Andy Roberts scored an unbeaten 24 in the match-winning 64-run partnership between him and Deryck Murray © Getty Images
Andy Roberts scored an unbeaten 24 in the match-winning 64-run partnership between him and Deryck Murray © Getty Images

June 11, 1975. In the first ever thriller seen in a World Cup, Andy Roberts and Deryck Murray pulled an amazing heist in a heart stopping finale. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day West Indies put on 64 runs for the last wicket to win a crucial encounter.

The expressionless assassin

When he ran in to send down his express deliveries, the inscrutable face of Andy Roberts sent a chill down the spines of the spectators — and froze the marrow of the batsmen.

The West Indian pacemen of that era were a deadly lot, each and one of them. But Roberts, with his the cold and calculating eyes, the poker face half hidden behind the beard, the hunched and alert shoulders, the brooding and ruthless mien, came across as more menacing than the rest. And his expression hardly ever grew any more animated when he knocked down stumps — or teeth.

And now, it was the same passive face and demeanour that stood bat in hand, between Pakistan and what could have been one of the most memorable wins of all time.

In some respects it seems apt that the final act of the first thriller in the history of the cricket World Cup was enacted by the expressionless assassin.

By then the booming voice of even the most ardent Caribbean fan had lost its vim and vigour. The seething support for the islanders that would be abundant throughout the tournament was tempered and thawed into disappointed silence.

In the dressing-room, teammates had packed up their kit, having given the match up as a lost cause. And the Man of the Match adjudicator Tom Graveney had for once messed up his celebrated sense of timing. He had the ground at the fall of the eighth wicket, way before Roberts had made his way to the wicket with his hulking, lumbering gait.

After all Pakistan had piled 266 in their 60 overs and had the West Indians struggling at 166 for eight. When Roberts walked in the score had read 203 for nine in 46 overs. The match had seemed as good as over.

The fabulous Pakistanis

True, for the first 106 overs Pakistan had been fabulous.

It was a must-win affair after Dennis Lillee and Max Walker had run through them at Headingley. And even as the day dawned sunny at Birmingham, things had not looked too bright for them.

Asif Iqbal, the captain, had withdrawn at the last moment — to undergo an emergency haemorrhoid operation. Majid Khan was pushed into the uneasy role of the Pakistan captain in a crucial match.

The team card perhaps looks impressive enough when we look at it now. However, we must remember to make certain allowances.

In the summer of 1975, Javed Miandad had been just a teenaged debutant — a prodigious talent as yet unproven on the world stage.

A notable absentee from the side was Imran Khan. An all-rounder who would take the world by storm, he was still going through the rudimentary and unconvincing formative steps of his career. He was not too far away at Oxford appearing for examinations.

The start, after winning the toss, had also been far from assuring. Sadiq Mohammad had fallen to Bernard Julien after half an hour of struggle with little to show for his efforts.

But then a determined show had given them the upper hand. Captain Majid had batted cautiously to compile a serene 60. Zaheer Abbas had given away his wicket to the off-spin of Viv Richards after settling down, but Mushtaq Mohammad had countered with a well-paced half-century. Wasim Raja had provided some brisk fireworks with a flamboyant 58. In the end, the score of 266 was imposing for that day and era.

And then Sarfraz Nawaz had blown away the top of the West Indian batting. The debutant opener, a certain Bajan named Gordon Greenidge, was already well known due to his exploits in Test cricket. Here he was caught behind for just six.

There followed two southpaws who could have changed the game at will with a few blows. But Sarfraz had dismissed both Roy Fredericks and Alvin Kallicharran within a space of five runs.

The grey-headed Rohan Kanhai had stemmed the rot, leading a recovery with captain Clive Lloyd. However, the unheralded and unassuming Naseer Malik had induced an inside edge off the willow of the venerable Guyanese and a stump had been knocked askew.

Pervez Mir, a little-known debutant who would later find much more renown as a TV anchor, had persevered with his medium pace. And a blistering young talent called Viv Richards had pulled him down the throat of long leg. West Indies were looking down the barrel. Five wickets were down and the all-rounders already exposed with the score not yet hundred.

Lloyd had fought on with Julien for company, The West Indian captain had called upon all his application and hard hitting ability. The score had gradually neared 150 with Lloyd nearing his well-earned fifty. West Indies were clawing their way back.

And then there had been a double blow. Asif Masood, that bowler with that peculiar run up, with the hip jutting backwards, ran in to bowl. John Arlott had compared his action to Groucho Marx in hot pursuit of a blonde. That afternoon, Julien had flicked him straight into the hands of Miandad at mid-wicket.

