Dennis Amiss © Getty Images
Dennis Amiss © Getty Images

Dennis Amiss, born April 7, 1943, has the fifth-highest batting average as opener across the entire history of Test cricket. Among his several 11 Test hundreds from 50 Tests, there were two landmark double centuries against the West Indies, including 203 against a rampaging Michael Holding at The Oval. Additionally, in 18 ODIs, he averaged 47.72 with 4 hundreds. When we look at the strike rate of 72.48, more than respectable especially in those early days of the format, we find him as one of the first great batsmen in One-Day cricket as well.

Abhishek Mukherjee paid a tribute to this former England opener on his 70th birthday on April 7, and the man himself was gracious enough to thank Cricketcountry personally for the effort.

Here Dennis Amiss speaks to Arunabha Sengupta, Cricketcountry’s Chief Cricket Writer, about his career highs and lows, facing the best fast bowlers of the world, exchanges with Geoff Boycott, pioneering the helmet during World Series Cricket and a lot more.

Excerpts from an interview:

Cricket Country (CC): Generally it is considered that opening the batting is more difficult than coming down the order. But when one looks at your record, you achieved far more success as an opener than in the middle-order.

Dennis Amiss (DA): There is more opportunity and more time to get big scores when opening the batting. Of course, openers also may have to contend with a bit more swing and seam.

CC: For someone who has scored big hundreds and double hundreds against the fearsome West Indian pacemen, it does seem somewhat strange that you never managed to score too many against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. However, in one-day cricket you got a lot of runs against them.

DA: I got my early runs against West Indies on true wickets. Once you get the runs you know you can. I got the confidence that I could score against them. That never happened with the Australians.

Lillee and Thomson were a great fast bowling combination. In Australia the wickets suited them, and I never got going. Except for one innings of 90 at Melbourne I did not score too many. I was short on confidence and I never got it back. It seemed that whenever I nicked, someone caught it. You can say that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One-day cricket is slightly different. There was not so much short pitched bowling with restrictions on bouncers.

CC: You say you got runs against West Indies on good wickets, but the 203 against them was at The Oval where Michael Holding got all those wickets.

DA: It was a very good wicket at The Oval. I was making a comeback and had changed my style. I went back and across to the bowling. That is how I had played most of the season, and it worked. Michael got the wickets because he was an exceptional bowler. He could bowl quick and was accurate as well.

CC: Is it true that you were actually happy when Tony Greig was bowled in that innings?

DA: (laughs) Tony Greig used to rile up the fast bowlers. He had this theory that it would make them lose their composure, make them try too hard, bowl too fast, and that would make them bowl a few loose balls. It suited him; it did not suit the other players. And, of course, he had said before the series that he would make the West Indies ‘grovel’, which is not quite the right thing to say to a team as talented as that and who had a pace attack as great as that.

Prior to his coming out to bat, it had been quite nice. The bowling had been 90 miles per hour, one bouncer per over. Holding and [Andy] Roberts were taking a break. As soon as Tony Greig emerged, they came back. It went up to 95 miles per hour, three bouncers an over. And then Holding’s yorker knocked his leg stump out of the ground. Geoff Miller came in and it was back to 90 miles per hour and one bouncer per over. It was the only time in my life I was happy to see an England captain lose his wicket.

CC: What was the West Indies attack like in the Caribbean in 1973-74, when you essayed those back to back rear-guard efforts of 174 and 262 not out?

DA: Garry [Sobers] was still playing, Bernard Julien was good with the new ball, Keith Boyce was quick for a few overs, Lance Gibbs was there.The wickets again were very good for batting. I suppose I had some luck as well, which the other batsmen did not.

CC: You played your first Test match against Wes Hall. Down the years you played against Lillee, Thomson, Holding, Roberts. In county cricket there was Malcolm Marshall. And during your last days for Warwickshire, you were playing alongside Allan Donald. How would you rate all these fast bowlers?

DA: All of them would have been great fast bowlers in any era. They were quick and could be aggressive when they needed to, but they could also pitch constantly on the off-stump. All of them could do something with the ball. The greatest fast bowlers could swing and seam and pitch in the right places.

CC: What about the West Indian greats in the batting line up with whom you played for Warwickshire?

DA: Oh, Rohan Kanhai was marvellous. He was the greatest of them all. He had excellent technique and strokes, and could bat on any wicket, turning, wet or seaming. Kalli was great too, but I would put Rohan above Kalli.

CC: Till 1972, you had not been too successful in Test cricket. That season, you were also dropped from the first eleven of Warwickshire. And then suddenly you got back with five centuries for the county, and then had an excellent run in Test cricket. What changed?

DA: From 1972, I changed to opening the innings. Before that I had always been in the middle order.The two Warwickshire openers [John Whitehose and John Jameson] were not doing too well, and I asked our captain Alan Smith whether I could open. It was surprising to all because I had always batted three or four, had never opened. But, I eventually opened against Middlesex and got a big hundred.

CC: You had an amazing conversion rate. Eleven hundreds out of the 22 times you crossed 50, including eight scores above 150 in Tests. In ODIs, you scored four hundreds to one fifty. What do you attribute the high conversion rate to?

DA: I always wanted to score runs. I knew that sometime down the line, maybe later in the season, I would not get that many. So, when I started to score runs I wanted to make it big. I owe it to my coaches, Tiger Smith and Tom Dollery, who taught me never to give it away. Batting allows you to learn about yourself, and I loved the experience. I just loved to bat.

CC: And what about scoring more than 1000 runs for 23 consecutive seasons?

DA: Again, I just loved batting. Loved the challenges of life as a professional cricketer, travelling around the world, being greedy and hungry for runs.

