Caribbean fire remembered in New Zealand

17:00, Jul 26 2011
Michael Holding
A SHOT TO REMEMBER: "It's the best sports picture I've seen," West Indian fast bowler Colin Croft said of Owen Jones' image of Michael Holding booting the stumps at Carisbrook as John Parker looks on. The photo was published around the world. Jones says he didn't go to afternoon tea as he felt something dramatic was going to happen. "It was enthralling," he recalls. "When Parker hit the ball you could have heard it in the Octagon. I couldn't understand why he was given not out. Holding started down the pitch with huge strides, and he suddenly sped up and bang!" The Southland Times photographer pressed the shutter, capturing Holding's impressive follow through, with stumps flying. Jones kept the film separate as he knew he had captured something special. The photo was requested by News of the World , which printed it on its front page. "I was pretty chuffed," Jones admits. "I still love it. I look at it and think `did I really take that?"'

The 1980 West Indies cricket team crossed the Tasman after a triumphant Australian tour. But a young New Zealand side overcame the most feared bowling attack to win one of the most scandalous test series of all time.

New Zealand opening batsman Bruce Edgar remembers his preparations for facing the terrifying four-pronged West Indian bowling attack in February 1980.

Their "fearsome foursome" – Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and Colin Croft – came to New Zealand with a reputation for speed and intimidation.

"You had to expect a lot of short-pitched bowling, intimidation, and not many opportunities to score," Edgar says. "I got my mother to help sew up a chest pad, because you couldn't buy them, and I made my own thigh pad and reinforced it with extra foam. The challenge was beating the fear factor, so you could focus on playing as opposed to being scared."

Training with fellow Wellington and New Zealand player Jeremy Coney at Kilbirnie Park, they set up a bowling machine on the steps to emulate the height 6ft 9in Garner would be bowling from.

These rudimentary preparations must have helped, as New Zealand laid down the welcome mat by narrowly beating the West Indians in the sole one-day match in Christchurch.

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Victory wasn't expected as the visitors had just left Australia, where they had won a test series 2-0, before seizing the one-day World Series Cup.

They had cemented their reputation as the best cricket team on the planet, while intimidating and injuring batsmen.

This episode is portrayed in the Fire in Babylon documentary, which screens at the New Zealand International Film Festival this week.

Stevan Riley's film shows the Windies' pace men bullying Australian batsmen, but it conveniently ignores their ignominy in New Zealand. And the appalling lack of sportsmanship they displayed, beginning with the first test in Dunedin.

"There was a bit of `we're wasting our time having five days, man' stuff," New Zealand wicketkeeper Warren Lees recalls. "The West Indian nature is a bit laidback: `we'll just rock up and have a game of cricket, and probably win'."

The cool mid-February Carisbrook conditions did not favour the visitors and their lack of enthusiasm was obvious.

Edgar remembers the West Indians' homesickness being enhanced when Charlie Pride's 1979 hit You're My Jamaica was played over the PA.

"It all played into our hands perfectly," New Zealand bowler Gary Troup observes. "They were complaining about the cold and just wanted to get out of there."

Their enthusiasm was further dented when Richard Hadlee removed five cheap wickets. The Canterbury fast bowler took advantage of the slow conditions, while the West Indian bowling quartet didn't adjust.

And as decisions from umpire Fred Goodall weren't going their way, emotions boiled over.

"Hadlee bowled straight and Goodall had to give them out," said Edgar. "And [the West Indies] just bowled in the wrong half of the pitch."

"Fred was probably 30 years ahead of his time," Otago spin bowler Stephen Boock suggests. "When he made his mind up he did it boldly, and that would have been part of the frustration."

"We had a couple of decisions go our way," said Lees. "That gave a disgruntled team an excuse to be angry."

Things came to a head when New Zealand's John Parker was given not out by umpire John Hastie after a caught behind appeal from Michael Holding.

The normally reserved Holding followed right through to Parker, and sent the stumps flying with an impressive kick.

The dramatic photo of that moment came to represent the acrimony of the series.

"It was a stunned sort of `did he really do that'?" said Lees of the reaction from the New Zealanders in the pavilion.

"And Parker's reaction was amazing – slowly taking off his gloves and putting them back on. Only someone who had played a lot of cricket professionally in England would've acted that nonchalantly."

Holding has said of the incident that "this was not cricket, and I didn't have to be part of it". The Jamaican declined to comment further for this story.

