The West Indies, smarting from an embarrassing defeat to Ireland in a tour game eight days earlier, needed to win the third and final Test at Headingley, played from July 10 to July 15, 1969, in order to square the series. England were 1-0 up coming into the match, courtesy a comprehensive ten-wicket win in the opening Test at Old Trafford.
A draw in the second Test at Lord’s meant that the Wisden Trophy remained in England’s hands. After successive home defeats in 1963 and 1966, England, under Colin Cowdrey, had wrested the trophy back in the Caribbean in 1967-68, aided to an extent by a highly contentious declaration from West Indian captain Garfield Sobers in the fourth Test at Port-of-Spain.
Cowdrey had to miss the 1969 series due to an Achilles tendon injury, and was replaced at the helm by the off-spinning all-rounder Ray Illingworth. The visiting captain, Sobers, was leading a very different side compared to one that triumphed in England in 1966 – there were only five survivors, while as many as five players made their debuts in the first two Tests.
The overcast weather on the first morning was a promising sign for the visiting bowlers after Illingworth elected to bat first. It was the fast-medium pace of Sobers that struck first blood, trapping Geoffrey Boycott on the pads with the score at 30. Vanburn Holder, who made his debut at Old Trafford, further pegged England back with the scalps of John Sharpe and John Hampshire.
With the score at 64/3, Boycott’s fellow opener John Edrich showed the intent to stick around on the slow pitch. He found a willing ally in Basil D’Oliveira, and the two added 76 for the fourth wicket to put the innings back on track. Edrich batted more than three hours for 79 before being dismissed leg-before by medium pacer John Shepherd, another of the series’ debutants.
West Indian captain Garfield Sobers took five wickets in the second innings against England at Headingley in 1969 (source – gettyimages)
D’Oliveira looked in good control, even hitting a six, but his stay at the crease ended two short of a fifty after being caught by Sobers off Shepherd. Shepherd soon collected his third victim, bowling Illingworth cheaply, as England ended the day on a disappointing note at 194/7. Holder added two more to his kitty on the second morning to finish with 4/48 as the hosts were bowled out for 223.
Bowling in three Tests straight proved to be an exacting exercise for Shepherd, who had to forgo batting in the first innings because of a back strain. The West Indian top order failed to capitalise on the gains provided by the bowlers and succumbed to the pace of Barry Knight (4/63). With the conditions still favouring the seamers, Knight’s timely strikes reduced the West Indies to 80/4.
Openers Roy Fredericks and George Camacho, Charles Davis and Sobers managed just 46 runs between them. Only Basil Butcher, with 35, looked at ease, but his dismissal to John Snow, followed by the ouster of Thaddeus Findlay, further deepened the West Indies’ woes, leaving them at 91/6. Holder joined Clive Lloyd at this stage to provide some respectability to the innings.
An enterprising seventh-wicket partnership worth 60 ensued, but the last three wickets fell for only ten runs. Holder equalled Butcher with a 35 of his own, but it was not enough to deny England a valuable cushion of 62 runs. The wicket-filled second day ended with England at 13/1 in the second innings, the casualty being Boycott, caught behind by Findlay for a duck in the opening over.
Sunshine welcomed the players on the third day as England aimed to consolidate. With time on their side, the batsmen refrained from taking undue risks, even though the West Indians kept chipping away with regular wickets. Sobers added the wickets of Edrich and Sharpe, while Grayson Shillingford accounted for Hampshire, to leave England at 58/4 and in a spot of bother.
D’Oliveira gathered vital runs again, stemming the damage in a fifth-wicket stand of 44 with wicketkeeper Alan Knott. Knott shared another 47 runs with Illingworth for the sixth wicket as the lead crossed 200. Both Knott and Illingworth fell in quick succession, and when Derek Underwood became Sobers’ fifth wicket, England were struggling at 171/8.
Guyanese batsman Basil Butcher scored a stroke-filled 91 in his last Test innings, against England at Headingley (source – gettyimages)
The hosts ended the third day at 214/9, ahead by 276, thanks to lower-order spunk from Knight and David Brown. When play resumed on Monday, the final wicket eluded the West Indies until 26 more runs were added. The last pair of Brown (34), and Snow held on for nearly an hour to realise 37 runs. The dour batting display ended with the total at 240, the innings consuming 131.4 overs.
It made for quite a strange scorecard – ten batsmen reached 15, but none of them crossed 39, which was the innings’ top score by D’Oliveira. Sobers maintained the pressure throughout the innings, and his return of 5/42 from 40 overs was a fair reflection of his penetrative bowling. The West Indies thus required 303 to avoid a first series defeat in England in 12 years.
Fortunately for the West Indies, the start of the fourth innings coincided with perhaps the best batting conditions of the match. However, they got off to a poor start as Snow removed Fredericks with the score reading eight. Camacho and Davis put on 61 for the second wicket before the latter perished to the left-arm spin of ‘Deadly’ Underwood.
Thereafter, Camacho and Butcher put the English attack to the sword with a commanding third-wicket partnership of 108. Just when things were slipping away from England, Underwood snapped up Camacho, caught by Hampshire, for 71 scored over nearly four hours. Butcher was undeterred at the other end though, and kept indulging in some fine strokeplay with Clive Lloyd for company.
Butcher and Lloyd strengthened the West Indies’ position by adding 42 for the third wicket and taking the score to 219/3, at which point Butcher’s superb innings of 91 off 154 balls, with 16 fours, ended with a questionable catch behind the wicket off Underwood. This was the opening England desperately wanted. The West Indies were now 84 short of victory, with six wickets in hand.
Left-arm spinner Derek Underwood bowled splendidly on the fourth day of the Headingley Test against the West Indies in 1969 (source – sporcle.com)
Butcher’s loss sent the West Indian innings into a meltdown. Five runs later, Sobers was cleaned up by Knight even before he could score a run. Soon after, Illingworth did his bit by having the dangerous Lloyd caught behind. Shepherd, in the middle despite the strain, too perished without scoring, with Knott and Underwood, his teammates at Kent, starring in his downfall.
Underwood, who was dropped from the eleven at Lord’s, was playing a pivotal role in bowling England closer towards a series-clinching win. Butcher’s wicket had triggered a collapse of four for nine, and ensured that England ended the fourth day with momentum firmly on their side. Stumps were drawn with the West Indies at 240/7, Findlay and Holder being the unbeaten batsmen.
As play commenced on the final day, Illingworth decided to take the new ball. After half an hour without success, Brown had Holder caught by Sharpe in the slips and Lance Gibbs caught behind within the space of four runs. The West Indies were still 48 away from the target when last man Shillingford came out to join Findlay.
The last wicket resisted for half an hour and trimmed 17 runs off the requirement, before the inevitable happened at 12.16 p.m. Knight had Findlay leg-before to seal the West Indies’ fate and a narrow 30-run win for England. Underwood was the pick of the bowlers with 4/55, but he was aided well by the rest of the pack. Illingworth’s captaincy stint had begun on a triumphant note.
This was to be the last of 44 Tests for 35-year-old Butcher; he finished with a creditable 3104 runs at 43.11. The West Indies regained the Wisden Trophy on their next tour of England in 1973 under the captaincy of Rohan Kanhai, and maintained their stranglehold on it for the next 27 years.