'We could have won the World Cup'
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."
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 www.spincricket.com