The dropped catch that may just have helped win a final
The 1979 World Cup again took place in England, and whereas the first competition had been considered fairly open, this time West Indies were seen as the side to beat. They lived up to that billing, ambling into the final, where they met the hosts. England went into the final without a fifth bowler after Bob Willis declared himself unfit on the morning of the game, and the selectors gambled on getting bits-and-pieces bowlers - Geoff Boycott, who had been the bowling surprise in earlier rounds, Wayne Larkins and Graham Gooch - to bowl 12 overs. The move backfired as the three conceded 86 between them, and West Indies recovered from 99 for 4 to post 286 for 9. In reply, England made steady progress, reaching tea without losing a wicket. The issue was that Boycott and Mike Brearley were plodding, and instead of looking to get after the gentle offspin of Viv Richards, they were milking him for singles. His 12 overs cost only 35.
While the capacity crowd were initially happy that the openers had seen off the new ball and weathered all that Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner could throw at them, concern grew as the overs ticked away. Boycott, who had taken 17 overs to reach double figures, was facing shortly after tea when he came down the pitch to Richards and mistimed his stroke. The ball arced gently to Clive Lloyd, an outstanding fielder, even though he had already dropped Brearley, who was at wide mid-on. Just as slowly, Lloyd dropped it, ending up on his back with the ball on the turf close by. I was watching from the lower tier of the Nursery End and cheered the miss. A genial West Indian next to me smiled. "Don't get too excited," he grinned. "Lloydy dropped that on purpose. He's got a plan." He had a point. England reached tea on 79 for 0 off 25 overs. The game was slipping away from them.
"We weren't too worried when Lloyd contrived to drop Boycott," said Viv Richards. "I could have watched them all day because I knew every over they batted was another nail in their coffin," noted Lloyd, adding: "A lot of people suggested I put [the catch] down purposefully just to keep him in... not true, but it wouldn't have been a bad tactic." Joel Garner later recalled that Colin Croft had told him he hoped "neither of the openers got out".
What happened next
The drop brought Boycott out of his shell and he drove Roberts through the covers and then steered him to third man for two fours. The first-wicket stand finally ended with the score on 129 in the 39th over but the damage had been done. England were running out of overs - and this was the era before fielding restrictions, so the boundary could be packed - and from 183 for 2 they lost eight wickets for 11 runs in a flurry of heaves and hoicks. While most of the England side approved of the pre-tea tactics, they also believed that the pair had to accelerate after the interval. As it was, they added 50 in the next 13 overs. Phil Edmonds, Brearley's county colleague was fuming, however. At a Middlesex match shortly after, Frances Edmonds recalls that her husband "kept feeding me apples so I wouldn't say anything out of turn".
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
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