Rob Smyth dives deep into the 1979 men’s World Cup, when England came so near yet so far from putting a halt on West Indies’ early ODI dominance. Originally published in the 2019 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
He has never seen a replay – doesn’t want to, doesn’t need to. He knows what happened when he bowled that ball to Viv Richards, and he knows the impact it had. Hendrick’s last delivery to Richards that day, flicked magically for six, is the defining image of the match. Yet it is the first ball Hendrick bowled to Richards in his second spell that is his most vivid memory of the World Cup.
“It went down the slope, and Viv moved across his stumps: big whack on the pad, big shout,” he says. “Barrie Meyer said not out. I couldn’t believe it. The lads who weren’t playing must have seen a replay, because they all came out on the balcony to signal it was out.”
Richards, on 22 at the time, went on to make a regal 138 not out, and Hendrick’s appeal is one of a few moments in that final – some beyond England’s control, others well within it – which left them wrestling with life’s most bittersweet question: what if?
Forty years on, there are still two interpretations of a tournament in which England’s men reached the final on home soil for the first time. The first is that West Indies were as near as dammit unbeatable. The second is that England came tantalisingly close, far closer than the margin of defeat suggested, to stunning the world, as India would in 1983.
History can be written by the vanquished, too – it’s just that fewer people want to read their version. Most of the England squad felt that, while the result did not necessarily lie, it was economical with the truth. As Bob Willis put it: “No one will ever convince me that we were 92 runs the poorer side.”
The 2019 World Cup will have as much in common with the 1979 version as the iMac Pro with the Atari 800. Much of the time it wasn’t even called the World Cup, but the Prudential Cup. Each innings lasted 60 overs; group matches were played simultaneously, as were the semi-finals. There were no floodlights, fielding restrictions or coloured clothing, though Australia’s Gary Cosier wore his shirt undone to the belly button.
Most of the England squad played in the Benson and Hedges Cup quarterfinals three days before the start, and the team assembled less than 48 hours ahead of their first game. As ever, Ian Botham was headline news. “Botham in stag do rumpus”, screamed the Daily Mirror. “For three hours a crowd of 200 men drank and laid bets on films of horse racing, before two strippers came on.” At one stage a fight broke out, though Botham denied involvement. One onlooker told the Mirror it was “like a scene from a Wild West film”.
The World Cup launch was a little more sedate: a reception at Buckingham Palace and a familiar photograph at Lord’s, in which the eight squads lined up side by side. Some famous faces were missing, including the Chappell brothers, Dennis Lillee, Rodney Marsh, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood: England and Australia had excluded their Packer players. West Indies and Pakistan picked theirs.
Australia set the tone in their first game, against England at Lord’s – after ten overs they were 14 for none. This was comfortably the most bowler friendly World Cup, with the lowest average runs per wicket (25) and per over (3.54). No team scored 300, and England reached 200 only once; neither Australia nor India managed even that. There were 28 sixes. The first part of each innings was like a Test match, with two or three slips, and orthodox openers trying to see off the shine. The West Indies manager Clyde Walcott said his side would play themselves in for the first 30 overs, before having a dash in the last 30. On average, there were 13 maidens a game.
With Pakistan most people’s second-favourites, England against Australia at Lord’s was seen as a quarter-final. Chasing 160, England won comfortably, despite an early wobble. Geoff Boycott managed more wickets (two) than runs (one), and his bowling became a feature of the tournament, to the surprise of everyone except his captain, Mike Brearley. With the World Cup in mind, he had phoned Boycott during the winter to ask him to practise his slow-medium swingers, which he sent down, often from round the wicket, with his cap on (though not, as legend has it, reversed). They were integral to three of England’s four victories. It was his chance to have some fun. He had a smile on his face almost throughout – almost – and Boycott the bowler became a cult hero. Some of the lustiest cheers came when he took a wicket.
Then there was Derek Randall’s fielding. He pulled off four run-outs – more on his own than any other country managed in total – and probably would have had more with the aid of TV replays. Randall couldn’t buy a run in the group stages, but justified his place by prowling at cover or midwicket and scrambling batsmen’s judgment of a safe single. England’s fielding and skilful seam bowling were their strongest suits.
