WCM archive June 2000
England v Rest of the World 1970

The greatest?

Steven Lynch talks to some of the veterans of the 1970 Rest of the World series ... one that you won't find in the record books

Steven Lynch talks to some of the veterans of a tough series that you won't find in the record books

Peter Hain, the leader of the Stop The Seventy protests which led to the scrapping of the South Africa tour © Cricinfo
Ray Illingworth isn't in much doubt about the capabilities of the Rest of the World team he faced as England's captain 30 years ago: They were the strongest side that's ever played cricket.

It's the batting line-up that most people remember from that 1970 summer. Garry Sobers led his fellow West Indians Rohan Kanhai and Clive Lloyd, as well as Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Eddie Barlow from South Africa. And if you managed to get through that lot you had to contend with Mike Procter and Intikhab Alam way down the order. But it was the bowling that impressed Illingworth: There was Procter, Graham McKenzie and Peter Pollock with the new ball, then Sobers, who could bowl anything, two legspinners in Mushtaq and Intikhab, and Lance Gibbs, the best offspinner in the world. Basically they had 13 world-class players to choose from.

With talent like that the World were expected to dominate the series, and they did win it 4-1. You might think that England must have been fortunate to register the 1, but llly thinks it was closer than that: "Actually we were a little unlucky. We certainly should have gone into the final Test at two-all, and we might have won that too. All in all, it was a bloody good performance in a ding-dong series."

The reason the teams were playing at all was down to politics. South Africa were due to visit England in 1970, but opposition to the tour had been growing for 18 months, since the cancellation of England's 1968-69 tour after the white South African government had refused to accept Basil D'Oliveira, the coloured Cape Town-born allrounder, as a member of MCC's team.

The original full itinerary was scaled down to a 12-game tour with matches at major grounds, which were thought to be easier to defend against anti-apatheid demonstrators. The square at Lord's was surrounded by barbed wire, and some of the office staff took turns as nightwatchmen.

But the Stop the 70 Tour campaigners eventually got their way: the trip was cancelled, and South Africa began their 21-year sabbatical from official Test cricket. In came a five-match series against a Rest of the World side which, ironically, contained five of those originally picked for South Africa's tour. The prize money was good, for the time: Guinness the brewers put up £20,000 and a trophy, and the counties agreed to release their star overseas players if required.

The matches were marketed and played as proper Tests. Illingworth pooh-poohs any suggestion that they were merely exhibition games: "The World XI may have been a bit lax after they won the first match easily. But after they got a whipping in the second game I can assure you that they were deadly serious! The winning team in each match picked up £2000, and there was also £3000 on offer for winning the series."

It was originally announced that full England caps would be awarded, and that the matches were to be unofficial Tests (so, technically, were all of South Africa's after they left the British Commonwealth in 1961). The matches appeared in Wisden alongside regular Tests until 1979, but were then quietly dropped.

Garry Sobers is bowled by Ray Illingworth in the third Test © Cricinfo
The chief sufferer from that decision was Alan Jones, the Glamorgan opener, who made his one and only England appearance in the first match at Lord's. "Obviously I'm disappointed that they took the cap away, he says now. Actually I've still got all the stuff - sweater, cap, blazer and tie - but I've never worn them. In the match Procter got me in both innings [for 5 and 0], although I had made runs against him before. Nerves played a part: it was my first match, against a very good side, and at Lord's too. I enjoyed the experience ... but in some ways it was a bit late for me, because I'd had better years before and not been selected. That was fair enough when people like John Edrich and Geoff Boycott were around - but I remember being a bit upset once when Fred Titmus opened."

The series started on a Wednesday, before a rest day for the General Election, which was won by the Conservatives, captained by Ted Heath. An overcast Lord's laid on a landslide of its own: England were 44 for 7 shortly after lunch on the first day: Sobers took 6 for 21 from 20 overs, then put his pads on and blasted 183.

Despite 63 and 94 from Illingworth, who was to enjoy a tremendous series with the bat, the World strolled home by an innings, amid gloomy predictions of an embarrassing time ahead for England. But Illingworth, never saw it that way: "We batted first in very helpful conditions for seam bowling, and they took full advantage. If they'd batted first it would have been much closer."

