The 1975 World Cup had been played out in almost constant sunshine, and although international one-day cricket was little more than four years old, it has grabbed the imagination and tickets for the final were at a premium. Banning spectators from sitting on the grass at Lord's was almost a decade away, and the legion of West Indies supporters basking in the midsummer heatwave in front of the old Grandstand gave the ground a Caribbean feel. West Indies batted first, made 291 for 8 and seemed on course for victory when Australia slid to 233 for 9 with eight overs remaining. But Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson kept the scoreboard ticking over and the tension grew. The penultimate over started with 26 needed. Thomson flicked Vanburn Holder to long-leg and dived to complete the second run as Keith Boyce's throw was gathered by Deryck Murray and the stumps demolished. The crowd raced on, realised umpire Dickie Bird remained unmoved, and slowly returned to their perches just outside the rope.
There was a short delay as the field was cleared. Twenty-four still needed, 11 balls left. Thomson chipped the next delivery to Roy Fredericks at extra cover, the only man in on the off - there were no such irritants as fielding restrictions then. The crowd, poised like sprinters behind the rope, once more came flying out of the blocks but they had not heard the no-ball call. Fredericks meanwhile shied at the non-striker's end where Lillee was out of his ground, missed, and the ball was engulfed in the onrushing mob. Chaos followed. The only part of the field not covered by spectators was the 22 yards of the pitch where the batsmen were charging up and down for all their life. Bird, who had his white hat and various sweaters pilfered during the incident, attempted a Canute-like battle to wave people off, while his colleague Tom Spencer stood utterly bemused. After three runs Thomson stopped, although Lillee wanted to carry on running. Thomson suspected that had they done so the ball might have been produced from a pocket and one of them run out. Eventually the field was cleared. "How many are you giving us for that?" Thomson asked Spencer. "Two". Thomson exploded. "Pig's arse ... we've been running up and down here all afternoon." Meanwhile, Bird asked Lillee how many he had run. "You should be counting," Lillee replied. "But I make it about 17." In the end they got four.
There was confusion all round, not least in the BBC commentary box where Jim Laker was as bemused as anyone. "That's it, that's it," he bellowed as Fredericks caught the ball, before regaining his composure. The Times merely noted that the incident caused "the floodgates to burst". Thomson admitted that he was by then exhausted. "It was a flaming long day," he said. He was right. The game had started at 11am and finished at 8.43pm.
The match lasted three more balls. Thomson ran a leg-bye, Lillee pushed a single to mid-on, and then Thomson charged down the pitch, missed and failed to beat Murray's underarm at the stumps. Another invasion ensued and this time some of the players failed to beat the mob to safety. Thomson lost his pads, while Boyce was pinned to the floor and had his boots ripped off before he was rescued by the police. But fielding at the furthest corner of the ground - long leg at the Nursery End - he had anticipated the situation and replaced his new boots with old ones at tea. West Indies had won an epic match by 17 runs. A year later Bird was on a bus in south London when the conductor walked up to him wearing a rather familiar white hat. Bird asked where he got it. "Man, haven't you heard of Mr Dickie Bird," he replied. "This is one of his hats. I took it off his head at the World Cup final ... we all ran onto the field and I won the race."
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa