THE definition of a tough day at the office? The challenge of bowling to the great Viv Richards on his own home ground in a one-day international. Test fast bowler and Sportshounds.com.au cricket commentator IAN CALLEN, faced up to the task on the Australian tour in 1978. What to do? Today, for the first time, we can reveal the answer. Not for nothing has the former Victorian star always been known as “Mad Dog”, so a little lateral thinking on his part came as no surprise — except to Viv. “Mad Dog” takes up the story:
I WAS flicking through the Foxtel Channels last night and came across one of my favourite movies, “Major League” starring Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen. There’s a scene in the movie where an old DC3 aeroplane arrives complete with “Cleveland Indian” signage for the team waiting in transit.
Immediately, memories of February 1978 and the Australian Cricket Team came flooding back. I was part of the team in transit at the San Juan International airport Puerto Rico waiting to board a British West Indies Airway flight to Antigua. It would be the first ODI played in Viv Richards’s hometown St John.
However, airline shop stewards called a snap strike (a strike which remained in place for the entire tour). I remember seeing the colour drain from the face of our manager Fred Bennett. With nothing else to do I had no choice but to settle down and finish off the book I’d been reading, “The Bermuda Triangle”.
By the time Fred returned I’d finished the book. It seemed an eternity and he looked exhausted, but he had managed to organise a charter plane.
Yes! You’ve guessed it; out rolls an old DC3.
Filing out of the terminal to embark, I stood back from the team and watched two men trying to inflate its tyres, hard work the old fashioned way; feet placed in a batting stance, evenly placed either side of a cylinder, shoving down on a steel shaft to push air into the tyres.
Then pushing past me, a mechanic carrying jump leads; only one of the engines had fired!
I once had to overcome real fear. I recalled my first-class debut: Dennis Lillee at the WACA with the “Fremantle Doctor” at his back and with the thought that first delivery fizzing past my left ear. I walked the stairs and through the open door of the plane.
Passing the cockpit; I found myself peering over what appeared to be a Western saloon’s swinging doors pretending to separate the passengers from crew. There was the pilot leaning back in his seat, feet out a broken front window studying a Playboy centrefold.
Further encouraged, I carried on towards my seat and noticed that the last of our luggage had been loaded. I couldn’t help but see through gaps in the floor of the aircraft that the ground crew were closing the door in readiness for take-off.
Buckled into seats we all clasped the armrest as the plane began to shudder a little, then more violently, before giving up; “Wait in your seats,” Fred said, “I’ll see what’s happened. We watched through the floor our luggage being removed. The DC3 had been over-loaded, so Fred had to charter another plane.
During the flight to Antigua we had a closer than expected view of the treacherous waters below us, that which made up part of the “Bermuda Triangle”, from an altitude of about 2,000 feet. I swear we could hear the magical sounds of the steel band preparing in readiness for our arrival as if it was streaming through the cockpit coming into land.
What a wonderful greeting we received that evening, I’ll never forget the reception, and neither will the local cricket officials. I doubt they had ever witnessed such demand for their “Rum Punch”.
A few days later, on the morning of February 22, spectators were packing into the Antigua Recreational Ground to see their heroes, particularly their hometown favourite Viv, with so much anticipation. Every vantage point was taken. This included every sturdy branch on every tree around or outside the ground. Some spectators were sitting high up, well inside the fine leg boundary. It was an amazing atmosphere… something I had never experienced before.
Our Australian team that day:
Wood, Darling, Yallop, Toohey, Cosier, Simpson, Laughlin, Rixon, Callen, Thomson and Clarke.
Austin, Haynes, Richards, Kallicharran, Bacchuss, Shillingford, Murray, Garner, Roberts, Daniels and Croft.
Simmo won the toss sending the West Indies in and I was to bowl first change.
Austin was first to go caught Simpson bowled Clarke. I was off the field replacing sprigs in my boots when the wicket fell, but I knew very well who was coming in next.
As it happened, I was on my way back to the field when Viv came down the wooden stairs from the team viewing area above and disappeared into his changing rooms to retrieve something.
What occurred next was one of those spur of the moment things. I just couldn’t resist, and I’ve often wondered if Viv has any memory of it? I have been too afraid to tell him and I have kept it to myself up until now.
Whilst he was out of sight, I quietly leaned in and closed the door shut, slotting the bolt home from the outside. As I returned to the field, I could hear loud banging and thumping on the door and desperate cries: “Open the door! Open the door, Man!”
Desmond Haynes was the difference between the teams that day and earned the man of the match with 148. For Australia, Gary Cosier played a terrific innings of 84 off 78 balls, including 11 fours and a six.
Thommo finished with four wickets. His pace was frightening to see but somehow Andy Roberts got enough on one to send it high, very high to me at fine leg. I remember the roar of the crowd as I positioned myself under it. The excitement and expectation were blocking out any chance of hearing a call, “It’s mine!” but I could see the big 6’3” figure of Gary Cosier closing from my left.
“Cose” was the least of my worries though, my biggest problem was the spectators sitting above me on over-hanging branches. Anticipating being cleaning up I dropped to my knees just as the big fella arrived leaping over me as I took the catch inches from the ground.
Getting to my feet I found spectators had fallen from the tree in excitement and were dancing about in celebration of the catch, offering me their rum.
Cricket and the people of the Caribbean… there’s no atmosphere like it or at least there wasn’t in those days.
As for myself I discovered the first signs of back problems that were to haunt me throughout my career. But I did get one handy wicket that day and guess who it was. The batsman was probably still having visions of being “timed out” (locked in the changerooms) when a leading edge was caught by Yardley at cover. Viv was out for nine!