England's big moment came in the second match, at Trent Bridge, when they made light of a target of 284. Brian Luckhurst, in only his second match for England, saw them to victory with 113 not out in seven hours of what Wisden called unbreachable defence.

Defeat jolted the global selectors ( Freddie Brown, Les Ames and Sobers) into a rethink. Out went the Indian wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer, whose batting had been disappointing (2, 0 and 1), and in came the West Indian Deryck Murray, who had spells with Notts and Warwickshire but wasn't actually playing county cricket that year. "It was a bit of a surprise to get the call," he says. "I was studying at Nottingham University at the time, but I was also playing some matches with the Cavaliers on Sundays, alongside a lot of the guys from the World team. So I suppose Garry knew where to find me." Murray managed to strengthen a batting order that was already frightening, making 62 at Trent Bridge and 95 as an emergency opener at Headingley. The atmosphere at the time was such that everybody thought they were real Tests and played them as such.

Basil D'Oliveira on his way to 110 at Edgbaston © Cricinfo
Sobers's All-Stars went 2-1 up by winning at Edgbaston. Basil D'Oliveira, inspired to top form with bat and ball by England's inclusion of Tony Greig, another South African-born allrounder, cracked 110, full of characteristic short-arm stand-and-deliver punches to leg. He had a memorable tussle with Procter, probably the quickest fast bowler in the world at the time, and liberal with the bouncer. "I mistimed one hook", wrote D'Oliveira in his 1980 autobiography. "It bounced just short of midwicket and Procter stood there and said `You can't hook.' I just tended the pitch and waited my turn. The next over he bounced me again and the ball few into the stand. I said `Well, you're not all that quick anyway'."

Eddie Barlow's Headingley hat-trick had an orthodox beginning - Alan Knott and Chris Old bowled - but an unusual end. Don Wilson's bat-pad lobbed straight to silly point, but the fielder there didn't look quite as excited as the others - because he was England's 12th man, Mike Denness. They had two injuries - Barry Richards and Rohan Kanhai- and only one substitute, so when the second one happened the wasn't much choice but to send me out, remembers Denness, who had played in the first match of the series but then lost his place.

"Don Wilson got a big nick, and it was so obvious that I don't think I even appealed. The picture just shows me standing there. Don just looked at me and walked straight off. It was a bit embarrassing, and I didn't think I should celebrate too much, but I don't think the England team held it against me!"

Denness, who went on to captain England four years later, found himself in rarefied company during his unscheduled fielding stint. "I was at third slip for a while, alongside Garry Sobers and Eddie Barlow. England were going along nicely at about 200 for 4 - Keith Fletcher and Ray Illingworth had put on a few - and Garry and Eddie were wondering who should bowl with the new ball. Eddie said `Well, we've got to make something happen - I suppose l'd better come on!' So on he came, and promptly took a hat-trick. England lost six quick wickets, and the Rest of the World ended up winning again."

D'Oliveira's main memory is of the great Sobers: A year earlier he'd been a painful sight as he hobbled round England with a poor West Indies side. But the challenge of playing with so many great cricketers helped him to raise his game, and he dominated the series.

At Edgbaston Dolly didn't get much support, and England's 294 looked anaemic against the World's 563. Of their top nine, only Barlow (4) made less than 40. England's solid second innings- D'Oliveira 81 this time - left the World needing 141. At 107 for 5, with Pollock injured, there was some hope for England, but Procter and Intikhab stopped the rot.

Garry Sobers on his way to a hundred at Lord's © Cricinfo
England made changes for the fourth Test: in came three Yorkshiremen - Geoff Boycott, Chris Old and Don Wilson- on home turf at Headingley. For Wilson, it was an England recall after six years. "I think they were thinking of taking a flight bowler to Australia that winter, which might have been why I came in for Derek Underwood, he says. Or it may have been that they were worried about poor attendances and stuck three Yorkies in..."

It's true that the uncertainty about the South African series had led to poor ticket sales. Also, in a foretaste of things to come, there were a number of counter attractions, notably the football World Cup in Mexico, where defending champions England went out in a seesaw quarter-final which West Germany eventually won 3-2. The Commonwealth Games (in Edinburgh) also impinged, as did the razzmatazz surroundings the June election.

Wilson flighted his way to two wickets, but made more impact with his brief batting appearance. "Eddie Barlow was on a hat-trick when I came in. We were good friends - he'd actually been staying with me that summer. He called out `It's you or me, Wils!' and ran in. I got a big nick and was caught at point, and I walked. So he got his hat-trick. I thought I'd hit it, anyway - on the TV it looked as if it missed the bat. Afterwards Raymond told the press that I'd do anything to get in the record books!" It was Barlow's finest hour with the ball: he took four wickets in five balls and finished with 7 for 64. Then he grabbed five more in the second innings.

The World were left needing 223 to win, and were hamstrung by injuries to Richards (back) and Kanhai (hand). But they were forced in anyway at 183 for 8, with 43 still wanted. Wilson thought he'd struck: "Straight away Richards got a big nick on a bat-pad to point. But he didn't walk, which I thought was a bit rich seeing as I'd marched straight off earlier. I expect I told him so. The umpire, Arthur Fagg, said he wasn't out... and Richards and Kanhai went on and won them the game."

Illingworth remembers that too: "Richards got a big edge but wasn't given out. If he'd gone they'd have needed about 30 with Lance Gibbs in. We should have won that game and then it would have been two-all."

Peter Lever strikes at The Oval: he took seven wickets and booked himself a winter trip to Australia © Cricinfo
So a big Oval crowd saw an interesting finale rather than a clamorous climax. Graeme Pollock, who'd had a quiet series, returned to form with an upright century, and shared a poignant stand of 165 with Sobers, his only real rival as the greatest left-hander of the day. Unlike most of his colleagues, Pollock wasn't playing county cricket that season: in between these five-day games he'd turn out for Sutton, in the Surrey Championship. Peter Kearns, still playing club cricket 30 years later, was a team-mate then: "He used the heaviest bat I'd ever seen. It was like a railway sleeper. He'd lean on what seemed to be defensive shots - but they'd whistle through the covers for four before anyone could move. I've never seen anyone with such fantastic timing. It was a huge privilege to play with him."

There was also a fine debut at The Oval for Peter Lever, who bowled fast and straight. His reward was seven wickets and a trip to Australia. After a gritty 157 from Boycott, the World needed 284 to win - and got them. Kanhai made 100, but they were in trouble before Lloyd and, inevitably, Sobers turned the tide. Lever wasn't as effective, and Wilson was injured ( I'd split my hand trying for a catch. Got Richards out though).

So the Rest of the World wrapped up a thrilling series, in which each match was won by the side batting second. Ray Illingworth says: "It was hard, really hard. And the players weren't best pleased a few months later when the caps we'd got were wiped off."

But there was a Very Important Postscript: England had an Australian tour that winter. And under Illy's wily captaincy, they won 2-0 - the first time England had regained the Ashes Down Under since the Bodyline tour of 1932-33. The World series was an excellent warm-up for Australia, thinks Don Wilson. "It bonded the team - made us hard. And Illy was ruthless."

The ruthless one agrees: "It was the perfect preparation for the Ashes. It was such a tough series. All the batsman had t work for their runs [Illy himself did best with 476], and Luckhurst and Lever came in and made names for themselves. I suppose my one disappointment in Australia was that I thought we'd got the fastest and best new-ball partnership in the world with John Snow and Alan Ward, but Ward got injured early on and it never really happened."

The last word on that World XI series has to go to Garry Sobers, who dominated it with 588 runs at 73.50 and 21 wickets at 21.52. He was unsentimental in his 1988 book Twenty Years At The Top: "I believe it was the strongest collection of cricketers ever assembled in England... yet we struggled to beat a moderate England side." He had a theory about that: "The attitude of saying to oneself `If I don't get a score it doesn't matter, because we've got a lot of good players to come,' is totally unprofessional, but I suspect that some of my players felt that way."

Sobers had checked before the series that the matches would have Test status and count in the records, and was also rather miffed to discover later that they weren't. Realistically, they don't satisfy one basic requirement of international cricket - one nation striving to overcome another - and the mechanics of operating separate Test career records for a few players proved confusing when Wisden tried it. So the eventual decision was correct: they weren't Tests. But they were certainly Testing.

Steven Lynch is the former editor of Cricinfo