Wisden Cricket Monthly / Features

Eyewitness: England v West Indies, The Oval, August 1976

Look who's grovelling now

When West Indies toured in 1976, England's captain Tony Greig started the series with the greatest motivational speech of his life

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When West Indies toured in 1976, England's captain Tony Greig started the series with the greatest motivational speech of his life. Unfortunately for England, Greig's promise to make West Indies "grovel" only inspired the opposition and their formidable pace attack. By the time the series reached its conclusion at The Oval, England had lost the Wisden Trophy and a generation of British West Indians were about to celebrate a great triumph. Viv Richards was king and Michael Holding was a hero ...



Michael Holding - the best match figures by a West Indian © Getty Images
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Having lost the series at Headingley, England made changes for the final Test. In came Middlesex's Mike Selvey to open the bowling and Dennis Amiss, returning to Test cricket after a 14-month absence, to open the batting.

Mike Selvey At the start of the season Dennis had been hit on the head by Michael Holding while playing for the MCC at Lord's. It knocked his confidence quite a bit. I turned up to nets on the Wednesday and was told to bowl off 15 yards to Dennis. I was supposed to be opening the bowling for England the next day but I was preparing by bowling off 15 yards. You can imagine what that does for your line and length not to mention your self-esteem, especially when you know the guys in the other side are 15% quicker.

1976 was a long hot summer. By the time of the fifth Test, The Oval was parched. The outfield was patchy and the pitch baked hard. West Indies won a vital toss and batted first. Gordon Greenidge was out for a duck but Viv Richards took England apart.

Michael Holding I remember Viv batted with a Stuart Surridge Jumbo bat in those days. It was huge. He had a good partnership with Lawrence Rowe who made a brilliant 80-odd but because of Viv nobody remembers Lawrence's innings. Viv just blasted it. He was batting brilliantly the whole summer and it carried on at The Oval.

MS Knotty dropped a catch off me. It was my first over and he needed one catch to break the world record. Roy Fredericks nicked it straight to first slip and Knotty tried to pinch it but missed. It's probably the only catch he ever dropped. By the end of the first day Viv was 200 not out. It's probably the only time in a Test match that a No. 3 batsman has scored 200 in a day.

At the start of the second day talk was of the 24-year-old Richards breaking Garry Sobers' Test record of 365.

MS Even to this day I can't work out why he got out. Tony Greig got him out somehow through a combination of bowled, caught and stumped. He had never looked like getting out and he was on course to beat Sobers' record. It was not a question of if but when.

Dickie Bird Richards' innings was one of the best I've ever seen. It was just awesome. His range of shots was magnificent all around the wicket.

An excited West Indian crowd invaded the pitch when Richards reached 200. It happened several times throughout the match.

DB There were discarded rum bottles and Coke cans all over the pitch. The West Indies supporters were all good-natured though. One big West Indian chap came up to me and put his arm around me and called me Professor Dickie Bird: the professor of cricket.

West Indies made 687 - their highest total in England. Derek Underwood toiled through 60 overs for England.

MS On the evening before the match Tony Greig said at the team dinner that we may not be able to out-bat or out-bowl them but we can at least out-field them. I remember looking around while Derek Underwood was bowling. Derek looked terrible by that point and in the field he had the likes of David Steele, Bob Woolmer, Peter Willey and me. I don't think a bigger set of stiffs have fielded for England in a Test. I thought: `Well said, Greigy'.

On such a good batting strip England were confident of avoiding the follow-on and their reply was led by Amiss. He had devised a new tactic against fast bowling. He moved back and across and hit into the leg-side.

MS Dennis played a fantastic innings. They say he had been playing that innings in the nets for three months. Bob Willis told me he had spent months in the nets with the fast bowlers firing it in at him. He was a tremendous player off his legs and all he did was step right across his stumps and flick the ball away through the on side. It was brilliant.

Dennis Amiss Everybody had written me off against fast bowling. I'd had some problems and I was determined to try and put the record straight. My confidence had been low but I came back. It was an important innings for the team and myself.



Dennis Amiss - answered his critics with a brave double-century © Getty Images
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MH We were trying to hit his leg stump. He had this awkward stance and I kept bowling at leg stump but he would just glance it away. The only chances he gave were through the leg gully area but I didn't have a fielder there.

Amiss made 203 but apart from a fifty by Alan Knott England were destroyed by Holding. Despite the conditions he took 8 for 92, his best bowling figures.

MS I don't remember them bowling any bouncers because of the pitch. Holding just bowled fast from the Vauxhall End and he bowled straight. It proved his rank as one of the greatest bowlers in Test cricket. It is hard to overestimate how well he bowled. It was fast. It was straight. It was accurate. It was awesome.

DB I nicknamed him Whispering Death because I couldn't hear him when he was running in. It was the most fantastic piece of fast bowling I had ever seen.

DA The worst part was when Tony Greig came in. He got them going after the grovel remark. Before he came in they were bowling at a nice pace of about 85mph but when Tony came to the wicket it went up to about 90 and three bouncers and over. I've never been as pleased to see an England captain bowled.

Clive Lloyd decided against enforcing the follow on. Fredericks and Greenidge made 182 allowing West Indies to declare. England had to bat out six hours to save the match.

DA As it was such a good strip we were confident of saving the match. Michael bowled very quickly and he was the Rolls Royce of fast bowlers when he was purring.

Holding took 6 for 57 to finish the match with 14 for 149, the best-ever figures by a West Indian.

MH I was 22 years old and just ran in and bowled. I didn't even think about the conditions - you don't at that age. I tried to bowl as accurately as possible because there was no way I could bowl a bouncer. I was getting good inswing and I kept the ball full. It was my best Test as far as figures are concerned, but I bowled better than that in different circumstances. At The Oval it was simple: bowl fast and bowl full.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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