With Chris Woakes and Olly Stone in England’s squad, the coming Test series in the West Indies will have a Warwickshire flavour. But not as strong as when England toured the Caribbean in 1973/74. Seven Warwickshire players were involved – and one of them, Dennis Amiss, adorned the series with one of the great Test match innings. Brian Halford reports.
By the fourth day of the second Test in the West Indies early in 1974, England were seriously up against it.
They had lost the first Test, at Port-of-Spain, by seven wickets. Now, at Sabina Park, Kingston, they were in deep trouble again. West Indies declared their second innings on 583 for nine, leaving England a day and a half to bat and needing 230 to avoid an innings defeat.
The searing pace of Keith Boyce soon did for Geoff Boycott and when England wobbled to 107 for three, a long haul lay ahead. But Dennis Amiss was still there.
"It was hot but it’s never hard work when you are enjoying yourself. I was playing well, probably at the peak of my career."
Fresh from making 174 in the first Test, Amiss was in excellent nick and by close of play had posted another century. He was 123 not out but England, on 218 for five with all the other specialist batsmen out, were struggling. Defeat looked inevitable.
Not so. In searing heat, amid the cacophony of a typically expectant Sabina Park crowd, the fifth day brought a monumental match-saving innings from the Warwickshire opener. England saved the game with Amiss ending unbeaten on 262 after nine and a half hours batting. He faced 563 balls, just 19 of which he hit for four, along with one six.
It was a magnificent triumph of technique, concentration and courage – and admired, in particular, by one section of the colourful crowd.
“It was especially pleasing because we had about 80 Warwickshire members out there on a cricket tour,” Amiss recalls. “There were a lot of Warwickshire players involved – myself, John Jameson, Bob Willis, Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Deryck Murray and Lance Gibbs. That’s why we had so many members out there to watch.
“We lost the first Test so it was important not to go two down in a five-match series but we were up against it when we started our second innings. Then I ran out Frank Hayes and Alan Knott trying for quick singles, so I thought I had to get some runs having run a couple out.
“Keith Boyce and Bernard Julien were the pacemen and Gary Sobers bowled a bit of both. Boyce was as quick as anybody for the first six overs but we knew he tired quickly and wasn’t quite the same force coming back in later spells. It was a good wicket to bat on so seeing off the new balls was very important.
“It was hot but it’s never hard work when you are enjoying yourself. I was playing well, probably at the peak of my career, and just kept going and the tail-enders stayed with me. I tried to take as much of the strike as possible but those guys held their end up. Pat Pocock scored four in 83 minutes, Chris Old got 19 in nearly two hours and then Bob Willis hung around.
“We came off at teatime, having saved the game by then, and Keith Fletcher said that I looked like a sack of s**t. I’d been batting for nine hours and was drained. I was always called Sacker after that.
“I remember Bob Willis wouldn’t get out! With the game saved I said to Bob ‘if you get out I can carry my bat and there aren’t many people who have done that in a Test in the West Indies’ but he said he didn’t want to get out because he didn’t want to have to bowl at them again because they had smashed him first innings. “So we went back out after tea and saw the game out as Kalli came on to bowl.”
Job done – and Amiss’s innings was the catalyst for a valiant comeback which saw England draw the series.
“In that era West Indies always thought they were going to win,” he said. “Even more so when we lost the first, then looked as though we were going to lose the second. But we saved it and then played well in the third when Tony Greig and Fletch got runs, managed to stave them off in the fourth and stole the fifth so we came away one all.”
The turning point was that towering innings from Amiss and it was one which, remarkably, he would replicate two years later when West Indies visited England. By then, their team included two emerging chaps by the names of Viv Richards and Michael Holding and the tourists already had the series sealed, 2-0 up, when they arrived at The Oval or the last Test.
West Indies batted first and made 687 for nine (Richards 291) to put England under a little bit of scoreboard pressure. On a good batting pitch, Holding then bowled magnificently for eight for 92 but Amiss, having just fielded for ten hours and 50 minutes, went out to open and batted for seven hours and 23 minutes for 203 (320 balls, 28 fours).
“It’s not ideal after a long stretch in the field because you do feel a bit jaded and have to keep your concentration,” said Amiss. “They had the four fast bowlers by that time and came at us hard but it was a good track and, other than with the new ball, they struggled to get the short stuff too high. Michael bowled at great pace and pitched it up and it was sheer pace that got him the wickets.
“Roberts and Holding never gave up. With Michael you always knew if he put his foot behind the bowling line he would be 80-odd miles an hour but once he started to break the line you knew it was 90mph-plus. They called him the Rolls Royce because he had a wonderful, rhythmic action and didn’t appear to take anything out of himself.
“Andy was in Michael’s class so there were two top-class bowlers to really see off but I had a bit of luck and managed to get through. You are in your bubble and just concentrating on the next ball and not thinking about the next session or tomorrow. You are in the present. The hardest time to concentrate is when you are tired and that’s when you are vulnerable.
“Scoreboard pressure does play on your mind because you know you have a long way to go but you start out, doing your best, and we knew it was a good wicket if we could get through the new ball and get going.
“As my old coach at Warwickshire Tiger Smith always said to me ‘if you get to 100, take a fresh guard and go on for 150, then at 150 take a fresh guard and aim for 200’. He said always go on because you need to cash in when you can because there are so many days when you get nought or one or two. Tiger was great and his mentoring rubbed off a lot on me.”