5th Supertest WSC West Indies vs WSC Australia, April 6 – 10, 1979

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Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket had turned the cricket world upside down when they signed up the world’s leading players for World Series Cricket in 1977, played parallel to the established series hosted by the Australia Cricket Board. Three teams: West Indies, Australia and a World XI competed in Supertests and One Dayers under the banner that “Big Boys Play at Night.”
Coloured clothing was also introduced for the first time, and seeing the West Indies decked out in a coral pink uniforms (officially all salmon), became the butt of jokes around world cricket; big, strong, masculine Caribbean men adorned in pink on the cricket field, including pink shoes!
During the 1978-79 World Series Cricket season, some games were played in New Zealand, and in 1979 the entire “circus” moved to the West Indies.
Despite being referred to by the establishment as a circus, the array of great West Indian players that were involved in World Series Cricket credits it for the paradigm shift that took place in the mentality of West Indian players, and added the ingredient that allowed the band of Calypso cricketers to dominate world cricket for nearly fifteen years; professionalism.
Antigua hosted the 5th Supertest of the series, which also included a record 12 One Day Games, and introduced international cricket to St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Dominica.
Having hosted a One Day International the year before, Antigua and the Recreation Grounds were ready for the task at hand. For that occasion, and leading into this game, Mr. George Ryan exhibited great patriotism, all for the national good. He practically ignored his business and almost moved his office to the Recreation Ground, almost singlehandedly overlooking the preparations.
The marketing and promotions undertaken by the organisers were novel to this part of the world, and the razzmatazz and colour was evident for all to see. There just seemed to be so much more money going around, and local service providers raised their game.
In an era when ambush marketing and copyright regulations were more relaxed, the creativeness of the Antiguan came to the fore, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Some authentic memorabilia were distributed by the organisers, but when game time rolled around, local entrepreneurship had a field day.
The excitement on the field was centered on “pace like fire”; Roberts, Holding, Croft, Lillee, Thompson and Pascoe. Crash helmets had made its way onto the cricket field, some resembling motor cycle helmets, likewise chest guards, and the revolutionising of cricket was in full sway.
Tickets were pricey, as World Series Cricket was a profit-driven private affair, and did not come with the socialite behaviours normally associated with the establishment: cocktail parties; cricket associations control; hordes of complimentary tickets. The message was simple, you paid to “play”, and as the usual suspects gathered at the Recreation Ground on the afternoons leading up to the game, many “hangers on” felt disenfranchised.
The series had been marred by crowd disturbances in Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana, and rain was a constant threat, washing out two full days of the Guyana Supertest. It was a combination of both forces that saw the Australian captain, Ian Chappell dragged before the Guyana courts for slapping a local official, who suggested that it was Chappell’s fault why play had not restarted.
Most of the arrangements for these Supertests were handled by the local ground owners, and in the Antigua case, the Ministry of Education and Sports. As Minister responsible, the Honourable Reuben Harris, was up front and centre, also doubling with his responsibilities for ABS Radio, which were providing joint commentary with ZDK.
Tony Cozier’s controlled and refreshing commentary, with his strong Bajan accent, was by this time considered the Voice of West Indies cricket. His side kick, Reds Perreira, not as fluent, but one who connected with his audience due to his various interests spread across all sports, was unquestionably the number two. It was their voices, from far-away places across the cricketing world, which brought us commentary and kept us awake at late nights on overseas tours. They also served to balance the opinions of their host commentators, and were talking billboards for Caribbean tourism.
Joe Bahri, an Antiguan born of Lebanese parents, was one of those disciples who “watched” cricket through the voices of his idols, and schooled in the disciplines of good language, pronunciation, diction and clarity, dreamt of one day sharing the mike with the elite of cricket commentary.
Armed with his recorder, he practiced at a house match at the St. Joseph’s Academy, and sought out ZDK’s Manager, Ivor Bird to listen to his recording and to give him an opinion. Ivor proposed that there was quality in his delivery and that he would get him an assignment for the upcoming Packer Supertest.
With the visiting commentators along with already established local commentators, Billy Ryan and Franklyn Francis, it meant that there was surplus to the needs for the commentary team. After doing two sessions on the first day, on a crowded roster, Bahri was summoned by Minister Harris on the morning of the second day’s play, and his accreditation revoked. Obviously, established commentators, foreign and local, made complaints and action was taken. Ivor Bird was furious!
With the West Indies well positioned to force a result at the end of the third day, rain washed out the fourth day’s play and most of the fifth day. The game saw sublime hundreds from two of the most gracious batsmen of that era, Greg Chappell and Lawrence Rowe, but even to this day, the main talking point whenever that game is discussed is how Andy Roberts “woke up” a graveyard of a pitch.
The Chappell brothers had consolidated the Australian innings from 93 for 3 to 168 for 3 when Ian edged Roberts to wicketkeeper Deryck Murray. Umpire Douglas Sang Hue turned down the appeal, and Chappell refused to walk. Roberts, in disbelief, sauntered back to his bowling mark, to then produce a brute of a bumper, rising throat height, to which Ian could only glove to Fredericks at gully. In walked the new poster boy of Australia cricket, the left handed David Hookes, to be greeted by a rampaging Roberts, and received the most ferocious first ball bumper, which struck him flush in the rib cage. The sight of Hookes flopping towards point, brushing away all assistance from West Indian fielders will forever be etched in the memory of those who witnessed it.
The grace and athleticism of Michael Holding off his full run and the return of Dennis Lillee to a ground where he had the Leeward Islands batsmen running for cover in a tour match in 1973, enthralled the purists. No longer pushing off from the sight-screen, in the midst of bowling 33 overs, Lillee destroyed the hearts of spectators by dismissing the previous year’s darling, Haynes and by bowling Viv.
Rain had the final say on the proceedings, and during the presentation ceremony, inevitably, Straffie’s Funeral Home donated a Crown cricket bat to Lawrence Rowe for the highest score in the game, and he in turn gave it to one of my classmates, Crispin. We left, bat tucked under Crispin’s arm, to practice our art. For days, and weeks after, we took turns at batting in the Academy school yard, and as a ritual, we swapped Percy’s (another class mate) colourtrimmed sweater when our turn came to bat. After all; big boys played in coloured clothes……………………… …we dreamt!

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