Sunday, May 29, 2011

The second World Cup Final: England v West Indies, Lord's, 23 June 1979

I'm not sure how much a ticket to the second World Cup final cost, but it was nothing that a first-year university student had to think twice about. Of course, in 1979 the State understood that providing the flower of its youth with the wherewithal to spend its summers at the cricket was a worthwhile long-term investment.

In addition to a grant (for the benefit of readers under the age of 40, that's a loan you don't have to repay), we were allowed to sign on the dole from June to September. In order to spare potential employers the embarrassment of having their kind offers of employment turned down, we thoughtfully omitted to enter our phone numbers on the forms. In four summers, the only job offer that came the way of my Blean Correspondent or myself was an opportunity for the former to be a roofer, a job for which he was the least suitable person in east Kent, your writer excepted.

So it was that I set off for Lord's on a bright June Saturday with a smile on my face and the taxpayer's pound in my pocket.

Much had happened in the four years since the first World Cup. Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket had challenged the assumptions upon which the game was run, for the better. Packer won the war; shortly before the start of the 1979 World Cup the Australian Board of Control gave the TV rights for cricket in Australia to his Channel Nine, which retains them to this day.

The World Cup did not escape the fallout from cricket's war. England and Australia did not select any World Series players, which meant that the Kent trio of Underwood, Knott and Woolmer were absent, which was England's loss (though Knott only played the first half of the season, keeping a place warm for Paul Downton, who was at Exeter University).

Australia went out at the group stage, but England reached the final to meet the defending champions. In a recent TV interview Clive Lloyd explained how much the West Indies had benefitted from World Series Cricket. Kerry Packer demanded fitness and a professional approach in return for his large cheques, and this got the most out of the abundant raw talent of the islands.

It helped that in place was the first version of the pace-bowling quartet on which the West Indies domination of world cricket for the next decade was based. The thinking speed of Andy Roberts and Mikey Holding was supplemented by Joel Garner, who that day revealed his ability to bowl yorkers to order, and Colin Croft, who made up for lack of art by giving the impression of being just a bit psycho.

England was fortunate that the loss of the World Series players had coincided with the emergence of the gifted trio of Gooch, Botham and Gower. And the captain was Mike Brearley, the cleverest man on the planet.

Things went well for England early on. The Nijinsky of the covers, Derek Randall, ran out Gordon Greenidge (whether the reference to Nijinsky is taken as being to the dancer or the racehorse, it is apt). A fine pair of bowlers, Mike Hendrick and Chris Old accounted for Desmond Haynes, Alvin Kallicharran and – a good low caught-and-bowled by Old – Clive Lloyd. Four world-class batsmen gone, and the West Indies had not reached a hundred.

But Viv Richards was still there, and it was his day. The young fielder who turned the 1975 final had become the finest batsmen in the world, the greatest I have seen. Today he would score the first of three centuries in Lord's finals. Richards batted there as if Thomas Lord had gone to the trouble of establishing his ground so that a couple of hundred years later Viv Richards would have somewhere worthy of him to play. That he was the last specialist batsman left was irrelevant to him. He settled in and began to play shots all round the ground.

At the other end was Collis King, an English sort of player in that he wasn't quite international class either as a batsman or bowler. In 1979 he was in the middle of an unremarkable career consisting of a handful of Tests and ODIs and a few seasons' county cricket with Glamorgan and Worcestershire. Nothing memorable, except for his innings today.

After playing himself in, King began to hit out, successfully and spectacularly, to the tune of 86 from 66 balls. As always when writing about the one-day game of this era the point must be made that there were no fielding restrictions whatsoever. There would have been seven boundary fielders once King got going, so hitting ten fours and three sixes past them took a bit of doing.

It was the only time I can recall Richards being outscored, a situation he accepted with sense and dignity, giving King the strike and licence he needed to make the most of his moment in the sun.

When King was out, caught on the boundary, Richards resumed, and it was batting of mass destruction. Watching the England bowlers in the last overs of the West Indian innings was useful for a history student as it provided an insight into what it must have been like for the Light Brigade as it rode stoically into the Valley of Death, its fate inevitable.

There's a wonderful piece of commentary by Richie Benaud on this stage of the game. Hendrick bowls and is still following through when he realises that Richards has driven the ball straight, very hard, and at head height. Hendrick's hand moves towards the line of the ball, but self-preservation kicks in and he ducks as the ball sears past, crashing into the pavilion fence a second later. “Very wise” said Benaud. “Who wants to be a hero at this stage of the game?”

I am second to none in my admiration for Mike Brearley's captaincy, but he was not infallible, and presumably had a hand in the decision to replace the injured Willis with an extra batsman and to try to get away with the trundling trio of Gooch, Larkins and Boycott as fifth bowler. They went for 86 between them and bore the brunt of Collis King's onslaught.

But Brearley did provoke a collective gasp as he ran 40 yards to hold on to a Holding skyer at full speed, a moment unfortunately omitted from the highlights package shown before the recent World Cup.

So England had to chase 286, a total rarely achieved even over 60 overs in those times, with Brearley and Boycott to open. Those were two names that could stand to represent the contrasts of English cricket. The southern gentleman and the northern player; the public school and Cambridge-educated captain and the graduate of the university of hard knocks senior pro. What they had in common was that neither of them could unshackle themselves from their orthodoxy to score at the rate required to make 287 achievable.

Both had had days where inhibition was lost. Famously, Boycott had lashed Surrey round Lord's for 146 in the 1965 Gillette Cup final. Captaining MCC Under-25s in Pakistan, Brearley scored 312 in a day at Peshawar in 1967, against an attack including Intikhab Alam (the Taleban still speak of it with wonder, as they sit around their camp fires up by the North-West Frontier). Not today though. Boycott treasured his wicket too much, and Brearley didn't have the technique.

There was no powerplay in those days, so the England supporters were at first sanguine at the slow start. But Boycott did not get into double figures until the seventeenth over, by which time the voices calling on the West Indies quicks to knock their heads off were as replete with plummy home counties vowels as they were with the cadence of the Caribbean.

At about the halfway stage a chance was offered to Clive Lloyd, which he juggled and dropped. The feeling on the day was that Lloyd – still one of the best fielders in the game – had spilled it deliberately so as to prolong the torpor. I was pleased to see on the recent highlights package that this was not so, as it took all of Lloyd's six foot five inches of athleticism to reach it, but it would have been a reasonable approach.

When the partnership finally ended almost eight an over were needed. A couple of weeks ago a writer (I forget who) discussed the composition of England's current ODI team. He argued that Cook and Strauss could not open together as “it would be too much like Boycott and Brearley”. The scars are deep indeed.

Randall and Gooch made a brave attempt to keep up, but Garner finished the match with five wickets for four runs in 11 balls and West Indies retained the trophy. None of us at Lord's that day would have believed that, 32 years later, the Caribbean islands would not have won a third time.

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...