Of all the sportsmen and women who have been born and raised in Leamington, Eddie Hemmings’ late-blooming cricket career takes some topping.
He played in a World Cup final for England and contested the ever-passionate Ashes against Australia – often coming out on top against such a feared opponent at a time when English cricket was, it’s fair to say, in the doldrums.
But it was Hemmings’ exploits in the 1987 World Cup that ensured he will be remembered fondly by England cricket fans for years to come.
Spin to Win
England made serene progress through that ’87 edition of the tournament in India – in stark contrast to the dire straits that the current crop of players find themselves in on Indian soil.
Indeed, at the time of writing, it looks as though Jos Buttler’s men will fail to even reach the knockout phase of the competition – hence their mammoth Betfair sports betting odds of 500/1 to lift the trophy, compared to the even money available on the hosts and the 3/1 on 1987 champions Australia.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) October 29, 2023
For Hemmings’ generation, there were no such issues – despite the unfamiliar conditions in India and joint-host Pakistan. For the Leamington-born man, the dry, dusty pitches in the sub-continent were manna from heaven; he, late in his career, had made the switch from bowling medium pacers to spin, which proved to be a rather savvy decision.
He sat out the Group B opener against the West Indies, which England won by two wickets, as well as their second game – an 18-run defeat to Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
That loss saw a rejig in the England camp, with Hemmings coming into the team for the game against Sri Lanka to form a spin-twin partnership with John Emburey. And it was a plan that worked, with the pair sharing four wickets – Hemmings with a tidy spell of 2-31 – in a comfortable victory.
Defeat next time out against Pakistan left England’s hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals in tatters, but a tremendous win over the West Indies in the repeat game – Hemmings clean bowling the ever-dangerous Viv Richards – and another demolition of the Sri Lankans (in which Eddie picked up three wickets) ensured that Mike Gatting’s team would indeed reach the last four.
Awaiting them in the semi-finals was the host nation, no less…
After India won the boss and elected to field first, they became favourites to win the game – batting second enables a team to exert control over their run chase.
But that did not deter England and particularly Graham Gooch, whose knock of 115 was one of the best innings of the entire tournament.
Posting a competitive total of 254/6, England had something to work with. It wasn’t long before India found themselves behind the run rate thanks to some miserly bowling from the English attack.
That set the scene for the spin kings to come to the fore, with Hemmings running amok – he beguiled the Indians with his turn and flight, removing the dangerman Mohammed Azharuddin and the legendary Kapil Dev on his way to a four-wicket haul.
As for the World Cup final at Calcutta’s Eden Gardens, well, that’s a tale perhaps best left untold. Hemmings dismissed Australia’s top scorer, David Boon, but England’s batsmen struggled to make hay in their reply and finished an agonising seven runs shy of the Aussies’ target of 253.
Hemmings would end the competition as England’s leading wicket-taker – an outstanding effort from the unassuming man from Leamington.