Magazine article The Spectator

Empire of the Bouncer

Magazine article The Spectator

Empire of the Bouncer

Article excerpt

The cricketer Chris Cowdrey tells a charming and self-deprecating story about his one match as captain of England. It was at Headingley in 1988 in the fourth Test against the all-conquering West Indies.

They had won ten of their last 11 Tests, and had not lost a series since 1980.

They wouldn't lose a series until 1995:

it was probably the most powerful and successful team in any sport. Ever.

On the first morning Cowdrey walked out for the toss. He was dressed immaculately: England blazer and flawless whites. The only thing missing was a cravat. He made it to the middle in almost total silence. . .

and waited. After about 20 minutes, he remembers, he heard a hum of anticipation round the ground which quickly turned into cheering. It was Viv Richards, the opposing captain, coming down the pavilion steps. He was dressed in a T-shirt, rasta armbands and maroon West Indies tracksuit bottoms. As Richards sauntered out to the middle, chewing his gum, with that familiar rolling arrogant gait, the applause reached a crescendo. Then the toss: Viv won. 'What you want to do, man?' he said. Well, we'd like to bat, said Cowdrey. 'OK man, you bat.'

England lost by 10 wickets and Cowdrey never played for them again.

Now that era has been lovingly captured in a remarkable documentary, out later this year, called Fire in Babylon . It was greeted with a standing ovation when it premiered at the London Film Festival, and by more restrained applause at a recent screening with several England veterans in the audience. They, after all, were the ones who fended off the bouncers and took the body blows, and then saw their bowling whacked out of the ground by some of the best batsmen who ever pulled on pads: Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd and of course Richards.

The film is not without faults: it concentrates too much on the fear - some fast bowlers, Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner and so remorselessly on, and ignores the power of the batsman. …

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