By Kushal Chakraborty
When West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd grounded Geoffrey Boycott’s catch in the 1979 ICC World Cup final at Lord’s, there were some whispers that the mistake was deliberate as the English opener’s slow batting was helping the Caribbean cause. Even Lloyd’s teammate Vivian Richards later remarked it was "contrived", though the captain denied it.
While the dropped chance may spark some light-hearted debate, none can doubt the awesome West Indies domination of the eight-team tournament with an all-win record as the Calypso charmers retained the trophy they had bagged four years earlier in the inaugural edition.
Held in the backdrop of the Kerry Packer controversy, the tournament – called the Prudential Cup after its sponsors Prudential Assurance Company – had a depleted field.
Australia left out stars like Greg Chappell, Denis Lillee, Doug Walters and Rod Marsh, while England played without Tony Greig, Dennis Amiss, Alan Knott, John Snow and Derek Underwood – who all took part in the World Series Cricket organised by the media tycoon as a counter to establishment cricket after he failed to get exclusive broadcast rights of Australia’s home Test matches in 1976.
However, Pakistan and the West Indies included their players who did duty in the WSC.
Another first for the World Cup was the qualifying tournament for associates that preceded the tournament. Fourteen ICC associates competed and Sri Lanka and Canada made the cut.
The tourney – comprising 15 games staged over six grounds – saw an impressive show from New Zealand, and they were unlucky not to go through to the final.
In the semifinal against England, the Kiwis were on course to a victory, but their luck somehow betrayed them.
After restricting England to 221 for eight, with Richard Hadlee and C.B. Troop sending down disciplined stuff, New Zealand started off smoothly, with John Wright (69) holding one end up. But to New Zealand’s dismay, Wright was run out.
However, the visitors recouped and reached 195 for seven, needing 27 runs from three overs with wicketkeeper batsman Warren Lees and Lance cairns in the middle.
But England fast bowler Mike Hendrick, limping from an injury, turned the game around by evicting the duo. New Zealand needed 14 from the last over but managed only four.
The England-West Indies final June 23 at Lord’s saw some great individual performances.
England’s twin blunders – opting to field after winning the toss and failure to include a fifth specialist bowler proved costly.
With the West Indies at 99 for four, England captain Mike Brearley brought on Graham Gooch, Boycott and Wayne Larkins to perform the duties of the fifth bowler.
Vivian Richards and Collis King went after the bowling and the troika conceded as many as 86 runs in their 12 overs.
Richards came up with a swashbuckling unbeaten 138, studded with 11 boundaries and three sixes to propel the West Indies to 286 for nine and earn the man of the match award.
England openers Brearley (64) and Boycott (57) started the chase by stitching together a 129-run partnership, but as they mostly plodded, the asking rate continued to climb up. Boycott took all of 17 overs to reach double figures.
However, with Graham Gooch and Dereck Randall at the crease, the home side seemed perfectly placed to launch the final assault at 183 for two, but ‘Big Bird’ Joel Garner (5/38) snuffed out any possibility of a close finish by running through the heart of the England batting.
Losing the last eight wickets with the addition of only 11 on the board, England were skittled out for 194. The West Indies retained the title with a 92-run win.
India had a disastrous campaign, losing all three group games. The batsmen could not last the full quota of 60 overs in any of the matches, while the bowlers got only seven wickets and were hammered by the opponent willowers for 610 runs.
What was more humiliating was India went down to Sri Lanka, who at the time were not even a Test playing nation.
Volley of questions were raised in the aftermath of the tournament regarding the selection of Srinivas Venkataraghavan as captain, and the omission of Syed Kirmani and Sandeep Patil from the squad.
However, in this hour of despair, a ray of hope was the emergence of the Haryana allrounder Kapil Dev Nikhanj. Though, he never really set the stands on fire, the 20-year-old displayed an immaculate temperament for the shorter version of the game despite his inexperience.
Cricket pundits predicted Kapil would be the future star for India, and time only proved how perfect they were, as he led India to an unbelievable World Cup triumph only four years later.
(Kushal Chakraborty is a freelancer. He can be contacted at kushalsbi)