The 1970s was an era of extravagant showmanship and stunts, as showbiz and a new wave of improbable sponsors hit sport. Evel Knievel jumped double deckers at Wembley; brewing minnow Watneys lent their support to an unmissed football competition; Kevin Keegan, the David Beckham of the day, went on BBC’s Superstars and took all the skin off his arms and legs, falling off his bike. Cricket, too, was swept up in a whirlwind of novelty events.
From 1977, Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) had introduced cricket to floodlights, white balls, coloured clothing and all-star pizzazz. While the top-level cricket authorities fought Packer and took a decade to eventually absorb his showmanship, the game more generally latched on immediately. Throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a glut of now-forgotten novelty WSC-inspired cricket events in England, with their own rules and a series of all-star casts.
Many of these novelty games drew large enthusiastic attendances. Yet the experiments were soon abandoned and, though mainstream English cricket continued to struggle to pull crowds, it would take decades before the penny dropped and Twenty20 was introduced.
Viv Richards v Barry Richards
The Western Daily Press of September 18 1978 carried news of Muhammad Ali recently regaining the World Boxing Association title after defeating Leon Spinks in the Louisiana Superdome. On the same page was the headline “King Vivian rules”, a reference to the ‘unofficial decider for the world batting crown’ which had seen Viv Richards do battle with the bat against South African great Barry Richards.
The previous day, the pair had faced 25 overs each before a crowd of 5,000 at Taunton. What was billed as a ‘unique challenge’ was the climax to Somerset wicket-keeper Derek Taylor’s testimonial season. Neither batter was in good nick; Barry Richards had played only one innings – on a matting strip – since leaving Hampshire five weeks’ earlier. Viv had not batted since smashing his favourite bat following Somerset’s recent double defeat weekend, when the Gillette Cup and John Player League were lost on consecutive days.
The game saw the winner decided on runs per dismissal, so although Barry outscored Viv, his average was 38.2 per wicket against Viv’s 68. The Antiguan won a solid silver trophy and prize money of £1,000 supplied by the Taunton Cider company. With each six worth an extra tenner and every four a fiver, the pair earned an extra £230 between them through eight sixes and 30 fours.
The World Double-wicket championship
Wembley Arena, 1979
The action moved indoors one Friday in April 1979 when Wembley Arena staged the Chubb World Double Wicket Championship. According to the organiser, Surrey and England spinner Pat Pocock, this was a first on two fronts: it was both the first time an international double-wicket match, and indoor cricket itself, had been televised. The action was broadcast on ITV’s World of Sport the following day.
Taking his lead from a more modest event two years’ earlier, Pocock out-Packered Packer. He tells SPIN: “We had Wembley decked out, inviting two players from England, West Indies, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Australia, with names like Botham, Randall, Bedi, Kallicharran, Hadlee and Zaheer participating. We were only 500 short of the 15,000 capacity – and we raised £40,000 for Mencap.”
With Harry Carpenter on MC duty, the players kept the crowds entertained. “It was so thrilling,” says Pocock. “Some of the spectators were only 15/20 yards from the action and the power of players like Botham and Hadlee was much more apparent than from 80/100 yards away. We put nets around the whole arena and rolled down a wicket. You heard a deep intake of breath when Botham struck it through cover. The public had never been so close to the action. We lined it up so there were only 16 yards behind the wicket. Farokh Engineer and Alan Knott were the wickies – and the ball hit their gloves like a cannon!”
Each player batted for 10 overs, scoring fours and sixes, losing 25 runs when out. Pocock remembers Botham and Derek Randall winning. So, could the event be staged today? “It was dynamic, all-action, and the idea stands up, but you wouldn’t have the availability of players,” he says.
“There wasn’t one person who didn’t think it was a fantastic idea. But Chubb blew the whistle at the 11th hour the following year: we weren’t able to go ahead without a sponsor and so it didn’t take place. It was unique, and a great pity it did not gather momentum. Once that momentum was lost, the availability of players went.”
Viv Richards v Greg Chappell
Later that year, Taunton saw Viv Richards retain his slogathon king title and the Dry Blackthorn Trophy, beating Greg Chappell by 69 runs after smashing 286 in 25 overs. Chappell had played for Somerset 11 seasons earlier, and his presence at the County Ground set tongues wagging, leading president Colin Atkinson to announce publicly that no approach had been made to
re-secure his services.
Changes from the inaugural event saw each batsman docked 10 runs when dismissed, with prize money raised to the curiously equine 1,000 guineas.
Richards hit 16 sixes and 32 fours, his final tally being reduced by 40 due to his being out four times, which included falling twice in
one over to Brian Langford. The Master Blaster got his revenge, however, hitting Langford, for five sixes in
one over before, according
to one report, “playing the
last ball down the pitch with great suspicion.”
A crowd of around
3,000 also saw Botham take punishment from both batsman. The match, on September 15, raised funds for Somerset stalwart Hallam Moseley’s benefit year. Moseley was among the five bowlers bowling five overs at each batsman.
Essex v West Indies
Stamford Bridge, 1980
The UK’s first international floodlit cricket match was played between Essex and West Indies at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge ground on Thursday August 14, 1980 before a crowd of 11,073. With tickets starting at £2, a large proportion of the £50,000 receipts came from 40 private boxes and sponsorship. The original plan had been for Surrey to take on the tourists, but Gillette Cup commitments saw Essex deputise. Even so, Surrey still earned £15,000 from the match.
Gordon Greenidge faced the first delivery at 5.31pm, his defensive prod at odds with the fireworks to follow. His was the first six, needing to travel only 40 yards to make it to the running track that then surrounded the Stamford Bridge playing area.
Haynes’ departure on 21 saw Viv Richards’ arrival, for what would be an innings of two halves. Richards’ first 15 minutes brought no runs, his final 18 bringing 53, reaping two sixes and three fours off a single David Acfield over. All told, he hit six sixes, as did Faoud Bacchus. One of Richards’ sixes was caught by a young lad at the back of the Shed stand, one of Collis King’s smashed a spectator’s umbrella. West Indies finished 257/9 off 40 overs.
Essex set about their 258 target, said one report, “as if suspecting rain”. It was soon raining boundaries, with Graham Gooch, one of two Essex players with experience of floodlit cricket from touring Australia, blazing to a dazzling century.
The feared rain arrived, but Gooch made up for lost time on resumption, hitting Malcolm Marshall out of the ground. Essex notched their ton in the 21st over, just ahead of West Indies, then set about upping the run rate. Richards’ arrival in the bowling saw Gooch blast him for three successive sixes. Richards brought on Colin Croft in an attempt to stem the flow, but Gooch hit him for another six to complete his own ton, his second 50 coming in a mere 20 minutes. Immediately after, rain stopped play for good. Gooch had scored 100 of Essex’s 192/1 which, made in 28 overs, secured victory on a faster scoring rate.
The Times’ Stuart Jones described the match as, “A joyous and colourful pantomime. Pure it may not have been, but fun it was.” The night’s success prompted Surrey to resurrect their proposal of five years earlier to restructure county cricket, with an intent to incorporate night matches. Bernie Coleman, Surrey’s Test and County Cricket Board member said, “Many of the top cricket administrators saw the enjoyment the crowd got from the match and they must have been impressed.” However, Chelsea FC’s hope that the Australian tourists would play a fixture in 1981 did not materialise.
England v Rest of the World
Bristol City, 1980
Less than four weeks after the Essex/West Indies tie, Bristol City FC’s Ashton Gate staged an England/Rest of World match. A 7,925 crowd saw England defeated by eight wickets. The excitement, however, was threatened by the disappearance of resources. Five of Ian Botham’s six sixes were dispatched out of the ground, prompting a call to Bristol University for replacement white hockey balls. Bill Alley was again on umpire duty, and had the unusual task of ordering ground staff on to a roof to retrieve a ball from a gutter. Speaking of Botham’s losing so many balls, Alley said. “It’s a problem we are going to face on all football grounds. Bristol City only gave us six balls to split between the two teams and when someone like Botham starts hitting, you need replacements.”
Thankfully, by the time the hockey balls had arrived from across the city, a posse of small boys had retrieved all but one of the white leather ones sent flying by Botham, which had earlier been flown in especially from Australia.
Batting on a synthetic wicket, England made 214 in 37.2 overs. A significant recovery after Malcolm Marshall and Clive Rice had rendered England 30/4, Botham and Geoff Boycott adding 132 for the fifth wicket. Botham’s 84 coming off 35 deliveries.
Needing 5.3 runs per over to win the £1,600 prize money, the Rest of the World never looked in trouble. Openers Sadiq Mohammad and Sunil Gavaskar were not dismissed until the 25th over, and then by the unlikely figure of Boycott taking two wickets in three balls. With 145 already on the board, Viv Richards and Zaheer Abbas steered their side home, Richards hitting a six off the 37th over’s first ball, with the scores level. This was, one report said, “the 13th successive delivery from Graham Gooch, who impersonated Boycott, Bob Willis, and a roly poly Botham, in hilarious turn”. The occasion horrified The Times (its Alan Gibson described it as, “a repellent spectacle”) but the fans loved it.
Lambert and Butler Cup, 1981
The undoubted success of 1980’s cricket under football floodlights was not repeated 12 months later when the Lambert & Butler Floodlit Trophy saw the light of day. Regional finals were staged at football grounds around the country: Somerset triumphed over Hampshire, Gloucestershire and Glamorgan before 1,539 souls at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate on September 17 1981; and Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park staged another regional final before the national final at Stamford Bridge.
Ken Grime, now Lancashire’s marketing services manager, was in his second month with the club. The pros and cons of staging cricket in football stadia with a matting wicket remain vivid for him. While Manchester United’s Old Trafford was lit, it wasn’t big. “The boundaries were ridiculously short, it was just a short flick over midwicket,” he says. “My memory is of the ball sailing out at either end, especially the Scoreboard End. Players wore whites but played with a white ball and wore pads in colours like orange, vivid green or yellow.”
His memory is of “around 2,500 people” attending the regional final, won by Lancashire. The eight-man squad, including Clive Lloyd, Paul Allott and Michael Holding, then travelled to Chelsea for the national final and emerged victorious.
Meagre boundaries notwithstanding, the idea was not without merit. “It didn’t take off, but if they had persevered for three or four years it might have,” says Grime. “It did not have the same drive Twenty20 has had, it was merely put on at the end of the season with the players told to turn up on the night and play. There was no drive to push advanced ticket sales, when today it would have a sustained marketing drive.”
The sense is of an initiative not fully thought through. The silverware Lancashire took home remains in the club’s museum, but is underwhelming. “When you look at the cup it just says, ‘The Lambert & Butler Floodlit Trophy’ – no reference to cricket at all! It could be for anything!”
Despite this, Grime feels the trophy is worthy of memory. “I always insist it’s on our list of honours and on our website. The TCCB organised it and all 17 counties at the time competed for it. It’s cricket’s forgotten trophy.”
But when did someone last ask him about it? “Probably in 1982,” he admits.
Tourists triumph at Taunton, 1982
After cricket had been staged indoors under lights and at football grounds under floodlights, the penny finally dropped to use floodlights in a bona fide cricketing arena. The first floodlit cricket match played on a county ground in England was on September 15 1982, when Somerset entertained West Indies as part of Viv Richards’ benefit year.
A crowd of more than 6,500 paid a total of £15,000 to see a 35 overs a side match lit by 800,000 watts of electricity. Black sightscreens and a white ball were used, with players wearing green pads.
Clive Lloyd carried on from his trophy-lifting with Lancashire in 1981, leading the tourists to victory by 17 runs. West Indies finished 205/5, with Somerset scoring 188/8. The floodlights were hired for the match, with players commenting that the towers on which they stood should have been higher.
Viv Richards v Ian Botham
Arguably cricket’s two greatest-ever showmen slogged it out at Knowle Cricket Club, Bristol on July 26, 1982. Although the ground had been used to stage three Somerset matches between 1926 and 1928, it proved as ineffective at containing the sixes as nearby Ashton Gate had done for the England game in 1980, as Ian Botham and Viv Richards battled it out for the undisputed big-hitter title. Botham scored 402 off 24 overs and was out eight times. Richards’ tally was a paltry 374, he too being out eight times, each dismissal meaning a reduction of ten runs. The match raised £2,000 for the benefit funds of Richards and former Bristol City footballer Chris Garland.
Somerset had retained the Benson & Hedges Cup two days’ earlier, and, following £300 of damage when in the county’s care in 1981, its safe return had been guaranteed by chief executive Brian Seward.
Surrounding property did not enjoy similar protection. Botham hit Bedminster bowler Brian Milne for five sixes and a four in one almost perfect over. Richards hit an incredible 33 sixes. Botham smashed a window in nearby Crossways Road, shattered a car’s windscreen and dented another’s bodywork.
The English cricket public had seen a glimpse of what could happen when the game was tweaked to provide a new,
all-action version of the game. But it would take another two decades before the ECB introduced Twenty20.