With a mere 18 one-day matches as precedent, the inaugural World Cup was certainly a novel concept. Novelty apart, however, I think plenty of people doubted whether the tournament was going to prove a long-term success. In short, not everyone was sure that it was here to stay. But that feeling was probably justified, considering how nascent the one-day format was in those days. Sceptics could even be forgiven for thinking that the limited overs game itself was a short-term prospect.
However, for the eight teams involved in 1975, the tournament was a pretty exciting prospect. Though there were to be only 15 matches in all, it seemed a great idea to get all the best cricketers in the world competing against each other under the scope of a single tournament.
As pre-tournament favourites, the West Indies had a reputation to live up to. Most of us — 11 of the 14 picked for the tournament, to be precise — had had significant exposure to the one-day game thanks to our English county stints, and we looked forward to some hard-fought encounters.
I had been appointed captain of the side the year before, and it was an exciting time to be playing international cricket. We were determined to live up to our pre-tournament status, and thus went into our opening game, against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford, full of determination. We knew our strengths – batting and bowling depth, fielding and experience of the limited-overs game.
That outing proved relatively easy, but since Sri Lanka were still not a Test-playing nation, our nine-wicket victory was fairly according to script. It was against Pakistan at Birmingham that the script nearly threatened to come apart, because in reply to Pakistan’s 266 (which included very fine innings from Majid Khan, Mushtaq Mohammed and Wasim Raja), we progressed somewhat jerkily to 166 for 8, and the cause seemed lost.
I remember the exact moment that Deryck Murray and Andy Roberts got together to save the day. As I remember observing to an interviewer a few years ago, those two always seemed to bat well together. But what they achieved on June 11, 1975 was beyond belief. To have a courageous last-wicket stand is one thing, but watching the last pair score 64 runs in 14 overs made us realise that we really could pull off a tournament win.
If we could win that game – as we did by one wicket with two deliveries to spare – we couldn’t lose any at all. So Deryck and Andy did more than help us win that match – they made us come together as a unit and believe that all we needed to do was to play as a team for us to take the trophy home.
You must realise that batsmen in those days had a relatively tougher time of it than their modern counterparts, because bowlers were allowed a lot more freedom. And because the matches lasted 60 overs instead of 50, it was always a challenge to last the distance.
Besides, restrictive field placements meant that one-day games were not the run feasts that modern cricket fans in many parts of the world are used to. Now, with only two fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle for the first 10 overs, bowlers have very little margin for error, but back then, batting involved plenty more toil and sweat. So much so that I sometimes wonder what averages some of the batting greats back then would have run up now.
So the feeling in our camp was, if Deryck and Andy could do it, all of us could. Thus it was that we took the field against Australia at The Oval and registered a seven-wicket win. I remember the uncannily Caribbean atmosphere that we saw that day, it was almost like playing at home. There were what seemed like thousands of West Indies fans at the ground, cheering, yelling, playing music, singing – you know what it’s like.
That match was also memorable for Kalli’s (Alvin Kallicharan) outstanding 78 off 83 deliveries – during which he particularly went after the great Dennis Lillee, who ended up with match figures of 1 for 66 off 10 overs – and Roy Fredericks’s efficient 58.
The comprehensive win set us up nicely for the semifinal against New Zealand, which saw Kalli at his dazzling best again — 72 off 92 and a second consecutive Man of the Match award — with Gordon Greenidge providing a solid 55, and we cruised to victory with almost 20 overs to spare.
Going into the final, I was looking to improve on the three runs that I had contributed to the team total against New Zealand, but I wasn’t to know how vast an improvement it would be. The match began as badly for us as a match ever can, as Roy got out treading on his wicket in the first over — in the act of clipping Lillee for a six.
In the pavilion, I remember thinking, “So this is how it will be for us today? No luck at all!” But of course I was wrong, because Ross Edwards dropped me on 10 and thus signalled the start to one of the most memorable days of my life.
I had walked out to bat at 50 for 3, which was not the best possible position to be in, but after that dropped catch, I realised that I was middling almost every ball. At the other end, Rohan (Kanhai) was playing a brilliant supporting role, so that a big score looked increasingly likely.
By the time I got out for 102, we were 199 for 4, and a late burst from Boyce and Julien meant that we eventually posted 291. Boyce also ended up with four of the five Australian wickets to fall to the bowlers, with yours truly bagging the fifth. Given the superb bowling attacks at my disposal throughout my captaincy, I was accustomed to under-bowling, so I treasure that solitary wicket!
Full credit to Australia for the way they fought to run down that big total. Despite five run outs — thanks to a brilliant Viv Richards who alone effected three — they came within firing distance, primarily courtesy a combative 62 from Ian Chappell.
Even at 230-odd for 9, Lillee and Jeff Thomson refused to give in and pegged away at the target until Deryck ran Thomson out with the Australians needing just 18 to win.
As I received the trophy, I remember thinking that here, at last, was a chance to tell the world that we could be good too. Our cricket had not progressed much in the past, and the World Cup win was a giant leap for Caribbean cricket. For the first time, we showed the world what we were capable of, and it was the start of a glorious period for us.