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When Irish eyes were smiling

When West Indies were bowled out by Ireland for 25 in 90 minutes

The Jamaica Gleaner reports on West Indies' humiliation
© Jamaica Gleaner
Many touring sides encounter the odd slip-up against lesser opposition, although with more condensed schedules and fewer matches between internationals, such occurrences are growing rarer. But perhaps the most famous humiliation came at Sion Mills in Belfast on July 2, 1969.
West Indies were two-thirds of the way through their tour of England. While they were not the force they had been over the previous two decades - and would go on to be again - they were still a decent side. For the tourists, the two-day game against Ireland was a breather between the second and third Tests. For the Irish it was much more.
West Indies spent the previous day battling a tense draw at Lord's in the second Test and had to dash from St John's Wood to Heathrow to catch the late flight to Belfast.
It has become folklore that the Irish plied their guests with Guinness on the night before the match, but the far-less-entertaining reality is that the squad did not arrive at the Inter Counties Hotel in Lifford, Co Donegal until gone midnight. The hotel restaurant was closed but they got a meal elsewhere and then went to bed. The only drinking was done by the Irish players. "They were late getting in on the plane and then had a long drive from the airport," Ireland's captain, Doug Goodwin, recalled. "We might have had a few, but I don't think they had time to have a drink."
The next morning was bright and sunny. The West Indies players made their way to the ground to find it still soaked from overnight rain and there was a gentle mist rising from the drying turf. The pitch was green and had not been covered.
The seats filled quickly - Herdmans, the mill which employed most of the townspeople, had given all 700 employees the day off - and people flocked from surrounding villages.
Joey Carew and Steve Camacho, West Indies' openers, changed and walked to the middle. "The wicket was green," Camacho remembered. "Both of us put a finger in it and it went all the way through, it was so soft. It was obvious that we should put them in to bat."
With Garry Sobers remaining in England to nurse an injury, Basil Butcher led the side and he was less bothered than his opening batsmen. He arrived late, tossed up unchanged and decided to bat. "We both thought it was stupid," Camacho said. "He hadn't even inspected the wicket. Carew said to him, 'You'd better get out of that suit quick and get your pads on because you're going to be out there in a minute'. And I agreed with him."
But Butcher, who recalled water oozing over his shoes as he walked out to toss with Goodwin, pointed out that it wasn't all about winning. "If it was a normal game it probably wouldn't have been played, but after discussions with the management we decided to go ahead. The players weren't very happy about it, and I wasn't particularly happy about it either, mainly because of the risk of injury from the unpredictable bounce, but we didn't want to let people down."
With a large crowd of around 2000 crammed in, Butcher expected to bat and put on an exhibition. "I presume," he said to Goodwin, "that you want us to bat?" The toss was a formality.
A relaxed West Indies rested five of the side which had played at Lord's, and included the legendary Clyde Walcott, their manager. Carew and Camacho walked out to open and lived up to the threat they had made to Butcher.
"We both got out with shots that were very irresponsible," Camacho said. "After about four deliveries Carew hit the ball so high we could have had three runs before he was caught."
Butcher strode out at No. 4 with the score at 1 for 2 and immediately realised how wet it was as mud splattered his kit. He was then hit a painful blow on the arm by Alec O'Riordan, who was sharing the new ball with Goodwin. Maurice Foster was then run out, and as the BBC live transmission started Butcher was caught in the gully to leave West Indies 6 for 4.
West Indies might have been excused for dropping anchor, but almost without exception they tried to hit their way out of trouble. "I was thinking, 'They have to consolidate', but nobody got their head down, got stuck in and tried to graft it out," O'Riordan said. "They kept playing exhibition shots."
Clive Lloyd drove loosely at Goodwin and was caught and the relaxed atmosphere in the West Indies dressing room had long since evaporated. Butcher was fretting as Walcott made his way to the middle.
"Walcott wasn't very happy when he was out there at the wicket, at the guys getting out to casual shots," O'Riordan told The Sunday Times more than three decades later. "He had a go at one guy who played a flashy shot. I wouldn't like to say what he said because I don't like using bad language." But wickets continued to tumble and Walcott himself mistimed a drive into the covers. West Indies were 12 for 9.
Grayson Shillingford and Philbert Blair then stayed long enough to more than double the score before Blair was bowled by O'Riordan, the only time the stumps were hit in the innings. Shillingford finished unbeaten on 9. West Indies had been bowled out for 25 in 90 minutes; O'Riordan had figures of 4 for 18 and Goodwin 5 for 6. "We were elated, but it was quite sedate," O'Riordan said. "There was none of this thing of running up to each other, throwing the arms around and high-fiving. It wouldn't have occurred to anybody."
As the Irish trooped off, LD Roberts, the correspondent of Jamaica's Gleaner noted that the West Indies flag was being flown upside down. "Half mast might have been more appropriate," he mused.
Ireland had time to reach 19 for 1 in a short session before lunch. With the outcome a formality, the captains agreed to play to the end of the day for the sake of the crowd. Ireland scored the seven runs they needed in the over after the resumption, and aided by a pitch getting easier and some mediocre bowling, they eased to 125 for 8 before cheekily declaring.
West Indies had 85 minutes to bat again, and once more lost two early wickets to Goodwin. Butcher again came in far sooner than intended with the score on 2 for 2. With Carew he ensured the embarrassments were over for the day - aided by Goodwin limping off with an Achilles injury - and although both fell shortly before the close, West Indies finished on 78 for 4.
As the Irish and the supporters celebrated, the mood in the West Indies dressing room was combustible. Foster accused Butcher of being too causal, adding that he was "a submarine captain because he seemed to prefer to bat underwater." Carew then observed that he was not fit to captain a submarine.
The next day's newspapers all carried the story, many on the front page. It even ousted news that England had a Wimbledon finalist (Anne Jones) and ran alongside the death of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Journalists in Ulster who were there to cover the start of the troubles were drafted in to add colour. Most had no clue where Sion Mills even was.
The two teams decamped to Belfast that evening where they played a two-day match in which Ireland held out for a draw. In his report at the close of the first day, Roberts wrote in the Gleaner: "Nothing that the West Indians may do in this two-day match against Ireland can eradicate the awful memory of their frightening nightmare performance in the first match."
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The Sunday Times, The Irish Times, The Jamaica Gleaner, The Daily Mail
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo