“Uneven bounce, plenty of movement. Eight leg before wicket decisions, five times stumps sent on saunters. It was cricket at its exciting best”
The groundsman had watered the Headingley pitch. It looked green and damp.
There was a low cloud hovering over the ground. Scientific research has shown that the presence or absence of clouds has little to do with swing. However, try explaining that to cricketers.
The Australians were the best team in the world. But facing England in their den on a wet damp wicket under cloud cover was not really a task that they fancied. An England, moreover, with Geoff Arnold, Peter Lever and Chris Old, three excellent men to exploit the conditions. That and John Snow, still quite a deadly force as a fast bowler.
It did not take long for the Australian skipper Ian Chappell to ask the Englishmen to take the first strike.
Chappell had intended to bowl Gary Gilmour from the Kirkstall Lane End, sharing the new ball with Dennis Lillee. Jeff Thomson was kept back for later. Max Walker would be slotted as the first change.
However, Lillee wanted to run in downhill. Hence the junior bowler was given the other end. And by the way the Australian fielders ran as Lillee completed the first over, it was evident they wanted to get their overs in before the sun came out.
This was the first time Gilmour had been fielded in the tournament. And the movement he extracted with his left-arm pace was unbelievable.
A ball that straightened instead of going down with the slant got Dennis Amiss leg before. Barry Wood played all over a yorker that swung back from the off-middle line.
After getting two men with balls that swung in, Gilmour made one move away. Tony Greig slashed hard. Behind the wicket Rod Marsh flew to take it with an extended right glove, in front of Ian Chappell at widish first slip.
Lancastrian Frank Hayes on drove a boundary, but then misjudged a delivery on the off-stick. He shouldered arms, guessing that the slant would carry it down towards slip. It swung back and struck him on the pad. Umpire David Constant raised his finger. Some say it could have missed the leg, so pronounced was the swing.
Another one nipped back, this time to Keith Fletcher, and Gilmour had five. On television, it was heard that Alan Davidson would have been proud to have a spell like that.
Gilmour soon had Fletcher’s wicket. The ball nipped back in viciously to trap the batsman leg-before.
Knott followed soon. The ball was pitched up, the wicketkeeper went back and the swing took it past the bat and the pads were struck.
Gilmour leapt in joy. He had become the first bowler to pick up 6 wickets in an ODI, and with figures of 6 for 10 from 9.
36 for 6.
Lillee had made way for Walker, another bowler who relished the conditions. Chris Old slashed hard. Greg Chappell caught him hard and fast to his left at second slip. A wicket had finally fallen at the other end. England 37 for 7.
They recovered somewhat. Gilmour was seen off, 12 overs for 14 runs with 6 wickets. Six of the overs maidens. The eighth wicket fell only at 52. Mike Denness, the skipper, and Arnold then put on the biggest partnership of the innings, amounting to 21. Walker castled Denness, but Arnold and Lever added another good 20 runs with the ball no longer brand new.
England 93 all out. Gilmour 6 for 14, Walker 3 for 22.
Gilmour’s spell was later rated by Wisden as the best-ever in ODI history.
60 overs to score 94. That was the ask. The first ever World Cup semi-final was turning out to be a no contest.
Or was it?
17 runs had been knocked off when Alan Turner was struck in front by Arnold. Bill Alley raised his finger.
John Snow was generating serious pace. In the space of 9 balls, he got rid of the Chappell brothers. Both perishing leg before to deliveries that kept low.
The first change Old was literally at home, in his backyard. One after the other he struck the stumps of Rick McCosker, Ross Edwards and Rod Marsh. 39 for 6. Old had taken 3 for 2 from just 7 deliveries.
Gilmour, the hero of the morning, was walking out again, to join Doug Walters. The left-hander had not really foreseen this. Only Walker, Lillee and Thomson were to follow.
“Roos can’t play cricket” shouted the banners and the Yorkshire voices.
Snow, bowling with every bit of venom, found the edged of the Walters willow. The ball sneaked through the slips and raced to the boundary.
But Gilmour was enjoying a day on another planet. Driving with serene calm, cutting with poise. His confidence rubbed off on Walters who started to find his touch. The score inched along.
At 78 a Gilmour edge flew to slip and Greig spilt it. The balance had tilted. A few lusty blows and they were nearly there. A no-ball from Arnold equalled the scores. A leg bye took Australia to win.
Gilmour remained unbeaten on 28 from 28 balls, with Walters hanging on with 20. The target was achieved in 28.4 overs.
Uneven bounce, plenty of movement. Eight leg before wicket decisions, five times stumps sent on saunters. It was cricket at its exciting best.
And it was a day when Gary Gilmour ruled the world.