Masters of the game
The joy of being part of a World Cup winning team is indescribable. I was fortunate enough to have that privilege twice in my career, in 1975 and 1979.
The experience of winning in 1975 was, of course, special because it was the first edition of the World Cup and everyone was new to the concept of a tournament that featured all the teams.
In those days, the tournament was a lot shorter, while each game was longer, comprising 60 overs. My standout memory of that tournament was the final, where Clive Lloyd scored a memorable century.
By 1979, things had changed and we entered the tournament as firm favourites. In the intervening four years, West Indian cricket had scaled new heights, and our team had an outstanding bowling attack, as well as batsmen who were in their prime. We had won most of the cricket we had played in the intervening years, and that confidence was reflected in the manner in which we reached the semifinals without any problem.
Our first challenge came in the semis, where we were seriously tested by Pakistan. I remember Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas leading a spirited run chase against us, even more creditable because our bowling attack was made up of Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts.
Such was the quality of this attack that the Pakistanis decided to take one risk too many against my harmless spin. The result? I claimed three wickets to return my best World Cup figures of 3 for 52!
While the final in 1975 was against the Australians, whom we defeated by only 19 runs, in 1979 the final was against hosts England. Australia had sent an inexperienced side to the second edition of the Cup, primarily because of the Packer stand-off. This meant that England and Pakistan were the main opposition. India did not have a very good tournament, losing to Sri Lanka, who were yet to get Test status.
I will always remember the 1979 finals as one of my best games because it was tremendous to perform at such a big moment. The atmosphere at Lord’s was special and since it was Lord's — considered the home of cricket — I was always eager to perform well there.
I was proud to have contributed in 1975 through my fielding, but in 1979, I was hoping to come good with the bat.
As it turned out, we did not start too well, and were 99 for four at one stage. That was when Collis King and I started the repair job. I had often been flattered by the epithet ‘King’ during my playing days, but on that summer’s day at Lord’s, Collis was truly the king.
He launched a magnificent counter-offensive that had the England bowlers running for cover. Today, a run-a-ball batting is par for the course, but in those days, things were far more conventional. However, such was King’s aggression that he sped to 86 in a mere 66 balls, explosive even by modern standards.
Together we were able to resurrect our team's chances, putting up 140-odd runs in a little over 20 overs, and that was enough to see the team to a respectable total.
For me, the highlight of my knock was the fact that I was able to finish the job and remain unbeaten. Many people have often asked me about the last-ball flick off Hendrick for a six. I had anticipated a yorker, and was therefore able to move across and play that shot. Personally, the highlight of my innings was the satisfaction of contributing to the team's cause.
We were very proud of our 1975 win and wanted to defend the Cup, no matter what. The start of the final had been pretty inauspicious, so I was happy to put my team in a strong position.
The England chase was circumspect at the start, and at one stage they were 180-odd for two. Garner, however, ensured that the Cup was ours with a superb spell (5 for 38).
It's sad that we have never been able to claim the Cup after that day, 28 years ago. The host team has never won the World Cup, and the West Indies cannot be considered favourites. However, this World Cup has brought a lot of interest back into the game after quite some time and everyone knows that this West Indian team can stand against anybody on their day.
My century notwithstanding, I would still rate the 1975 win higher than 1979. The Australians made us earn our win, it marked the beginning of a great period for West Indian cricket and above all, it was the first time we were called world champions.
It was the win that gave us the confidence to make three consecutive finals, and gave us a taste of what it is like to be at the pinnacle of the sport.
Hopefully, Brian Lara and his men will be able to savour that heady feeling once again, this time in their own backyard.