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A Saturday evening at Old Trafford

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Roar Guru
19th October, 2018
8

As Brian Close, accompanied by his younger partner, John Edrich went out to open England’s second innings at Old Trafford against the West Indies in 1976, the result of the match was already decided.

England needed 552 runs for a victory on an underprepared wicket with dangerous uneven bounce, against a formidable West Indies pace attack with more than two days of play left. England’s only realistic chance was long rain interruptions after the weekend. During the warmest English summer of the century, that seemed highly unlikely.

Yet, things had started brilliantly for the home side on the Thursday. Injuries to key fast bowlers meant they went in to this match with only two frontline seamers; Mike Hendrick making a comeback and Mike Shelvey making his debut.

Shelvey took three big wickets with his first 20 deliveries in Test cricket to restrict the visitors to 4/42. He got the ball to move in both directions, and it was only the brilliance of Gordon Greenidge that saved the Windies blushes. The Barbados opener smashed a remarkable 134 out of a team total of 211.

The visitors, however, took control after dismissing England for 71, with a young Michael Holding taking 5/17 and only David Steele, with 20, managed a double digit score.

The West Indies then declared their second innings at 5/411, with centuries from both Viv Richards and Greenidge setting up a testing 80 minutes for the English batsmen.

The statistics would suggest that this was a fairly uneventful session of test cricket, with the English openers surviving some hostile fast bowling to finish at 0/21. There were only four scoring shots; two of them boundaries.

Veteran Close closed the day at 1*, while Edrich was 10*.

Yet, the events of this 80-minute session had a profound effect on Test cricket as a whole as, just like Close and Edrich on this evening, batsmen throughout the world would have to face hostile short pitched bowling from a West Indies pace attack for the rest of the century.

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Interestingly, as the Indies captain Clive Lloyd later commented; his fast bowlers actually bowled pretty poorly, overdoing the short-pitched stuff.

There was plenty of juice in the pitch and the right plan for the Windies pace trio (Andy Roberts, Micheal Holding and Wayne Daniel) would have been to pitch the ball up, using the short ball as a surprise weapon.

But the young fast bowlers got carried away and, instead of targeting the wicket, they started targeting the batsmen’s bodies. Brain Close especially became a big target for Holding. The video of Holding’s relentless short pitch stuff towards the Yorkshire-man still remains immensely popular at YouTube.

As a batsman, Close, already in his mid-forties, belonged to the old school when it came to facing the short pitched bowling.

Of course, there were no helmets in test cricket at the time – and he didn’t believe in ducking. It was either swaying away from the line of delivery or taking a blow in the body.

As he returned to the pavilion at the end of day’s play, his body was full bruises yet he declined to go to the hospital.

The Sunday newspapers were full of critical comments about the visiting tactics, with Lloyd heavily criticized. The headline ‘Cricket; Ugly Cricket’ appeared on The Sun.

Of course, the Windies bowlers corrected their mistake when play resumed on Monday morning, pitching the ball up.

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Still, the two veterans fought bravely for more than an hour before Daniel bowled Edrich. Roberts then took over taking 6/37 as England were bundled out for 126 on the fifth morning, with only rain intervention denying the West Indies a four-day win.

A number of interesting facts can be related to this match. For both Edrich and Close, this would be their last tests for England, ironic given they were the top two scorers in the England second innings.

This Test started the dominance of the West Indies against England in Test matches, which lasted for a quarter of a century.

During the 1980’s the fixture became so one-sided that, at one stage between 1984-1988, they won 14 of their 15 tests against England – the other match being a rain-affected draw.

Also, with the growing menace of hostile fast bowlers like Roberts and Holding, helmets were introduced in 1977. Restrictions on short pitch bowling followed soon.

But, the most significant effect was on West Indies cricket – and it influenced everyone else as well. During the disaster tour of Australia the previous season, Lance Gibbs, the great off spinner, had ended his long career. There was no apparent heir to him.

When the varied Windies spin attack of David Padmore, Raphik Jumadeen and Imtiaz Ali looked hapless against India at Port of Spain, the future of their spin attack looked bleak.

Almost simultaneously, a group of fast bowlers were quickly maturing in different islands. It was Padmore, who was in the Old Trafford squad, but he ended up bowling only 3 overs in his second and final test match. For the next test at Headingley, he was replaced by Vanburn Holder – and the era of the West Indies pace quartet started.

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The last statement needs a bit of clarification. The Windies had played four seamers before on a number of occasions, but it always included at least one all rounder like Sir Garfield Sobers, Bernard Julien or Keith Boyce.

At Headingley, they decided to go with four frontline fast bowlers and not bothering about the length of their tail.

In fact, it could even be described as a five-pronged pace attack because Collis King, a medium paced all-rounder, was in the team as well. He wasn’t required to bowl in his debut match at Old Trafford, but here he had a lengthy spell in the long England first innings.

For most of the next couple of decades, four would be more than enough for most opposition. The use of protective helmets and other stuff, restrictions on short pitch bowling, nothing could stop them.

They had their critics but, for the batsmen facing the music in the middle, they were of little help. Only the very best like Javed Miandad or Allan Border could fight them on even terms – and even they had their problems. For example, Border finished the 1992-93 series with scores of 1,0,0 in his last three Test innings against them.

Going back to that Saturday evening at Old Trafford, the West Indies quicks certainly overdid the short pitched stuff.

But in time, they all matured and learned to mix the pitched up deliveries with the bouncers. Tthe effect was devastating. This successful tactics played a big part in the Windies’ almost complete dominance of world cricket during the 1980’s.