“Look at the eyes,the concentration. Trying to scare the batsman! I reckon this one will be straight at the jaws as well. Oh it’s a good bouncer that just missed his nose. That was a fine aggressive nasty delivery. “
The moment I hear it, I get become hysterical and the first thing that pops up is the ferocious West Indian pace attack of the 70s. Let me take some pride in sharing how the Caribbean boys became invincible.
During the 1960s and 70s Blacks were not regarded as equals. That was the time, the heat was on for them to get up, stand up and deliver for their respect. Cricket was an instrument of colonialism for the whites and was very much seen in imparting English aristocratic values to the blacks. In West Indies cricket is something that flows in the blood. They play cricket for the value of the cricket. Their history has been a long and painful struggle against the forces that denied and depressed them. Babylon! And it was only through the same cricket, they could win their long lost respect (which meant freedom to them) back.
But there was a big catch to it. Initially, there were sparks and flashes of individual geniuses but it never resulted into West Indian victories. It was like a bunch of non serious locals playing it for fun and frolic. You could read “Calypso boys collapse again.” very frequently with every country they toured.
Their team had no backbone .They desperately needed someone who could hold the people together. Someone, who could bond them and inspire them for the common goal of being victorious, they needed a composed figure and then Clive Lloyd debuted in 1966.He made the gang into a team by giving direction. He was a great thinker and everybody respected him as a leader. He wanted to have a different team with a different thinking. His mentoring instilled the thought process that look “we are strong people, we are here to win”.
In 1975, the young and inexperienced WI side travelled to Australia to face the champions on their own soil. During that era in Test cricket, a set of fast bowlers(fast as in really fast people who bowled at 90-95 miles an hour and that extra dimension decided whether you get hurt or not ) were used as a parameter to distinguish between a good side and a quality team. Wait; let me tell you Australia was the number one ranked team. All thanks to Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee – these names were ruthless enough to scare any God damn batsman. They were truly intimidating. Their ideologies were simple – “Once you have the capability to hurt someone with a bullet in your hand, the person facing you isn’t thinking of hitting the ball, he is thinking of self preservation.”
During the game all you could hear was LILLEEE-LILLEEE -KILL -KILL -KILL!! Out there it was a war. There were injuries, broken fingers and jaws EVERYWHERE. It was a humiliating sight; like a military assault on the West Indian cricket. That was a nasty series with a lot of confrontations both on and off the field. Australians played like seasoned campaigners and they literally screwed the Caribbean bolts. Test cricket wasn’t a gentleman’s game anymore; there were chants of “You black cunts! Go back to your trees” after the Score line (AUS 5 – WI 1) was displayed.
Once they came back, they realised everything was at stake. WI cricket was at the crossroads. Their own people had turned hostile and that sort of environment could either make you or break you and they didn’t have a choice. They didn’t want any crumps, they wanted the loaf. They knew that there was no going back and it was cricket, which had to pave the way for their better future.
Clive stood strong and said never again! If we also can find some good fast bowlers who are just as quick as they are or even quicker that’s it. He went into the Caribbean, looking for genuine spearheads that could fit into his plan – “One people! One nation! One destiny!”.
Geographically speaking Caribbean islands are the countries/ islands which are surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Some of the well known islands are Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica and Trinidad. All have diff Governments, diff attitudes towards diff things but everyone is united by a common banner that is the West Indian cricket. Their cricket speaks for all the different accents and forces out there.
Initially his two major findings were Michael Holding and Andy Roberts.
“When you look at Michael Holding carrying a ball in his hand; what you are looking at is an African individual with African rhythm born to just bowl .Michael with that stride would put that fear into any batsman.” These were his exact words on Michael Holding .He was a young man, who just knew how to bowl quick and knock the timber out. He was popularly called as whispering death, because of the way he used to run while bowling. It resembled the way how a cobra takes it stride calmly, hypnotises it’s a prey and them hunts him down.
Andy Roberts: One of the hard noses! A warrior, who took his fast bowling more seriously than anything and bowled fearlessly without a smile”.Never show any emotions, so that nobody knows what to expect “was his mantra. He had two different bouncers. The first one was the one that could be hooked for a boundary effortlessly while the second one was with the same action but thrown with a greater force. It aimed straight at the batsman’s face with the sole motive of inducing a great deal of pain to him. He was the original lead of the pace attack. The Hitman!
