January 5, 1971 at the MCG. The first-ever Official One-day International that sparked a revolution invariably start in small ways. It often it’s only hindsight that establishes the significance of the movement’s birthplace – and that was certainly the case with the birth of international one-day cricket on a bright, sunny day in Melbourne many decades ago.
When massive 46,000 spectators jammed the streets around the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday January 5, 1971, in their endeavor to witness the first-ever official One-Day International between arch rivals Australia vs England. The most commentators saw it merely as a reaction to the sports crazy Melbourne crowds being deprived of their Test match, through near-flooding of the city. Few thought it would be any-thing more than a passing whim.
Jim Swanton saw the game as a pleasant enough diversion, but declared that the massive crowd was a ‘deceptive indication of the appeal of this sort of game.’ It was considered that Australians wouldn’t stand for anything less than Test cricket. But Australian author R.S. Whittington, in his 1972 book Captains Outrageous, which covered the Ashes series, considered the game to be of greater significance.
Because it highlighted that cricket didn’t have to be played in the dour and unimaginative way which had so harmed Ashes series in the 1960s and on the 1970-71 tour of Australia. ‘Watching the exciting and eager cricket, the crowd kept roaring as Melbourne crowds do at Victorian Football League finals,’ he wrote. ‘Everyone seemed happy, as just about every participant gave everything he had, and no probing bat or pad ads like a wet and depressing bag along the wicket.’
R.S. Whittington was much taken by the carnival atmosphere of the occasion, noting a much higher percent-age of women and children at the game. He concluded that the prospect of a guaranteed result. pits the odd gimmick (such as a S2.000 offer to any batsman who could hit the clock in the Members’ Pavilion) had attracted a new breed of cricket fans. previously turned off by the -we not lose’ attitude of Bill Lawry, Ray Illingworth and previous Ashes captains during the 1960s.
There was a tension in the air when Graham McKenzie bowled the first ball to Geoff Boycott. ‘Then Geoff Boycott and John Edrich began to run what in the Tests would have been ‘impossible’ runs, to play what would have been impossible strokes. It was all one of those impossible dreams come true. Before long the impossible became the ordinary and miracles took a moment or two longer.’
The fielding, in particular, was electric, with Geoff Boycott falling to a catch by Bill Lawry that captured the urgency and desperation of the game. Twenty years later, that catch is about the only moment of the game that Lawry recalls, though he didn’t need too much prompting to remember that Australia won the match —’it was the only victory I had that summer!’ he said with an ironic laugh.
For a man who was considered the antithesis of exciting cricket, Lawry is a great advocate of the game. Obviously, his employment with Kerry Packer’s Channel 9 has some-thing to do with that, but there is no doubting the genuine enthusiasm Lawry feels for the innovation.
There are players in that match who simply wouldn’t get a game today because their fielding wasn’t good enough,’ he argues quite legitimately. Keith Fletcher, whose memory of the game is even more vague than Lawry’s, agrees, saying that: ‘One-day cricket has improved out-fielding by 100 per cent since I first start-ed playing. It’s had a similar effect on running between the wickets as well’.
Batsmen have also had to adapt or retire. One-day cricket made Glenn Turner into a swan, just as it did John Edrich during that MCG game. Suddenly he was crashing the medium-pacers over their heads and England raced from 50 to 150 in a mere 70 minutes. Only a late-order collapse prevented England from topping the 200 marks, though 190 off 40 eight-ball overs still required a run-rate about double that achieved in the Tests.
Of course, today, even 300 runs don’t guarantee safety in a limited-overs international, and Fletcher estimates that whereas 180-200 would have been a safe total in the early years of the John Player League, now even 240-250 is obtainable, such is the sophistication of some of the batting.
There would have been very few players in our day who could play like that today — O’Neill and Neil Harvey perhaps—but run of the mill players couldn’t have played the sort of shots that Dean Jones, Steve Waugh or Desmond Haynes play,’ says Bill Lawry. Australia, in the end, coasted home in the debut international thanks to enterprising innings by Ian Chappell and Doug Walters, the latter clearly relieved that John ‘the abominable’ Snow was restricted from bowling any more than eight overs.
It had always been expected that England’s greater experience of the game would be crucial, but what this pioneering match proved was that orthodoxy, plus a little urgency, was all that was required to be successful in the abridged form of the game. Another fear, that spinners would become redundant, was also proved to have little substance, with Ashley Mallett and Keith Stackpole being Australia’s most successful bowlers. Pioneer, captain Ray Illingworth England’s most successful bowler, offering early evidence of the value of off spin in international one-day matches.
Spinners have maintained their role in one-day cricket, probably more so than in Test cricket, though out-and-out fast bowlers have fared less well. The most effective style of bowler is the medium-pacer who can change his pace — an art that Steve Waugh and Simon O’Donnell have perfected. But Keith Fletcher argues that this doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for aggressive tactics in one-day cricket. In fact, a captain who is prepared to take a gamble or two is far more likely to achieve success. ‘You can’t have a million slips, but there are still captains who defend too early.
They start ringing the boundary as soon as a few shots are played, but they should keep in mind that wickets are still the best way of slowing down the scoring,’ Fletcher advises. Of course, there were no fielding circles in 1971, but their introduction in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977, according to Bill Lawry, has been the single most important factor in ensuring the game’s continued popularity.
I think one-day cricket would have become a very boring game — one that could have been easily slaughtered by negative captains putting players on the boundary — if circles hadn’t been introduced,’ Lawry says. ‘Circles and players have made one-day cricket a very skillful game, skills which are very much underrated by every-body.’
There were few in the 46,000 crowd at the MCG who thought Bill Lawry had the right sort of skills for the abbreviated game, because they booed him from almost the first ball he faced. But the crowd’s impatience was less about Bill Lawry and more about the state of Test (and particularly Ashes) cricket.
The smiles on the faces of the crowd as they left the MCG should have been enough to convince the Australian Cricket Board that it was time to introduce one-day international cricket in a controlled way. But they were ignored in ostrich-like fashion, which ensured that when the revolution came it was not only bloody, but irreversible.
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