March 6, 2011

'We could have won the World Cup'

Duncan Steer
England's Mr Dependable, Mike Hendrick, on the 1979 World Cup final and other career highlights

Mike Hendrick, arguably the most reliable seam bowler of his generation, was around for plenty of English cricket's most iconic moments: the 1974-75 Ashes thrashing by Lillee and Thomson and the 5-1 Ashes win under Mike Brearley four years later. He played in the 1981 Ashes side and, the following year, was one of Graham Gooch's South African rebels. These days, he's bowling coach to county champions Nottinghamshire. But when SPIN speaks to him in early February, it's his part in the 1979 World Cup final - one of the three times England have fallen at the final hurdle - that seems the best place to start to discuss his glittering if slightly unsung career. That day England were beaten by 92 runs by Clive Lloyd's West Indians at Lord's. But, as Hendrick recalls, it could all have been very different.

"We were confident," he says. "We had them 90-odd for 4. I'd just bowled Alvin Kallicharran and Viv [Richards] comes in. I nip one back at him first ball and it hits him in front of all three. Huge appeal. Umpire says not out. I could not believe it and neither could Viv. And Viv looked at me and I looked at him and he just pursed his lips. And as I walked back to my mark, the lads on the balcony have seen a replay and they're all giving me the thumbs up. So he should have been out first ball. And then of course he got 138 and Collis King joined him and smacked it all over the place…"

When England batted, chasing 287 off 60 overs, they started steadily. Very steadily. Geoff Boycott and captain Mike Brearley batted for 38 overs, the score ticking over to 129 for 0. Was there confidence in the dressing room at this point? "Yes, there was, up to a point," says Hendrick. "But then as the overs went on we were saying, 'Shouldn't they be starting to knock it around a little bit more' because we were slipping further and further behind the rate. Then they tried to up the ante and both got out... and, as so often happens, the batsmen further down had to force the pace and got themselves out. But you can't take it away from the West Indies - they bowled really well."

With his easy, high action, the 6ft 3in Hendrick extracted extra bounce from a good length and was a byword for accuracy and economy in the 1970s England attack. He had an economy rate of 2.17 in 30 Tests and says that his action really was as natural as it looked. "I had absolutely no coaching at all. I had to learn on the hoof. I had one or two bits of advice from senior bowlers. Stuff like, 'If you want to make it as a bowler, you want to cut the four-balls out'." Sensible advice.

"Nobody seems bothered about how many runs you give away now. It used to be a battle of wits between an opening batter and an opening bowler. A game of chess. Now both are trying to dominate the other and batters are playing big shots at balls they shouldn't be hitting, and the bowlers pick up wickets with complete rank deliveries."

Turned down after a spell with Leicestershire, Hendrick made his county debut for Derbyshire at 20. "When I started I was like a matchstick with the wood scraped off," he laughs. Winters working on sites helped build him up, and dedication perfected his craft: "I'd go in the nets on my own and try and bowl off stump out of the ground, until I could do it consistently."

Sixty-six wickets at 20 each in 1973 earned him an England tour spot and, in 1974, a Test debut, on which he took a wicket with his first legitimate ball. Hendrick would play 30 Tests over the next seven years, interrupted chiefly by a hamstring injury picked up on the 1974-75 Ashes tour. Given the destruction wreaked by the Australian fast bowlers Lillee and Thomson, he possibly got off lightly.

"Thomson said he wanted to see English blood on the pitch, but to be honest the first innings of the first Test wasn't anything startling. But the second innings - blimey, it was a different story. Thomson broke Tony Greig's toe, Dennis Amiss' thumb. There were loads of lads getting hit and I'm thinking: 'Hang on.' My pads were like a pair of Ryvitas and I didn't have a thigh pad, so I'm scrapping round for extra protection. So I put a towel down my trousers and a handkerchief in my pocket. No helmets, no arm guard, nothing. When I got out there, Thomson's first ball knocked my bat out of my hands! I was thinking: 'I've got a wife and kids at home. What am I doing?' After the second one, I went and shook his hand and said, 'Thanks for the game' and walked off."

"So I put a towel down my trousers and a handerchief in my pocket. No helmets, no arm guard, nothing. When I got out there, Thomson's first ball knocked my bat out of my hands! I was thinking: 'I've got a wife and kids at home. What am I doing?' After the second one, I went and shook his hand and said, 'Thanks for the game' and walked off."

Four years later England and Hendrick had a happier tour - Hendrick took 19 wickets at 15 each and England ran out 5-1 winners. "I was physically stronger and probably mentally too. I knew what I was doing by then."

Hendrick was selected for Headingley 81 but when the selectors found out Bob Willis was fit after all, the invitation was withdrawn. Hendrick returned for the final Test, at The Oval but it proved to be his last.

After retirement there was an abortive move into umpiring, where opportunities proved limited, forcing Hendrick to find his way in the real world. "I got a proper job. I sold cars - not very successfully. Other bits and pieces. Eventually I worked for Radio Trent, selling advertising, which was great fun. And they got me doing reports from grounds on Saturdays and I ended up doing some stuff for Test Match Special, which was fun."

Finally Hendrick found himself back in cricket full time, coaching Ireland, then Scotland, before working with Derbyshire, Zimbabwe's new Twenty20 franchises and, now, county champions Nottinghamshire.

Hendrick obviously loves working with one of the strongest rosters of seam bowlers in the country, at Trent Bridge. "I've been focusing on the lads in the wings, working with the Academy this winter: And we have Luke Fletcher and Andy Carter, who are both in the ECB fast-bowling set-up, and Jake Ball. I'm excited to be working with them; there's some real talent there."

Hendrick sees the modern game close up and is well placed to compare it to his own playing days. "If I had a choice, I would play now - for the money. But for fun I don't think it compares. We always had a lot of fun. Both teams would go for a drink at close of play. But as long as you performed on the field next day, no one was bothered...

"I remember one pre-season as an 18-year-old I'd bowled for two and half hours in the nets and I was standing outside the dressing room with a pint of orange squash. And this senior fast bowler who'd never spoken to me before looked at me and said: "If you want to be a fast bowler, lad, get some ale down you."

He laughs at the memory. "Wise words," he says.

This interview was first published in SPIN magazine. Subscriptions from £20 at

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • david on March 8, 2011, 19:07 GMT

    im not sure he was unlucky. most tv pundits thought he bowled just short of a good length. if he had pitched the bowl up a bit, similar to I T Botham he would have been a much bigger wicket taker. dpk

  • Richard on March 7, 2011, 13:51 GMT

    Mike was indeed a very unlucky bowler, a little like Max Walker in that respect. I always got the impression with Mike Hendrick that he had no idea what any one delivery would do, but just bowled seam up and let it do the work. Many times it would seam one way and then the other and there was plainly no wrist work on the ball just a good upright seam position. When he had a wicket that suited him he was deadly. Off the top of my head he never got a test 5-for, surely one of the better bowlers not to do so.

  • Harsh on March 7, 2011, 11:01 GMT

    It would have been tragic if West Indies had lost the final as no team perhaps deserved a World Champion tag as much as the West Indies team of that era ,who were almost invincible under Clive Lloyd like a a great army,annexing territory after territory without defeat.England's all-round strength was no match for the talent of West Indies with their great batsman and phenomenal pace attack.The English batting collapse in the end reflected the phenomenal reserves of the Carribean attack who simply kept firing like tanks.

    The strongest contender to West Indies was Pakistan who gave them the fright of their lives in the semi-final with Zaher Abbas and Majid Khan making the 293 run target look like a walk in the park.They had the best batting line up of the competition.

  • Harsh on March 7, 2011, 10:48 GMT

    One of the finest fast medium-seamers I have seen,who was at times unplayable in English seaming conditions.His spell against Pakistan at Leeds in 1979 in the World Cup was devastating as well as his spell against Australia in 1980 in the Ist Prudential trophy game .He reminded me of Gary Gilmour and Bob Massie with his late movement,obtained off the pitch and the air.

    In the 1979 final Boycott and Brearley morally lost the issue for England scoring at a low scoring rate and leaving a very high scoring rate require inspite of 8 wickets left.People forget that the English batting faced up to Joel Garner ,arguably the best one day bowler of all timewho ,ripped the heart of the English batting with his toe-biting yorkers.

    Pakistan were more deserving of a place in the final who when facing a similar 290 run target in the semi-final against West Indies were cruising to victory at 176-1 with 20 overs to go.They may well have won that game and gone on to win the title.

  • Jem on March 7, 2011, 2:54 GMT

    Mike Hendrick was my favourite English bowler of his era (Hadlee and Lillee were my all time 1 and 2) He was simply too good for most batsmen and consistently beat the bat to such an extent that he got a reputation as an "unlucky " bowler. Perhaps he would have been even more successful in the modern era of flat pitches which would limit his exaggerated movement! I also had the pleasure of attending one of his after dinner speeches and he was top class. Interesting, entertaining and very funny. Good luck in his new post - though I wish he were at Lancs.. :)

  • Ian on March 6, 2011, 14:25 GMT

    @addiemanav - Agreed. There's no such thing as losing graciously in a World Cup final - you have to play your best and seize every chance you might have to win, even if it means going down with guns blazing earlier than you intended to. Playing to lose by a smaller margin is just silly, unless you're in the qualifying stages and need to boost your run-rate or something. Brearley and Boycott probably did try to force the pace after building a foundation, but just weren't up to it. In 60 overs you can't quite tire out the fast bowlers before carting them around.

  • joel on March 6, 2011, 12:56 GMT

    Geoffery should never have been in the flipping team ! , unless England had 120 overs to use

  • aaditya on March 6, 2011, 8:29 GMT

    the 1979 final is a perfect case for applying the geoff boycott theory in finals!!he had already decided that the score was unachievable,so it was better to just knock the ball around and get to a total of 200 odd in 60 overs!coz he said the same thing when ind were chasing 360 in 2003 final..he said it was foolish for ind to try and reach the target..they shud hav played respectably and scored 280-5 and lose graciously!!but ind tried the impossible,failed miserably and scored 230 in 37 overs and lost by 120 runs!!but it was much better than 270-4 or 5 in 50,bcoz they gave themselves a chance(even if there wasnt,chances wer hopeless!!),but they did not give it up like sir geoffery!!

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