The following is the fifth and final part of Owen Thompson’s recall of that unforgettable summer in 1976 which ushered in the West Indies cricket team’s glory years:
That 1976 year of awakening went way beyond the boundary. Key to victory within the boundary was the pace formula. Clive Lloyd was not afraid to break with tenets handed down by ‘conventional’ wisdom.
Balanced attacks, formulaic trappings espoused by all. So many out-and-out pacers, so many seamers, so many spinners. All the hackneyed blah-blah-blah taken on board as a matter of course.
Doing that which was supposedly desirable, regardless of the sociologic-economic reality of place. So much of our politics and economics had been informed by such inherited mental structures. Lloyd was prepared to say no. Our civilisation, sui generis if there ever was one, with the particularities of its limited resources vis-à-vis a ‘bigger and greater world’, could not—should not!—simply fall into line ¡porque sí!
What if the trappings of ‘desirable order’ were simply out of sync with the reality staring Lloyd in the face? Unlike many of our policymakers, ‘Big Clive’ was bold enough to take the decisive steps.
On Day Two of the Third Test of the 1975-76 series in Australia, a succession of shamelessly partisan umpiring decisions served to put a halt to the inroads the West Indies bowlers were making into the Australian top order.
After seeing their batsmen dismissed for an under par 224 on the opening day, the West Indian quicks came out on Day Two with their A-game and soon had Australia on the ropes, at 61 for 2 inside the first hour. Two horrendous umpiring decisions denied West Indies further strikes that could have seen Australia 4 or 5 down with less than a hundred on the board before lunch on that second day.
Such generosity allowed Australia to bat all of Day Two and deep into Day Three, building a first innings lead of 261. In a game from which Michael Holding had been eliminated by injury, over two days, Andy Roberts bowled 32 eight-ball overs in searing heat. Andy was never the same for the rest of the series.
Lloyd, thereafter, often had to revert to using Lance Gibbs for lengthy, run-containing spells while endeavouring to get from the other end the best of what was left of Roberts, of a young, raw Holding, of a Keith Boyce on the wrong side of thirty, and of stiff-medium workhorse par excellence, Vanburn Holder.
Lloyd began to see the crucial importance of eschewing established convention. When, hardly breaking sweat, India chased down 400 in the fourth innings in Trinidad in the Third Test of the series in the spring of 1976, against three WI spinners, it made him see even more clearly the importance of valiant leadership: the willingness to dispense with ‘wisdom’ imported from ‘higher’ spheres that supposedly grant validity to realms of lesser station.
Lloyd grasped the need to embrace the specificity of autochthonous resources and use them to supplant imported formula. If four potent quicks are available and fit, formula be damned!
Roberts, Holding, Wayne Daniel and Holder destroyed England that summer of 1976. Four-pronged pace became the name of the game and WI ruled the roost for the next two decades.
There was a time in the late 1970s/early-1980s when the presence of Roberts, Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft condemned Malcolm Marshall, Sylvester Clarke, Daniel and Winston Davis to be watching from the side-lines.
The fast-bowling conveyor belt extended into the mid-late 1980s, when the likes of Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and the first of the Benjamins, Winston, appeared. It continued into the early 1990s when the second of the Benjamins, Kenny, entered the arena.
All of those outstanding quicks were born between 1951 and 1967. Professor Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts, born in January 1951, was the first of the lot and Ian Bishop, born in September 1967, the last.
It was a truly outstanding harvest that continued uninterrupted for a decade and a half, assuring West Indies complete dominance of world cricket from 1976 to 1995—thanks to the presence, at the same time, of two, three or four bowlers that were always either genuinely quick, express, or north of express. At the mildest, one of those three or four might be classified as just ‘sharp’.
That year of awakening, (1975-76 rolling into 1976), transcended cricket. It also squarely broached the issue of management of resources in the interest of civilisational advancement. Lloyd emerged as a key mould-breaker.
Looking back now upon the events and twists and turns of that year, I am drawn to think it was no accident that it was also the time we witnessed the best of Viv as a batsman, with swagger, style, technique and absolute command and mastery over every attack he faced—from the quickest of the lightning quick to the most prodigious of vicious spin, or the slipperiest of slippery seam.
The year Bob Marley brought to the world arguably not only Reggae music’s most ground-breaking album but Reggae music’s best album ever. Period.
(Considering that the Exodus album followed a year later, in 1977, containing all of Natural Mystic, So Much Things to Say, Guiltiness, The Heathen, Exodus, Jamming, Waiting in Vain, Turn Your Lights Down Low, Three Little Birds, One Love, I am fully cognisant of the enormousness of my assertion.)
The year Caribbean athletes won all the major short and long sprint events at the Olympics: the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-metre finals.
Vibratious Bob, Voracious Viv, Marauding Mikey, Awesome Andy, Crafty Crawfie, Dashing Don Quarry and Courageous Clive stand out to me now all the more vigorously, as stirring metaphors of the truly remarkable year of awakening that was 1976.
Viv was the best batsman there was. Andy and Mikey were the best fast-bowlers there were. Crawfie and Quarry were the fastest men on earth. Marley’s was the best music on the planet.
Having just passed my ‘O-levels’ and embarked upon my ‘A-levels’ at one of the country’s (maybe even the region’s) best schools, I was living in a country oozing happiness and prosperity.
Everything seemed so rosy around me. With good reason. I was in the most princely phase of adolescence, very much in love with life and even more so with life in a West Indian nation rollicking with optimism.
Thanks, in no small measure, to what Vibratious Bob, Voracious Viv, Marauding Mikey and Awesome Andy made me and so many of my generation feel throughout that summer of endless euphoria.