CC: Let us turn to someone else who loved to bat. Was it true that when you got a hundred against New Zealand and Geoff Boycott got run out for one in the same innings he said, “The b**** is scoring all my runs?”

DA: (laughs) He did say that. And when I called him at his home, his mother answered and said, “Yes I’ll get him, who’s speaking?” I said, “Dennis Amiss” and she hung up, saying, “He’s not in.”

Things are okay between us now. I have always had the greatest regard for him as a batsman. But, there is always some banter between us about the incident. When I took my grandson to Lord’s recently, Geoffrey was there in the commentary box. He came down and started telling my grandson about my running between the wickets, in language that I am sure he had never heard before.

CC: For someone termed a ‘grafter’ you had a very good record in ODIs. How did you manage the transformation?

DA: I always found one-day cricket enjoyable. They were played on good wickets. In one-day cricket, it is better to add bowling as a second string to your bow. Else one needs to be a very good fielder, keep himself fit. I like the way it has made the game more professional now. The innovations brought about by Twenty 20 are also great.

CC: You scored 137 in the World Cup game against India. In the same match, Sunil Gavaskar batted 60 overs to score 36.

DA: (laughs) Sunil probably thought it was impossible to get those runs. He also did not like that we were defensive from the start, with fielders spread out. It was perhaps his way of protesting.

That is how World Series Cricket turned the game, introducing the concepts of field restrictions, so many in and so many out.

CC: How was the experience of World Series Cricket?

DA: For me it was a risk, because Warwickshire was taking a stance against WSC. I always expected to play for an England side, but it became a World eleven. However, a lot of good things did come out of it. The exposure was great; there were a lot of marvellous players from all over the world. Some like Eddie Barlow were entertainers, larger than life.

It was very, very competitive, the highest standard of cricket. And the game changed after that. Money came in, the players now have central contracts. All that happened because of World Series and Tony Greig played a big part.

CC: People remember Graham Yallop as the first man to wear a helmet in Tests. But, it was you who started wearing helmets for the first time in WSC and started the trend.

DA: True, I started the trend of helmets. We had been hit on the head once or twice. I spoke to Tony Greig, Alan Knott, Keith Fletcher and Derek Underwood about it and they encouraged me to try it out. It was far easier to introduce it during the World Series than in Test cricket. It was met with a lot of approval.

It was apparent that others wanted to wear helmets too. Tony Greig, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammad all of them started wearing them. I knew it would catch on, but it would take time. Initially, it was not considered macho. Clubs used to carry just one helmet. But, gradually it became more widespread. Nowadays it is compulsory to wear a helmet while batting in schools.

The helmet also helped me to extend my First-Class career.

CC: A lot of cricketers came back to the national side after the WSC. Why didn’t you return to the Test team?

CR: In 1978, I was getting to the end of my career. There were young players coming up. Derek Randall, David Gower, Ian Botham. The England selectors wanted to try out the younger players.

I very nearly went to India under Fletcher in 1981-82, but it did not happen.

I wanted to give up First-Class cricket too, but Warwickshire wanted me to carry on, stay a few more years and help the youngsters. I was on 85 First-class hundreds then and my manager persuaded me to aim for the remaining 15.

CC: How did you get the nickname ‘Sacker’?

DA: It was at Sabina Park that I scored 262 and more or less saved the game. I had been at the wicket for nine hours and was exhausted. In the dressing room I was having a sip of brandy when someone — I think it was Fletcher — said, “You really look like a sack of potatoes.” That was how the nickname was born.

CC: What are your memories of the two tours to India?

DA: India were a very good side, a great spin bowling team. Out there the ball turns and it is never easy. But, I always say that the batting wickets in India are the best in the world. The Indian people appreciate good cricket. I remember in Calcutta more than 100,000 people turned up.  For the tour matches with local sides, the worst crowds we would get were around 30,000.

In 1972-73, they beat us. When we went in 1976-77, we had more experience and confidence.I remember Derek Randall, imitating the soldiers standing outside the boundary line, making the crowd laugh. And when the soldiers would turn around, he would look at the sky, or at the pitch as if he had no idea what it was all about. He also used to turn cartwheels. Tony Greig asked him to do all that. The crowd loved him, and loved the idea that Tony Greig got him to do all this.

CC: In 1974, when India toured England, they were bowled out for 42 at Lord’s. The same match in which you got 188. Any memories of that?

DA: We were a very good side in those days. The bowlers Geoff Arnold and Chris Old were marvellous in those conditions. It was slightly overcast during that Indian innings. And they became unplayable.

CC: For someone who stayed away from controversy, you did have a run in with Gavaskar in India.

DA: It was when Gavaskar opened the bowling and ran on the pitch. I did not like it and had some words with him. But, it should never have been blown out of proportion. I have the greatest regard for Gavaskar as a player.

CC: Did you get to watch Brian Lara scoring that 501 for Warwickshire?

DA: Yes, I did. I was the Chief Executive at Edgbaston when Lara played that innings. I was busy with something and when I looked up he was on 100. I became busy again, and the next time I looked up he was past 200. I looked down again and up again, and he was past 300. I said to myself that this was something special and better to see the whole thing through.

CC: Even though your average as an opener is fifth in the all-time list, when people discuss greatest English openers or choose a pair for the All Time England XIs, the names that crop up are Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton and Geoff Boycott. Dennis Amiss tends to miss out. Are you bothered by that?

DA: No, it does not bother me. I know what I have done, and that’s good enough. All the names you mentioned were great players. Later we had Graham Gooch. He was another exceptional opener. So, it does not worry me. I suppose I am not considered because I did not get runs against Australia, and that is fair enough.

There are always going to be folks better than you. I’m satisfied with what I achieved as an administrator and a player

Acknowledgement: This interviewer would like to thank Abhishek Mukherjee for his deep research in preparing for the interview.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)