Almanac cricket: When the Windies, and cricket, were king

By Phil Dimitriadis

 

My interest in cricket peaked during the summer of 1981-82. I was in Grade 6 and just about to start high school. It was a time of excitement and trepidation. I was too old to be a kid and too young to be taken seriously.

During this summer my best mate Bill and I would play test matches in our respective back yards. Bill was a West Indies fan of Greek descent. When you’re eleven, your manhood is reflected in the size and brand of your cricket bat. Bill used a size 6 SS while I favoured my trusty size 4 SP. He would be the Windies and I would be Australia, playing four innings matches that would start at 10am and often not finish until after 8pm. We would often take a break to watch the matches on TV. It was the last summer before the onset of puberty, the last summer of childhood. Cricket seemed like the only thing that mattered.

We played with a tennis ball that was taped on one side and three times down the middle to give the ball a seam. Bill would bowl deceptive in-swingers and off-spinners that you had to wait for. He would regularly beat me in flight and the ball would spin through the gate and slam into the tin bin we used as a wicket. I would bowl fast medium out-swingers and the odd bouncer which Bill must have seen coming as he generally dispatched them into the east fence boundary. He won more tests than me as he was a technically better batsman and had the inspiration of the Windies urging him on.

On rainy days we would listen to 92.3 EON FM. I was into the Human League, Soft Cell and Blondie. These days Bill would say my taste in music was gay. In 1981 the word ‘poofy’ would suffice. Bill was into AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and  Loverboy, which reflected the tastes of his older brother. We’d creep into his brother’s room sometimes to sneak a giggling peak at his Penthouse collection. I’d say we were interested in the articles, but the articles were too bloody long so we had to be content with just looking at the pictures.

The West Indies were just beginning their domination during this period and it used to frustrate me. How could a team with names like Cuthbert Gordon, Desmond Leo, Isaac Vivian Alexander, Clive Hubert, Sylvester and Hilary be so intimidating? Imagine Australian players named Larry Lillee, Hubert Chappell or Sylvester Hogg? Something about those names was comical yet somehow disconcerting. The 18th century colonial monikers belied the flair, talent and ruthlessness in the team.

John Dyson, Graeme Wood, Greg Chappell, Kim Hughes and Allan Border had a torrid time at the hands of what many termed the “West Indies pace battery”. “Pace battering” would have been a more appropriate way to describe Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Colin Croft. In any other team in the world, Sylvester Clarke would’ve opened the bowling. For the Windies, he was a nippy medium pacer. Such was the ferocity of that glorious pace attack.

We had Lillee, Hogg, Pascoe, Thommo and the feisty Bruce Yardley, who often kept Australia in the contest with his late innings heroics and fast off-spinners. The Windies would use three fly slips on Yardley and he still took them on. Apart from Lillee, however, Greenidge, Richards, Lloyd and Gomes made our attack seem like club cricket trundlers.

I was lucky enough to be at ‘G the day Lillee broke Lance Gibbs’ record of 309 Test wickets. The standing ovation seemed to last for ages. The evening before Lillee got King Viv out playing on to the stumps. The Windies were 4-10! I was watching the session with Bill and he wasn’t happy. In exasperation I said: “Bill you’re not black, mate, you should be following Australia”. He replied: “And you’re not an Aussie either”. Touche Bill! He got me there.

During this Test Kim Hughes withstood a battering to make an incredible hundred with the help of Terry Alderman. We used to make fun of how Richie Benaud would refer to the Australian vice-captain as Kimberley Huuughezz. No wonder Billy Birmingham was inspired by Richie!

Cricket meant something to me back then because there was no saturation coverage. Matches seemed to be more valuable as contests, and this contest was invigorating. Australia was gradually slipping as a world power and the Windies were just about to peak. It was fascinating to watch this changing of the guard. It was as if the post-colonials had triumphed over the colonials. Even as an Aussie fan I could not help but admire the West Indies. I even named my budgie “Smokin’Joe”.

