In order to fill some MFW airtime over an international tournament-free summer, Martin and I hatched a plan.
Not one that’s particularly clever or innovative, but as most of the good folk involved with MFW are sport, not just football, lovers we thought it worth throwing the floor open to the team (and readers) to share some of their most memorable sporting moments.
The parameters, as ever, are fairly loose: special moments of a memorable and/or personal nature that pertain to any sport, including football, but which do not involve Norwich City.
So… with it being my original thought, it falls on me to kick it all off.
The first thing to remind you is not every anecdote has to be interesting – at least not to everyone. What follows is proof.
But it’s interesting to me, memorable (to me), and is a sporting moment. So it qualifies and if you stay tuned you’re going to hear it.
Having said that, if you’re not a cricket fan, you may wish to change channels.
It all begins in the mid-1970s when Gowers Junior found himself gripped for the first time by the joys of Test cricket. Well, cricket in general but at that time my dad was espousing his theory that any game that began and ended on the same day wasn’t, in fact, a bona fide game of cricket at all.
He’s changed his tune since (he’s an avid watcher of The Blast and The Hundred), but I ignored it anyway. I loved it in all forms, which back then, in addition to the County Championship (one division) and Test cricket, was…
- The Gillette Cup (60-overs-per-side, one-day).
- The Benson & Hedges Cup (55-overs-per-side, one-day).
- The John Player Sunday League (40-overs-per-side, Sunday afternoon).
(Semi-interesting aside – the choice of 40 overs for the John Player League was not one of choice but was apparently to comply with the Lord’s Day Observance Society’s laws, which precluded a start time of earlier than two o’clock).
Anyway… the point is there was enough live cricket to consume if you were that way inclined, and I was. Nothing like the volume we perceive as normal today, but at least it was all available, free-to-air on the dear old BBC.
The coverage itself was obviously a far cry from what Sky dishes up today. No super-slow-mos, action not covered from 500 different angles, no music, no pyro, but it had a certain charm, and the commentators were brilliant – among them the unmistakable voices of Richie Benaud, Jim Laker, with Peter West as the rock-solid presenter.
And by way of a special treat to us all, John Arlott – the legend of Test Match Special fame – would swap his radio commentary booth for its TV equivalent for the Sunday League games; sharing those duties with Jim Laker.
And then there was the music…
What now seems an oddity but which felt perfectly normal at the time was that the live TV pictures were shot from a single camera at one end of the ground. Instead of having a perfect view of the batter playing/attempting his every shot, fifty percent of the time you’d instead have a perfect view of the back of Allan Knott’s head.
But it was fine. Oh and kids, they played in whites all of the time (more on that later). No multi-coloured uniforms back then regardless of format.
Selected games from the Gillette and Benson & Hedges cups were shown live, and when it was a school holiday that was my day sorted, and while Sunday was for some a day of rest, for me it was for watching the John Player League, which were usually games between sides who were in the midst of a four-day County Championship match. Which felt a bit weird.
Being from Suffolk (sorry) there was no first-class county to support but I did take a passing interest in Essex’s Graham Gooch era. Not on anything like a Norwich City level but still … Essex and Gooch it was.
England, however, I did feel able to throw my full weight behind, and even though the 1970s were hardly stellar years, I’d already become Norwich-City-hardened: accepting of the fact that for every success there would be numerous disappointments.
But, while it wasn’t a time notable for England’s excellence, it was the decade of peak West Indies.
Australia were obviously (and irritatingly) decent – it was, after all, the age of Lillee and Thompson – but those gents from the Caribbean were special.
With the bat, Gordon Greenwich, Desmond Haynes, and, particularly, Viv Richards were, in very different ways, indomitable but, for me, it was about those fast bowlers. Big, strong, athletic, menacing, and supremely talented – everything I wasn’t (and have never been).
When they toured England in 1973, it was a little too soon for me to recall the minutiae, but Google tells me it was a pace attack comprising Keith Boyce, Vanburn Holder, Bernard Julien, and Andy Roberts.
But by the time they next arrived on these shores, in 1976, I was fully on board and can recall it as if it were yesterday. Not least because it was the tour preceded by England captain Tony Greig idiotically predicting that during that summer England would make them “grovel”.
Even to a ten-year-old that was asking for trouble. And it came.
This time, in addition to Holder, Julien, and Roberts, they also included in their touring party a 22-year-old rookie by the name of Michael Holding. And he was quick. He was also, along with his teammates, properly fired up by the words of Greig.
Sure enough, against a backdrop of clinking cans and incessant chanting from the huge Caribbean contingent at every match – infinitely larger than any West Indies’ support of today – the Windies did to England what Greig had anticipated his team doing to them.
They won the five-match series 3-0, with Viv Richards scoring a colossal 829 runs, and Roberts and Holding taking 28 wickets apiece.
Given the ferocity of the bowling faced by the England batters, the mandatory colour of cricket clothing was unfortunate, although to be honest the ICC and ECB were never going to ratify the wearing of browns.
Not only was that summer notable for England getting humped but it was also the hottest summer on record (at the time), with the matches all played on parched outfields, free of fresh grass, with the only greenery on view being the squares that were somehow exempt from hosepipe bans.
For the record, and good measure, the Windies also won the ODI series 3-0, with Richards again top-scoring and Roberts (again) taking the most wickets.
For Greig and England, it was a summer to forget. A not-so-short but very sharp lesson in not opening your big gob if you don’t have the team to back it up, and not to rile up a team that includes the world’s best batter and four of the fastest bowlers the game has ever seen.
Their next tour of England was in 1980 and allows me (1100 words later) to finally edge closer to my memorable sporting moment.
This time, along with Roberts and Holding, they brought with them three more speed merchants – Joel Garner, Colin Croft, and Malcolm Marshall.
All lightning quick and, in addition, Garner, at 6ft 8 inches, could extract bounce that was hitherto unseen. Now they had a group of five and, as they normally played with four quickies, could therefore rotate and keep the group fresh.
Bad news for England.
So the signs were already ominous albeit, unlike 1976, the summer of 1980 was a wet one, which in part came to England’s rescue. Our cause though was not helped by the fact it was the period when, following Mike Brearley’s first retirement from Test Cricket, the England captain stripes were handed to Ian Botham.
His captaincy spell ultimately delivered no wins in 12 tests, which gives you some idea of how the summer of 1980 went for England, although as it transpired, they only lost the five-match series 1-0. They were though in losing positions in every game only to be saved on several occasions by the weather.
But the moment for which this whole piece is merely a pre-amble came on Day 2 of the Fourth Test at the Oval.
My dad had decided that me and a mate (Vinny) had been sufficiently not bad to sample some Test cricket for real for the first time, so had bought four tickets for the Friday. Four because my mum, who had little interest in cricket, also came along.
It was a rarity for that summer, a hot sunny day, so off the four of us trotted to Kennington via the joys of TfL on our journey into the unknown.
As it happened, and quite possibly down to pure luck, Dad acquired some cracking seats – perfectly side-on, on the same side of the ground famous for the giant gasholder, which loomed over my right shoulder.
We were surrounded by good-natured Windies supporters, who turned up expecting to see their men roll over England who, on the first day, had been surprisingly obstinate.
So obstinate, they opened the second day on 236/3 with Sir Geoffrey on 39 not out – he retired hurt for a spell after being hit by Colin Croft (even prime Boycott would score more than 39 in a day) – and Mike Gatting not out on 18.
There was no Andy Roberts – he was the one chosen for a rest – so we were granted an audience with Holding, Garner, Croft, and Marshall.
Given that this was the first, first-class cricket I’d ever seen, it was the eye-opener of all eye-openers.
Six days earlier I’d been (badly) captaining Bungay High School Under-16s on a bumpy track with a bumpy outfield on the school’s playing field. We had ten men. We lost.
This was a different sport altogether.
And so the moment…
It happened when Clive Lloyd handed the ball to Holding for his opening spell. Too much time has elapsed to recall whether this was the opening over of the day or first change, but that’s not the point.
What I can recall, first of all, was how far back from the batting crease Deryck Murray and the slip cordon were. The intervening years have played tricks with the mind because, for me, Murray and co were more than halfway back to the boundary.
Obviously, they weren’t (before anyone points out the stupidity of that recollection) but that’s how it felt. The Kennington Oval is in postcode SE11. Murray, Lloyd, Richards and co were somewhere in SE14.
And then there was Holding’s run-up.
In my mind’s eye, I see him roaring in from across the boundary and from several rows back in the Pavillion End, although in truth was probably about two-thirds of the way back to the ropes.
Either/or, it was something else.
For Croft and Marshall, it was all about speed and power. For Garner, it was essentially a series of ambling, loping strides that concluded with a flick of the wrist and which saw almost every ball rear up off just short of a length and play some chin music.
But Holding was known as “Whispering Death” for a reason.
That first ball:
Feet barely touching the Oval’s turf, he glided. Silently. Majestically.
The phrase poetry in motion was invented for him.
As he approached the popping crease he exploded. Still majestically. But he exploded.
An elegant leap, a flurry of arms, and the ball left his hand with the velocity of an Exocet missile. To the batter it no doubt felt like one.
From side on, there was a puff of dust halfway down the strip before, 0.00001 of a second later, the ball thundered into Murray’s gloves.
Gatting survived after playing a futile defensive prod.
Today they call it bowling rockets.
About seven seconds is all it took, but that moment has never ever left me. One ball. Nearly 43 years later.
The rest of the day was as absorbing as you’d expect it to be for a teenage cricket fan who was watching first-class cricket for the first time and, for the record, the Windies bowled England out for 370 before ending the day 45/2. Richards ended it 14 not out, so I got to see the great man albeit in conservative mode.
Also for the record, the Saturday was washed out due to rain and, partly as a result, the match ended up being drawn.
But it mattered not.
That day was, for all of the reasons above, one of my most memorable. I’ve been to Test matches and ODIs since, but none of them compared to that day at The Oval.
And since then, for me, nothing has come close to sitting there wide-eyed as Holding bowled that first ball; even watching Allan Donald being bowled for a duck at Headingley and hearing him given the “Donald Duck” treatment from the Western Terrace, as amusing as that was.
So there it is. A long, arduous route to a sporting moment that lasted less than the time it takes Gabriel Sara to amble across to take a corner and hit the first man.
Cheers for staying with me.
In the days to follow, some other members of the MFW team will be regaling us with tales far more fascinating and important than mine, and you’re free to do the same – either in the comments or in a guest blog of your own. The floor is yours.