cakewalk. Lara was under the pump big time in the Caribbean. He tossed the coin and said to Steve Waugh something like, 'This is the last time I ever have to do this sh-t'. He'd hit rock bottom. So Steve Waugh walked in after that and we're saying, 'Oh they're gone – the captain doesn't even want to be here'.

Steve Waugh (Australia captain): He was a pretty cagey bloke, Brian. You were never sure what you were going to get, whether he was mucking around with your head a bit or whether he was serious. I think there was an element of seriousness about it, because he was frustrated at the way they were playing and he was having to hold them together. But also probably in the back of his mind was I'll try anything to try to get these guys a bit more complacent. I remembered what he said but I didn't take too much notice of it – the first morning of a Test match, you've got enough information to process to worry about that. It was pretty much a typical Brian Lara comment, though – he was a dangerous guy when cornered, and he would always play his best when the team was down, or he thought he was down on form. So it might've even been a tactic to himself, just to self-motivate.

Perry: I never thought I would've played in that series. After the first Test, when we got beat badly, I was just in the house, chillin', watching the news, and I heard the sports reporter say, 'The West Indies have named Nehemiah Perry in their 14-man squad', and I'm like, Did I just hear that. I said to my mother-in-law, 'Did you hear my name?' She said, 'No, I wasn't listening'. So I'm thinking Oh, maybe I was dreaming. About 20 minutes after that, there was so many people at my gate. I said, 'What are you guys doing here?' They said, 'You didn't hear the news?' I said, 'What news?' They said, 'You're in the squad – you're in the West Indies squad for the Test match!'

After an early stumble, Steve and Mark Waugh put on a century stand to have the Australians in a strong position midway through the day. Sabina Park was the venue at which they had shared in their legendary 231-run stand four years earlier.

Steve Waugh: I loved batting in Jamaica. It's funny as a batsman, you turn up at a venue, and mentally if it's a positive image from the previous trip there, you somehow feel relaxed about your game. We all know that Test match cricket is a game where the mental side plays a big part, and if you've done well at a certain venue, you do relax when you turn up there again. I played with a lot of freedom and confidence.

Mark Waugh (Australia batsman): Sabina Park was a good batting wicket. Sort of that shiny, hard pitch, but it had no grass on it. So once you got in and got used to it, it was a really good place to bat.

Mark Waugh takes to the spin of Perry // Getty
Mark Waugh takes to the spin of Perry // Getty

Perry: I was at Sabina Park watching four years earlier. I remember (wicketkeeper) Courtney Browne dropped Steve Waugh (on 42) and they put on a big partnership. So when I was bowling to them that first day I was remembering that. It was a good pitch. Nothing was happening. And by that stage they had really taken measure of me. They had settled in slowly but then they had just changed gear.

Curtly Ambrose (West Indies fast bowler): Mark Waugh seemed to have more time than most players to play his strokes. Sometimes you feel that you're not bowling quick enough. He reminded me of Carl Hooper. So easy to watch. Sometimes I'd think, Man, am I bowling that slow? But I always believed Steve Waugh had more guts. I believed you could rattle Mark Waugh. I don't mean any disrespect – he was a fantastic player – but I just felt that if you ruffled him up a little bit, he tended to try to counter-attack. He might try to take you on which wasn't quite his game. Whereas Steve Waugh, very gutsy, he would take all the knocks.

Mark Waugh: I was 60-odd not out and an off-spinner named Perry bowled me with one that ran along the ground. I don't know where it came from but I remember I was batting very well and I couldn't believe I got that delivery.

Mark Waugh cops a shooter from Perry // Getty
Mark Waugh cops a shooter from Perry // Getty

Perry: I thought I'd got taken out of the attack but then Brian Lara signalled to me that I'd be bowling at the other end; he was just switching the end I was bowling from. And the very first ball I bowled from the other end, the ball just stayed down, turned a bit, and knocked over the off stump. I don't know where that ball come from. That ball was a shooter – it didn't get up one inch off the ground. It was an unbelievable feeling. I ran around the ground and they couldn't catch me.

The wicket sparked a collapse of 7-98, leaving Australia all out for 256. Steve Waugh made an even hundred, his first as Test captain, before falling to left-armer Pedro Collins for the second consecutive innings.

Collins: Steve Waugh was a legend, he was in his prime and at the time he was their main guy, you know? I was watching him bat and I was like, this man is amazing. Even a forward defence shot, you had to get someone behind it to save it from going to the boundary. He was so dangerous because he never let the bowling get on top of him. He got some runs against us but to get a big wicket like that, it was really good. I don't know why but through my Test career, I had a knack for getting the big guys out (as well as Waugh three times, Collins dismissed VVS Laxman four times, and Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Michael Vaughan three times in his 106 Test wickets). As a left-armer I didn't bring the ball back in but I used my angles well. I angled the ball across the right-hander and it would hold its line or straighten, and that worked for me, you know?

Mark Waugh: Stephen was so consistent right through that era. He was the rock of our side. A different sort of player to Lara, but so determined. He earned every run, never gave his wicket away in any situation. He led us from the front with the bat.

Steve Waugh is mobbed after posting his first hundred as Test captain // Getty
Steve Waugh is mobbed after posting his first hundred as Test captain // Getty

West Indies fell to 4-37 at stumps, with Glenn McGrath taking three wickets and Jason Gillespie the other. All told, from their first innings collapse in Trinidad, they had lost their last 21 wickets for just 106 runs. The unbeaten batsmen were Collins, who had come in as nightwatchman, and Lara. Legendary West Indian cricket journalist Tony Cozier described "a dispiriting sense of déjà vu" as permeating Sabina Park, adding of the hosts: "They have to depend on the type of innings they haven't had for some time from their beleaguered captain, Brian Lara, to put up some sort of a fight."

Collins: We walked off and I was thinking, No, not all over again. All the negativity after Trinidad, I didn't let it get me down. You'd hear a lot of stories, a lot of people on the radio and on talk shows. I tried to block it out. I know what it is to play cricket in the West Indies – everybody wants you to do well, but when you don't do well, everybody comes down on you, pointing fingers.

Adams: Brian and I have always been good friends. We grew up playing youth cricket together and I played under him since I was 18, 19. So I was feeling for him at the time; it's tough when you see a mate going through that stuff, a lot of which I don't think was deserved, because I think a lot of guys had let themselves down in South Africa. So it was a bit unfair that it all landed at the captain's feet.

Jason Gillespie (Australia fast bowler): The spotlight was on Brian. His game. His state of mind – is he up for the challenge? There was a lot of talk of him and Jimmy Adams essentially carrying the team.

Steve Waugh: Playing against Australia was enough to flick Lara's switch. He loved the tussles against Warne and McGrath, and he prided himself on winning those battles. I think he would've been wounded by the loss in Trinidad, in his home town. And funnily enough in the Caribbean, players even like Brian Lara would get booed in other countries, like Jamaica or Antigua, if the team wasn't doing well. And when he had his back up and everyone was against him, that was when he was at his most dangerous. And that's pretty much the scenario he faced on that second day. Sure enough, he came out and did the business.

Collins: I have no idea how I ended up nightwatchman. I play too many shots. I had Gillespie coming at me with the new ball. And Justin Langer, I remember him. He fielded at bat pad a lot so he was always in your ear. I'd get hit and he'd say, 'Hit him again – he'll go home to his mum and cry'. All sorts of things. The Aussies would say a lot, but there was something in the way they'd speak, it all just came across funny to me, even if they were bashing me. Then when it was our turn to bowl we'd try to get them back. But I got hit in the groin by Gillespie. Oh man, that was a painful one. I had to go off. Before that I'd played a back-foot cut shot off him for four. I'll never forget that – I timed that one well. Then I got struck in the box and that was curtains for me. Then I just sat there and watched Lara take on the best in the world, doing whatever he felt like doing with them. It was amazing.

Forty minutes into day two, Collins was replaced by Adams, who diligently played second fiddle as Lara began hitting his straps.

Steve Waugh: I really admired Jimmy Adams as a cricketer. He didn't have the same talent as Brian but he had the same determination. He gave everything every time he played for the Windies and he was really patriotic to their cause. He loved the history, what they'd achieved, and he had played in some great sides. Here he was playing in front of his home crowd in Jamaica, obviously embarrassed by what had happened in Trinidad. So we basically had two cornered tigers, the conditions were good for batting, and they made the most of it.

Stuart MacGill (Australia leg-spinner): Having got wickets relatively freely until that point in my career (MacGill had taken his 50th wicket in Trinidad, in just his ninth Test), I was a little bit surprised at the fact that we weren't getting (Lara) out. At that stage too, not having bowled to him before that tour, not a lot of what he did seemed to make sense to me. I hadn't really seen anybody who was able to use their wrists quite like he did. It sounds silly, but he wasn't hitting the ball where it was supposed to go. So I was a little bit shocked about that, and I didn't really know what to do with it.

Greg Blewett (Australia batsman): I reckon he's the best player I've seen against spin. To see someone manipulate the field like he did was just freakish. As a pure entertainer, Lara was as good as it got. I think he would've preferred to face the spinners than McGrath. The ball spinning into him suited him, too. MacGill had a pretty decent wrong'un but he picked that most times, and didn't seem to have any problems with him or Warnie.

Adams: The temperature gauge for us was McGrath. The more miserable he was getting, the more we started to know we were moving the game away from them. And he really did get miserable. I'm sure the rest of them did as well, but McGrath was more vocal than the others.

Sherwin Campbell (West Indies opener): Brian was in an aggressive mood so Jimmy just tried to give him as much strike as possible. (Lara) was such a competitive player, and sometimes he just raised his game. When he wanted to score runs, he would score runs. He didn't do much talking in the middle. He would just encourage you to learn from the situation while you were batting, and have as much fun as you could.

Jason Gillespie (Australia fast bowler): The plan to Lara was very simple: bowl as many balls at the top of off, consistently. It doesn't change too much, but the difference between the good players and the great players is that, with the good players, you could probably get away with being a bit too wide, a bit too full or short, whereas with someone like Brian, there's no such luxury. You're a fraction wide and he laces you through the off side. A fraction straight? He's smacking you through midwicket. A fraction full and he's jumping on it, driving you down the ground. A fraction short, he's pulling or cutting you. There's no margin for error. When a batsman's out of nick, you feel like your margin for error for where you can land the ball is the size of a beach towel. When they're on song, it's a hand towel. With Brian in that series, it was a tissue. Just a wonderful player. To be able to say I got him out three times in Test cricket, I'm pretty happy with that.

Blewett: There was one over that he just completely took the mickey out of me. He was well set, so I decided I was going to have to try something different. I tried to bounce him and he smacked me through midwicket. He knew the next one was going to be full and he went smack, straight over my head. Four fours in a row. He was just having his way with me.

MacGill: Lara was 99, and I bowled him my slider. It hit him on the pads and I appealed, and Peter Willey, who was one of my favourite umpires, gave him not out. Ages later, he was on about 150 and he was smacking us around, and Peter walked past me. He could tell I was starting to get angry, because it wasn't working out. As he walked past, he just said, 'You thought that lbw was out when he was on 99, didn't you?' I said, 'Yeah, I did'. He looked across at me, just this sideways glance, and one corner of his mouth just turned up in a little half grin, and he said, 'Yeah, you're probably right'. It was just like, 'Oh, come on'. The way he said it, the way he looked at me and the timing, I had to admit it was just perfect.

Lara reached his hundred but he and Adams were far from finished. Together, they batted through the day, compiling an unbroken stand of 321 – the fifth-highest in West Indian Test history. Lara was unbeaten on 212 at stumps, his second hundred coming from just 122 deliveries. In front of his fellow Jamaicans, Adams had played the perfect foil to be unbeaten on 88 at the close.

Adams: We developed a routine, Brian and myself. It was encouragement that we gave each other, and we literally counted every one of the 90 overs. We kept reminding each other where we were at, just by saying how many overs were left in the day. It was simple, but it wasn't so much what we were saying, it was more that we were genuinely trying to get the other person through to the end of the day. I knew that if Brian was still there, we'd have put ourselves in a really good position. Brian knew that I was probably the last out-and-out batsman left to bat with him, so we both had our reasons for really wanting the other person to stay there. And when you have Brian Lara batting like that, it's easy just to pick the crumbs off his table. You get a lot of loose stuff because he's in full flow.

Collins: You've got Gillespie and McGrath coming at you, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill spinning the ball a mile, and Brian's just doing it easily. I didn't want to get back out there to bat, I was just happy sitting watching him take the bowling apart. I must've been the longest nightwatchman in history!

Police hurriedly escort Lara to the sheds following his hundred // Getty
Police hurriedly escort Lara to the sheds following his hundred // Getty

Adams: There's nothing in my innings that would be noteworthy, but it was just that feeling of get to lunch, then get to tea and then we might be onto something pretty special here, which it turned out to be in the end. It was great to be a part of it, and good to be 22 yards away, watching one of the best players in the world go about his business.

Gillespie: It was a pretty benign surface but that's absolutely no excuse; throughout the whole Caribbean tour we were able to get reverse swing, and the ball would start to keep low. So we were well and truly in the game, but that day in Jamaica, we tried absolutely everything and we just couldn't get a breakthrough. They played beautifully.

The record-breaking partnership ended almost immediately on day three, when Lara was finally out for 213. He had hit 29 fours and three sixes, and left the field having, according to Cozier "at last dispelled the despondency that has hung like a pall over himself and West Indies cricket for too long … When he left the ground … he had completely transformed the mood of the 8,000 or so West Indians in the stands and the press box and the millions more outside Sabina's confines who had come to despair for the game that remains their passionate obsession."

Adams: It's the best innings I saw him play – for the pressure he was under as captain, and how he responded. It was exceptional. The great players can do it, because the pressure seems to focus their attention, rather than take away focus. He was in the zone, that's all I can say. Just unbelievable batting. I mean I've seen Brian Lara score fluent hundreds, before and since, don't get me wrong, but not under the kind of pressure that he was under in Jamaica.

Campbell: That innings changed the whole series. It gave the team more confidence.

West Indies were bowled out for 431, with McGrath toiling for 5-93 from 35 overs – his third-straight five-wicket haul. But Lara's performance had shifted the momentum of the Test, and just as Adams had delighted his compatriots, so too did the 29-year-old debutant Perry, who seized his moment with the ball.

Perry: I was more confident in the second innings, that was for sure. I said to Brian Lara, 'Lara, you need to give me the ball early – early!' He said, 'You're sure?' I said, 'Brian, give Courtney Walsh two overs, Ambrose two overs, then give me the ball'. And he said, 'OK boss, you're da man'. I think they bowled three or four overs apiece then Lara said, 'Perry, your time – you asked for it, here it is'. I was bowling to Justin Langer and Matthew Elliott, and I was bowling very well to the left-handers, and the pitch was starting to give me some assistance. I was really on top of my game – I had a lot of energy, the ball was coming out well and I was creating a lot of pressure. I got Elliott lbw, and then Justin Langer caught behind. And there it was, you know? Everything clicked. I got Greg Blewett caught at slip in the last over before a break, and then I got Steve Waugh trying to sweep, the ball licked his gloves and Ridley Jacobs took a brilliant catch diving away in front of the wicket. And then I got MacGill the next morning, just to finish off the innings.

Perry celebrates a wicket as he bowls West Indies to victory // Getty
Perry celebrates a wicket as he bowls West Indies to victory // Getty

Australia's poor second-innings showing – bowled out for 177 (Perry 5-70) – left West Indies needing just three runs to level the series. They ticked off that formality and began celebrating their remarkable success. Waugh's men meanwhile, were left to wonder where it had all gone wrong.

Steve Waugh: When you lose, you look back and think, how did we do that? What happened? It seemed like a lack of concentration, or maybe there was a bit of complacency that we'd won the first Test so easily and it was just going to happen again. We had a centre-wicket net session after that Test which was full-on. Everyone was at each other and it was a really intense session, to try and correct what had happened and maybe adjust some of the attitudes in the team.

Geoff Marsh (Australia coach): If you drop your guard at Test level, you're going to be hurt badly. We stopped doing the one percenters that we needed to do to keep winning.

The Australians were left scratching their heads after the shock defeat // Getty
The Australians were left scratching their heads after a shock defeat // Getty

Steve Waugh: Looking back on it, when I won the toss, maybe I should've sent them in – particularly after they'd been bowled out for 51. It was a pretty flat wicket and no-one said anything at the time, but in the back of my mind was, maybe I should've sent them in again after bowling them out so cheaply, we've got them on the ropes, let's go in for the kill. But they had a lot of pride, great history and tradition, and they fought back well.

Adams: You look at that Australian team on paper, they're a pretty strong unit, you know, and we showed a bit of character to bounce back the way we did in Kingston, given what had happened in Trinidad. It was good to play a role in it, but the best thing was going down to Barbados with the series all tied.

This four-part oral history of the 1999 Caribbean series will continue on March 26, which will mark 20 years since the third Test in Barbados began