I loved the way Greenidge would take on the bowling by playing full-blooded pull shots off the front foot. Haynes accumulated until he was set and then proceeded with his own brand of pummeling. Viv would then come in with his gold chains dangling and smash it to all parts of the field effortlessly. During ’81-`82 the Aussies had done fairly well against the Windies’ top order. An unlikely looking batsman emerged as a thorn in their side and that was Hilary Angelo (Larry) Gomes. He flicked, cut, deflected and pushed his way to two centuries in the three Tests. I don’t remember seeing him play a cover drive or pull shot. So different, yet so effective. Jeffrey Dujon was another who debuted in Australia and played some fine digs to support Gomes.

The pace attack was best I have ever seen. Holding ran in with the grace of a gazelle, which camouflaged the brutality of his pace and his ability to swing the ball late. Malcolm Marshall only looked about 5 feet 2, but he could skid the ball off a good length and deliver the nastiest of nuts. The ball looked like a snooker ball in the hands of Joel Garner. He would amble in at what seemed like half-pace and get them to rear into the batsman’s throat without seeming to bend his back. Colin Croft was the eccentric of the bowlers. The crazy arms action belied a deadly accuracy which was often followed by a deadlier stare. When he got his leg cutters to go off the angle he bowled he was virtually unplayable.

I haven’t seen Bill for many years, but he taught me the importance of following cricket and not just following the nation. When you watch the other team you appreciate what they can do and the Windies did that for me during that summer. I also have to admit that I envied Bill’s SS signed by Viv compared to my SP signed by Barry Richards.

I will leave you with an eleven of the best West Indian names. They gave cricket character, which seems missing in the 21st century. I associate these names with flair, bravura, skill and the calypso spirit of play.

  1. Vasbert Drakes
  2. Philo Wallace
  3. Eldine Baptiste
  4. Sheik Faoud Ahamul Fasiel Bacchus
  5. Seymour Nurse
  6. Sylvester Clarke
  7. Alvin Kallicharran
  8. Everton Weekes
  9. Garfield St Aubrun Sobers
  10. Curtly Ambrose
  11. Wavell Hinds

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    Brilliant Phil.

    You have evoked some great memories.

    Taped tennis balls, Loverboy (Turn me Loose), ACDC, Blondie, Karen Pini (1st Aussie Playboy centrefold) and the Windies slumping to 4/10.

    Do you remember Dujon hooking and pulling a brilliant 40 odd that day?
    I reckon caught by Hughes off Lillee.

  2. John Butler says:

    Great stuff Phil

    As an added degree of difficulty, one of our regular pitches was alternating concrete and grass blocks.

    Despite the variations in bounce, no one seemed inclined to hold back.

    Those taped balls used to really sting if they caught you in the wrong place.

  3. Fantastic Phil.
    It’s amazing how many people have a back-yard cricket yarn and I love listening to the subtle variations regarding pitches, balls, clothes-lines, hazards etc.
    I had a chuckle to myself last week: I found my three sons in the shed prior to a back-yard match, and asked them what they were doing…they replied that they were “taping up” a tennis ball to make it swing!
    My favorite West Indian cricketer’s name: Collis King. It just rolls off the tongue.

  4. Tough to leave out Vanburn Holder.
    And I’ll never (hazily) forget ther two-syllabled “C-live” (“you da man”) that dotted observations in England ’84 as the Rasta supporters around me passed rum ans spliffs up and back the rows.

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    Crio,

    Those were the days in England when the Windies supporters used to rush on the ground whenever a 100 was scored etc.

    In fact at places like The Oval, they used to field the ball before it hit the ropes.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks for the feedback boys. Peter, I was more of a Karen West than Karen Pini fan. That summer both Karen’s were peaking! I loved your line in the Almanac book about Alipate Carlisle sounding like a West Indian quick. Great analogy.

    JB, those taped balls did indeed sting. Bill used to get me with these late inswingers hitting the inner thighs and the occasional testicle. Ouch!

    Smokie, loved Collis King. He was the only batsman at the time who could hit a six down the ground at the Adelaide oval. And Crio, Vanburn Holder was stiff. Definitely would have made it into the squad of 15. In ’84 I remember watching so many jubilant Windies celebrating the ‘Blackwash’against the poms. I really do hope the Windies can get it back together. I watched a few sessions of the recent test. Gayle and Bravo are their best players but they wouldn’t get a game in their ’80s lineup.

