Sunday, March 20, 2011

The first World Cup Final: Australia v West Indies, 60 overs, Lord's, 21 June 1975

If ever there was a day on which all was right with the world, it was 21 June 1975. There was not a cloud in the sky, literally or metaphorically. I was almost 16 and off to London on my own for the first time to watch the first World Cup final. If I could live again through just one of the hundreds of days' cricket that I have seen, it would be this one.

I took my place in the bottom deck of the old grandstand, square on to the pitch, the last time I ever sat there. In later years I joined the rest of the cognescenti behind behind the arm at the Nursery End. I've no idea how much the ticket cost, but it wasn't much.

I bore a substantial bag containing the following:
  • binoculars
  • radio and earpiece
  • cricket reference library (Wisden, Playfair, Kent cricket annual)
  • latest cricket magazine
  • newspaper, probably The Guardian (for John Arlott rather than ideological reasons)
  • Russian textbook (O level exams in this subject and the equally impenetrable Additional Mathematics the following week)
  • writing material
  • salad, big
  • sandwiches, numerous
  • Scotch eggs, infinite
  • crisps, large bag of (almost certainly Marks & Spencer's prawn cocktail flavour)
  • cakes, Jaffa
  • orange squash, large bottle of
It has taken me 35 years to whittle this down to a more convenient quantity that can, with a degree of effort, be forced into a smallish rucksack.

The crowd around me consisted largely of West Indians, mostly first generation immigrants to whom cricket was heritage and the match a chance to spend a day back in the Caribbean, in their minds at least. They drank a lot of rum, but displayed none of the boorish aggression that is characteristic of many English cricket crowds these days, and, unlike the fancy dressers, they were wonderfully knowledgeable about the game.

Starting with Roland Butcher, the sons of these immigrants began to appear for England in the eighties. It was assumed that this presaged a never-ending supply of British-born players from that community but this did not occur, and it is rare to see an Afro-Caribbean face at a test match in England, even when the West Indies are playing. That this is so, when most county sides take the field with at least one British Asian player, is an act of neglect.

Their West Indians were not yet the mighty team they were soon to become. Of the dynasty of great fast bowlers that was to rule the game for the next fifteen years or more, only Andy Roberts played here. The rest of the attack consisted of the proficient Keith Boyce, the steady Vanburn Holder, and Kent's Bernard Julien, full of unfulfilled promise (Kent's first mistake was to billet him in a pub). Of the batsmen, only Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharran and Roy Fredericks were at their peak, though both Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards were just twelve months away from slaughtering England. This team was to lose five-one to Australia in a test series the following winter.

The West Indians were all familiar to the English spectators; all eleven had played in county cricket, whereas only Greg Chappell of the Australians had done so (for two seasons with Somerset, in the late sixties). The fast-bowling partnership of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson that had blown the England batting away the previous winter was the big draw; it was the first time that I had seen either of them, not having attended the 1972 tests in which Lillee played (he did not appear against Kent). It's difficult to convey in the satellite age, when all sport is ubiqitous, how exciting it was to watch these two great bowlers for real, Lillee with his perfect, beautiful action, and Thomson generating such pace as a human catapult (and why has nobody ever tried to copy him?).

The West Indies batted first and the left-handed opener Fredericks soon started the dancing, hooking Lillee high into the Tavern Stand. The whooping soon descended into puzzlement, as it was realised that Fredericks was on his way back to the pavilion. This was my moment. From my square-on vantage point, binoculars deployed, I had seen what few others had, that, as he played the shot, Fredericks had slipped, his foot nudging a stump and dislodging a bail. A small crowd gathered round as I re-enacted events, excluding no detail.

At 50 for three Australia were ahead, but in came Clive Lloyd to take the game away from them, with the innings of his life, one of the finest ever played at Lord's, or anywhere else. Lloyd was the nearest to a superhero cricket has produced. See him arrive at the ground, or walk onto the field, and it would seem improbable that this gangly, bespectacled, plodding figure could be significant in the game. But when the ball left the bowler's hand a magical transformation occurred and he was invested with powers that allowed him as a fielder to stop and any ball hit between mid-off and point and throw down the stumps with it, and to bat with an unmatched combination of strength and grace. And that day he did it against two of the finest bowlers the game has seen at the peak of their powers, with first-rate support. 102 from 85 balls with no powerplays and no fielding restrictions.

One shot shines clear in the memory through the years. Lillee, from the Nursery End, unleashed a bouncer of the kind that had reduced England's finest to a shambles a few months before. It reared up towards Lloyd's unhelmeted head. He moved inside the line and hooked. I followed the ball's progress up and over the Tavern Stand as it disappeared into the traffic of the St John's Wood Road. On the radio John Arlott described it as “the shot of a man knocking off the top of a thistle with a walking stick”.

Lloyd was supported perfectly by Rohan Kanhai, who scored 55 in their 149-run fourth-wicket partnership. Just two years before I had sat in almost the same place to see Kanhai score a wonderful century against England. He was elegant, resourceful and not mentioned enough when great batsmen are being talked about, Wisden reminds me that he went 11 overs without scoring at one point, but, grey-haired and wise, he knew that what was happening at the other end rendered that unimportant.

West Indies finished with 291, an immense score for the time, even from the 60 overs over which the first three World Cups were played. At 81 for one Australia were well-placed, Ian Chappell in, Greg Chappell to follow. Viv Richards chose this moment to draw the spotlight to him for the first time at a Lord's final. It followed him ever after.

Ian Chappell turned the ball to the onside, Alan Turner hesitated briefly, and Richards ran him out with a direct hit. Moments later, more hesitation, another direct hit by Richards, this time to dismiss Greg Chappell. Ian Chappell became his third victim, this time with a Lloyd assist. That was as good as that.

Australia meandered to 233 when the ninth wicket fell, with 59 still required. Lillee and Thomson, having failed to take the World Cup with the ball now attempted to do so with the bat, and they came closer than anybody expected. At one point it was thought that a wicket had fallen, and half the crowd came on to the playing area. Nobody knew where the ball was, so the batsmen kept running. Order was restored and they were awarded three. Thomson fell 18 short of the target with eight balls remaining. It was 8.50 pm.

I watched the Duke of Edinburgh hand over the trophy to Clive Lloyd, and headed back to Victoria Station. I (just) passed Russian and Additional Mathematics, then forgot what little I knew about both for ever. Why they taught us Russian, I never knew. Maybe it was so that we could better plead for our lives when the red hordes swept into Kent. After the last exam it was down to the St Lawrence Ground for the last couple of hours of the first day of Kent versus the Australians. Later that evening Dennis Lillee stole my shoe. But that's for another day.

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