March 1977, Australia v England in the Centenary Test, the MCG testosterone overdose. Dennis Lillee rips in and 100,000 fans roar at him. Even now, the chant remains fresh in Dennis Amiss’s memory. ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’
Amiss had rarely done well against Australia. His Test debut against them at Old Trafford in 1968 brought him a pair. Then, during England’s infamous 4-1 thrashing Down Under in 1974-75, he made three ducks in a row. At Lord’s shortly afterwards, he made another. Lillee smelled of blood.
The crowd smelled it too. ‘Kill! Kill! Kill! Come on Lillee – kill Amiss! ‘
Dennis Amiss, pictured above in 1980, brought cricket helmets into the mainstream
What no one else knew was that Amiss, now 77, had undergone hypnosis with the help of a psychologist named Lee Saxon, who gave him a cassette full of positive thoughts.
“Before clubbing, I sat in the dressing room playing this band,” Amiss says. The boys thought I was listening to the Beatles. When I walked out, all I heard was the singing. It was like an amphitheater. I had to remind myself of the positive messages.
The first ball whizzed down my chin and put me on my bottom. I think the whole ground has sent my thumbs down. But it helped: I got 60.
‘I still have the tape: when my wife asks me why I’m negative, I remind myself of the messages. At the time, the only backroom staff we had on tour were physios. We had to figure it out ourselves. ‘
To read Amiss’s captivating autobiography, Not out at the end of the game – a life in cricket, will be returned to a world that was both more evil and gentle.
For every near-murder story, there’s humanity too – like the time Lancashire captain Clive Lloyd agreed to extend a dead championship game by half an hour and bring the occasional bowler to Amiss , who played for Warwickshire, ticked off his 100th first-class hundred. Typically, the thoughtful Amiss regretted Lloyd’s gesture, fearing it would take the edge off his achievement (he added two more centuries later just to be sure).
Amiss takes on Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee in the infamous Ashes series of 1974-75
But make no mistake: he was a top-class hitter. His 50 Test matches brought him 11 hundreds – eight more than 150 – and an average of 46. Another indication of his class is that his two best innings came against the West Indies: 262 weren’t meant to save a Test in the Sabina Park in Jamaica in 1973-74 and 203 at the Oval in 1976 when the headlines instead turned to Michael Holding, who overcame a flat throw by bowling at the speed of light and taking 14 wickets. Amazingly, Amiss averaged 70 against the West Indies.
To his surprise, he’s also the answer to a quiz question: Who scored the most ODI hundreds in the 1970s, the format’s first decade? Amiss made four (one more than Viv Richards), including the very first – 103 against Australia at Old Trafford in 1972. One-day cricket, he says, brought him a rare sense of freedom.
“I made myself an opening batsman, so it was an opportunity to play myself into good wickets,” he says. ‘I loved it. I would have liked to play as an opener in the IPL. ‘
His prowess of limited overs – as well as the hypnosis – hints at another facet of the Amiss story: he was often ahead of his time.
Invited to join Kerry Packer’s escaped World Series Cricket venture in the late 1970s, he remembered the beatings he and his teammates had taken at the hands of Lillee and Jeff Thomson a few years earlier, and decided on a motorcycle helmet to carry. The sight, Amiss says, could withstand a shotgun explosion from 10 meters.
Amiss celebrates the scoring of its 100th century first class for Warwickshire in Edgbaston in 1986
“The first time I wore it was against the World XI, and people were yelling,” Hey Amiss, where’s your bike? ” But soon others were wearing it.
Then Australian David Hookes got his jaw broken by Andy Roberts and spent the next six weeks paddling with a straw.
When he got back, he asked if he could borrow my helmet, and his first ball was from Roberts. He hooked it for six and Richie Benaud was on comment saying it was a great defining moment for cricket. ‘
Later, as CEO of Warwickshire, Amiss signed Brian Lara as the club’s foreign player for the 1994 season. He paid £ 40,000. The appointment was well timed: the next day Lara started the Test match that would set him a world record 375 against England in Antigua. “There were times that summer when we couldn’t find Lara because he was doing ads, probably to make up for the money he didn’t get from us,” Amiss says. But nobody at Edgbaston was too bothered by it.
Lara scored more than 2,000 championship stages, including 501 not out against Durham – another world record – and Warwickshire came within one match – defeat in the final of the NatWest Trophy – an unprecedented fourfold.
However, not all of Amiss’s choices were widely approved. In his book, he doubles down on his decision to take part in the first of England’s rebel journeys through apartheid South Africa, earning what Gerald Kaufman MP Gerald Kaufman called ‘blood-covered Krugerrands’.
Amiss writes, “Nearly 40 years after the tour, I still feel a sense of injustice about the way we were judged.”
How? “I did not agree with apartheid,” he says now. But that was about to change and Ali Bacher (who organized the tour) contacted us to say we could help with coaching in all kinds of schools – both black and white children. We thought we could help young people develop their game. We wanted to open their eyes to cricket. That was important. ‘
When asked if he was sorry, he inevitably feels drawn to the Ashes. ‘I was disappointed that I didn’t score more against Australia. That’s how you are judged by your fellow players.
‘But if someone had asked me at the start if I would be happy with 50 Tests, 11 hundreds and two doubles against the West Indies, but not many runs against Australia, I would have broken their hand off. I had 50 years in the game – 30 as a player, 20 as an administrator. I was lucky.’