Age 11, at the 1979 Prudential World Cup Final
My Dad helped me find my seat in the Compton Upper, hung around until play was about to start, had a word with the steward and said, “See you at lunchtime”. I sat alone to watch the West Indies bat first against England. Through some circumstance, that neither of us can now remember, Dad had two tickets for the World Cup Final, in different parts of Lord’s.
Being alone didn’t particularly bother me, as I sat hunched watching the play in a bubble of concentration. I recorded each delivery on a lined A4 sheet, each over a new row. The innings progressing vertically down the sheet, with special notations for appeals, bouncers and extras. That summer, captivated by Bill Frindall’s published scorecards of the 1978/79 Ashes series, I had progressed from scorebook to scoring system.
“We want the West Indies to win the toss and bat,” Dad had explained on the drive into London. He had come to watch the world’s best cricket team and didn’t want to be shortchanged by England batting first and setting a low total. England had made only 165 and 221 batting first in their final group match and semi-final. I, despite the objectivity of my scoring obsession, wanted England to win, unlikely as I understood that to be. Dad had his way: Greenidge and Haynes opened the batting. But England, thrillingly, provided an early highlight as the West Indies openers, soon to become famous for their running between the wickets, took on England’s scruffy, slouching square leg, Randall, who threw down the stumps.
Of Richards’ century, I have no distinct memory, other than that his presence in the middle was double-edged. While he stayed, England’s victory chances diminished; if he were to fall, particularly on a morning when the rest of the West Indies top-order were dismissed cheaply, I wouldn’t see the game of cricket that my Dad said we had come to view. On that day, Richards was out-batted by Collis King. I do remember King swinging England’s fifth bowler (Boycott-Gooch-Larkins) high to the legside. Sixes, even in limited overs matches, were rare – a sudden instinctive reaction of the batsman, not the practiced tactical objective of the current game.
I know, at some point late in the innings, I blurted out, “Old can’t bowl. He’s finished his overs.” My neighbour pointed to the numbers at the foot of the Tavern scoreboard which demonstrated that Brearley’s management of his bowlers was more reliable than my scoring system.
As the West Indies accelerated at the end of their innings, a top edge headed high towards the Tavern. Brearley, with short, fast steps and grey-hair tipped backwards, pursued the ball down the slope like an uncle chasing a frisbee at a family picnic. He took the running catch giving me my first live example of a cricket incident that is so much more satisfying viewed from the stands than on TV. The eye can assimilate the trajectory of the ball and the fielder’s burst of motion much better than a single camera.
England’s openers, Boycott and Brearley started slowly, before continuing at the same pace. More amble than run chase. I learnt a new word during their partnership. Sitting on the row behind me was a local with an American acquaintance. Boycott and Bearley are now “expendable” the local explained, willing some aggression from England’s openers, bent on building a platform. I was uncomfortable that the American was getting his first taste of cricket at the World Cup Final. Shouldn’t he have to serve an apprenticeship: the fifth day of a drawn Test? Sunday afternoon viewing of a televised John Player League fixture, interrupted by athletics from Crystal Palace?
At some point during the afternoon, my Dad found a seat nearby. Several rows back, a group of West Indies supporters, confident at the match’s outcome, were laughing and trading quips. As England’s wickets started to fall, their target still distant, the exchanges behind us became more passionate. “One of them has put a bet on Holding taking five wickets,” my Dad whispered. But it was not Holding, but Joel Garner’s yorkers, released above the Pavilion sightscreen, that England’s middle order could not repel, let alone attack and lift the scoring rate. The long, steady opening partnership had come with the promise of a flourish from England’s long batting order, but only produced an anti-climax.
No one was more vocal in their disappointment at the outcome than the man who had backed Michael Holding. While we followed the celebrating West Indies fans out of the stand towards the outfield, he continued to chunter, more aggrieved than a fan of the reigning World Champions should be. And I, at 11 a witness to a World Cup Final, fully recorded in my scoring ledger, was the more content.