In a country that dwells on chaos and confusion in many aspects, Sri Lanka’s beleaguered cricket selectors have finally put together a squad for the World Cup.
Almost to the day, 154-years after Emperor Napoleon’s dreams of conquering the world were shattered on the once beautiful fields of Waterloo, Garry Sobers’ West Indian cricket team faced their own little Waterloo in the picturesque ground of Sion Mills in Ireland.
No one outside Londonderry in Northern Ireland had ever heard of Sion Mills before that day, but the astonishing events that took place in July 1969 ensured the cricketing world would remember the name for ever more.
Waterloo cost Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington and their allies a combined 65,000 men in casualties and losses.
While the loss of life on the fields of Sion Mills was not as heavy (in fact everyone survived to tell the tale), the grievous harm done to the reputation and combined egos of the mighty West Indians was no less devastating.
West Indies were in the process of rebuilding into what would later become a team to rival Don Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles.
But at this stage, it was still work in progress and they had just lost the Test series 2-0 to England, with their last match at Lord’s ending in a thrilling draw, a match the visitors could on another day, have won.
As soon as the Test was over, the team, minus Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs who were injured, had left for Ireland.
As Arunabha Sengupta recounted in his version of the match in Cricket Country:
“Having ended the second Test, the team had made a dash from St John’s Wood to Heathrow to catch a late flight to Belfast. The drive to the Inter Counties Hotel in Lifford had been long. The restaurant at the hotel had already closed by the time they arrived after midnight. The team ate at a nearby late night restaurant and stretched out their tired bodies in their hotel rooms. The only drinking that had taken place that evening had involved the Irish.”
The sunny morning of the match brought little cheer to the weary West Indians when they got to the ground and realised that the overnight rains had left the ground and the pitch in less than ideal conditions for cricket.
Depending on whose account you chose to follow, the pitch was either diabolical or merely required a bit of application to bat on.
In his account Sengupta says: “On walking in, both the openers inserted a finger in the pitch. Both their fingers went in all the way. Batting was going to be a nightmare.”
Derek Scott, writing his account in Cricket Europe Ireland, says: “The wicket was not bad but due to rain it was damp and had a good deal of grass. The ball came through at varying heights but it was slow. The West Indies had come from fast conditions and played some fast wicket shots which got them out.”
They two accounts could well be talking of different matches given how divergent they are in their reproach of the pitch.
Without getting into a debate on the exact state of that pitch that July day in 1969, let’s just say the wicket was less than ideal, when Basil Butcher, captaining the side in place of the injured Sobers, agreed to bat, so that the nice crowd that had gathered with pints of Guinness in their hands, could enjoy watching the visitors make some runs in the swashbuckling style one had always heard about.
Dougie Goodwin and Alec O’Riordan opened the bowling for Ireland. Facing them were the two West Indian openers, Joey Carew and Steve Camacho.
Camacho faced up to O’Riordan and took one run off the first over.
West Indies, 1 for no loss.
In attempting to hook Goodwin’s first ball however, Camacho was caught at midwicket in the next over. In O’Riordan’s second over Carew also attempted an equally ill-conceived hook, the ball got up too high and he lobbed a catch to square leg.
West Indies 1 for 2.
Maurice Foster came in at the fall of Carew’s wicket and was foolishly run out as Basil Butcher hit a ball to Patrick “Podge” Hughes’ left at mid-off and called a run. Hughes fielded the ball and his throw to the wicket-keeper easily beat Foster who was not hurrying.
West Indies 3 for 3.
This brought in Clive Llyod.
Butcher and Lloyd got three singles. In 0’Riordan’s sixth over, one ball reared up and struck Butcher on the arm. He angrily slashed at the next and Gerry Duffy, one of Ireland’s great Cricketers, took a good low catch at gully.
West Indies 6 for 4.
43-year-old manager of the West Indies team, Clyde Walcott, who had retired 10-years previously, had agreed to play the match for the sake of the spectators. He now came in, after exchanging some angry words with the departing batsmen, who he felt (perhaps justifiably so), had thrown away their wickets.
The out of practice but sensible and experienced Walcott stayed on the back foot as was proper on this wicket. In Goodwin’s seventh over Clive Lloyd misdrove a ball to mid-off where Robin Waters, Ireland’s opening batsman, took an easy catch.
West Indies 6 for 5.
In Goodwin’s next over, John Shepherd played a bad cut shot at a short ball and Duffy took another good catch at gully to make the West Indies 8 for 6.
Walcott and Mike Findlay (who was later to himself become the Manager of the West Indies team) were together for six overs; when the score was 12 Walcott had made all six runs scored since he had come in.
Not too bad for a retiree!
In Goodwin’s 11th over Findlay stepped out to drive and spooned the ball to mid-off where Waters almost fumbled the easy catch.
West Indies 12 for 8.
Ireland conceded a bye and then O’Riordan took two wickets with the last two balls of his 12th over. Walcott swung at him and John Anderson caught a skier at cover. Next ball Pascall Roberts swung to leg and skied to the wicket-keeper.
Goodwin then bowled a maiden over to Philbert Blair, the fast bowler, but O’Riordan in his last over conceded 12 runs to Grayson Shillingford and Blair with both swinging their bats. This effectively more than doubled the score. With the fifth ball of the next over Goodwin bowled Blair and it was all over.
West Indies all out for 25.
A stunning turn of events which had the crowd on their feet and cheering their two boys. The entire innings had lasted 86 minutes.
O’Riordan had astonishing final figures of 13-8-18-4 and Goodwin 12.5-8-6-5.
Ireland opened their batting 25-minutes before lunch and quickly hit up a 125 runs for the loss of eight wickets before declaring and leaving West Indies 95-minutes to bat again.
Either the wicket had dried sufficiently for the West Indians to be able to bat normally again, or the ignominy of having scored the lowest total of any team (in any form of cricket) against Ireland, was playing on their minds.
West Indies scored 78 for 4 in their second innings before the teams called it a day, leaving Ireland the winners by virtue of their first innings lead.
Captain Butcher led from the front, scoring a chance less half century. But as Sengupta recounts, the team was not about to forgive Butcher for his decision to bat first on that pitch: “Maurice Foster called Butcher a submarine captain because he preferred to bat under water. Carew disagreed, saying Butcher was not fit to captain a submarine.”
A match that has gone down in West Indian cricketing history as a match they would rather forget.
The last word on the West Indian performance, aptly enough, came from LD Roberts, a correspondent of Jamaica’s Gleaner, who, seeing the West Indian flag flying upside down at the ground, remarked, “Half-mast might have been more appropriate.”