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The 40-year itch

How far away and quaint the first World Cup seems now

Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
West Indies fans dance after Keith Boyce strikes a four, Australia v West Indies, World Cup final, Lord's, June 21, 1975

West Indies fans party on down at Lord's  •  PA Photos

It was while I was absorbing the remorseless razzmatazz of the 2015 tournament that it dawned on me that the first World Cup was all of 40 years ago. And, rather worryingly, I remember it well - even if I was still a schoolboy!
It's strange to recall quite how low-key that 1975 tournament was. Arranged as a bit of an afterthought - the women got in first, with their own World Cup in 1973 - it was shoehorned into a fortnight in June. Worries about the tournament's viability, and the possibility that the English weather might ruin everything, meant a four-Test Ashes series was arranged for later in the summer, and that was really seen as the main event: the Australians selected the same side for both, trimming a couple of players to make a Cup squad of 14.
But the worries were misplaced. After a soggy May, the weather relented for June: hardly any of the matches were affected, and the first World Cup was played out, in my mind's eye at least, in almost continuous sunshine.
There was no pressure from TV companies to spread the matches out, so the group games were all done and dusted in a week: four simultaneous matches on Saturday June 7, four on Wednesday, and four more on Saturday: that produced the four qualifiers from two groups of four. Two semis the following Wednesday, and the final - at Lord's of course - to round things off on the third Saturday, June 21. Two midweek matches at The Oval, including the semi between Pakistan and West Indies, meant Surrey schoolboys only had to feign illness for two Wednesdays. I'm sure nobody twigged.
It was a fabulous fortnight, but it was not one-day cricket as we know it today. The TV coverage might have been in colour but the players weren't. They were clad in traditional whites - just about the only splash of individuality came from some of the West Indians, who sported jaunty sun hats. Gordon Greenidge's was light blue, Roy Fredericks had a white one, and Alvin Kallicharran a bright red job.
And it was Kalli who lit up the group stages, with a memorable assault on Dennis Lillee at The Oval, hooking and pulling to a rapid 78 that got the crowd hooting and hollering. Wisden solemnly reported: "Kallicharran scored 35 off his last ten balls from Lillee in the following sequence of superbly timed hooks, pulls and drives - 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 4, 6, 0, 4 - before he was caught off a mistimed pull to give Lillee some balm for wounded pride." West Indies won that group game and beat Australia in the final too.
But what the spectators were watching was really an abbreviated form of Test cricket. Fast bowlers operated from normal runs with traditional fields. There were no fielding circles, no harsh interpretations on wides, no restriction on bouncers. Batsmen played themselves in: at one stage in the final, Rohan Kanhai didn't score for 11 overs. You can imagine the video analyst (and the coach, and the high performance manager, and the chap who makes the tea) fainting if that happened today.
Kanhai was a distinguished, grey-haired presence at the crease: 39 at the time, he remains the oldest man to pick up a World Cup winner's medal. I always liked watching him bat - but there was slight sadness that he was there at all, because he was a late replacement in the squad for an even greater batsman, Garry Sobers, who really ought to have lit up at least one World Cup. He'd have won a couple on his own in the 1960s.
Kanhai's lack of scoring didn't matter much, because Clive Lloyd was getting going at the other end. He scythed his way to a century - the first in a World Cup final - but these days we might think he didn't make the most of it, because he was out straightaway, for 102. West Indies finished up with 291, the sort of total Ireland chase down for fun these days. But back in 1975 it was considered colossal, even though it came from 60 overs rather than 50. The Australians kept losing wickets in the chase, mainly to run-outs from a sprightly youngster called Viv Richards, and were never really on terms: an improbable last-wicket partnership from Lillee and Jeff Thomson made the eventual margin look closer than it really was. The final finished shortly before 9pm, and the crowd staggered home - one-day cricket had truly arrived. The Ashes series that followed was much less fun.
The spectators loved it: the World Cup was clearly here to stay. Still, those first 15 matches produced just four totals of over 300, only one against a Test country - England's 334 for 4 on the first day at Lord's against India, whose response to what was considered such a huge total was to potter to 132 for 3 in their own 60 overs, Sunil Gavaskar famously batting throughout for 36 not out.
The most absorbing match was probably the Headingley semi-final, a low-scoring classic in which Gary Gilmour bananaed England out for 93, then strolled in at 39 for 6 and helped knock off the runs.
But Australia had earlier almost come unstuck against Sri Lanka, not a Test-playing country at the time. The Aussies made 328 for 5 at The Oval, with opener Alan Turner making a World Cup rarity: a hundred before lunch (traditional timings in those days, you see; told you it was short-form Test cricket). But Sri Lanka responded well, their top six all reaching the twenties. Sunil Wettimuny made 53 before Jeff Thomson took a hand, smashing a sandshoe-crusher into his foot. Off hobbled Wettimuny, who was soon followed to the casualty department by Duleep Mendis, cracked on the cap by Thommo's bouncer.
Up in the pavilion, a couple of schoolboys had made the most of an improbably early arrival by bagging seats near a block that had obviously been set aside for friends and relatives of the teams: I exchanged a few words with one of the Sri Lankan reserves, while my mate seemed rather more impressed by a shapely blonde who turned out to be the Australian opener Rick McCosker's wife. My new friend chucked away his cigarette and raced out on to the field when Mendis was hit. The Sri Lankans fell short in the end - 276 for 4 plus two retired-hurts - but they had certainly made an impression, and a case for Test status. Twenty years later, in Lahore, they would win the World Cup - but that's another story.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the updated edition of Wisden on the Ashes