There wasn’t exactly World Cup fever – this was the 1970s – but Randall and Boycott in particular elicited public goodwill, and the England players embraced the usual photo opportunities. Botham and Hendrick posed during a celebrity clay-pigeon shoot at Ducks Hill Road in Ruislip. On the day of the Pakistan game, Boycott joined a craze that briefly swept the nation by hanging a teaspoon on his nose.
England’s second group game was against Canada, one of two Associates; the other, Sri Lanka, were still two years from Test status. The qualifying tournament, the ICC Trophy, had been played in England just before the World Cup, too late to stop the press: the official programme’s list of teams on the cover included “Associates A&B”.
Canada’s qualification was joyously unexpected. Their left-arm seamer John Valentine said to Willis: “It’s the biggest thrill of my life to be over here playing against you guys.” In all, Valentine dismissed Majid Khan, Mike Brearley and Rick Darling, while Glenroy Sealy hit four consecutive fours off Australia’s Rodney Hogg. In one of the few vignettes that would not look out of place in 2019, Canada were 33 for none after three overs.
They lost all three games comfortably, however, and were skittled for 45 by England. Twenty-one of those came from Franklyn Dennis, who eventually ducked into a Willis bouncer that left him spreadeagled on the stumps. Chris Old had figures of 10–5–8–4. Canada’s innings lasted 40.3 overs, and the match dragged on to a second evening because of rain, a feature of the tournament. At one stage it looked as if England might be frustrated by a no-result, as West Indies would be against Sri Lanka, despite each match having two reserve days. But they raced to their target of 46 in near darkness to win with a reserve day to spare. It was day/night cricket without the floodlights.
Pakistan also beat Canada and Australia, so they and England qualified with a match in hand. But their meeting at Headingley was no dead rubber: to the victor, it was rightly assumed, New Zealand in the semi-finals; to the loser, West Indies at The Oval. Both sides were open about their desire to top the group for that reason alone. England won by 14 runs, thanks to unlikely heroism from Willis and Boycott. On a dodgy pitch, Willis’s perky 24 – which would remain his ODI best – dragged them to 165 for nine. It looked inadequate as Pakistan raced to 27 for none. Then, for a few magical minutes, the gods smiled on Hendrick. His career was defined by batsmen playing and missing, but against Pakistan he took four for three in eight balls. “I probably had a bit of luck for once.”
He would finish as the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, with ten at under 15, and an economy-rate of 2.66. “Apart from bowling yorkers at the death, I didn’t change my style from one-day cricket to Tests,” he says. “I just did what I did. I was never a star, but I was a pretty good back-up. It was often said that I bowled too short, and that if I pitched it up I’d have got more people out. The one thing I would say is: ‘How does anybody know that?!’”
Pakistan’s powerful lower order regrouped – Imran Khan was at No. 9 – before Brearley gave the ball not to Phil Edmonds but Boycott, who took the last two wickets. Wasim Bari was excellently caught behind by Bob Taylor, otherwise having a poor competition; then Sikander Bakht, who needed only to support Imran, had a risible swipe and was caught spectacularly at deep mid-off by Hendrick. The tension spilled over into crowd trouble, with Denis Compton in the Daily Express lamenting some “soccer-type rowdyism”. Bottles, cans and punches were thrown; 11 were injured, and £1,400 stolen from a turnstile operator.
There had been another incident during the tournament opener between West Indies and India at Edgbaston, where Gordon Greenidge suffered a sore neck after being manhandled by well-meaning supporters on reaching his century. “The next thing we know they’ll be dashing out every time someone hits a six,” said Clive Lloyd. “And our batsmen enjoy doing that.”
England’s batsmen were struggling to score runs of any kind. Only Gooch and Brearley totalled 100 in the tournament, Gower and Botham were quiet, while the partnership of Brearley and Boycott came in for stick. The media consensus was that the in-form Gooch, who top-scored in England’s first four games from No. 4, should open, as he did for Essex. England did change the top order against New Zealand – but only by bringing in Wayne Larkins, making his international debut in a World Cup semi-final, at No. 3. He replaced Edmonds, with Randall dropping to No. 7. It meant Boycott, with support from Gooch and possibly Larkins, was now the fifth bowler rather than the sixth.
