ENGLAND v WEST INDIES 1950

First Test, Old Trafford

ENGLAND v WEST INDIES 1950

Reg Hayter



Alf Valentine uniquely took the first eight wickets to fall in his debut Test © Getty Images
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When the individual performances of the Manchester Test are forgotten it will be remembered chiefly because of the arguments aroused by the remarkable nature of the pitch. In their earnest desire to adjust the balance between batsmen and bowlers the Lancashire ground committee issued an edict to their groundsman before the 1950 season that less use should be made of water and the heavy roller in the preparation of a pitch. Throughout the summer cricket at Old Trafford went in favour of spin bowlers, and the Test provided no exception, a week of hot, dry weather before the game hastening the crumbling effect. Aware of the likely conditions, Yardley, after a long inspection, omitted A. V. Bedser in order to rely principally on a slow attack, and Goddard adopted a similar strategy by including only Johnson of his three pace bowlers.

England looked to have gained a considerable advantage by batting first, but the pitch before lunch was a shade more difficult than at any time in the match. At this stage the straight good-length ball turned just enough to compel a stroke and often touched the edge of the bat, whereas afterwards it turned so much that not infrequently it missed bat and wicket. Moreover, the batsmen had to watch carefully for the ball which lifted sharply.

All went well for England until at 22 Hutton received such a painful blow on the hand from Johnson that he was forced to retire. This was the first of a series of disasters. Valentine, going on one run later, found the turf so responsive to his quick left-arm spin that in 17 overs before lunch he took five successive wickets for 34 runs. All the batsmen were uncomfortable against the ball which turned from the bat, and good catching by Gomez and Goddard helped Valentine to his deserved reward.

Half the England side were out for 88, but Evans and Bailey wrested the initiative from the bowlers in a splendid stand of 161, a new record sixth-wicket partnership in England v West Indies Tests. In contrast to Bailey, who concentrated mainly on defence, Evans neglected no opportunity to hit hard. In his maiden Test century and his first in a first-class match in England, Evans scored all but 57 added for the wicket, and his powerful strokes included 17 boundaries. He batted two hours 20 minutes.

Hutton resumed after the dismissal of Evans and, although in such discomfort that he constantly took his damaged hand from the bat as he played his stroke, he again showed his masterly defensive skill until beaten by a fine ball. When Valentine followed by bowling Laker, he had disposed of eight batsmen consecutively. His prospects of creating history by taking all ten wickets in his first Test disappeared when Ramadhin at last gained compensation for highly skilled slow bowling in which he beat the bat many times without hitting the wicket.

England were indebted to Bailey, who presented a straight bat in defence for over three and a half hours and occasionally opened his shoulders for the sweep or cut, but West Indies deserved sympathy over the loss of Johnson, who pulled a side muscle in his first spell and bowled only two overs in his second before being compelled to retire. He did not field after tea and was unable to bowl again in the match.

Their hero was 20-year-old Valentine, whose feat of taking eight wickets was without parallel for a bowler on Test debut. Earlier in the week on the same ground Valentine dismissed eight Lancashire batsmen in an innings. Valentine bowled an accurate length on and around the off stump and turned the ball quickly enough to compel hurried strokes.

The England batting had been patchy, but that of the West Indies was worse. Weekes and Stollmeyer alone appeared capable of dealing with Berry (left-arm slow) and Hollies (legbreaks). Going on at 51, Berry bowled unchanged to the end of the innings. His spin was not so vicious as that of Valentine, but his variations of pace and flight showed him to be an intelligent bowler with distinct possibilities of greatness.

With a lead of 97, England began their second innings well placed, but Hutton was not fit enough to open, Simpson failed without a run scored, and Doggart and Dollery fell to Valentine by the time the total reached 43. Then Yardley and Edrich pulled the side together, and England finished the second day 205 ahead with six wickets intact. An unusual feature of the innings was that Walcott, the burly West Indies wicketkeeper, started their attack in place of the injured Johnson, and Christiani kept wicket.

Next day Edrich and Bailey batted on against the craft of Valentine and Ramadhin until Ramadhin found the edge of Edrich's bat and Weekes at slip snapped up a difficult catch. Edrich played gallantly for three hours ten minutes and hit ten fours. More defiance of the bowlers came from Bailey and Hutton, who went in at 151, at the fall of the sixth wicket. Hutton, with his finger heavily bandaged and in obvious pain, stayed two hours and helped to add 115. He was called upon to face a spell of short rising balls from Goddard, but usually avoided trouble by ducking and to other deliveries demonstrated his skill in playing the dead-bat stroke. For two hours five minutes Bailey again mixed rigid defence with prompt acceptance of any opportunity to hit a bad ball.

On a pitch so much in favour of spin bowlers, West Indies held little hopes of scoring the 386 required to win. As it was, only a superb display by Stollmeyer, the tall, elegant opening batsman, enabled them to obtain nearly half that total. His quick footwork and classical stroke-play stamped him as a batsman of distinct merit. Only an hour's play was needed on the fourth day. In this time the last six wickets went down for 61 runs. Some excitement was provided by Johnson who punished Laker for 20, including a six and three fours, in two overs, but Hollies and Berry maintained their mastery, Berry bringing his analysis to nine for 116. Even allowing for his fortune in bowling on a pitch so suitable to him, this was a most satisfactory first appearance in Test cricket.

The attendance figures reached 48,451, with receipts £13,204.

Toss: England. Test debuts: England - R. Berry, G. H. G. Doggart; West Indies - S. Ramadhin, A. L. Valentine.

© John Wisden & Co. Ltd.