A further six-wicket haul from Hadlee meant a famous test victory was just 104 runs away. However, a comprehensive collapse saw New Zealand slump to 8-73.

Two unlikely heroes stepped forward in the form of tailenders Troup and Boock to procure the final four runs. Boock remembers his nervous wait as New Zealand wickets rapidly fell.

"The dressing-room was a good place to hide," he says. "I wished Warren Lees the best as he padded up. Then he came back in, hopping around. I said `have you tripped over?' He said `no, I'm out'."

This prelude was more nerve-racking than batting, where Boock was expected to be able to do the job.

With the West Indians arguing, the batsmen decided to take advantage of the disarray.

"They didn't have a gully or a backward point, and that's where a tailender scores a lot of runs," Boock said. "Troupy came down and in a loud voice says `backward point', and I told him to shut up. It was where I intended to put it, and that's exactly what happened. We ran two and it tied the scores."

A LEG bye sealed a fine win for a relatively young New Zealand team.

Before the second test in Christchurch the West Indies lost a three-day game against Wellington at Lower Hutt, where Ewen Chatfield snared 13 wickets. No doubt losing three consecutive games led to the events at Lancaster Park, among the most bitter episodes in test history.

Having batted first, West Indian rancour towards Goodall intensified as several decisions didn't go their way. This included Geoff Howarth, in his first series as New Zealand captain, surviving a caught behind appeal from Garner.

At the tea break on the third day the visitors decided not to resume. New Zealand Cricket board member Walter Hadlee was told by the West Indian manager Willie Rodriguez that "the boys have had enough. We're going home".

Eventually they were persuaded to carry on, but the drama wasn't over. The following day the volatile Croft became enraged with a Goodall decision when Hadlee was on strike and flicked the bails off.

He followed this act of petulance by colliding with Goodall when storming in for a subsequent delivery. While Croft claimed it wasn't a deliberate act, television footage suggests otherwise.

"Live it didn't look deliberate," Lees said. "It didn't seem that bad, but when you saw the replay you thought what the hell are you doing?"

"It's physical assault, and there's no doubt it was deliberate," Glenn Turner says. The New Zealand batsman was a commentator during the series. "They thought Fred had it in for them. They were convinced the racist side of it was coming into the decision-making."

West Indian captain Clive Lloyd's lack of leadership was obvious. When Croft barged Goodall, Lloyd forced the umpires to approach him in the slips to discuss the matter. It had little effect.

"Lloyd was a typical West Indian," said Lees. "Big, tall, lazy, loping. Because he didn't go down straight away and say `hey, what are you doing?' then the moment's lost."

The West Indies effectively gave up on the test, not even bothering to chase catches. Hadlee got his first test century under those conditions, though he's said there was little satisfaction from the achievement.

Edgar, who had earlier been injured facing a vicious barrage of bowling, was also disappointed.

"They'd been going at us hammer and tongs," he said. "A couple of things didn't go their way and they threw their toys out of the cot again. It wasn't happening the way they wanted so they became a bunch of spoilt brats."

Although three West Indians scored centuries on the fifth day, the test petered out to a draw.

MEASURES were taken to maintain an uneasy peace during the third test in Auckland. New Zealand Cricket chairman Bob Vance sought to have Croft left out, while the visitors requested that Goodall not officiate. Croft played; Goodall was absent.

West Indies gave it 100 per cent to try and save the series, according to Bruce Edgar, who scored a patient century in New Zealand's first innings.

But tensions flared when appeals were turned down, and four West Indies players had to be convinced not to fly out early as the match ground to a draw.

The 1-0 series win was New Zealand's first test series victory on home soil. Troup, who grabbed a 10-wicket bag in Auckland, said his success was eclipsed by the achievement.

"Individual performances pale into insignificance when you think of the importance of beating by far the best team in the world," he reflects. "The biggest disappointment is that the controversy maintains a profile over an outstanding achievement."

Led by the wily Howarth, New Zealand had prevailed against the fastest battery of bowlers ever assembled, where far more experienced sides had fallen.

The triumph catalysed New Zealand's success through the early 1980s, when first test series wins against Australia, England, and India were achieved.

"We weren't always the close team people thought we were," Lees reflects. "But surprise results bring a team together."

Edgar added: "We were gathering as a group. Howarth was a brilliant captain; he just had a sixth sense in terms of strategy. That was the start of it and we built from there."

Fire in Babylon screens at Te Papa, at 4.15pm on Friday, and throughout the New Zealand International Film Festival.

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