Not long after that the Indians toured the Caribbean islands. Lloyd was eager to banish their humiliation and wanted to show that they had a character to win. West Indians made India buckle and wounded. Gavaskar surrendered that match as a sign of protest. Killer instincts floored the Indians and battered Indies hit back mercilessly.
Now, aggression meant passion for them and they bowled belligerently to kill! They were on a mission. A mission in which they believed in the fact that they were as good as anyone (referring to Aus and England).They instilled fear in every batsman’s heart. They wanted to prove the world what these bunch of black guys were capable of. They were playing to make their people proud.
In 1976 they toured to England to beat their former masters.
“You brought the game to us and we are better than you “every guy in the team wanted to demonstrate it to the Englishmen. Losing a battle or a territory was acceptable to the whites but not a test match from the blacks. Tony Greig made a statement -“make them grovel “just before the commencement of the series, that acted as a catalyst in igniting the Caribbean spirits exponentially. Clive responded with a vengeance “Guys need not say much. Our man on the television has just said it all. We know what to do now” and everyone took that seriously. VERY VERY SERIOUSLY! That comment alone was enough to set the tone for the series.” FOCUS TO DEMOLISH “became the Caribbean motto. The bowlers turned the heat on and made the whites beg for mercy. That by far, was the hottest English summer ever. Nobody wanted Tony to get caught or leg before, they just wanted to knock his timbers out of the grooves and they did it with absolute perfection. That’s one thing I’ve learnt personally as well from them “Forgive but never forget!”
Score line read Eng 0 – WI 3.
Through cricket it was a message to the white world to abort this racism by defeating it on the field of play.
During 1977-1978, Kerry Packers’ World Series cricket sharpened their skills. They were a much more lethal and professional team by then. The other two finds for Clive were- Joel Garner and Colin Croft.
Joel Garner-The big bird (debuted 1977): 6′ 8”, someone who either aimed at your toes or neck. Garner relied more on accuracy than on lightning pace and was termed brutal when it came to the bounce.
Colin Croft (The smiling assassin).”Croft goes for the throat. “Chants were viral when he used to bowl. His action was the most complicated part about his life .The prancing run was straight but the batsman saw only his head bobbing behind the umpire until he veered out wide of the crease just prior to delivery, leaning back and slanting the ball awkwardly in to the right-hander. He was a menace to the batsman fraternity. He would knock you down and would simply laugh at you for hours. You do not get to see such raw characters these days.
Quartet broke the mph limit. All 4 could bowl at stupendous pace and were rightly called as terrorists, dangerous or even murderers. They were on top of their game. All of them! After defeating England, they had traversed a long journey- from being called as the third world citizens to the pioneers of the game.
Let’s talk about the most significant part in their cricket history. They decided to tour Australia in 1979.With every day passed; they were made to relive 1975. Everywhere they were made to watch the highlights of the massacre that took West Indian cricket for a toss 4 years back. *“We must beat Aus at all costs. I didn’t matter how we did it but we had to, UGLY NICE PSYCHOLOGICALLY PHYSICALLY any adverb that comes to your mind put it ” – Colin Croft
The Ozies were the masters of sledging back then as well. Once Lillee signalled Viv that he was going to blow off his fucking head on the next bowl and he literally meant that. To the contrary the West Indians were ready to take them on this time. Viv in particular was very clear.” I don’t want any helmets or any sort of protection. The only way I smell defeat is if I’m knocked down and that won’t happen. Bring it on!! “- were his exact words in one of the games in that series.
The same Australians who were so damn aggressive while bowling were crying when the Caribbean quartet came onto bowl. The harder they bowled, the harder they fell! Game after game, they kept on building the pressure and slowly hammered them into the ground.
Australia 0 – WI 2
Wow that indeed was special for West Indies. They had become the best team in the world and their joy was beyond any words. The world saw the emergence of a whole new breed of people and culture. Even the term whitewash was renamed to “blackwash” after that. Black was the new brave.
Cheers to their spirit. Now plug-in to Bob Marley’s “Get up, stand up!” and feel their glory!
PS: Listening to the same song in loop on India’s 68th Independence Day
* References from the movie Fire in Babylon.