Chappelli and Supercat before the 1975 final

Captain plan-it: Ian Chappell and Clive Lloyd before the first World Cup final

Patrick Eagar / © Getty Images

20 Greatest ODIs: No. 18

The start of something beautiful

The first World Cup culminated in a chaotic but thrilling contest between the top two teams of the time, and opened cricket up to novel possibilities

Steven Lynch  |  

Australia vs West Indies, World Cup final, Lord's 1975

West Indies won by 17 runs

No one could accuse the cricket administrators of the 1970s of making rushed decisions. After the inaugural one-day international - an afterthought to make up for a washed-out Ashes Test in Melbourne in January 1971 - some ODIs were bolted on to the end of Australia's 1972 tour of England. Rather like early T20 games, they were treated more like exhibitions: it was a mark of how seriously England took those 1972 matches that when their 40-year-old captain Ray Illingworth was injured in the final Test of the summer, his replacement for the one-dayers was the even older Brian Close.

A global competition seemed to be a distant dream - at least until Rachael Heyhoe Flint galvanised the game by organising a Women's World Cup in 1973. Almost reluctantly, the men followed suit: a fortnight was set aside in 1975, but the authorities were so worried it would be a damp squib that they added a four-Test Ashes series afterwards, to make sure the books balanced.

Of course, it could have been a very damp squib indeed, had the English weather turned nasty - but by and large the rain kept away, and the novelty of having all the world's best cricketers on display at once piqued the public.

All the ingredients were there for a super show. There was romance in the presence of Sri Lanka (not then a Test nation) and East Africa (never to be one), and unflinching professionalism in the powerful Australian and West Indian sides, although there was a notable absentee in Garry Sobers, who pulled out with a knee injury.

On the opening day, Saturday June 7, 1975, Sunil Gavaskar seemed to think he was playing a Test: facing England's big total of 334, Sunny batted through the Indian innings - all 60 overs of it - for 36 from 174 balls, with one four, ignoring pleas to go faster, including one from a disgruntled spectator who dumped his tea at Gavaskar's feet. England were happy enough with a big win, though; India would have to wait eight years for their big day at Lord's.

For a while it seemed Australia might collect 20-odd runs while the ball was trampled underfoot or in someone's pocket, but the umpires eventually restored order, and awarded two runs. Thommo exploded: "We've been running our a**** off here!"

West Indies were the favourites, but had a scare a few days later against Pakistan at Edgbaston, slipping to 203 for 9 while chasing 267. But the last pair, Deryck Murray and Andy Roberts, kept their heads, helped a little when Asif Iqbal, Pakistan's captain, used up his main bowlers: legspinner Wasim Raja, who hadn't featured before, had to send down the final over, and West indies inched home.

In the first semi-final, England faced Australia at Headingley, where a juicy pitch meant the match was virtually over inside the first hour: England crashed to 37 for 7, with left-arm seamer Gary Gilmour taking 6 for 14. They crawled to 93, but Australia were in trouble themselves at 39 for 6 before Gilmour came in and biffed 28 not out. There have been tougher decisions for the Player-of-the-Match adjudicator.

In the other semi, New Zealand managed only 158 against West Indies, despite a partnership of 90 between Glenn Turner (the tournament's leading run-scorer with 333) and Geoff Howarth; the last nine wickets tumbled for 60. A sprightly 72 from Alvin Kallicharran took West Indies into the final, against Australia at Lord's a few days later.

Speaking personally, the timing of that 1975 tournament could hardly have been better - although my teachers probably saw it differently. We were in the middle of our final examinations, which meant we only went into school to sit the actual tests. The rest of the time was set aside for revision… in theory. In my case, it meant lapping up the TV coverage or nipping to The Oval. I saw Kallicharran's memorable assault on Dennis Lillee - a rapid 78, including 62 in boundaries - and Jeff Thomson's literal assault on the Sri Lankan batters, two of whom were despatched to hospital. When Duleep Mendis was hit on the head, I happened to be sitting next to one of the non-playing Sri Lankan squad members, seamer Dennis Chanmugam. "Oh my God!" he said, and - pausing only to chuck away a cigarette - sprinted out to help his stricken team-mate, who wasn't quite sure what day it was.

Roy Fredericks treads on his stumps after dispatching Dennis Lillee for a six

Roy Fredericks treads on his stumps after dispatching Dennis Lillee for a six © PA Photos

The final, at Lord's on Saturday June 21, posed a delicate problem, as I was playing my last game of school cricket that day. So I watched the start, seeing Roy Fredericks hook Lillee out of the ground only to tread on his stumps, and then went off to demolish Raynes Park High School (my dad's old school, as it happens; actually I think they did the demolishing). And the final went on so long I was home well in time for the exciting climax, with Lillee and Thomson chipping away at the West Indian total of 291, set up by Clive Lloyd's century and a patient innings from the veteran Rohan Kanhai, in his last international match: at one point he did not score a run for 17 overs.

There was chaos late on when Lillee was caught off a no-ball. The crowd rushed on, thinking the match was over, and the ball disappeared when Fredericks, the catcher, hurled it at the stumps. For a while it seemed Australia might collect the 20-odd runs they still needed while the ball was trampled underfoot or in someone's pocket, but the umpires eventually restored order, and somewhat arbitrarily awarded two runs. Thommo exploded: "We've been running our a**** off here!" He was not entirely satisfied when the umpires relented and made it three.

Shortly afterwards, Thomson really was out - the fifth run-out of the innings, three of them by the nimble Viv Richards - and West Indies had won by 17 runs. It was a long day - eight balls short of 120 overs - and finished close to 9pm.

Quite how long was etched on the faces on the Lord's staff, many of whom had reached the office about 6am. Long before floodlights made late finishes an everyday event, the pavilion staff were still yawning the following Monday when a new kid on the block started in the ticket office. Reader, I stayed there for ten years…

Steven Lynch is the editor of the updated edition of Wisden on the Ashes