England got off to their usual false start, but a dogged 53 from Brearley and a thumping 71 from Gooch helped them to 221 for eight, their best of the competition. New Zealand began strongly before Randall, who had made a useful unbeaten 42, brilliantly ran out top-scorer John Wright and captain Mark Burgess. Boycott and Gooch were more economical than the four main bowlers, with combined figures of 12–2–32–1. Despite some desperate lowerorder hitting from Warren Lees and Lance Cairns, Hendrick held his nerve, and England won by nine runs. “That was a really tough game,” he says. “I was absolutely drained at the end, mentally and physically. The pressure was really on me to get my yorkers in.”
For a long time, Pakistan were in control of the second semi-final. Chasing 294, they were 176 for one with 20 overs to go, before Colin Croft produced a furious three-wicket spell. Richards prised out the middle order, and West Indies won by 43 runs. It was the kind of scare which sharpens a team’s focus.
Before the final, England’s players dispersed to spend 24 hours with their families. Willis was fretting after he twisted his knee against New Zealand. In a fitness test on the morning of the match, he bowled sharply at Brearley, who along with chairman of selectors Alec Bedser decided to leave the decision to Willis. The heart said yes, the head said maybe, the knee said no. Willis decided, “with a reluctance close to grief”, to tell Bedser he was unfit. “I felt the tears immediately flood into my eyes, and sought the privacy of the showerroom for a couple of minutes to regain my composure.”
England brought back Edmonds and kept the same balance as the semi-final, with only four specialist bowlers. When some of Boycott’s team-mates told him the XI as he walked from the nets to the dressing-room, he said the decision to have him as the fifth bowler was “crackers”. West Indies had four of their own: Croft, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner. “It is difficult,” wrote John Arlott in The Guardian, “to imagine any twist of events, conditions or weather that could deny those four fast bowlers.”
The newspaper coverage that day was low-key, with no cheerleading or pictures of Botham draped in the Union Jack. The front pages were devoted to former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe’s acquittal of conspiracy to murder his ex-lover Norman Scott. The match was televised live on BBC1’s Grandstand, though it had to battle with racing from Ascot, the final of the Colgate International women’s tennis from Eastbourne, and the fourth round of the Sedan Products Open Rally Championship.
England won the toss and bowled, reasoning that if the pitch was going to do anything it would be early on. They were right. West Indies slipped to 99 for four – and it might have been worse, the ball repeatedly beating the bat. In Wisden Cricket Monthly, Willis reckoned England could have had it won by lunch. Though Richards moved towards a half-century, he was batting like a mortal. He edged Old a fraction wide of leg stump, survived that huge appeal from Hendrick, then reached 50 with a nick at catchable height through second slip off Botham.
Richards had gone 50 innings without a century in all formats, and worried whether he could still make big scores. He was also struggling to move the fingers on his left hand, after being attacked with iron bars in Antigua two months earlier. Before he even said good morning to his room-mate Desmond Haynes, Richards announced: “There’s going to be a lot of people at Lord’s today. It would be a really good time to turn it on.” He loved the big stage, even more so in England, with thousands of expats watching. “We felt it was our duty to make sure they were happy. When we were touring England, and West Indies were successful, they felt in my opinion more comfortable in society.”
The pressure of a World Cup stimulated rather than cowed him. As wickets fell, Richards’s determination grew. But he knew that, when Lloyd was fourth out, West Indies were in trouble. “We’re really struggling,” he said to Dickie Bird. “This is serious. If they get another wicket now, we’ve had it.” In the dressing-room, Holding was so nervous he couldn’t watch for the next hour. West Indies had the dangerous but erratic Collis King at No. 6, followed by a relatively weak lower order. As it transpired, the last four would not score a run between them.
At the age of 28, King was an unfulfilled talent. Six one-day international innings had brought an average of 14. He was wearing no helmet or cap, and Haynes’s boots. As he walked down towards the Long Room, he realised one of his gloves contained a miniature bottle of brandy, a few of which he kept in his kit bag for emergencies. He knocked it back, and strode out to play the innings of his life.
