November 2005

The empire strikes back

It looked like the summer of 1970 would be without international cricket, so a five-Test series between England and a Rest of the World side was hastily put together. Simon Lister interviews the key players

England v Rest of the World, 1970

In 1968 South Africa refused to let Basil D'Oliveira into the country with the rest of the England team because of the colour of his skin. Two years later there was enormous pressure for South Africa's tour to England to be scrapped. Trouble loomed. Anti-apartheid protesters promised disruption and the England players had their lives insured for £15,000. At the last moment the tour was cancelled. It looked like the summer of 1970 would be without international cricket, so a five-Test series between England and a Rest of the World side was hastily put together.

The two captains: Ray Illingworth for England and Garry Sobers for the Rest of the World © The Cricketer International

Ray Illingworth (England captain):
We were bitterly disappointed that South Africa weren't coming. We had a very good side with Alan Ward and John Snow - so I reckon we had them in the bowling department. Of course they batted right the way down and had just whopped the Australians. So it would have been a marvellous series.

Graeme Pollock (South Africa and Rest of the World):
We'd just beaten the Australians 4-0 in South Africa. We were getting to the prime of our time. I think we did feel that we had the best side in world cricket - we'd been together since 1963 and had just kept getting stronger.

The South Africa tour wasn't called off until the middle of May. Huge demonstrations had been planned by anti-apartheid protesters. One of the organisers was a student, Peter Hain, who is now the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Peter Hain:
There was an escalating tension and pressure in the final weeks. When the tour was eventually cancelled I was relieved beyond belief. We had been determined to stop it and had lots of ingenious protests planned. We'd discovered that a disused branch line of the London Underground had an air vent that led directly up to the concourse inside Lord's.

Derek Underwood (England)
I remember that there was a lot of bad publicity. Talk of barriers being built at Lord's. It was the right decision to take but it was also very disappointing.

We knew about the changes very late - in fact it was so late that there was already barbed wire up around Lord's to stop protesters. Many things happen in the world today which are as bad as apartheid but cricket still gets played in those places.

We all anticipated that there would be hassles. There was an awful lot of uncertainty. But we never thought we'd be away from Test matches for 22 years. There was always hope that we'd be back sooner not later, but we were wrong.

The first Test was at Lord's. England lost the toss on a humid morning and Garry Sobers ran through them. It was a heavy defeat.

Clive Lloyd (West Indies and Rest of the World):
We had an excellent side - the near-perfect team. Spin and pace, great batsmen and two fine wicketkeepers.

Garry Sobers is bowled by Ray Illingworth at Lord's © The Cricketer International

I lost the toss in the first Test - if I hadn't, it would have been a nice match. That two-hour spell of swing in the first morning ruined it and after then we could only try to save the game. We were annihilated, but came back very strongly.

Mike Denness (England):
It was a pretty difficult morning - Garry Sobers was making the ball talk. I edged Graham McKenzie to slip, low down. There was a nod and a wink from Eddie Barlow who caught it. Of course I believed him. Later when I was fielding near the umpire, Arthur Fagg at square leg, he said: "I wouldn't have given you out if I'd been asked".

England won the next game at Trent Bridge thanks to a century from Brian Luckhurst. At the time the authorities said the games would be official Tests with caps awarded. Later, they changed their minds.

When they took away Test status, that was a blow. I mean Brian Luckhurst - he grafted for that hundred at Nottingham. Against that attack, it should have counted as two Test centuries. And another thing - if the games had been official, I would have reached 300 Test wickets!

Why did all these lads suffer? It wasn't as if it was a mickey mouse set-up. Alan Jones never played for England again.

Basil D'Oliveira pulls for four on his way to 110 at Edgbaston © The Cricketer International

In between the matches, many of the Rest of the World players returned to their English county sides, before meeting up two days before the next Test.

I remember we had single rooms, which was unusual. Normally just the senior players would get that treatment. I took some of the ideas when I became captain of West Indies. For instance we all ate together the night before each Test to discuss tactics. I'd never done that before.

The Rest of the World side took it very seriously. They were desperate to make sure it would be a competitive series.

Mushtaq Mohammad (Pakistan and Rest of the World):
The night before the match we all got together for a meal. Usually it would be a time to discuss strategy. But how do you tell the best players in the world how to play? So it always ended up being a party. Garry would say: "Do your best, let's enjoy it and have a drink".

Clive Lloyd was hilarious. In the dressing room at Edgbaston there was a map of Britain on the wall, and Clive was pointing out the cities: "Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester". When he reached Birmingham he jabbed his finger at the map, saying "And here - this is where the boys are beating that ball".

After winning at Edgbaston, the Rest of the World clinched the series at Headingley in the fourth Test. It was the closest of all the games - a two-wicket victory.

They were good. There'd never been a side like it. They had everything - but it was much closer than the 4-1 result suggests. We dropped two catches at Edgbaston that turned the game and at Headingley Arthur Fagg gave a couple of terrible decisions that cost us. We could have been going to The Oval at two-each.

Garry Sobers is bowled by Peter Lever, who ended with 7 for 83 at The Oval © The Cricketer International

I'll never forget in the last game at The Oval watching Sobers and Graeme Pollock scoring for fun. Someone on the balcony shouted: "Lads, come and watch - you will not see this again." They were matching each other stroke for stroke. It was like, "what ever you can do, I can do better". It was entertainment of the highest class.

I was a big cricket fan and enjoyed the series on television, although it had an element of unreality about it. I was a left-handed batsman and Graeme Pollock was my hero. Like him I was brought up in South Africa. It was a historical irony that I was responsible for stopping his career in mid-term.

The whole situation seemed so silly. We weren't allowed to take on South Africa, but here I was playing along side half of their team in a Test match.

It was embarrassing to live abroad and then have to go home and live a completely different way of life. You have to remember that in South Africa at the time if you criticised things your life became very difficult. In the end our conscience demanded that we had to show our hand.

The South African players were cross at the time - I was a hate figure for them. But I think they have come to accept that sadly their careers were a necessary sacrifice for the ultimate good. After he'd been released from prison, Nelson Mandela told me that the `Stop the Tour' campaign was a decisive moment for the anti-apartheid struggle.

We could have made a bigger noise about apartheid at the time - I think that's a genuine criticism. In hindsight, perhaps we should have done more.

We saw ourselves as cricketers - it began and ended there. We had a laugh and that was it. No one thought about colour.

Although the series would end up not counting towards the England players' averages, they were playing for a place on the tour to Australia.

We can rightly say that we did pretty well in that series - especially given the result of the first match. And we had a very good captain. Raymond was tactically very sound and my goodness he was determined. He'd probably never played better in his career.

I thought that Colin Cowdrey was automatically being lined up to take the side to Australia that winter, but as the series went on, it became clear to me that most of the selectors wanted me to be captain - apart from the odd dissenting voice. The thing about Cowdrey was that the pros didn't trust him. He was a funny bloke. He'd promise you the moon and then nothing would happen.

I learned a lot. It was very interesting for me to look at all these players and see how great some of them were. It made me realise how far West Indies still had to go.

After it all finished I was left with a funny feeling because we weren't playing under a flag. Despite the victories, there wasn't the `feather in the cap' feeling when I was winning with Pakistan. It had been an honour, but at the same time the inner satisfaction was missing.

Interviews by Simon Lister

This article was first published in the November 2005 issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
Click here for further details.