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One Man Show

On 30 July it will be exactly half a century since Bobby Moore lifted the old Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley. It is an anniversary that has been mentioned a few times already this year, and if England enjoy any degree of success in this summer’s European Championship it will doubtless be mentioned many times more in the weeks to come. 1966 was the first time that England had hosted the World Cup, so the nation’s major winter sport had never encroached on cricket’s territory before. It was a marvellous summer of cricket, but one that was overshadowed by football at the time, and England’s win over Germany made sure it always has been.

I was just a few weeks past my sixth birthday on World Cup final day, the sport mad son of a very good all-round sportsman, who succeeded in passing on all of his enthusiasm for the sports he played, but very little of the talent. Why therefore did he and I spend that day visiting Caernarvon Castle in North Wales? I never did get a satisfactory answer to that one, and to exacerbate such a glaring example of poor parenting I have no memories of that summer’s Test series either. I don’t think it can be my own fault, as my most distant memories of watching cricket go back to 1965.

That May the weather was rather better suited to football than it was later on when the World Cup got underway. As a result the West Indies side led by Garry Sobers did not have a very productive start to their tour. They beat Cambridge University and Derbyshire easily enough, but every other match prior to the first Test at Old Trafford was drawn.

The last time a Test match had been played at Old Trafford had been two years earlier against Australia. After five days without, unusually for Manchester,  any loss of time playing time due to rain, the match had not got beyond two overs of the third innings. Bob Simpson had won the toss and chosen to bat. It was not until after lunch on the third day that, after 656 runs in 256 overs, he declared with eight wickets down. England, who it is worth remembering were 1-0 down in the series, then took as many as 293 overs to get to 611 all out. It was a dreadful game and perhaps explains why, for the visit of West Indies, the groundsman chose a relaid wicket. If it was his intention to avoid a repeat of 1964 he was certainly successful. The match was all over in three days.

The West Indies side contained some class batsmen. In addition to their captain they were able to select Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse, Rohan Kanhai and Basil Butcher. Of the specialists only the name of Hunte’s opening partner Easton McMorris fails to resonate today. There was another all-rounder in the side, Sobers’ cousin David Holford. The three specialist bowlers need no introduction, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Lance Gibbs. The side was completed by ‘keeper David Allan, playing due to an injury to first choice Jackie Hendriks.

England were led by Mike Smith. The opening batsman were the dour Scotsman Eric Russell, destined never to establish himself at international level, and a debutant, the rotund Colin Milburn. The selection of Milburn was partly motivated by a desire to avoid a Test such as that in 1964 and his aggressive style was rewarded with a series average of 52.66. It didn’t save him from being dropped from the final Test though, a lack of mobility in the field being the unconvincing reason proffered. After all he was no less mobile after four Tests than he had been when selected for the first.

Colin Cowdrey and Kenny Barrington joined Smith in the middle order and the batting was completed by Sussex wicketkeeper Jim Parks. England’s two all-rounders were the off spinners David Allen and Fred Titmus, although in their combined total of 93 Tests there were no centuries, and just 15 fifties. The pace attack comprised David Brown, Ken Higgs and Jeff Jones, father of Simon.

It was clear in advance of the match that the wicket would assist the spinners and the outcome of the match was all but settled when Sobers, as he did in all five matches of the series, won the toss. The decision to bat was as simple as any he would have faced. There was turn from the off but, initially, not enough to unduly trouble the batsmen and West Indies finished the day on 343-5. There was 135 from Hunte and a remarkable innings from Sobers who ended the day on 83 not out. He came to the crease at 215-4 and scored all his runs in the final session. Had his rhythm not been disturbed after Hunte’s dismissal he might well have gone to his century before the close.  Wisden described his session as a devastating exhibition.

The second day was rather different. Sobers was dropped three times in the nineties and was much more uncertain, but he still took his score to 161 before he was ninth out after an innings of just four hours. West Indies totalled 484 and the turn that Allen and Titmus extracted was a sign of what was to come. In reply Milburn was run out for nought in his anxiety to get off the mark and by the close England were 163-8.

The home side’s final two wickets fell quickly on the Saturday morning and England were 167 all out. Gibbs had a five-fer and leg spinner Holford three. Sobers bowled just seven wicketless overs but, stood at short leg, he held three catches. Only during a seventh wicket stand of 58 between Parks and Allen did England make any progress.

The follow on duly enforced England did rather better second time round, and with a rapid 94 Milburn did what he was picked for, but shortly before the close the last wicket fell with England still 40 runs short of making West Indies bat again. This time Sobers bowled as many as 42 overs. Unlike in the first innings he took the new ball with Hall, and he suffered as much at Milburn’s hands as Hall and later Griffith did. But he came back later to, in tandem with Gibbs, spin his side to victory. He took the wickets of Cowdrey, Parks and Titmus. With Parks pouched off his own bowling, and another catch in Gibbs’ leg trap, he took his match count of catches to five.

Despite the fact that the toss effectively decided the match rather than any poor tactical decisions Smith was discarded by England, scores of 5 and 6 seemingly bringing down the curtain on a Test career of 47 matches that had seen him lead England to victory in South Africa in 1964/65. In fact he was to reappear briefly six years later, but was no more successful then and his career finally ended with the unremarkable average of 31.63. Not for the first time Cowdrey was tasked with taking over for Lord’s. Russell was replaced by Geoff Boycott and Smith by Tom Graveney. The bowling was overhauled as well Barry Knight replacing Brown, and the batting strengthened by the replacement of Allen with Basil D’Oliveira. The West Indies made just one change, McMorris making way for ‘Joey’ Carew at the top of the order.

In terms of preparation for the Lord’s Test West Indies could have done better. They failed to beat Gloucestershire when a single run away from victory, and were then humbled by Sussex at Hove. In a low scoring match and on a wicket that Parks described as the greenest we have had here for three years…….. there was far too much grass on it, the visitors were dismissed for 123 and 67 and lost by nine wickets. John Snow had match figures of 11-47. The side for Lord’s was already picked of course, but had Snow been drafted in it must have been more likely that the England would have gone into the third Test at Trent Bridge all square.

After Sobers chose to bat again at Lord’s West Indies ended a shortened first day on 155-4 with Sobers 16 not out. He had been given a life when Titmus put down a chance at slip. It wasn’t a simple catch by any means, but Sobers’ wicket was the greatest prize in the game, and missing out was a big mistake. Despite that setback by the close of the second day England were certainly ahead. Sobers had got as far as 46 before he fell to Barry Knight. The total of 269 looked ordinary and was proved to be as England ended the day on 145-2. On the Saturday the home side advanced to 355, slightly disappointing in the circumstances, but with West Indies at 18-1 at the end of the evening session England still had cause for optimism.

Ten minutes before lunch on the fourth day Holford came out to join his cousin. West Indies were a mere nine runs to the good with all their main batsmen save Sobers back in the pavilion. What happened next was described by writer Brian Scovell as a cricketing Dunkirk unequalled in the history of retrieving lost causes. By the end of the day 95-5 had become 288-5. Cowdrey’s tactics were much criticised. To start with he crowded Sobers, but after Sobers went on the offensive he quickly backed off and thereafter made no serious attempt to get Sobers’ wicket or put pressure on him, preferring to concentrate his efforts on getting Holford on strike. He persisted with that policy despite Holford looking in no discernible trouble.

On the final day it was more of the same, until after 274 runs had been added Sobers finally called it a day and declared, unbeaten on 163 and with Holford on 105. A target of 284 in 240 minutes with a few flurries of rain to inconvenience them was too much for England, although not enough to prevent Milburn scoring an unbeaten 126. They finished 87 short of their target with six wickets in hand.

Heads rolled in the England squad for the third Test. Out went Barrington, Knight, Titmus and Jones. In came Russell, Snow, Ray Illingworth and, for his debut, Derek Underwood. For the West Indies Carew’s double failure meant that Hunte had a third opening partner in three matches, Peter Lashley, and Hendriks took Allen’s place behind the stumps.

For some time the match looked rather like that at Lord’s. West Indies batted first and posted a disappointing 235, their captain for once failing. In reply England stumbled to 33-3 by the close, Sobers taking the new ball and trapping Boycott lbw from the second delivery of the innings. England recovered next day thanks to Graveney and Cowdrey, and were finally all out early on the third afternoon with a lead of 90. Sobers had bowled as many as 49 overs in his various styles, and taken 4-90.

England did remove the openers before their lead was overhauled, but Butcher dominated the rest of the innings. When Sobers declared on 482-5, to which he himself had contributed 94, Butcher was unbeaten on 209. There was never any prospect of England getting 393 to win in just over a day, although they made West Indies work for their 139 victory. Gibbs and Griffith were the most successful bowlers. Sobers took just one wicket, but his 31 overs for 71 runs kept England under the cosh. He also held four catches, to add to the one he took in the first innings.

After going 2-0 up at Trent Bridge the tourists had a month travelling around the counties as the Test series took a break whilst the World Cup was played out. When the teams reconvened at Headingley, a ‘must win’ for England if the series was to be squared, the West Indies were unchanged. The England selectors made two changes. Bob Barber came in for Russell to renew his previously successful opening partnership with Boycott with Milburn dropping down to three. The other change was the return of Titmus for Illingworth, who had achieved very little at Trent Bridge.

