Michael Holding boils over at Dunedin © Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

The 1979-80 tour of New Zealand by West Indies produced what was one of the most acrimonious Test series of all time, and probably marked the nadir in player behaviour in a year pockmarked by unsavoury incidents.

West Indies arrived after a tour of Australia during which they had won the Test series 2-0 and also beaten England 2-0 in the inaugural final of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup. But from the off, things went badly. Michael Holding recalled that the team had to carry their own kit to the bus and were accommodated in "cramped motels" rather than five-star hotels. And he didn't like the food provided on the grounds - "usually sausage and beans".

From the start of the three-Test series in New Zealand, they displayed remarkable petulance. Perhaps it was weariness (Viv Richards, for example, had gone straight home after the Australian leg of the tour), perhaps it was because they were on the back foot against opponents they would have expected to crush. Whatever the reason, the result was unedifying.

The trouble all started early in New Zealand's second innings at Dunedin when Holding felt he had John Parker caught behind by wicketkeeper Deryck Murray, but umpire John Hastie disagreed. Holding fumed, then walked down to the striker's end and fly-hacked two of the stumps out of the ground. The spectacular image of the kick, described by a local paper as " a disgraceful display of back-alley behaviour", was to provide a fitting image of the series, although Holding later admitted it had been reproduced a bit too much for his liking. "This was not cricket," Holding wrote, "and I didn't have to be part of it. I was on my way to the pavilion, quite prepared not to bowl again, when Clive Lloyd and Murray persuaded me back."

Rather than take any action, Willie Rodriguez, the West Indies manager, gave Holding no more than a talking to, and then inflamed the situation when he told the press that: "We got two men out and they were not given. They were atrocious decisions." As if to underline their manager's comments, only Desmond Haynes (who was Batsman of the Match) attended the post-game presentations. Richard Hadlee was unimpressed, pointing out "good sportsmanship is fundamental". All-in-all, it overshadowed a remarkable Test which New Zealand won by one wicket after being set 104.

Nine days later, the teams resumed battle in the second Test at Christchurch, but any hope that the acrimony would be forgotten was dispelled on the third afternoon, and again it was a catch at the wicket which triggered the problems. This time, the batsman was New Zealand's captain, Geoff Howarth, who was on 68 (he went on to get 147), the bowler Joel Garner, and the umpire Fred Goodall.

At the tea break, West Indies were almost apoplectic. Lloyd asked his side what they wanted to do, and the unanimous decision was not to resume. As the umpires and batsmen waited in the middle, a New Zealand board official was told by Lloyd: "They can wait. We won't be joining them."

Howarth returned to the pavilion and talked to Lloyd, apparently assuring him that he would tell his batsmen they had to walk if they knew they had hit the ball. West Indies agreed to resume, some 12 minutes after the scheduled time. But in the first over Holding later recalled that Howarth stood his ground "for yet another clear catch by Murray." The final session was marred by a dreadful over rate, and at one stage Holding bowled four successive bouncers to Howarth.

That night, West Indies packed up their kit and emptied the dressing room. Although the next day was the rest day, they did not anticipate returning and expected to be leaving New Zealand altogether. During a three-hour squad meeting a vote was taken and the majority, including Rodriguez, said they wanted to quit the tour. But when the West Indies board was advised, it made it clear that was not an option.

But the fourth day contained the most unpleasant incident of all. Colin Croft, who was repeatedly jeered by the crowd for dawdling back to his mark, appealed - belatedly - for a catch behind when Hadlee swished at a bouncer and again Goodall turned it down. Croft reacted with a four-letter salvo at Goodall, and both then umpires spoke to West Indies' captain, Lloyd. It had little effect.

In his next over, Croft slammed a series of bouncers at Hadlee, and when Goodall no-balled him, Croft deliberately knocked the bails off as he walked back past the stumps. As he ran in to bowl his next ball (he did so from almost directly behind the umpire) he deliberately shoulder-charged him. "It hurt for a while," Goodall said. "I told Lloyd I have taken some treatment from players in my time, but it has always been verbal."

Holding with Colin Croft and Joel Garner © Getty Images

Both umpires again talked at length with Lloyd (who would not budge from where he was standing in the slips and made them walk all the way over to him) but he refused to remove Croft from the attack. He must have wished he had as in his next over Croft again peppered Hadlee with bouncers, one flying high over Murray for four byes, conceding 15 runs. Croft was taken off and spent the rest of the day sulking on the boundary, showing almost no interest in proceedings.

Fortunately, the third Test was less eventful, but not before West Indies had withdrawn a protest against the appointment of Goodall to stand in the match. The tour still ended on a sour note when four senior West Indies players indicated they had flights arranged to take them home which would mean them leaving at lunch on the final day. They explained that substitute fielders could take their place. Fortunately, they were talked out of a last act of petulance.

"Our bowlers appealed umpteen times," Lloyd shrugged at the end-of-series press conference . "But it got to the ridiculous stage when they weren't even appealing. They knew they wouldn't get the decision." Murray estimated that as many as 20 decisions went against West Indies.

Wisden summed up the situation as follows: "The main complaint in New Zealand was about the umpiring, and in retrospect there is little doubt that if both sides suffered from difficult, debatable decisions, more went against West Indies than against New Zealand. Both Rodriguez and Lloyd said there should be neutral umpires in Test matches. Such complaints by touring teams are by no means uncommon; they have been made in every cricketing country for years. But Rodriguez, after stating at a press conference in Christchurch that he did not think the umpiring was biased, only incompetent, claimed after his departure that the West Indians had had to get batsmen out nine times before getting a decision. And his allegations went well beyond the bounds of acceptable comment when he claimed the West Indians were `set up; that there was no way we could win a Test'."

But once back in the Caribbean, Lloyd admitted that he should have taken a firmer line with his players and that he was to blame for incidents that "were not in the best interests of the game". For the tour of England which followed, Rodriguez was replaced by the more diplomatic Clyde Walcott, and all the squad signed a contract which included a penalty clause covering bad behaviour.

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Whispering Death: Life and Times of Michael Holding - Michael Holding (Andre Deutsch Ltd, 1993)
The Cricketer - Various
Wisden Cricket Monthly- Various
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (1981)

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo.