In August 1976, Dennis Amiss faced the West Indies fast bowlers at their blistering best and scored 203. The recent release of the film Fire in Babylon revisits this era. Roberts, Holding and Daniel were at full throttle, as the Windies wrapped up a 3-0 series victory at The Oval. But whatever the Windies could throw down, the former England and Warwickshire man reckons the Aussie side of the mid 70s could top it.
“Both sets of quicks let you have it, but with the West Indies there were no verbals,” he says explaining that as long as you didn’t upset them, they were content trying to get you out not knock you out. “The Aussies would chat away in the slips just to put you off, and you’d get Rod Marsh leaping about and shaking his stinging hand, after taking ‘the quickest ball ever’ from Lillee or Thomson. They were at you in every way imaginable and it was pretty tough.”
Amiss was hit on the head by Michael Holding during a 1976 tour game and faced a 95mph barrage from Holding, Roberts and Daniel when Tony Greig made a brief appearance at the crease, during Amiss’s Oval marathon. But against the West Indies he still scored runs, including 174 at Port of Spain in 1974, and a massive 262 not out in Kingston, albeit against a friendlier attack. Against the Aussies, Amiss was a walking wicket.
“I got a one-day century against Australia, in 1977, but never in Tests,” he says. He almost got there at Melbourne in 74-5. For once he’d seen off Lillee and Thomson, but on 94, chipped one from offspinner Ashley Mallett to Ian Chappell at silly mid on.
“In the next match at Sydney I felt as good as I’d ever done in getting to 37, before one from Lillee got big on me and I nicked it to Marsh,” Amiss says, “That destroyed my confidence. I thought ‘no matter how well I’m playing these guys will get me’. I got three noughts after that.”
The following year Amiss fared no better on the slower English pitches. Two single-figure scores at Edgbaston saw him drop down the order. At Lord’s, Lillee got him cheaply, and Amiss was out of Test cricket for 14 months. David Steele, making his debut in the Lord’s game, remembers seeing Amiss padding up at the same time as the openers. Amiss was No.4. “He had bits of padding everywhere, he looked like the Michelin man,” Steele recalls, “Dennis had really got to him, but the ironic thing is that with all that padding, Lillee had him lbw with one that kept low.” For a duck.
One his comeback, Amiss scored 635 runs in five matches, against the West Indies and India. But then Australia were back, and even with only one of Thomson or Lillee, playing, Amiss still couldn’t make a score. Someone had to make way for the returning Geoff Boycott, and against Australia, that someone had to be Dennis Amiss.
During World Series Cricket, Amiss batted in his fibre-glass ‘skateboard’ helmet, avoiding Lillee and Thomson from the comfort of the second-string games. Despite the ribbing he took from the crowds, he was glad of his helmet. A nasty lifter, from South Australian paceman, Wayne Prior smashed him in the visor. “Those drop-in pitches could be a bit tasty,” he says, “without my helmet I’d be wearing false teeth, now.” Crispin Andrews