The start of something special
By the middle of the 1970s, a grandiose World Cup was an inevitability. There had been quite sufficient successful one-day competitions and jamborees to indicate as much. The first limited-overs international, between England and Australia in 1971, born of a rain-ruined Test match, attracted 25,000 spectators. The Gillette Cup, Rothman's International Cavaliers and the John Player League were indicative of just how popular instant cricket had become.
All this might have made little impression, however, had not the first World Cup final, one in which Australia and West Indies were brimming with star players, been a terrific day's cricket which continued well into a suitably sunlit evening in front of a full house at Lord's. Thirty-five years on, it is not altogether easy to appreciate the mindset that existed among players as well as administrators and journalists: that this was a bit of fun, a few days of light-hearted entertainment before the return of the real game.
Even as clear a thinker as Ian Chappell, the Australian captain in that final, expressed a certain relief afterwards that his touring party could now revert to proper cricket, to taking on England in a Test series. Their matches against first-class counties on that tour appeared to carry more significance, which seems almost laughable now. As for what Gubby Allen and EW Swanton must have thought… it does not bear contemplation. Colin Cowdrey, who was to become the most powerful figure in the game, could never quite take one-day cricket seriously.
Credit for this innovation should go in particular not to the International Cricket Committee or MCC, although Jack Bailey, the Secretary, played a significant part, but to Ben Brocklehurst, the proprietor of the Cricketer and a former captain of Somerset, who had originally suggested this formula. The game in England already embraced as many as three domestic one-day competitions, all played before significant crowds. There was an understanding that a new type of spectator, perhaps one who generally preferred football, could be attracted to one-day cricket. The supporters who followed Lancashire seemed to bear that out.
To stage a World Cup in 1975 was quite sufficient an innovation in itself. There was no thought given then to coloured clothing, to fielding restrictions, to unorthodox batting. The appeal lay in the lack of artificiality other than a limiting of overs. That plus a guaranteed result. Once it was apparent that in all other respects this resembled proper cricket, the interest would be there. Tinkering with the format could follow in later years.
A 60-overs-a-side competition, involving six Test-playing countries and Sri Lanka and East Africa, also meant a longer day's cricket. This concentration on the saving of runs as opposed to bowling sides out meant that there was an accentuated role for the niggardly medium-pacer and the fleet-of-foot fielder with a deadly arm. It also meant that there would no longer be a place in the international game for a cricketer who was carrying a bit of timber. A rotund figure, a Colin Milburn type, would no longer be selected if he could not bend at square leg.
This was, of course, plenty of scope for individuality. The final in June featured cricket of coruscating flair, including a brilliant century by Clive Lloyd. It appeared that day as if West Indies, with their unrivalled strokeplayers, fast bowlers and athleticism in the field, would dominate this competition for years to come. Australia, although they were beaten by only 17 runs, suffered five run-outs, all of which added to the vibrancy and excitement. Five run-outs did not occur in an innings in first-class cricket.
There were concerns in 1975 as to whether the spinner would disappear into oblivion along with the roly-poly batsmen. Or indeed whether there would be a place for as technically outstanding a batsman as Sunil Gavaskar, who against England that year batted throughout 60 overs, scoring just 36 runs. That approach could not be tolerated for long, given that India needed 335 to win.
A total of 158,000 spectators watched 15 days' action on the leading grounds in the country, but there was no concern at the time of a threat to Test cricket's primacy. And not for the last occasion, the men had been shown by the fairer sex how to go about putting on a showpiece event. The inaugural World Cup to be staged was in fact by the women's game two years earlier. England, the host nation, won it, beating Australia to boot, and a certain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint left an impression on the game. She was still doing so four decades on, although the coverage and credit she and her fellow players and administrators received paled by comparison with the men's 1975 tournament.
This article is the first of a ten-part series on innovations in cricket, in partnership with Saab. Next week, the advent of coloured clothing