Collis King: The man who stole the thunder from Viv Richards

Collis King during his iconic innings against England in the 1979 World Cup final at Lord’s. Bob Taylor is the ‘keeper  © Getty Images

Collis King, born June 11, 1951, was one of West Indies’ upcoming all-rounders who stole the limelight from Viv Richards with an incredible 86 against England in the World Cup final of 1979. Karthik Parimal looks back at that knock and the punctuated career of this Barbadian.

Players of the calibre of Viv Richards had the ability to nonchalantly raise their game when the stakes were high. On such days, few could compete against, leave alone outscore, these stalwarts. But there is also this other sect; ones who, on their day, can make first-rate players of the game look like subordinates. Viv Richards’s 138, in 1979 against England, was no doubt instrumental in West Indies winning the World Cup for the second time, but even he had to humbly admit that he played second role to a certain Collis King, but was nonetheless happy to do so. This all-rounder hailing from the island nation of Barbados was indeed a ruler that day, for he turned the tide with an 86-run blitzkrieg.

The defining innings

When King walked out to bat, West Indies were reeling at 99 for four. However, England’s bowling resource was thin, and the part-timers were yet to bowl. There was a conundrum on the other side of the fence too; King was West Indies’slast recognised batsman. According to Martin Williamson on ESPN Cricinfo, Viv Richards, who was already sweating it out in the middle, had apparently welcomed King by asking him to ‘take it easy’. But pat came the latter’s reply: “I ain’t gonna let Geoffrey [Boycott] get this, man. In the league there would be no mercy, so why should this be any different?”

True to his word, King went berserk, smashing the leather to all corners of the majestic Lord’s. “I remember feeling close to impotence in the World Cup final in 1979, when Collis King and Viv Richards cut loose. Admittedly we had to bowl Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch or Wayne Larkins for 12 overs, which was, in those conditions, like attacking tanks with pea-shooters. But it was a mistake to ask Larkins, of the three, to bowl at all. He was out of both practice and confidence. His two overs cost 26 runs,” recollects Mike Brearley in his book The Art of Captaincy.

Boycott, too, faced King’s wrath, conceding 38 runs from his six overs, whereas Gooch went for 27 off his four. By the time he departed — scoring 86 off just 66 deliveries, a herculean task in those days, inclusive of 10 hits to the fence and three over it —West Indies were well placed to seal victory. Richards remained unbeaten on 138, but it was King’s innings that changed the course of the game. England lost by 92 runs.
Although King never scaled the three-figure mark in One-Day Internationals, in 1980, he belted a 109-ball hundred against New Zealand in a Test at Christchurch. That was to be his only century in the longer format, since it turned out to be his last series for West Indies.

Rebel tour of 1983

In the January of 1983, 18 West Indian cricketers left the Caribbean shores to feature in the beleaguered unofficial Test series against South Africa, fully aware of the repercussions. King was one among them. The careers of these players were effectively over once they set foot on South African soil. But once there, King circumvented the issues and won hearts with his swashbuckling batting. David Dyer, writing in World Cricket Digest, duly noted as follows: “His execution is so inventive, so full of flair and so astonishingly powerful that he became a South African hero within 90 minutes of reaching the crease.” He made 101 in the Johannesburg ‘Test’ against South Africa, prompting four young (white) fans to charge on to the ground bearing a banner ‘Coll is King’.”

Once back, as expected, King never donned the pristine West Indian whites again. His career came to a screeching halt after just nine Tests and 18 ODIs. He nevertheless did play a good amount of First-Class cricket, representing Glamorgan, Natal and Worcestershire.

Where’s he now?

Aged 61, King’s love for the game continues to draw him back to the field, that too as a player, for Yorkshire side Dunnington Cricket Club (DCC). In the May of 2013, according to The Press, King brought up his 25th premier division century and his 46th hundred in York & District Senior Cricket League. In some cases, age is certainly just a number.

Although many of the ‘rebel’ cricketers weren’t forgiven by the head honchos, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) in 2011 announced that the best performing all-rounder in the Regional Super50 — domestic one-day competition in the Caribbean islands — would be conferred with a ‘Collis King Award’. Raymon Reifer of Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC) was the most recent recipient.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )