It was a remarkable reversal, in every facet of the game, for a team so thoroughly outplayed in the first two Tests that there seemed no way back into the series. But in three days the reputation and pride of West Indies cricket, which had taken such a battering over the past two years, or not least on this tour, was restored in their six-wicket win.
The repercussions of a third successive defeat would have been traumatic. And it was a strong possibility at the start of the third day when they led on first innings by a mere 14 with the last pair together. It was a prospect which galvanised the team into an intense effort that overpowered the Australians much as had been frequently the case in the 1970s and 1980s.
The triumph was achieved through the long-established West Indian strength of incisive fast bowling which made full use of a pitch of uneven bounce, described by the Australian captain Mark Taylor as the worst he had experienced at the MCG in five years. In the face of the onslaught Australia capitulated for 122 and the West Indies, not without a few early alarms, got to their target of 87 for the loss of four wickets.
After Jimmy Adams's forthright strokeplay had secured a further 22 priceless runs at the start of the day, Curtly Ambrose immediately set up the West Indies' success by bowling the strokeless left-handed opener Matthew Hayden with his fifth ball and removing Justin Langer, another left-hander returning to the team after a lengthy absence, to a slip catch with his 11th.
Such deeds are not uncommon for a bowler long since acknowledged as among the finest there has been. But the fact that he was operating with a strained right hamstring muscle heavily strapped and obliging his placement at first slip to save him running, gave his team-mates even more heart and determination. Ambrose received telling support from Courtney Walsh and Kenny Benjamin and, in stark contrast to the first two Tests, from alert fielders.
Ambrose added the wickets of Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie in a late spell to finish with four for 17 from 12 overs in the innings and nine for 72 overall to earn the man of the match award. After claiming just three wickets in the first two Tests there had been widespread conjecture that his decline, at the age of 33, was terminal. His answer was swift and emphatic.
While Ambrose and his fast-bowling colleagues were principally responsible for the final outcome, Adams began the process in the first 20 minutes with runs which helped shift the actual and psychological balance. Ambrose's first two wickets - the second his 100th in 22 Tests against Australia - tilted it even further.
When Ambrose was rested Walsh replaced him and his eighth delivery removed Taylor to a slip catch effortlessly pouched by Carl Hooper. The Waugh twins held on till lunch but only Steve batted with any assurance during the afternoon in the face of fast, direct bowling of generally full length.
When Australia were all out at an extended tea break not even the most unpredictable of batting teams could make a hash of scoring the 87 they needed to win. This was not to say there wouldn't be anxious moments and there were.
Three wickets fell for 37, among them Brian Lara's. His horror run continued as he slapped his ninth ball to point off Glenn McGrath - the fourth successive innings he had fallen in single figures, the fourth time in five McGrath had got him.
No doubt someone will pay for his present indignities sooner or later but the champion left- hander is, for the moment, enveloped in a mass of mental and technical uncertainty.
Still, the West Indies won, even with Lara's negligible contribution, and they will be heartened by that.Reuse content