    Adrian Barath was brave. He is a cross between Stumpy Laird and a right-handed Alvin Kallicharran.

  7. Great piece, Phil.

    My brothers and I also taped half a tennis ball to make it swing – but also to make it hurt more. It’s a brotherly thing to delight in a sibling’s pain, especially in the driveway (so to speak).

    I remember Collis King’s affectation of stilling the gold pendant (every Windies bowler wore a gold pendant) that bounced around his neck just before he was set to deliver the ball. He’d touch the pendant with his left hand while in the process of bringing his arm to its apex before he bowled. It fascinated me for an entire summer. It almost inspired me to wear a gold pendant.

    I always thought the name Keith Boyce sounded gentle and most un-West Indian. He sounded like the cleaner at an East End school.

    Albert Padmore sounded like a history professor with patches on his elbows.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Strange thing Daff,

    when I was a kid I thought that these names were de rigeur in the West Indies. As an adult I realized that they were colonial impositions. Puts a different spin on things when you become aware of the history. The taped ball still lives and hurts to this day. What a wonderful,creative invention. Could you pick it out of the hand or as it was swirling down the pitch? My mate Bill could disguise it beautifully and make it spin! No wonder I was so regularly bamboozled!

  9. pauldaffey says:

    Phil,

    I had no idea. The brother below me pitched it up, I played all over it, and was bowled. This happened, sooner or later, every time we played.

  10. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    You know what Daff,

    I always got a kick out of bowling with a freshly taped ball because it would swing insanely. In test matches the rule was that you could only change the ball at the end of the innings. If you didn’t get 2 or 3 early you were ratshit! Like tests, if you could survive the new ball you usually went on to play a decent knock.

  11. Steve Fahey says:

    Loved the story Phil and input from Pete, Paul et al.

    My younger brother and I also used the taped backyard ball with several variations – the fully taped, taped “seam” only (irregular bounce) and the mother of all taped ball variations, the taped ball in the freezer overnight which made it as hard as a cricket ball for an hour or more after use (my thigh bruising has just disappeared 30-odd years later !!) . If you won the toss, you had to bowl first and get the advantage of the “new rock.” We never thought to have two in there, one for each innings. Perhaps there is still time !!!

  12. Peter Flynn says:

    Steve,

    Brilliant. Who had the idea of freezing the taped ball?

    We put tennis balls in the fridge leading up to playing tennis.

    Daff,

    I heard a story yesterday relayed by that hot-headed tearaway Len Pascoe re Collis King.

    There was so much importance attached to bling such as King’s necklace that one day while bowling in WSC a small part of his chain (stone?) detached and fell to the ground.

    As a consequence, the whole Windies side and the Aussie batsman spent a few minutes holding up play fossicking around in search of King’s bling.

    Classic.

  13. Phil

    Scholars of language will tell you that the drinking DTs are known as the Vasberts. The Vasbert Drakes; shakes.

    JTH

  14. I had the Vasbert Drakes the morning after the Melbourne launch. First time in years.

  15. I’m pretty sure it was on that day when the West Indies were 4/10 at stumps that I saw my favourite crowd sign of all time. After one of Lillee’s wickets, the camera panned the crowd and there was a bloke madly waving one of those yellow and black metal signs that used to be seen at railway pedestrian crossings: “BEWARE OF TRAINS”.

    I have images of this guy meeting up with his mates before the game and realising that he was the only one without a sign to display. My guess is that he took remedial action on the way to the station.

    In any case, I’m not sure a DK Lillee wicket was ever greeted by a more bizarre response than that. Loved it!

  16. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks Harmsy,

    I usually have a coffee with Vasbert most Saturday mornings!

  17. Luke Reynolds says:

    Fantastic Phil. Taped ball, all day cricket with a mate etc. really reasonates. Amazing how an O can make all the difference. Would Phil Wallace have even made the list?!!

  18. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    How many Philo’s do we know Luke? One letter can make all the difference. They were a great team. Loved watching them play. They had that elusive quality of style and substance.

  19. Luke Reynolds says:

    They were great. Philo looked like he could have been a big star but all we got was a few cameos. Could hit a ball. Vasbert probably made the most of his ability.
    Don’t know of any other Philo’s!!

  20. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    How would you rate Chris Gayle among that team, Luke? Would he get a game?

  21. Luke Reynolds says:

    Gayle certainly wouldn’t have played 100 Tests in that era! Wouldn’t have opened either in the time of Greenidge and Haynes. Might have made a handy number 6 though.

  22. It was a joy to revisit this again, Phil.
    Oh for those days when the Windies were indeed the Calypso kings.

  23. Grand days, Phil.
    Grand writing.
    I was playing Under 14 cricket in the late 80s. There was a guy in our side, very laid back, very image-conscious. The hair done just ‘so.’
    He didn’t play beyond juniors.
    But he thought himself West Indian, too,

    Why do people do that?
    But then, why do Aussie kids wear Man United tops, LA Lakers caps?
    Is it all about reflected glory?

    Thanks for this.
    Very interested to check out the Windies of 15/16.

  24. Everton Weekes is the main reason I have been following Everton since the late 60s. And the Beatles.

  25. Great to come across this piece Phil 6 years after it was first published. I was also there the day DK broke the record, it was the first time I was ever taken to the cricket. It seems like yesterday.

    Great reliving a golden time for the game both here and the Caribbean. The upcoming series looks to being rather tragic by comparison, though the Windies still have some wonderful names like Devendra Bishoo, Carlos & Craigg Braithwaite, Jomel Warrican and Shai Hope.

  26. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks for the comments gents.
    Smokie, imagine the anticipation of this series if the Windies were as powerful now as they were then? How would Warner go against Michael Holding or the angle of Colin Croft?

    ER, there is an element of reflected glory and perhaps some joy in being different/exotic by following other nations. The Windies had an effortless ruthlessness about them if that makes sense? They exhibited this batting, bowling and fielding. You were never quite on top of them and they knew this. Their self belief was a joy to watch because it rarely morphed in to arrogance, at least not until the early 90s.

    Peter, what a random connection! Everton FC had a great side in the late 80s. If not for the Heysel disaster they may have won a Champions League title in that era.

    JD, at 4-10 we went along thinking we might skittle the Windies for under 50! Gomes and Dujon dug in for a gritty partnership. Like Jomel and Devendra, hope they go well this summer.
    It’s incredible how fate works sometimes. Bill’s daughter and mine were born a week apart and are now friends in some of the same classes at the same high school. I had a great chat with Bill just last week at a school fundraiser and he really enjoyed re-living those carefree days through this story. We reminisced and talked about our lives today like we’d never lost touch. We have regained contact again through social media and will catch up for coffee soon. Hope the Windies at least give a contest.
    Here is a great compilation on the Windies pace attack against the Aussies in that era: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VOGoiaZlX8

  27. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    And this 15 minute compilation of mastery by VIV. At the 6.00 minute mark he hits a six over cover from leg stump. Just brilliant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqKBevrRKCQ

  28. Fire in Babylon. Brilliant. 90 minutes. Enjoy.

  29. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    My first sighting of the full Windies squad was the 75/76 tour.

    Went to all 4 and a bit days of the Adelaide test.

    I remember Holding pelting a return to the Torrens end from the scoreboard boundary, huge throw in those days. Also remember him sooking it up big time when he had an lbw appeal turned down. That match might have been a turning point for him.

    Hard to believe we won that series 5-1

    Bewdy Phil, well worth revisiting.

  30. G’day Phil, what was the name of Mattis, who played a few tests in the 1980’s? Was it Everton ? I can’t recall if Emerson Trotman played tests, but i’m sure he played WSC.

    Not to forget the two shillingfords, Grayson and Irvine. To close the conversation we should give mention to a fast bowler of the early 1970’s, Uton Dowe. How can you beat Uton as a first name ?

    Glen1

Leave a Comment

*