Rhythm and Reason

During the many years that I was fortunate to spend playing professional cricket, there are many which stand out, but one in particular has a uniquely memorable feel to it and one I will never forget.

Cricket is a game of war. Some may call it a battle, but it is so much more and the location of where it is played in the world often has a great bearing on the outcome.

Whenever we played anywhere in the Caribbean, our twelfth man was always the crowd and they could act as the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth too! Don't get me wrong the support we received when we were playing in England was tremendous but there is something about the home crowds that set the spine tingling with their anticipation. Every fan, without exception, knew the strengths and the weakness of the opposing players and this was relayed in no uncertain terms as our bowling attack took up their position to bowl.

A fast bowler's job in any game is to remove the opposing team's finest batsmen quickly and decisively. The aim is to reduce the morale in the lower order batsmen and plant an element of doubt in the entire teams' ability to compete against you at the same level. This is a supreme game of strategy and tactics with the object being to create the least amount of runs on the scoreboard.

It all sounds quite simple, but it is a magnificent game of wits, bluff and counter bluff. Playing against fast bowling is not only a mental game but a very physical one too. During my time of playing, there was little protection from the stinging pain of a ball bowled at over 90 miles per hour if you hadn't the techniques to play it. Some batsmen were easier prey than others but some were mentally tough and each side would have at least one batsman that was supremely difficult to remove.

Geoffrey Boycott was in that category.

Beating the bat

His batting skills were consummate, mainly because he eliminated most of the risky stroke play always with a mind to frustrate the bowler. He made sure he stayed longer at the crease than most batsmen in world cricket did at that time, with his main aim being to carve out a solid innings whether he played for Yorkshire or England.

The battlefield was set at the Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados during March of 1981. West Indies v England.

The Kensington Oval is one of my favourite grounds in the Caribbean. It is quite a small ground, which was filled to capacity for that Test with people watching from any vantagepoint they could find. The close proximity of 15,000 individuals with winning in their hearts created an intimate and intimidatory atmosphere.

The weather was hot and balmy with a gentle breeze blowing from the Caribbean but dry enough to keep the pitch pacy and bouncy. England came expecting similar conditions to those they'd experienced on previous tours and were surprised to find not the usual bare wicket, but a wicket tinged with green!

From one to six...

Geoff Boycott and Graham Gooch opened the batting and walked to the crease with a small contingency of England fans scattered amongst the crowd softly cheering them on.

Our home supporters were in great spirits with the noise of horns, cans, drums, whistles and the wittiest of comments resonating, in an ever-louder pitch, around the ground. Many others had transistor radios fixed firmly to their ears to hear their favourite commentator describe in meticulous detail each stroke and ball as they watched with heavy expectancy.

Andy Roberts took the new ball in the 1st over with me taking the Northern end for the 2nd.

David Murray took his position at approximately 20 yards behind the stumps anticipating a searing delivery from both ends. Clive LLoyd took first slip, Gordon Greenidge at second and Viv Richards took Third.

Desmond Haynes took his spot at short leg with the ever present 6'8" Joel Garner at gully. Joel's arm span filled the space of several men and could intimidate the batsman with his reaction! This was designed to be the ultimate in predatory field placement aimed to hem in the batsman and succeeded in intimidating even the best.

Any bowler would have felt supremely confident knowing the quality of those fieldsmen, all with consistent catching ability, great athletic genius and vitally, quick reactions.

Usually my first task was to find a line and length in order to probe at the batsman's weakness, however on this occasion Clive Lloyd had instructed me to bowl flat out with everything I'd got. The plan was to bowl me in a short, sharp spell then follow Andy Roberts from the other end.

I ran up and bowled my first ball which landed perfectly on a length just outside the off-stump, causing Boycott to make a hurried and unusually groping prod forward and was beaten for pace. My confidence grew. Everything suddenly felt right, my rhythm, my delivery stride, and my action - a rarity from the beginning of a spell resulting in every ball doing just what I anticipated it doing. The world felt great, the ground softer, the body taller, the muscles stronger with the atmosphere very sweet.

Boycott tried to play at each ball with one striking him on the thigh pad and several flashing straight through to Murray. I knew we were close, every single fielder, close to the bat, were all anticipating a catch as the ball left the tips of my fingers. Boycott must have smelt the odour of the anticipated kill as the missile that was an innocuous leather ball honed in towards him at a pace that even with his superb technique could not combat.

The fifth ball I dug in a little shorter than the previous ones, causing it to climb more steeply towards his throat. He managed to get the bat up to fend off the delivery knowing that the inevitable was now staring him in the face.

Over and out!

The crowd was now baying like wolves just before a kill, sensing that England's most stubborn warrior was on the run. Even the jelly coconut and shear ice sellers had ceased trading, the rum bar was abandoned and the Banks's Beer was on ice as everyone waited for the next ball to be bowled.

Usually I'm not aware of anything much going on in the crowd but for this moment in my life I was attuned to everything in a very surreal way. Time hung in the air and I could feel that I had bowled five of the very best balls I could at a lightening speed.

The noise was deafening as I walked towards the boundary to start my run in to the crease, adrenalin pumping through me, stirred up by anticipation. I turned to begin my approach, the 'gods' flying at my feet as I glided in to deliver the final ball of the over. I was trying to imagine what Boycott was thinking at this point, knowing at the back of my mind that if he survived this over he would have gained a small victory and I would have to start the battle all over again in the next over to outwit him.

I approached the delivery crease, everything in complete harmony, suspecting that Boycott would assume that I'd been stirred up by the crowd into bowling another short ball. I'd been stirred up, yes, but I hadn't lost my mind, so I aimed instead for a full length on off stump. As I'd planned, he didn't move into line, the ball moved off the seam. Boycott's feet remained firmly planted in a static position as the ball passed outside his bat and exploded into the off stump.

I was in a daze, still unsure as to exactly what had happened, except that the crowd was in uproar. Boycott's pads had blocked my view so I was unable to see the off stump cartwheel unceremoniously out of the ground, sending the bails nearly to the boundary.

Full realisation came when Desmond Haynes, followed by the rest of the team, came over to congratulate me. I didn't see Geoff making his way back to the pavilion…

Geoff and I have spoken about this event since and both he and I have often wondered how I managed to get past his normally broad bat. Like I said at the beginning - Cricket is a game of war where tactics and strategy are paramount!