Vintage Windies: The Team That Forgot What Losing Meant!
India’s tour of West Indies for a 5-match ODI series and 1 T20I starts from today and almost everyone knows what will be the result. Even though cricket is an unpredictable game, the two teams are miles apart in terms of quality. However, this wasn’t the case always. West Indies heavily dominated world cricket between 1975 and 1995. Oppositions literally feared this team. For batsmen it wasn’t about scoring runs against West Indian bowlers, it was about coming back alive into the dressing room.
This team won 2 world cups in this period and didn’t lose a single test series between 1980 and 1995. Gordon Greenidge said years after his retirement that the ‘team forgot what it was like to lose’. Brazil did in football, India did it in hockey but none of them did it for so long and like how West Indies did it in cricket.
“Several dots on the map, dominating the world.” That’s how Sir Andy Roberts, the leader of West Indian fast bowling in the 1970s and 80s described his country’s dominance in cricket.
Very few fans would be aware of the fact that when the Indian side toured West Indies in 1976, Clive Lloyd unleashed his pace attack on the Indians and as many as 5 players were retired hurt. Yes, you read it right! Half of the Indian side was back in the pavilion with injuries. The attack was so fatal that Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi had to declare the innings with a lead of only 12 runs fearing the well-being of his tail-enders.
When it all Started!
West Indies had already won the 1975 ODI World Cup defeating Australia in the final but was yet to establish its authority in Test cricket. Later that year they toured Australia and a wounded team was waiting for them. Australian captain Gregg Chappell took the aggressive route by unleashing his fast bowlers Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillie, who were known for their express pace and deadly bouncers. Back then protective gears were not used by the batsmen. Lillie and Thomson run a riot by hitting the Caribbean batsmen all over the body.
The visitors were completely destroyed and eventually lost the series 5-1. The only man who showed some resistance was their captain Clive Lloyd scoring at an average of little over 46. The whole nation was left shattered and their players were humiliated. They were called ‘calypso cricketers’ which was no less than a racist comment.
The Rise in World Cricket!
This loss didn’t go well with the West Indies team. Instead of giving away his captaincy Clive Lloyd decided to come back stronger. The series made him realise that in order to win he had to cultivate bowlers like Lillie and Thomson. By this time Andy Roberts was already a regular starter in the side, Michael Holding made his debut in the same year, followed by Colin Croft and Joel Garner.
In no time West Indies had 4 fast bowlers who could all bowl over 90 miles per hour. Their batting was already in good shape with Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes forming world’s best opening pair followed by Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharran and Clive Lloyd. In two years’ time, Malcolm Marshall also emerged onto the scene.
When Death Whispered: ‘Grovel’!
Before West Indies would have recovered from the loss against Australia, they were in England to face another formidable side and right then one incident changed the history of an entire nation.
Just to give you a brief, Tony Greig was the captain of England back then. He was a South African by birth and when he used to play in his backyard, he used to make his African domestic help and gardeners bowl to him. Two days before the start of the series he gave this statement in an interview to BBC, “I think you must remember that the West Indians, these guys, if they get on top, they are magnificent cricketers, but if they’re down, they ‘grovel’. And I intend, with the help of Closey (Brian Close) and a few others, to make them ‘grovel’.”
Brian Close who was 45-years old back then and had already earned himself a great name in cricketing circles was hit by every ball of a 22-year old Michael Holding over. By the time he was out, he had bruises all over his body. Tony Greig himself was bowled five times in the series. Michael Holding was named ‘Whispering Death’ by the umpires.
The other standout performer from the series was Sir Vivian Richards who scored 829 runs in four matches which included two double centuries. “My bat is my sword” is how he described his performances. He played a match in the series while still recovering from glandular fever and scored his career best 291.
West Indies won the five-match series 3-0. Brian Close never played for England again. Within few months helmets were introduced in cricket and ICC held a meeting to strict the rules over bouncers.
This began the golden chapter of West Indies cricket. Clive Lloyd emerged as a leader of the nation and not only the cricket team. He brought together people from different islands with different cultures and turned them into a team. They were unbeaten for 27 matches under his leadership maintaining a winning streak of 11 matches. After Lloyd’s retirement in 1984 Richards was named his successor and continued his good work.
Unfortunately, the involvement of politics and popularity of other sports in the Caribbean like soccer and athletics led to a decline in standards of cricket. Players like Sir Richie Richardson, Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose tried to carry the legacy for a while but the current side looks more suited for the shorter format.
We may never see such dominance by a team for so long in any sport. This was the generation of world beaters. This was the generation of ‘Champions’!