When West Indies proved a point

The West Indians were good enough to win the World Cup in 1975 and 1979 convincingly. As Michael Holding, a young fast bowler then, reckoned, "we had the most talent." Ted Corbett takes a look at the world beaters.

It is only 31 years ago but when West Indies won the first two World Cups life in international cricket was so different we might be talking about the dark ages.

Every aspect of cricket was almost unrecognisable to the modern enthusiast.

The players lived in the dark about their opponents to a large extent, lucrative television contracts did not exist, grounds were rarely full, the Packer revolution had not had time to make an impression.

Take training methods for a start. Not a bit of video to be seen. Some Test and international players would turn up to play and no one on the opposing side would know what they did or where they batted.

A few teams trotted round the field at the start of a day but most had a brief hit-up on the boundary edge before returning to the pavilion for a cup of tea.

Helmets were coming, but often seen as evidence of cowardice.

No satellite television so it was not possible to watch your opponents before the match. No slow motion replays, no third umpire to help with line decisions or look for the grounded catch. Umpires were on their own and called the decisions instantly as they saw them.

No neutral umpires either; they only came into being — very slowly — after Imran Khan complained when he was Pakistan captain and the hiatus in the Faisalabad Test drew attention to the dangers of only choosing umpires from the home country.

As late as 1990 Australia were still protesting that it was unfair on an umpire who wanted his family to watch him if he had to stand only in matches abroad.

Kerry Packer was still spoken and written about as if he came from Hades and wanted to take the game back there. Money was a dirty word, players were poorly paid and gates were low. Bats were heavy, old-fashioned, oiled before use, knocked in and straight and rarely if ever made in India as many are now. Complaints about ball tampering, match fixing, stories about players' involvement with bookies were 25 years in the future.

Cricket was a na�ve game, dressed in white and contemptuous of the behaviour of brawling footballers, drug-taking athletes and crowds which rioted and any sportsman who did not obey the referee immediately.

Getting fit meant a week of nets at the start of the season. Gyms, coaches, fitness experts were just making their first appearance. Trainers were often called "physios" and more concerned with injuries than a regime to prevent a player hurting himself.

I stepped into the cricket village in 1980 and found that whether a player wore turn-ups on his trousers was a matter for serious debate. I wrote that at one Sunday match the crowd was so big that the beer had run out and was rounded damned by the Lancashire committee for "giving publicity to such an unseemly matter."

No women in the pavilions, where ties must be worn at all times — recently at Sydney members were required to wear their jackets unless the president removed his so the old order still exists in some places — and "security" consisted of a few elderly gatemen.

The fountain pen still ruled in press boxes where the typewriter was considered a noisy intrusion. Laptops did not arrive on the scene until 1983.

Life was beginning to change. The amateurs had disappeared 15 years earlier, the West Indies appointed Dennis Weights who taught the players to improve their fitness levels.

Most important of all, in 1971 a one-day game was staged between England and Australia when the Melbourne Test was rained off.

In the main, however, cricket continued as it had in W. G. Grace's days and "it's not cricket" still had its original meaning.

It was part of the same era in which Colin Cowdrey could reprimand Fred Trueman with the words: "Your trouble is that you think cricket is all about winning."

Players packed dinner jackets as an essential part of their tour gear in that era, there was still a distinction between the university-educated captain, who was expected to know how to lead, and the club-schooled professional, who was supposed to be wise in the ways of the game but who could never aspire to lead either county or country.

"It was probably for the best," one ancient journalist told me in an attempt to justify the system. "After all, a captain has to make decent speeches and that was beyond many of the professionals."

The West Indies had shaken off the belief that only a white gentleman could lead their team and they were making serious progress.

When the 1975 and the 1979 World Cups were won by West Indies Michael Holding was a young fast bowler. Now he is a senior commentator who remembers that they went to England confident they would win it "because we had the most talent."

"Australia hardly played the game until Packer came along, England played a lot of one-day cricket and we thought they would understand how matches could be won but we thought we would have too much talent for everyone," he says.

"A lot of our guys had played in England so they knew about the conditions and the one-day game and we were just beginning to make an impression at Test level. So we had good reason to be confident and of course we were right to be in the end.

"We were not quite the world beaters we became in the 1980s but we knew how good we could be."

They were good enough to win the first two World Cups convincingly and for the cricket village to go into shock when they lost the final of the 1983 Cup to an inspired India.

In 1975 West Indies defeated the Australians at Lord's by 17 runs after a century from their captain Clive Lloyd and three run-outs from Viv Richards, a prowling tiger of a fielder in his early 20s, making a reputation for ferocity that remains to this day.

On the way to the final Australia came up against Sri Lanka and, of course, in the way of the times, they knew nothing about the collection of schoolboys and club cricketers.

The Aussies thought they might push the Sri Lankans aside as they had so many times in Colombo. Instead they found a tougher resistance until Ian Chappell, the captain, threw the ball to Jeff Thomson, the most fearsome bowler of the era, with the command to "sort them out, Thommo."

Thomson cranked up the speed, hit one little batsman from shoulder to ankle and eventually landed one smack on his toe.

The Sri Lankan announced: "OK, I go now." And headed off to the pavilion, retired hurt.

In the 1979 final West Indies beat England who, with Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley opening the innings — an unthinkable combination surely — thought they could stroll to victory.

Not against 6ft 8in Joel Garner who took five for 38 — magnificent figures in any class of cricket — and left England 92 runs short.

West Indies have not won the Cup since and England have never won it. I am not sure they take limited overs cricket seriously enough.

The rest of the world is desperate to win so their cricket has changed to accommodate the modern way, which involves slick fielding, aggressive batting and bowling to a plan.

It also involves talent, as the West Indies proved. In 31 years nothing has changed.