Feature: 1st ODI West Indies Vs Australia, February 22, 1978

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There had been great expectations after the announcement that the Antigua Recreation Ground was to host the first One Day International versus Australia on Wednesday, February 22, 1978. It was seen as an inauguration of sorts, one befitting of the achievement of an accomplishment that had been long sought after.
The history of Antigua’s cricket is littered with names that “could have made it”, if only they were given the opportunity, or better yet, if they were from one of the bigger islands. Sir Sydney Walling and Hubert Anthonyson (Chucky Bellot’s father) are certainly two of the names that the old timers are absolutely convinced about.
Andy Roberts had made his West Indies debut in the 1974 series against the touring MCC (England), taking the place that seemed destined for the Barbados fast bowler, Gregory Armstrong, until Andy out-bowled him in the preceding President’s X1 match, on the back of the frightening pace he had displayed in the English county championships. Vivi joined him on the tour of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka later the same year, and announced himself to the world with a second Test maiden century.
The investment to ensure Antigua secured its first international players was consistent, and even included a radio programme, developed with the sole purpose of getting Andy and Vivi on to the West Indies team. Sports Line was started on ZDK Radio in 1973 by Victor Michael, who was schooled in Barbados and had a better appreciation of the power of radio on decision making in certain quarters. Leonard Tim Hector was a regular guest on the programme, accepted as the voice of local cricket from his commentary, and one never shy to air his opinion.
By this time, a returning national, with his smooth, fresh American accent, had somewhat “hijacked” the Sports Line show, and was now its host. Peter Hilaire, a cousin of owner of ZDK, Ivor Bird, and full of energy and enthusiasm was able to secure some interesting guests, and soon became the go-to voice for anything sports in Antigua.
The work and preparations was started, and it was a huge task.
The grounds had a huge run off from east to west, and it required leveling works to make it acceptable. The fencing was predominantly barbed wire with plaited coconut boughs and required some fencing. Plans hit a snag; the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of education, Mr. Oscar Bird, advised that due to the covenant that governed the Recreation Ground, it could not be totally fenced in, and so the designers went for a “windowed” look. The players pavilion and dressing rooms had to be adjusted to conform to international standards, and a press area had to be created.
As we know, Antiguans thrive on a challenge; especially one that provides an opportunity to show off to the world; especially one that gives us a leg up on our fiercest rival and neighbour, St. Kitts. We puffed our chests, and got to work.
Australian cricket was going through turmoil. Kerry Packer and his World Series Cricket had challenged the status quo, and appeared to be winning. The best players in the world were now being paid better wages to play at night, and in coloured clothes. Andy and Vivi, at the top of their games, and highly sought after, were a part of the “circus”, as dubbed by the establishment.
Australia banned its top players from representing Australia, and pulled Bobby Simpson out of retirement to captain a team of inexperienced players on the 1978 tour of the West Indies. Jeff Thompson, who alongside Dennis Lillee, had tormented West Indian batsmen on the 1974-5 tour, was in the team, and that in itself was enough enticement for local fans.
The West Indies Cricket Board of Control, on the other hand, despite bickerings behind the scenes, grudgingly selected the best available team. The team was to be captained by Deryck Murray, as World Cup winning captain, Clive Lloyd sat out with an injury, along with Gordon Greenidge.
The veteran opener Roy Fredericks had announced his retirement from international cricket, and the race for his replacement to partner Gordon Greenidge was well and truly on. The selectors chose three openers, Richard Austin, Desmond Haynes and Faoud Bacchus to audition in front of an exciting Antiguan crowd. Our Kittitian neighbours were disappointed that Victor Eddy was not selected, but for Antiguans, it was a homecoming of sorts; Andy and Vivi were fit and playing.
The day was declared a public holiday, and long lines of spectators started to queue from about 4 a.m. Many had not slept overnight, staying up to prepare a wide variety of food, and to ensure there was enough for breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack, and enough to share; that was the spirit of watching cricket in Antigua, a grand occasion, an event.
Clubs, co-workers, church groups, schools, Kittitians, Nevisians, Montseratians, Bajans. Trinis, Antiguans from wherever they resided, were all there. The Boy Scouts provided voluntary ushering services. The mahogany trees shading the ground had its usual occupants, and more. Some didn’t get inside, didn’t get a tree; they were too late! Sorry for them; they missed Desmond Haynes at his absolute best. The conversations leading up to the start of play was mainly about money. How much the players were making now that Packer was on the scene, and how these youngsters could transform theirlives with good performances. The story making the rounds was that Haynes was a backhoe operatorin Barbados, and comparisons of his then and future salaries were thought to be a major inspiration. Colourful stories about the other new players also made the rounds, some obviously fabricated, but everyone was seated and ready.
As if to greet the occasion, and in the mood to impress, and in the days before branded team clothing was the norm, Haynes came out to warm up in an all-white tracksuit.
The fast and frightening Jeff Thompson off his long run from the War Memorial End was a sight to behold, but the flashing blade of Desmond Haynes, aptly nicknamed The Hammer, was taking no prisoners, “boundary after boundary” the crowd erupted. Thompson had no-ball problems, but Haynes had no sympathy, he wasn’t playing names.
It was deafening when Viv Richards walked to the crease at the fall of the first wicket; time stood still. He stroked two effortless boundaries, then you could hear a pin drop; Viv was out. Faoud Bacchus promptly dispatched his first ball in to the prison, only to walk on his stumps. Haynes stroked a magnificent 148, he stole the spotlight and the vacant opening spot. For all his efforts he received a bat from Straffie’s, as the Man of the Match. He was on his way!
The game was an anti-climax; a huge West Indies total, stoppage for rain, no wickets for Andy, and Australia never really challenged the revised target. “Parssa” had arrived.
We awaited the next itinerary

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