It’s a great pity Collis King played only nine Tests and 18 ODIs for the West Indies.
He, more than any other West Indies cricketer (my favourites Viv Richards and Michael Holding inclusive), represented the confident, carefree and perhaps slightly arrogant attitude of West Indies cricket during their heyday.
Their cricket was natural, built on extraordinary individual talents mixed with the zeal to shine at the highest level.
Everything about them seemed so natural to me, approaching my teen days at the time.
In direct contrast modern cricket, driven by the media and based on an extraordinary amount of computer analysis, seems too artificial to me. It appears more like a WWE type entertainment.
King was a hard-hitting middle-order batsman and a more than useful right arm medium pacer. As a batsman, his strike rate was way ahead of his time.
Yet the presence of a number of world-class top order batsmen and a quartet of hostile fast bowlers meant he mostly remained a fringe player in both formats of the game.
Nevertheless, for an hour and a quarter at a jam-packed Lord’s on a summer day of 1979, he well and truly became the ‘king’
West Indies went into the World Cup Final against England as the clear favourites. They had a well-balanced team with a strong batting line up and a hostile pace attack.
In contrast, their opponents England decided to go into the match with an extra batsman leaving themselves a specialist bowler short. This weakness would hurt them badly later on.
Pakistan, the team the West Indies beat in the semi-final, would have been a much tougher opponent for the reigning champions in the eyes of many.
Still, England defied the odds to control the match for the first couple of hours. Controlled seam bowling by Chris Old and Mike Hendrick, combined with excellent fielding with Derek Randall impressing especially, restricted the West Indies to 99/4 in the 30th over.
It was at this point King joined Viv Richards at the wicket. Initially they were quiet, but King cut loose after the lunch break.
The 60-over game played in England at the time may seem strange to many modern observers. There would be a lunch break after two and a quarter hours play; normally that would fall around the 35-over mark.
Similarly, a tea break would come after the 25 overs of the second innings. While the first session of the match belonged to England, the first hour after lunch effectively sealed the fate of the match as King took full advantage of England’s fifth bowler problem.
Eighty-six runs came off the 12 overs bowled by Geoff Boycott, Wayne Larkins and Graham Gooch. Collis eventually fell for 86, caught at the deep by Randall, giving Phil Edmonds his first wicket in the match but the damage was already done.
Ten fours and three sixes were the highlights of his 66 ball innings.
His systematic destruction of England’s morale wasn’t even the best part, it was the way he put the great Viv Richards into the shadow.
Richards would eventually come out of the shadow to launch a late assault on his way to a brilliant hundred, but during the 139 runs they were together at the crease, he was very much the junior partner.
I have seen plenty of Richards on TV and on YouTube and I can’t remember any other occasion when his batting partner dominated in such glorious fashion. Although he was awarded man of the match for his 138, it was King who was ultimately the monarch of the match.
King mostly remained a fringe player in the West Indies team during his five-year international career (interrupted by the Packer saga) but when he first emerged in the West Indies team in 1976, he was expected to enjoy a long career.
Considered as an ideal replacement for the likes of Bernard Julien and Keith Boyce as a medium pace bowling all-rounder, the problem was the emergence of a hostile pace quartet meant that the need for such an all-rounder in the Test team was over.
King was sparingly used as a bowler in Test matches. A fact that is reflected by the statistics. He bowled fewer than 100 overs in his nine Tests, taking only three wickets.
In his first two Tests against England, he was given the ball in only one innings.
As a batsman, King only got the chance to shine when the top order failed but he made the most of his limited opportunities to show his talents.
At Christchurch in February 1980, he scored his only Test century, finishing the match with 100 not out on the dot.
He shared a century stand with another ‘might have been’ Lawrence Rowe, to save the match for the Windies. King needed 109 balls to reach this milestone, racking up ten fours and four sixes along the way.
It was a similar story at Headingley in 1976. The West Indies took a 63-run first innings lead, but then slumped to 4/72 in their second innings.
The match was in the balance as King joined his skipper Clive Lloyd at the crease.
King was under pressure. This was his second Test and he hadn’t done anything with the bat or ball. He was out for a duck in the first innings.
Despite this, he decided to bat in his own way completely, disregarding the situation and with 58 runs of the same amount of balls, King gave the initiative back to the Windies.
Ten swiftly timed boundaries were included as he took on the English seamers in bowling-friendly conditions. The West Indies went on to win the match by 55 runs.
Sadly, such efforts from King were few and far between in Test matches. The big problem was that nobody was sure about his exact role in the Test team.
He complicated things by joining the Packer circus. If he had stayed with the official team he would have got chances to bat higher up the order, and certainly his medium pace bowling would have been of much greater value in the absence of Andy Roberts and co.
He decided not to take this advantage.
After his bravado at Lord’s, many expected him to become a permanent feature in the West Indies ODI team. They were wrong.
Before the end of the summer of 1980, he was out of international cricket.
The West Indian ODI team no longer needed him as Richards and Larry Gomes, in between them did a good job as the fifth bowler supporting the quickies.
King got banned from international cricket after touring South Africa with the rebel West Indies team in 1982/83. This act can be questioned on moral grounds but the reality was that his international career was long over.
He wasn’t even a fringe player anymore, he was redundant.
At the age of fifty King joined the Dunnigham CC in Yorkshire and defied his age to enjoy a lengthy and successful spell with them.
He became a sort of folk hero in parts of northern England, but his greatest moments certainly came in the south of England, at the Mecca of cricket, when he thrashed the England attack during the World Cup final.
Although he didn’t enjoy the spotlight for long or have the biggest impact while he was there, King did star in his own ‘Ek Din Ka Sultan’ story. A phrase literally meaning ‘King for a day’.