England’s forgotten victory in a 1966 World Cup

There’s been plenty of coverage over the summer of the 50th anniversary of that England World Cup victory. But as PHILIP BARKER writes, there was another global triumph on home soil that summer which has been mostly forgotten

It wasn’t only Bobby Moore and his boys who were World Cup heroes in 1966. Colin Cowdrey also led an England team to a World Cup victory that summer 50 years ago, though the cricketing triumph in what was then the novelty one-day game is barely remembered today.

The official programme for the matches in the 1966 World Cup... the Cricket World Cup
The official programme for the matches in the 1966 World Cup… the Cricket World Cup

It was 50 years ago this week that England’s cricketers celebrated success in a competition called the Rothmans Cricket World Cup.

It was played out in what was then the new one-day format which had become so popular at county level through the Gillette Cup, this time contested over 50 overs by teams from the West Indies and a Rest of the World XI.

Yet despite the tournament enjoying extensive coverage on BBC television, the Lord’s stands were left largely vacant, with only 13,000 paying spectators turning up over the course of three days’ play. ‘’There was a sorry lack of press publicity for the Lord’s matches,” said presenter Peter West. “This was a sad thing for cricket when world class cricketers were gathered at the headquarters of the game.’’

Cricket’s 1966 World Cup was bankrolled by the tobacco company, after they had been introduced by the pioneering sports agent Bagenal Harvey. Rothmans had become a familiar name in cricket through their backing of the Cavaliers XI, an all-star team which toured the country playing against the counties in televised matches on Sundays – the precursor of what was to become the John Player League in the days when there were no rules to prevent tobacco sponsorship.

In 1965, they had organised an England v Rest of the World match as part of the Scarborough Festival. The following year, plans were even more ambitious, with a three-team tournament with the West Indies – that summer’s touring side – to be captained by the magnificent all-rounder Gary Sobers.

The tournament was only announced in March, too late even to be included in the official fixture lists for the season.

There was another stroke of bad luck. The Cricket World Cup launch came the very week that the Jules Rimet Trophy, football’s World Cup, was stolen. Football would dominate the media and public attention for the rest of the year. International cricket’s schedulers left July clear for football, with a month between the end of the third Test and the start of the fourth.

The selection of the players for the World XI was unusual, even by the standards of such made-for-TV sports events. Bobby Simpson, of Australia, was to captain the side, but the rest of his team were chosen by voting from readers of the Radio Times. Long before cricket fans hit the phones to support Mark Ramprakash in Strictly Come Dancing, they were invited to choose from shortlisted players in five categories (opening batsmen, batsmen, wicketkeepers, fast bowlers, spinners).

Denis Compton was part of the television commentary team and offered “Hints on Selection” to those casting their vote. “You must bear in mind that some of the famous names may well be better suited than others to this particular form of cricket,’’ he said.

Voting slips were printed in the Radio Times and were “published early so that schoolboys home on holiday can have a chance to take part”. In those days, the BBC was unconcerned about schoolgirls who might wish to join in.

“Its up to you,” said Compton. “Whoever you choose, there is no doubt that the Rest of the World XI competing at Lord’s will provide powerful opposition.’’

A few weeks later, the magazine announced that it had received, “Entries from as far afield as Egypt, the Bahamas and India as well as from all over the United Kingdom.’’

The chain-smoking Australian middle order batsman Doug Walters was selected by the voters, seemingly an ideal choice given the sponsors. But Walters’ participation was blocked by the Australian government, as he was forced to complete his military service.

Despite that, the World XI looked strong enough: Simpson, Hanif (Pakistan), Grahame Thomas (Australia), Graeme Pollock and Colin Bland (both South Africa), the Nawab of Pataudi (India), Mushtaq Mohammad (Pakistan), Deryck Murray (West Indies), Bapu Nadkarni (India), Peter Pollock (South Africa) and Graham McKenzie (Australia).

Despite this star-studded line up, few of the overseas players had any authentic experience of one-day cricket. The Rest of the World beat the Cavaliers in a warm-up match and West Indies defeated 1966 Gillette Cup winners Warwickshire, when 10,000 showed up at Edgbaston. What Lord’s would have done to have such crowds for the tournament proper.

A slightly embarrassed-looking Colin Cowdrey holds aloft the Cricket World Cup at Lord's surrounded by team mates including Basil D'Oliveira, John Edrich, Fred Titmus, John Snow and, slightly obscured wearing his Sussex sweater, Ted Dexter
A slightly embarrassed-looking Colin Cowdrey holds aloft the Cricket World Cup at Lord’s surrounded by team mates including Basil D’Oliveira, John Edrich, Fred Titmus, John Snow and, slightly obscured wearing his Sussex sweater, Ted Dexter

For their part, England recalled Ted Dexter. This was a wiser move than anyone realised at the time. When skipper Colin Cowdrey was injured, Dexter was perfectly placed to direct affairs.

“He brought to bear the considerable knowledge gained leading Sussex in the Gillette Cup,’’ said Wisden, referring to the county side’s wins in 1963 and 1964.

The distinguished cricket writer Michael Melford delivered his own verdict in The Cricketer magazine: “I am not a devotee of one-day cricket as such and I think a little of it goes a long way but I do believe such a tournament may be worthwhile when played by the best.’’

By the standards of international one-day cricket between England and Pakistan witnessed at Trent Bridge last week, the scores back in 1966 look modest indeed. The West Indies scored 254 for 7 in their victory over the Rest of the World, but England’s 217 for 7 proved perfectly adequate for victory in the final match of the series against the West Indies.

By rights, played over 50 overs per innings and between two recognised Test nations, this encounter between England and West Indies should have been designated the official first one-day international. It was nearly a decade before cricket’s world body got round to organising an official Cricket World Cup, in 1975, the final of which was a memorable match between the West Indies and Australia played out before a packed house at Lord’s, presumably to Peter West’s approval.

But another 40 years later, and no England captain apart from Colin Cowdrey has managed to lift a Cricket World Cup.

Maybe in 2019..?