Feature: 4th Test West Indies vs England, March 27 – April 1, 1981

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The announcement that the Antigua Recreation Ground was to become test cricket’s 52nd test venue came at a critical time in the island’s history, when politicians were focused on severing ties from Great Britain, and were moving steadfastly towards becoming an independent nation.
 Hosting a one day international was exciting enough, but test cricket remained the epiphany; and to boot, hosting England.
The MCC, the name England cricket team’s previously traveled under, had last visited Antigua on their 1974 tour, playing against the Leeward Islands. Strong English traditions dominated the game and there was a feeling that as hosts, as a country, we had to have everything perfect.
 The expectation was for a great economic boom, and the Minister of Tourism and Economic Development, Lester Bird, lost no time in preparing the public for the band of English tourists and press that were expected.
It was obvious that “Parssa” needed further upgrading. The player’s pavilion was replaced, even whilst the old pavilion in the north western corner remained, but the stand in the north eastern corner, east of the pavilion, was dismantled and replaced with a steel structured double decker, installed by John S. Laviscount Ltd. The Rude Boy Stand was officially renamed the Mitchell A. Michael Stand, with the ACB Stand and the School Boys’ stand completing the covered accommodation enhancement. Seats were added to the popular bleachers area.
This tour was easily one of the most incident-filled in the history of West Indies cricket. Angered by the selection of David Murray ahead of his namesake Deryck Murray, culprits sabotaged the pitch at the Queen’s Park Oval.
When Bob Willis picked up an injury in Trinidad, Robin Jackman, the 35-yearold Surrey fast medium bowler was picked to replace him. Achieving international recognition this late in his career, meant that he found employment during the winter months by playing and coaching in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). This contravened the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement, where Commonwealth leaders vowed to combat South Africa’s apartheid system by isolating the country from sporting events, amongst other sanctions.
The President of Guyana, Forbes Burnham took a strong line on sporting relations with South Africa. There was huge speculation as to the future of the match and the tour in general, and it only heightened when the Guyana Government revoked Jackman’s visa. The England Cricket Board refused to field a team under those circumstances, and the test was cancelled.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lester Bird met with the governments of Barbados, Montserrat, and Jamaica – islands scheduled to host the other games of the tour – and decided that Jackman’s circumstances fell outside the Gleneagles Agreement, and therefore sanctioned the continuation of the tour.
 Just when it seemed as things were normalising, after the second day’s play of the Barbados test, the England team’s Assistant Manager, Ken Barrington died of a heart attack.
Antiguans kept abreast of the activities by the colourful photos of “our” Trinidad Express. Yes, lacking a daily paper, we depended on Bee Wee (now Caribbean Airlines) to drop off our daily paper, which we religiously bought at Zachariah’s on High Street or Robinson’s Gas Station, every afternoon.
It is on the back of these challenges that the tour Page 24 Friday, February 9, 2018 THE DAILY Observer By Zorol Barthley Viv Richards and Ian Botham 4th Test West Indies vs England, March 27 – April 1, 1981 Inside edge Presented by Falmouth Harbour Marina moved to Antigua for the finale of what was now reduced to a 4-test series. Antigua was bursting at the seams.
Officialdom dictated the proceedings, strutting around full of pride; they had delivered, test cricket had come to Antigua. Those snubbed by not being invited to the official cocktail to welcome the teams, became the chief naysayers and pessimists, whilst the favourite Antiguan pastime of looking for a free ticket, seemed like a job for some. Some made up stories about being invited to another major event.
Viv Richards had chosen a few days before the start of the game to tie the knot to his longtime partner, Miriam. That in itself was a national event. Among their friends and family, along with Viv’s cricketing pals, included his great friend, the England captain, Ian Botham, as best man.
The English media were at the ready, perched in strategic positions to capture that exclusive wedding photo of Viv and his bride – ever aware of their time limitations: that roll of treasured film had to make the courier on the British Airways’ evening flight to ensure their tabloid beat the competition to the first pictures; then it was to Cable & Wireless to file a story, in time to meet the editor’s deadline. The life of a journalist before modern technological advances.
By the time tickets went on sale, the West Indies Oil Double Decker stand was completed. Fans had already started to select their preferred seat, and wanted to ensure that their posse was able to sit together. Season tickets were being promoted, and patrons had to make a judgement call on the weather.
On a personal note, the days leading up to the game gave me an opportunity to catch up with my “pen pal”, the elegant England left handed batsman David Gower. He was my favourite non-West Indian batsman at the time, and had visited Antigua the previous year with his county Leicestershire, on a benefit tour for Barry Dudleston in 1980.
 “Parssa”, the Antigua Recreation Grounds for formality, seemed the appropriate location for the Master Blaster’s honeymoon. This time, everyone was there, and literally everyone!
The lines gathered long before dawn and snaked into the surrounding streets. Breakfast was eaten in the lines and washed down with flasks of bush tea, whilst the time passed. Arguments ensued as late comers appeared claiming someone was holding a space for them. The objective was the same; to see the first ball bowled in a test match in Antigua.
England won the toss, and elected to bat. Almost as if pre-ordained, Andy Roberts bowled the first delivery to Graeme Gooch. The applause that followed that first delivery was stupendous!
Peter Willey, with his two eyed stance, a la Jim Allen, that Montserratian Maestro, scored the first test hundred in Antigua. The irony of the comparison with Jim, is that his stance was written off as being ugly, as not being from the MCC Coaching Manual, and here was an Englishman showing that substance had more value than style.
The Englishmen were creating their own history on this tour. They had given a debut to the Barbados born, Roland Butcher, on his home ground. Butcher was the first black man to represent England in test cricket. Here, the crowd quietly wished for him to succeed.
The calypsonian, The Mighty Dragon, summed it up aptly during Carnival later in the year, “it was Grahan Dilley, bowling to Vivi…………….”. After Haynes was dismissed early by Botham, the honeymoon began.
Viv waited until Haynes disappeared up the pavilion steps, and made his grand entrance – chewing gum, taking a hammering, cap tilting enough to cover a head of hair, swaggering onto his catwalk, adrenalin producing sweat before he arrived at the crease, greeted by Botham, who jokingly exchanged pleasantries. He was at home – very much his home!
Viv’s first 30 runs was the most effortless start to a test innings one would want to witness, especially for one with a whole nation on his shoulders. Renowned more for the power generated by his favoured SS Jumbo bat, than for finesse and touch, this start was auspicious. The Master held court and it culminated in a brilliant 114.
In those days, Rest Days were a feature of test matches, and at the end of day three, a rest was well and truly needed. The emotional roller coaster of the occasion, not to mention the food and drinks being consumed, a time of rest and relaxation was truly needed. Those of us skipping work or school, also needed to make an appearance, “present please.”
The old adage of “say cricket and rain comes,” came back to haunt this match on the resumption after the rest day, and the game petered out into a tame draw.
Andy Roberts went wicketless on this flat Recreation Ground track, which was starting to establish itself as a batting paradise.
Antiguans live for events, and they are used as markers to get through tough times. This game ended, the visitors left, and we smiled; we announced ourselves and we conquered…
We waited on the next event – Independence Day, November 1, 1981.

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