THE West Indies’ convincing home Test series victory over Australia in 1964-65, left me devastated, as I thought we were invincible at that time, under the captaincy of Bob Simpson.
I was only 12, and it was the first series I remember following on radio, at home at Bray Park, Murwillumbah.
So, I wasn’t sure whether to be delighted or not, when my prize for finishing second in a public speaking competition, at Murwillumbah High School, in 1967, was Gary Sobers’ book, ‘King Cricket’.
The book, presented to me by headmaster, Joe Elliot, recounted the 1966 Test series between England the West Indies tourists. (As I write this, England are preparing to host the ‘Windies’ again).
Sobers was the world’s greatest all-rounder at the time, and is still regarded by many cricket historians as the best all-rounder the game has seen.
In ‘King Cricket’ (ghost written by Irish journalist, Alan Bestic), Sobers said no Windies touring side had met a more hostile reception from the media, and from a small section of the public, than the 1966 outfit.
He wanted to set the record straight about the bitterness, of personal enmities, both on and off the field, of ugly scenes which threatened to ruin what had been one of the happiest rivalries in the game. But Sobers made it clear he wasn’t going to dish up the ‘dirt’ some of the fans and the media were seeking.
“They shouldn’t come to me, but should go snooping round some of the book shops in Soho, where they’ll be able to buy plenty of it,” he said.
“Certainly, they won’t find it between the covers of this book, because I’m a bit old fashioned. I’ve a sort of liking for truth and facts, particularly when they concern cricket, which is not only my living, but my life.”
Sobers’ fairness in reflecting on the series is beautifully illustrated in his reference to a wonderful innings of 96 by England’s Tom Graveny, at Lords, with the 38-year-old finally falling, caught behind by David Allen, off the bowling of paceman, Wes Hall.
“The crowd roared, half in sheer delight, half in tribute,” said Sobers. “And for once the emotions were not inspired by nationality, by team loyalty. Sure, every West Indian in that ground was glad to see the back of the great Graveney. But when they had finished cheering Wes Hall, they cheered Tom all the way back to the pavilion, for his great courage, his great ability, his great innings that could well have proved a match winner for England.”
Doubts were sometimes cast about Graveney’s handling of really fast bowling, but he stood up to counted against Hall and Charlie Griffith. Griffith was called for chucking at Old Trafford and warned at Headingley.
Sobers said Griffith conceded that his action looked awkward, and that his arm was bent as it came up.
“But he insists it is straight at the time he lets go of the ball,” Sobers wrote.
The West Indies won that series 3-1, with Sobers scoring 722 runs, including three centuries, and took 20 wickets.
In 1966, I was playing cricket in the Tweed District competition, for one of the two Murwillumbah High School sides. Our team were the ‘Whites’ and the other side, the ‘Blues’ (You probably couldn’t use those names now).
We played against sides such as Cudgen and South Arm, the latter chosen from villages such as Uki and Kunghur, on the South Arm of the Tweed River. In one match against Cudgen, we dismissed them for 66, with Colin Douglas grabbing 3/6; Ken McInnes 3/10 and John Stenner 2/17. But in reply we made only 29, and I top scored with 8! Cudgen’s pace bowlers, David Peate and Gary Eglington were express pace, or so I thought.
I’m sure Tom Graveney would have handled them with ease, but not our lads.
In 1985, I was cricket writer for the ‘Telegraph’ in Brisbane, and covered the Second Test at the Gabba, when the West Indies had an emphatic victory, and Australian captain, Kim Hughes stood down, with Allan Border appointed in his place.
For me, the greatest bowler on show in that match was Windies’ paceman, Malcolm Marshall, who began his run-up, or so it seemed, just below the press box. That’s when I reached for ‘King Cricket’, for the first time in many years, to read what Sobers had to say about the pace attack of the 1960s.
‘King Cricket’ was indeed prize I kept, and valued.
1 King Cricket
2 Rival captains, Brian Close (England) and Gary Sobers
3 Charlie Griiffith
4 Murwillumbah High School’s Fist XI, 1970.