Arunabha Sengupta looks at some of the most famous feuds of cricket. This episode deals with the most acrimonious Test series ever, the West Indies in New Zealand 1979-80.
Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. The fastest and meanest men in fast bowling business. They had just crushed the mighty Australians in their backyard. Even though Viv Richards had gone home after the triumph in Australia with a strained back, with Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Alvin Kallicharran, Lawrence Rowe and Clive Lloyd to supply the runs for the menace of the bowling machine to operate, they were very much the best side of the world.
As they crossed the Tasman Sea to take on the puny, no-frills-no-stars New Zealand, they expected to pulverise them at half throttle. On television, Garner voiced his ominous warning, “We’ve beaten the Aussies, man, now we’re gonna beat you.”
Yet, the tour got off to an unhappy start for the West Indians and grew steadily worse till it became the most forgettable in their illustrious history.
Holding recalls the farcical arrangements that they had to deal with. The team to carry their own kit to the bus, and were accommodated in cramped motels rather than five-star hotels. Neither did they like the food provided on the grounds – usually sausage and beans.
Clive Lloyd admits now that the West Indies team was jaded and the atrocious umpiring was too much to withstand on the back of a hard tour of Australia.
Geoff Howarth, the New Zealand captain, agrees, but plays down the umpiring issue, “They were supposed to be unbeatable – there was no contest. They had been through a hard trip of Australia, they were a little blasé, a bit homesick. They were expecting a quick jaunt and a few wins inside three days. We caught them on the hop.”
Some cold war style misinformation, including the decoy of an extra spinner picked by the home side, kidded the West Indians into believing that the first Test pitch at Dunedin would turn square. As a result they preferred off-spinner Derick Parry to Roberts. The move backfired, and on the first morning the visitors found themselves in seaming conditions against a brilliant Richard Hadlee and some ordinary umpiring.
Holding sends stumps flying, but not with the ball!
The umpire at the eye of the storm was Fred Goodall, who officiated in all the three Tests. The conflicts with the West Indians started from the very first session, when Rowe, Kallicharran and Lloyd were given out leg-before, all to Hadlee. New Zealand cricket journalist Don Cameron maintains, “The umpiring was indifferent. The pitch at Dunedin kept low but West Indies thought they were getting too far forward for the umpires to be sure.”
West Indies were bowled out for a paltry 140, with Hadlee picking five with four lbws. To be fair to the Kiwi umpires, in the Test there were five leg-before decisions against the home batsmen as well. According to Howarth, “They couldn’t complain. If you walk in front of your stumps at Dunedin, you’ll get given out.”
The atmosphere grew steadily worse as appeal after appeal got turned down during the New Zealand innings. With the score on 28 for two, Holding sent through a ripper and was convinced that batsman John Parker had edged to the keeper Deryck Murray, but umpire John Hastie remained unmoved. A visibly irate Holding walked over to the striker’s end and let fly a kick, knocking the stumps out of the ground.
The photograph of the kick is one of the most spectacular in the history of cricket, snapped by a journalist from another town. A few days later it was sold to Fleet Street and took the cricket world by storm.
A local paper described Holding’s action as “disgraceful, back alley behaviour.” However, the West Indians are still reluctant to offer apologies.
“This was not cricket… I was on my way to the pavilion, quite prepared not to bowl again, when Clive Lloyd and Murray persuaded me back,” Holding wrote in his autobiography, Whispering Death.
Fellow paceman, Croft, defends Holding’s action. He says, “The ball didn’t brush the glove; it tore the glove off. Deryck Murray took it in front of first slip. Parker was on his way to the pavilion when he was given not out. The photo of Holding is the best sports picture I’ve seen. He should have been signed up by Manchester United on the strength of it.”
Hadlee picked up six more wickets in the second innings, three of them leg-before. Set a target of 104, the Kiwis scraped through by one wicket against Holding, Croft and Garner, the final pair of Gary Troup and Stephen Boock scrambling the last four runs.
Willie Rodriguez, the West Indies manager, gave Holding no more than a talking to, and then added to the already inflamed situation by commenting, “We got two men out and they were not given. They were atrocious decisions.”
Only Haynes, the “Batsman of the Match”, attended the post-game presentations. Richard Hadlee was unimpressed, pointing out “good sportsmanship is fundamental”. In the end, the brewing bad blood overshadowed a remarkable Test.
We’re going home
Soon, it turned worse. A local radio station broadcast a satirical calypso ridiculing the whining tourists. In the next Test, at Christchurch, things were reasonably peaceful till the third afternoon. Howarth, batting on 68, gloved a ball from Garner to Murray.