The Headingley Test was over inside four days, West Indies the victors by an innings and 55 runs. In a fine team performance Sobers’ all round performance was quite outstanding. In a rain affected first day he didn’t get to the crease as West Indies progressed to 137-3. His first contribution came on the second day when he scored a chanceless 174 in exactly four hours, adding 265 for the fifth wicket with Nurse. If it had been his aim to do so Sobers certainly succeeded in knocking England’s 4-2 victory over Germany six days previously off the back page headlines. The sub-editors came out with a steady stream of superlatives.

Part of the appeal was the unconventional way in which Sobers went about his innings. The second new ball was taken just before lunch. If ever orthodox tactics dictate that a batsman should rein himself in these were the circumstances. That wasn’t the Sobers way though, and he launched a withering attack on the bowling, Snow in particular. Sobers’ overall Test average is an impressive 57.78 which, to the statsguru generation, puts him firmly in that second tier of batsmen who trail in Bradman’s wake. At tea Sobers was on 152. After the interval he had clearly decided he had done enough and started taking increasingly extravagant risks. It was not long before he missed a googly from Barber and was bowled. Those who never saw Sobers bat would do well to heed this comment about him from Scovell; If he had Bradman’s ruthless determination not to get out he could have gone after Sir Don’s record 334 on this ground. But he threw it away. He was tired.

Sobers declared when the 500 came up and a short burst from Hall and Griffith did not disturb Boycott or Barber. Next day however there was plenty more drama to come. The first session saw an England collapse, amidst which Sobers had to deal with a problem which would as a minimum have disturbed his concentration. The catalyst for the incident was a Griffith bouncer to Graveney which umpire Charlie Elliott was convinced was a throw. Elliott dealt with the matter not by calling Griffith but by warning him. Sobers became involved and there were some hushed but animated discussions in the course of which it was agreed that Griffith would carry on bowling, but wouldn’t attempt any more bouncers.

There were further controversies during the England innings. D’Oliveira, who went on to top score with 88 stood his ground on 66 when West Indies appealed for a catch. Hunte, a man of deep religious conviction, took a low catch from a mis-timed drive at mid on. There was no doubt in Hunte’s mind but for whatever reason there was some for the umpire and the West Indies were furious. It speaks volumes that the only member of the West Indian side who, when D’Oliveira was dismissed,  applauded his fine innings was Hunte. Later still Higgs, who ended up his side’s second top scorer on 49, was given out to a catch at slip by Nurse from a Sobers’ chinaman. Higgs was convinced he hadn’t hit the ball and stood his ground. To be fair to Higgs Sobers did not appeal, but there was a noise and Elliott’s finger rose.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of those incidents in the course of the day England were dismissed for 240. There were figures of 5-41 for Sobers. In his quicker style he yorked Parks, trapping him lbw before switching to spin and taking four more wickets. Three hours into the fourth day and England were all out again, this time for 205. The most successful bowler this time was Gibbs, but Sobers capped a magnificent all round performance with 3-39. With England three down with just one to play the West Indies had retained the Wisden Trophy.

For the dead rubber England made wholesale changes. Not for the first or last time the selectors dispensed with the services of the cautious and defensive Cowdrey.  As his replacement they followed popular opinion and went for a hard man who was not afraid to gamble, Yorkshire skipper Brian Close. In a remarkable turnaround Close’s new look side triumphed by an innings, inspired by the most remarkable lower order recovery in Test History. England were in dire trouble at 166-7 in reply to 268. Graveney and new ‘keeper John Murray then both scored centuries, and Snow and Higgs each passed fifty as the last three wickets added 361.

In West Indies first innings Sobers had scored 81, and he had taken three wickets in England’s reply. By the time he arrived at the crease in his side’s second innings, at 137-5, the game was all but gone. Snow greeted the West Indies captain with a bouncer. Sobers, with his opposite number Close no more than three yards from him at short leg, essayed a fierce pull. The ball took a bottom edge and bounced up off Sobers’s pad. Close was probably the only man in the game who, rather than desperately seeking cover as Sobers set himself for his shot, would still have been watching the ball intently and he took a simple catch. Never before in his First Class career had Sobers been dismissed by the first delivery he faced.

Finally Sobers had run out of luck and been outmanoeuvred, but it was far too late to affect the final analysis. Wisden summed up Sobers series as being one triumph after another with bat and ball as well as in the field as a master tactician and fantastic catcher close to the bat. For those interested in the numbers he scored 722 runs at 103.14, took 20 wickets at 27.25 and held ten catches.

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