Tuesday 16 January 2018

Bowled over by cricket's golden boys

Eamonn Sweeney

A line in Friday morning's paper told me that the 590 all out scored by Zimbabwe against Ireland in their Intercontinental Cup match in Harare was "the most runs Ireland have conceded in an innings, passing the 584 for six the West Indies hit at Rathmines in 1984."

The West Indies. Rathmines. 1984. I was there. It's the only Irish cricket match I've ever been at. And it happens to be one of the most memorable sporting experiences of my life. On one level perhaps it's the best of them all because it involved the greatest team I've ever seen.

In fact, there's a good case for the West Indies team of the '80s being the greatest team anyone has ever seen. In any sport. When they arrived in Dublin, they were in the process of setting a record of 11 straight Test wins and one of 27 Tests without defeat which stands to this day. After losing a three-Test series to New Zealand in March 1980, they would go the rest of the decade without losing a series, winning six against England, three apiece against Australia and India and two against Pakistan. To make things even better, they accomplished these victories with extraordinary style, the adventurous nature of their batting combining with the frightening pace of their fast bowling to dispel the notion that cricket was a dull game. They were cricket's version of Brazil 1970.

That summer they would win all five Tests against England, two of them by an innings, the others by nine wickets, eight wickets and 126 runs. It's generally accepted the team was at its peak in 1984. And, if the West Indies did not field a full-strength team in Dublin, Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Michael Holding sitting it out, it still contained seven players who played in the Tests against England as well as two promising youngsters, Richie Richardson and Courtney Walsh, two future all-time greats.

It seemed almost surreal that you could see a team like this simply by walking up a laneway off the Rathmines Road but that was what my father, myself and my brother did on June 11. Right from the get-go, the West Indies were in exhibition mode, Gordon Greenidge, one of the greatest batsmen of all-time who would go on to score two double centuries against England in the Tests, and Richie Richardson set about the Irish bowling, their respective knocks of 54 and 78 containing copious amounts of boundaries.

The West Indies had already played the first Test against England, their victory featuring a century from Larry Gomes. The great Gomes rattled off 153 against Ireland but he was perhaps the least flamboyant of the Windies batsmen and I remember the PA announcer repeatedly imploring, "Larry, please give us a six." I don't think he did but his batting partner Gus Logie clubbed the ball to all corners of the ground and out of it on the way to a fantastic 129. At one stage we watched the ball soar into the distance and crash through the roof of a derelict house. At least I think it was derelict.

And still they kept going, a succession of human highlight reels taking to the crease. It all ended with the all-rounder Roger Harper hoisting six after six into the crowd until it felt like we were being shelled, but in a good way. The West Indies declared at 584 for 6, though they could have pushed on towards 800 without too much bother.

There was even time to see Joel Garner bowl a few overs at the end of the first day. If you don't remember Joel Garner, the best comparison I could make is with Usain Bolt finishing a 100m by bowling a bouncer at an unfortunate batsman. West Indian bowling seemed as much a form of combat as a sport then.

I got Garner's autograph that day. He was the biggest man I'd ever seen. It was as if someone had got a really tall man and built an extension onto him. And I managed to get the scorecard signed by all the Windies players at the end of the first day.

Which was just as well. Because it rained all of the second day and the three of us passed our time getting soaked on Rathmines Road, sheltering in Fred Hanna's bookshop until my father bought me the Complete Sherlock Holmes to take the bad look off things.

I still have the book. And I still have the memories, though I didn't realise that until they were stirred up by that line about a match in Harare. I'm glad they were. Because there are some days in our lives we should bring out from time to time and cherish fully. Precious days. Golden days. Days of pure perfection.

Sunday Independent

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