King started briskly and was 19 not out at lunch, with West Indies 125 for four from 34 overs. In the hour after the interval, King and Richards took the World Cup away from England at dizzying speed. In an astonishing partnership of 139 in 21 overs, King was the driver (and puller and cutter). He caned 86 from 66 balls, with three brutal sixes – including two in a row off Larkins – and ten fours, treating every ball like a free hit. Richards had initially struggled, but King middled almost everything. Given the context, and the probable consequences of an early dismissal, the audacity was outrageous. It takes something to overshadow a hundred from Richards in a Lord’s final, but King did just that. It was the only half-century of his one-day international career.
At first Richards told him to calm down. When he realised that was futile, he decided to play a supporting role, rather than try to match him. “Kingdom just went to work,” he said, “and the result was pretty satisfactory.” Richards had an eye on the bigger picture, and vowed to stay in until West Indies had at least 200. King just saw the ball and belted it. His last 41 runs came at 21stcentury speed, from 17 deliveries.
Both treated England’s part-timers savagely. “There was a silly little smirk on Boycott’s face as he ran up to bowl,” said Richards. “It soon vanished as the ball kept disappearing around the ground.” The last ten overs from Boycott, Gooch and Larkins disappeared for 83. Brearley said he felt “close to impotence… like attacking tanks with pea-shooters”. When Larkins’s second over disappeared for 16, Brearley turned to Boycott, who conceded 15. Jim Laker, the BBC commentator and Mirror writer, said later that Bedser wanted to play Geoff Miller rather than Larkins, but must have been overruled. “England weakened their stronger suit to strengthen their weaker one,” wrote John Woodcock in The Cricketer. “This seldom works and it did not on this occasion.” The fact that it had worked in the semi-final had been forgotten.
When King holed out off Edmonds, England’s most economical bowler with two for 40, the total was 238. Richards, content that West Indies had a workable total, went into overdrive and scored 42 of the last 48. Few will forget his stroke off the final ball of the innings, when he walked across his stumps to lift an attempted yorker from Hendrick over square leg and into the Mound Stand. As he left the field, Richards thought: “That shot is my invention.”
It is also, in many ways, Hendrick’s legacy. He has the best average (19.45) and economy-rate (3.27) in England’s one-day history (from a minimum of 120 overs). Yet the first thing most people remember is a ball that was hit for six. “Viv was already 132 not out,” he says. “He’s a great player and he hit the last ball for six. So what!” In a parallel universe, Hendrick dismissed Richards for 22 and is the hero of England’s first World Cup victory. “It’s one of those things. I won’t go to my grave wittering about it.”
On paper, Richards’s 138 not out from 157 balls looks like a typical masterpiece. Yet it was effectively three innings in one: a fight for survival and form, then an ego-free supporting role, and finally the Master Blaster in excelsis. The strokes at the end looked effortless, but only because he had worked like a beast early on. “It’s such a relief,” he said, “to know I can still play a big innings.”
At the 1979 World Cup, all the major teams used their Test opening batsmen. Some were more naturally attacking than others. West Indies had Greenidge and Haynes; New Zealand had Wright and Bruce Edgar. England had Brearley and Boycott – combined age 75, combined ODI career strike-rate 39. “Not even at a pinch,” wrote Scyld Berry in Wisden 1999, “could you have called them hitters.” Their opening partnerships in the tournament were four, three, nought and 13, and now they had to face Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft. Although it took Boycott 17 overs to reach double figures, he and Brearley looked good on an increasingly benign pitch, taking England to 79 for none off 25 at tea. Compton wrote that he had never seen Brearley play so confidently; Laker said he had never seen him play better, full stop.
During the interval, the England dressing-room were optimistic. Brearley drank lemon squash before sitting down for tea and rock cake. He suggested they should now try to score at least six an over, and target the last six overs from West Indies’ fifth bowler, either Richards or King. He was talked out of it, with Botham and Randall – “Carry on, skip, it’s magic” – especially insistent that England should keep playing as they were.
Brearley and Boycott were at the crease for another 13 overs after tea, adding 50 more. The hundred came up in the 32nd, only two more than it took West Indies. But somewhere along the way, an admirable partnership became a problem. Croft said to Garner he hoped West Indies did not take a wicket, and when Lloyd dropped Boycott, a simple chance at mid-on, many thought it deliberate. “I could have watched them all day, because I knew every over they batted was another nail in their coffin,” said Lloyd. “A lot of people suggested I put it down purposefully, just to keep him in. It’s not true, but it wouldn’t have been a bad tactic.” He later said he would have opened with Brearley and Gooch.
