June 19, 2006

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan on India in West Indies 2006

Simply the greatest

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan





Just a few feet from the club ground lies Sir Frank Worrell's childhood home © Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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Nestled amid residential areas, just on the outskirts of Bridgetown, is the Empire Cricket Club. One look at the alumni list and you know why it’s universally regarded as the greatest club ever.

Empire Club might not even have existed had Herman Griffith, the former West Indian fast bowler, not been turned down by Spartan, the rival body. Griffith despite repeated attempts was spurned by Spartan, owing to the strict class structure that existed that the time. He then decided to form his own club. Curiously enough, it was formed on May 24, 1914 (Empire Day) and got its name as a result.

Most of the members stayed close by – Sir Frank Worrell grew up in a house that overlooks the club ground – and there was a slant towards good manners and behaviour. A sign on one of the walls – “No obscene language” - sums up this attitude. More than 92 years on, the club can look back proudly at its rich legacy. It’s probably the only club in the world to have three knighted members as alumni and would be tough to beat in the fast bowling stakes as well. An attempt to pick an all-time XI throws up a formidable side.

Opening the batting would be Sir Conrad Hunte, whose array of strokeplay and power of concentration helped make the West Indian side of the early 1960s one of the most complete of all time. Walking out to open with him would probably be Carlisle Best, who thrilled with his true calypso style of cricket. Best hit the public eye in 1976 when, as a schoolboy, he scored more than 800 runs in the Association's Division II, and was selected for Barbados. His first scoring shot, in a Test, was a hooked six off Ian Botham and he had a few moments in the fine West Indian middle order of the late ‘80s.

The three to follow were plain awesome.

In Sir Everton Weekes at No.3, Seymour Nurse at No.4 and Sir Frank Worrell at No.5 you probably have one of the greatest middle orders of all time. At No.6, occupying the allrounder’s slot would be EAV Williams, or Foffie to most. Williams’s international career was limited to only four Tests, finishing with nine wickets, but he’s most remembered for a whirlwind innings in the Bridgetown Test against England in 1948. He struck 28 from the first six balls he received - six, six, four and four off Jim Laker, then two more fours off Jack Ikin- on his way to reaching West Indies' fastest Test 50 in just 30 minutes. Primarily, though, he was a fast bowler and was known to have been a terror in his heyday.

Keeping wicket would be Clairmonte Depeiaza. Safe with the gloves and more than useful with the bat – his 347-run partnership with Denis Atkinson remains a Test record for the seventh wicket – he would provide the solidity if the top order were to crumble. For spin, there’s Albert Padmore, an offspinner who was unlucky to have played when the West Indies’ mantra shifted to pace, pace and only pace.

Yet, he might not even be needed with the three fast men capable of destroying any line-up. Charlie Griffith would undoubtedly take the new ball with Emmanuel “Manny” Martindale, most remembered for devastating England on the 1933 tour. Joining them, most fittingly, would be Herman Griffith, founder of the club and accurate fast bowler of the ‘30s. Along with Learie Constantine and Martindale, Griffith was one of the early torch-bearers of the West Indian fast bowling legacy.

I made the mistake of asking Charlie Griffith, member and former president, if this was the best club side ever. “Not best,” growled Charlie, “but greatest”.

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Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo

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