The batsman now recalls, “I leant back to a short ball and got a thumb on it. It was one of those ones where everyone behind the wicket knew it was out but no one in front could tell. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for West Indies.” Goodall saw nothing and said not out. The batsman went on to pile 147.
At tea, the West Indians were livid. Lloyd asked his side what they wanted to do, and the unanimous reply was ‘go home’. The umpires and batsmen came out after the break, but Lloyd informed a New Zealand board official: “They can wait. We won’t be joining them.”
The visitors agreed to resume only when Howarth came in to the pavilion and talked to Lloyd, assuring him that his batsmen would walk if they knew they had hit the ball. Play started again some 12 minutes after schedule. And immediately, in the first over from Holding, Howarth stood his ground “for yet another clear catch by Murray.” The final session saw crawling over rate, West Indians deliberately dropped catches and shepherded balls to the boundary. At one stage Holding bowled four successive bouncers to Howarth.
That night, West Indies packed their kit and emptied the dressing room. They did not think that they would come back after the scheduled rest day, and everyone in the team expected to leave New Zealand altogether. The team met for three hours, and a vote was taken. The majority, including Rodriguez, said they wanted to quit the tour.
Cameron recalls, “I was in the same hotel as the West Indies players and I got on well with Desmond Haynes. In the evening I went into the players’ room and they were all there eating fried chicken. ‘Why the party?’ I asked Dessie. ‘Oh, we’re going home,’ he said. Straightaway I phoned Jeff Stollmeyer, head of the West Indies board in the Caribbean, and asked him for a comment. ‘It won’t happen,’ he said. ‘The manager will be told that they’ll be carrying on.”
After the kick, the shoulder charge
Persuaded by the Board, the team returned to the ground. But, the fourth day witnessed the most unpleasant incident of the tour. Croft, who was repeatedly jeered by the crowd, appealed – somewhat belatedly – for a catch at the wicket when Hadlee hooked at a bouncer. Again Goodall turned it down. The umpire says, “Only years later did Hadlee tell me he’d got an edge on it.”
Croft reacted with a barrage of four letter words at Goodall, and both the umpires spoke to Lloyd. The West Indian captain steadfastly stood at first slip, refusing to take a step forward to meet the umpires who had to walk all the way. The complaint had little effect.
In his next over, Croft unleashed a series of bouncers at Hadlee. When Goodall no-balled him for bowling from too wide of the crease, Croft deliberately knocked the bails off as he walked back past the stumps. Jeremy Coney, the non-striker, picked them up.
As he ran in to bowl his next ball, in one of the most murky incidents in cricket, Croft shoulder-charged Goodall. It did look extremely deliberate. “It hurt for a while,” Goodall remarks. “I told Lloyd I have taken some treatment from players in my time, but it has always been verbal. You sort this out now.”
Lloyd let Croft stay on. “I had a word with Crofty. This had happened once before with his close run-up. He’d knocked Bill Alley during a game for Lancashire. He ran in very straight then broke away.”
Croft says, “In the heat of the moment they thought I did it on purpose. I did not do it purposely. If Fred Goodall was in Hollywood, he’d have picked up an Oscar. I’m six foot six and 230 pounds. If I’d meant to hit him, he wouldn’t have got up. It’s crap that I barged him deliberately.”
According to Howarth, “Croft tried to pretend he’d lost his run-up. It was disgraceful. He should have been banned for life. It was because it was 12,000 miles away in little old New Zealand that the authorities turned a blind eye.”
The match ended in an acrimonious draw.
The third Test was relatively free of controversy, but it started only after West Indies had withdrawn a protest against the appointment of Goodall to stand in the match. There was also the peculiar incident of four senior West Indian cricketers wanting to take the flight back on the fifth afternoon, arguing substitutes could field for them. Thankfully, this was avoided and the rubber ended with a hard fought draw.
The all powerful West Indians hence lost the series – something they would not repeat for another 15 years.
“Our bowlers appealed umpteen times,” Lloyd said at the end-of-series press conference. “But it got to the ridiculous stage when they weren’t even appealing. They knew they wouldn’t get the decision.”
However, on his return to the Caribbean, Lloyd admitted that he should have taken a firmer line with his players.
Goodall still in bad books
Goodall queered the pitch further when he allegedly made racially biased comments against the West Indians in speaking engagements after the Test series. Viv Richards was one of the men who were not too amused by this.
The umpire recalls, “When Vivian Richards captained the side in 1987, he wouldn’t speak to me except to say: ‘We’ll teach you to make fun of our people.’ It was very unpleasant.”