Eventually England’s openers started to hit out, but were unable to significantly lift the run-rate. Brearley said he was thinking of a “very strategic retired hurt”. After a partnership of 129 in 38 overs, both fell in quick succession to Holding.
England went into the last 20 needing 151. And though Randall and Gooch (32 from 28 balls) added 48 in seven, it was fraught with risk. Once Randall was dismissed, the innings crumbled in astonishing fashion, the last eight wickets falling for 11 runs in 26 balls. For the new batsman, trying to hit Garner’s yorker for eight an over was like trying to bench-press gravity – especially as the light was fading, and his hand was above the sightscreen at the Nursery End and coming out of the trees. Garner took out Gooch, Gower and Larkins in his tenth over, Old and Taylor in his next. Four were bowled. Croft claimed the last wicket by castling Hendrick, who grabbed a stump and charged off in an attempt to beat the pitch invasion. Dickie Bird pulled a muscle as he sprinted for the Pavilion.
The teams mingled and shared champagne, first on the balcony, then in the dressing-rooms. Garner threw his size 15 boots into the crowd, and West Indies staged an impromptu Caribbean carnival with their supporters in St John’s Wood. Richards, whose hackles were briefly raised when an overzealous fan tried to steal his cap, poking him in the eye, led the way: “I drowned myself in champagne. I promised myself I would get into a hell of a state, and that’s just what I did.”
Richards regards this as the turning point in West Indies’ history. By winning the World Cup a second time, they proved to themselves that they could win anything – and to outsiders that the first had not been a fluke. “I may be wrong, but I sense that winning an ultimate contest like this is more important for a black person than anyone else,” he said. “It feels like a vindication – the sense of pride is phenomenal.”
Two months later, he and Garner returned to Lord’s to play an equally big part in Somerset’s first trophy – Richards scored another century, Garner went one better, with six wickets.
The following winter, when England played West Indies in a triangular tournament in Australia, Boycott played a series of exhilarating attacking innings which evoked his famous century in the 1965 Gillette Cup final. He said he was not playing with greater intent than in the World Cup final, only that he was in better form.
The story of the 1979 final is generally told in those two partnerships, between Richards and King, then Brearley and Boycott. That feels unfair given the context of both, never mind that England’s openers were talked out of accelerating – and by Botham, of all people. More than that, West Indies had plenty to defend. No team scored as many as 287 against them in limited-overs cricket until Pakistan in October 1988; England were the next to manage it, in 1995.
“We could never make enough runs against them,” says Boycott. “If we had picked one more quality bowler, we would have been chasing around 250, which might have been gettable. John Woodcock was correct when he said we picked the wrong team. Boycott, Gooch and Larkins bowling 12 overs in a World Cup final was crazy. To me, the story of the 1979 final was the partnership between Richards and King.” Boycott and Gooch overachieved in the earlier games, making England think they could get away with it one last time. “We’d done well on some dodgy pitches, but Lord’s was completely flat and there was no swing. We were decent net bowlers and, at best, an occasional sixth bowler.”
He thinks his opening partnership with Brearley is judged by modern standards. “Life is very easy with hindsight. It’s nearly impossible to judge the past – especially as most people don’t remember the rules, or how people thought 40 years ago. There were no pinch-hitters, and every team tried to build a platform without losing wickets.
“West Indies were probably the best Test side of all time, and every ODI team since would be hard pressed to beat them. Most people have no conception of how difficult it was to score runs against that attack. All these modern shots – the reverse sweep, the scoop, hitting over the top – would be almost impossible against Joel Garner and the other guys. Try ramping when nearly every ball jumps from a length at your heart or your ribs. Their speed and accuracy were exceptional.”
There will always be plenty of what-ifs. What if England had played a fifth bowler? What if Brearley had not been talked out of his plan to attack after tea? What if Botham, in the middle of an astonishing purple patch in Test cricket, had not mislaid his cape for a fortnight? What if King hadn’t borrowed it for the final? And, what if, in the context of the 1979 World Cup final, “Hendrick to Richards” meant something else entirely?
This article originally appeared in the 2019 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.