Lloyd had carried on, forcing a drive through covers to bring up his fifty. And Majid had pursed his lips, thought hard, and thrown the ball to the young Miandad. In those days, the young master could send down some handy leg-spinners. One of them fizzed the other way, a googly, and Lloyd had played at it. Had there been a snick? Wasim Bari thought so, the umpire agreed, Miandad could not hide his glee and Lloyd’s shoulders slumped more in disgust than disappointment. Later he accused both Miandad and Bari of cheating. However, for the time being, the end had seemed palpably near.

Wicketkeeper Deryck Murray had been joined by all-rounder Keith Boyce. And the useful Naseer Malik had struck again, bowling the last of the West Indian men who could be counted upon for some meaty blows. It was another unlucky inside edge and the score read 166 for eight.

That had been the moment when Tom Graveney had named Sarfraz Nawaz as his choice for the man of the match award and left the ground. After all, 101 runs had seemed way beyond the last two wickets. Even the glorious uncertainties of cricket had their limitations. Besides, the dangerous Sarfraz still had a few overs to bowl.

The miracle

But, for some unknown reason, Majid held his star pacer back. The bowling that was on offer was rather docile. Murray played sensibly, Vanburn Holder with plenty of poise. Runs were added, starting as meaningless academic notches, but growing with time in proportion and importance.

The 200 mark seemed to jolt Majid awake. Sarfraz was brought back to do the last bit for the team. Immediately Holder pushed him straight into the hands of Pervez at cover. It was 203 for nine. The expressionless assassin was walking out.

Majid decided to bowl Sarfraz out. But now in front of him stood a man without the hint of a nerve. When the balls were short, the Antiguan paceman played them carefully. When they were pitched up, he threw everything into the drives.

At the other end Murray was growing in confidence. A few well timed strokes went to the fence, a couple of edges found their way into the vacant outfield. Runs were accumulated steadily, and Pakistan panicked. Sarfraz ended his spell without dealing that final blow. There were 29 needed from six overs.

To complicate things, Pervez ran in and bowled a maiden, a curiosity given the time and circumstances. The match tilted a wee bit in favour of the Pakistanis. Yet, at the other end Asif Masood was lacking in discipline. The effect of the Groucho gait? Perhaps. Runs came with ease as he ran in with his peculiar action.

The men from the Caribbean inched closer. With ten to go, Murray huffed and puffed back into his crease with the throw ending up frustratingly wide. Majid and his men were definitely panicking. And in contrast Roberts was placid, unfazed, and unnervingly calm.

It was Roberts who stood at the striker’s end, ready to face the final over, with five runs to score. And Majid was aghast to find that he had messed up his calculations. Pervez Mir had bowled only nine overs. Experienced Mushtaq had sent down just two. Majid thought long and hard and signalled towards Wasim Raja.

Raja, at his best a useful leg-spinner, had not yetbowled in the match. Was he the best possible choice? It is debatable to say the least.

In any case, he pitched the first ball short. Roberts swung across the line and missed. The ball struck the pad and trickled just beyond short leg. The two batsmen sprinted for a leg-bye. Wasim Bari swooped on the ball and hurled in the throw. It could have been a run out if the heads had been cool and the action measured. In the end, the ball ended up unchaperoned in the outskirts of the ground and the batsmen gleefully crossed again. Three were required now.

Majid brought the field in. Raja ran in to bowl. And Roberts, with the same icy coldness, pushed the third ball past mid-wicket for a couple. The scores were level.

The bowler walked back, paused and ran in again. And Roberts was at it again, pushing to mid-wicket, running the single hard, and sprinting all the way to the pavilion. He was followed by Murray and the Pakistanis as the crowd swarmed in.

The Caribbean supporters, their silence giving way to hopeful bursts of cheer through the partnership, now broke into a tumult of celebration.

The impossible had been achieved. 101 runs had been scored by the last two wickets. The match had been won an hour and a half after Tom Graveney had gone home.

Yes, Sarfraz is still registered as the Man of the Match. But, it was West Indies who went down as the victors in the first ever World Cup thriller.

Brief Scores

Pakistan 266 for 7 in 60 overs (Majid Khan 60, Mushtaq Mohammad 55, Wasim Raja 58) lost to West Indies 267 for 9 in 59.4 overs (Clive Lloyd 53, Deryck Murray 61*; Sarfraz Nawaz 4 for 44) by 1 wicket.

(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)